One of the reasons I’m planning to go all-out for my big 5-0 next year is that I know that the decade after that will be chock-full of engagements, weddings, babies, and other big life markers (not necessarily in that order LOL) from my own daughters, I’m sure, to my younger friends such as my fabulous artist friend, the lovely Dana Mooney!
I’m beyond thrilled for her upcoming wedding – so much so, I offered to host her and her closest girlfriends over for a wee night in of celebration.
Smaller groups allow for more intimate gatherings, which made this set of 7 perfectly suited for the Living Room. We could chat, eat, lounge and not move more than to have a glass re-filled. Throws and pillows were in abundance for ultimate comfort, of course!
Dana’s favorite color is pink, so it was easy to set a theme for this one. A few fresh flowers to brighten up the box hedge cuttings already in vintage vases from a previous dinner. Food Tables (by myself over at ‘alison kent HOME‘) always help for elevating a tablescape, and I loooove the ceramic and marble tops together. Simple charcuterie at it’s finest!
This was the first chance I had to use a set of 8 vintage green beaded glass mini cake trays and they were perfectly placed, along with french macarons and red grapes, all over the main and adjacent tables.
Sprinkle in some soft lighting, peppy french music playlists, rides home all pre-arranged, and an evening can’t get much more relaxed than that.
I think everyone had a fabulous time! I made a big bowl of (not homemade – so sorry crew) lemon-tomato pasta to fill any hunger gaps, and THE party girl Meme made some super pretty right-on-theme cocktails for post champagne toast consumption.
All that, and flowers to continue to enjoy the day after!
Simple. Pretty. Comfortable. Inviting. Celebratory. Hit all the points. Congratulations, Dana! (also, if you don’t know her artwork, you SHOULD!)
Are you a menu-planner, or a wing-it kind of person? I’m definitely somewhere in between – I start out all plann’y, but always end up winging it. Sometimes it works, but sometimes I could have used a little more planning LOL.
There was no rhyme or reason for Sunday’s dinner for 10 – just things I was craving, which is often the impetus for most of my menu’s. I try to figure out ways at least flavors can go from course to course, but I had neither the energy or the interest this round – I wanted food that made me happy.
A few recipes came from the classes I took last summer, others I’ve made so many times it’s almost rote. I was also in need of marrow stock, so the bone marrow just had to happen!
Full disclosure, dinner wasn’t AMAZING. The soup needed to be reduced a bit more, a few dishes needed a touch of salt, the dishes could have ‘spoken’ to each other better, and the bread – GASP – was NOT homemade (What is my world coming to?! LOL!!).
But, guests chatted happily. Plates were wiped (albeit with store-bought bread haha) clean. New friendships were formed between people who hadn’t previously met. Everyone went home full and loved. And, in the end, that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?
It isn’t every night a world-famous Artist of proud Mexican heritage offers to teach you an authentic dish! Ok, so it happens this is our third such meal, but who’s counting?! Bring.Em.On.
After the lovely Miriam Aroeste had led previous dinner crowds through Tortilla Soup (and yes, we crisped all the tortillas ourselves!) and Pozole, it was time for Chiles Rellenos. A dish, admittedly, I’ve actually never had before. But the other guests had and were so excited I figured it would be good!
Friends of the house-host, who, since he doesn’t have social media has been forevermore dubbed as #LesterGrandDukeofShaughnessy, invited a few other Mexican-Canadian friends who hand-painted these martini glasses! Naturally we had to test out whether or not they could ALSO work for Tequila haha. They did, but good thing we tested, you know, just in case…
My personal contribution was home-made Ocean Perch and Mexican White Prawn Ceviche. It turned out fairly well if I do say so! But definitely could have used a bit more “kick”.
Isn’t she adorable?! Miriam loves living life to the fullest – and that’s one of the many reasons I love her!
The jist of the recipe is seared Poblano peppers that are then seeded + skinned, stuffed with cheese (or meat or both!), and dredged in flour. They are then dipped in a whipped egg mixture and fried to golden perfection. Every single step looked more and more delicious!
In the meantime, a mixture of roasted tomato and onion, salt/pepper was simmered to a sauce on a separate element.
DELICIOUS! I would definitely make this again – or any time I find full-sized Poblano peppers. Not sure I’d have to patience to do mini-ones LOL. It was incredible.
The night was capped off with a private piano and flute concerto by our professionally talented house-hosts in the Salon surrounded by antiques, art and fabulous humans. I call nights at his house our “New York Moments” *sigh*… Not to mention this gorgeously caramelized Flan by Miriam!
Sometimes I’m just spoiled, but I also believe – and we all discussed – what goes around, comes around. We have all hosted each other, cooked and cared for each other, and genuinely appreciate the effort it takes to chef, teach, host and support. I welcome a great many people into my home, but the ones that reciprocate are just incredibly special to me – I know the effort, and appreciate it so very much. A night “off” cooking like this for me is a rare treat indeed, and for Miriam to walk us through one of her recipes was amazing.
SO – go ahead! Invite someone over who has hosted you, and thank them. They’re sure to love it. AND – try the Chiles Rellenos – it’s worth the effort!!
I mean, not to brag or anything. BUT I’m not a Ramen person, so it literally was the BEST Ramen I’ve ever had! LOL. Ramen noodles tend to be too heavy for me – I prefer the lighter vermicelli noodle in Pho, but that said, last night I SLAYED on a table for 10, hot-pot-style Ramen Feast.
I wasn’t sure I could pull off a hot dish like Ramen for a table full of people – at the same time – but thanks to a few tricks, I pulled it off and everyone was definitely lulled into a YUMMY place of heavenly bliss…
By now you know we’ve been making a lot of Peking Duck stock – and trying to find new or creative ways to use it up. This round, I ramped it up by adding some chicken feet for a light gelatin, some roasted beef bones (I kept the meat and sliced it up for topping), and a bit of frozen marrow stock I had lying around. Add in a little fish + soy sauce, lime juice, kaffir lime leaves and lemongrass and VOILA! The layering of this stock made it a soup fit for a King.
Just my luck, though, my daughter is Pescatarian, so I had to also make a quick fish stock from spines and heads in the freezer. I added some “Seafood Gold” stock from my freezer along with a special recipe for Vietnamese chicken I learned 20 yrs ago and – YUM. It was served to her w Vietnamese grilled tofo.
As MORE luck would have it, the red meat in the Duck stock and the shellfish in the Seafood stock meant my gout-ridden Dad couldn’t eat either, so I also pulled out some plain Turkey stock from the freezer just for him.
I love a creamy soup, so I sous vide a dozen eggs (in the shell – how awesome that they come with their own packaging?!) with soy sauce water to a soft poach and they were perfect to crack open over the soup. So easy to do a big batch, and leave in the sous vide until you’re good and ready for them.
Along with all that came a bunch of chopