Have I told you before that I love having dinner parties? Actually, I love having gatherings of any kind; afternoon tea, Easter brunch, Labor Day parties, you name it and I would be happy to host it. Any day that I can bring people together to eat, drink, and be merry, is a good day for me! I will usually use any excuse to invite friends and family over to my place, so when I heard that one of the challenges for Project Food Blog was to host a Luxury Dinner and to share entertaining tips, I squealed with delight.
To me, luxury means a lot of different things...Buying fresh flowers from the farmers market; relaxing with a latte and a good book; treating myself to a beautiful trinket from a local boutique; or relishing in a well-prepared meal at my favorite restaurant surrounded by family and friends...I think all these things are simple luxuries. When it comes to food, I think of the luxury that is more traditionally fancy, where crystal wine glasses, rich, creamy foods, full-bodied wines, and decadent desserts are involved. I knew that I wanted to have this type of dinner party, although I didn't want it to be too over the top.
For my dinner, I wanted my table to be colorful, elegant, and to have simple beauty. I think one part of hosting a good party is making sure you have a space where your guests can feel comfortable that is appropriate for the occasion.
If your party is casual or you are serving foods family-style, then keep it simple with an uncluttered table and plenty of room. For a formal dinner party, I try to use coordinated place settings to set out everything before the guests arrive. But here, lets be realistic: not all my silverware matches, I might not have four of the exact same wine glasses, and I am not Martha Stewart. I work with what I have, and I usually add extra items like fresh flowers or matching napkins if they are within my budget. I have a penchant for pretty glassware, so I used some of that for the table, along with a candle arrangement that I have had on my buffet for years. The idea is to make it look fancy, but not put you out of a lot of time and money. I also printed out menu cards (a first for me!) which made the occasion feel even more special.
And speaking of menus...I decided to have a four-course meal with two wine pairings and turkish coffee with dessert.
For an Hors d'oeuvre, I served Leek Confit and Goat Cheese Crostini, topped with Asian Pear and Smoked Paprika, and it was paired with chilled Hogue Fume Blanc. Crostini is a great thing to serve to start out a dinner party because you can prepare it ahead of time so that your guests have something to eat when they arrive. This is integral to starting off on the right foot since hungry people are not happy people. This crostini was fabulous: the cool, creamy goat cheese combined with the warm, rich leek confit and topped with a crunchy, succulent Asian pear was an absolutely perfect marriage of textures, temperatures, and tastes. Leek confit is one of those components that gives the illusion of being gourmet, when in reality, it is beyond simple. Once I share the recipe with you, I promise it will become a kitchen staple that will give extra indulgence to everyday eating.
For a second course, I served Cauliflower Soup with Seared Scallops, Lemon Oil, and Caviar. The dream of making this soup has been dancing around at the back of my brain for four whole years now (I know it is crazy) ever since I saw it in the 50th anniversary issue of Bon Appetit. The recipe was featured in a "Bright Lights, Big Party" menu that was all about luxury, and with this dinner party I knew the time had come for me to make my dream a reality. I think one of the easiest ways to plan a menu, is to pick one "star" dish and build your other courses to complement it in flavor and texture. For me, hands down, that star dish was my soup; the ingredients of the soup, such as cream, leeks, and lemon oil, were the inspiration for the leek crostini in my first course and also tied into both my main course and my dessert.
This soup ended up being everything I had dreamed of: warm and comforting, yet elegant and luxurious all at the same time. I think the lemon oil really made the flavor of the soup shine, and my guests had a lot of fun drizzling the it in fun patterns. The salty caviar was also a unique addition, and the little pops of flavor in each spoonful were exciting. Plus, it just looks beautiful!
For the Entree, I served Boneless Lamb with Mushroom Crust and Leek Puree, with Sauteed Shiitake Mushrooms and Miniature Fingerling Potatoes. The lamb was paired with a full-bodied Beronia Rioja Reserva, that complemented the rich, earthy flavor of the lamb well.
The entire main dish was definitely the most expensive thing that I made, but I still saved a lot of money and got great ingredients by comparison shopping for the best price and quality, and looking for what is fresh, and in-season at the local farmers market or grocer. Rack of lamb is not cheap. No surprise there. But rather than pay $20-25 a pound, I shopped around until I found some Australian lamb for only $10 a pound. The lamb was crusted with ground, dried Wood Ear mushrooms, which was a new taste for both my guests and I, and made it extra crunchy. I used leftover leeks from my other two dishes to make the leek puree, and the creamy texture was sublime with the lamb. I was also really excited to find adorable miniature fingerling potatoes at my local farmers market to add a starch to my main. I was even more excited when I realized that some of them were purple inside!
Finally, for dessert, I served Meyer Lemon Semifreddo with Candied Lemon Peel and Sugared Pistachios. My friend Leslie was generous enough to bring over her silver tea set which added an elegance to dessert, and Ana made us genuine Turkish Coffee. Having guests help out with dinner is always a fun idea! Ana's family is Serbian, and she told us that one of the first things that every little Serbian girl learns is how to make good coffee for guests. This was not the first time I have had Ana's Turkish Coffee, but each time I love watching her prepare it on the stove and serve it in tiny porcelain cups.
The dessert that I made was a prime example of how advance preparation and planning is so important for dinner parties. This dessert had three main components (the semifreddo, candied lemon peel, and sugared pistachios), and I was able to make all of them at least the day before the party. Less work=less stress=more fun. :) For those of you not familiar with semifreddo, the word is Italian and means "half-cold." It often refers to semi-frozen custards like this one, or certain types of ice cream cakes.
My semifreddos didn't turn out as presentation-perfect as I had hoped, but when you are hosting party you just have to roll with the punches, and don't sweat the small stuff. As far as the taste, I loved the bright lemon flavor of this dessert, and the cold, creamy texture was balanced nicely by the steaming coffee. I also made sugared pistachios for the first time, and I thought they were great! Crunchy and sweet, with a subtle roasted flavor.
Overall, I would say the Luxury Dinner Party was a huge success! My friends and I had an amazing time, and they left with big smiles and full tummies. I was thrilled that I could give them a little bit of indulgence because they are all hard-working women that definitely deserve a little bite of luxury.
***This is my third entry for Project Food Blog challenge. We were asked to host a luxurious dinner party and share our hosting secrets with readers. For my party I created a fresh menu with creamy foods, great wines, and a delicious dessert, all served in a beautiful setting. I hope you love my dinner party, and I would love to have you "RSVP" by voting for me! You can check out my profile on Foodbuzz and vote starting 8AM PST, on Monday October 4th. I will provide recipes during the week for additional dishes not listed below!
Cauliflower Soup with Seared Scallops, Lemon Oil, and Caviar
Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit, October 2006
- 3 tbsp vegetable oil, divided
- 1 cup white onion, chopped
- 1/2 tsp minced garlic
- 4 cups cauliflower, cut into 1/2- to 3/4-inch pieces
- 1 1/2 cups chicken broth
- 1 1/2 cups whipping cream
- About 1 tsp salt, to taste
- Ground white pepper, to taste
- 1/2 leek white/pale green parts only, cut into 1/4-inch-thick rounds
- 6 sea scallops, patted dry
- 1 30-gm jar American caviar (doesn't have to be expensive kind)
- Lemon-infused oil, purchased, or make your own
- Chopped fresh chives
In a large pot, heat 2 tbsp vegetable oil over medium heat, and saute onions and garlic until onions are translucent. Add cauliflower, chicken broth, and whipping cream to pot, increase heat until soup is boiling, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 20 minutes (or until cauliflower is tender). Remove soup from heat and allow to cool slightly, then puree in a blender until smooth. (I tried doing this with an immersion blender in the pot, and it just didn't get as smooth or as creamy as in the blender.) Return the blended soup to the pot, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Can be prepared at least one day ahead of time.
Next, prepare leeks and cook scallops. Put sliced leeks on a small plate, and add a small bit of water to the plate. Put the plate in the microwave, cover, and "steam" for 2 minutes. Check for tenderness, and remove from microwave. Meanwhile, heat remaining 1 tbsp vegetable oil in a small skillet over high heat, and add the scallops. Sear on each side for 2-3 minutes, or until they are slightly browned.
To serve soup, ladle into a shallow bowl. Then add one leek to the center of each bowl, top the leek with a scallop, then top the scallop with a spoonful of caviar. Sprinkle the soup with chopped chives and drizzle with lemon oil.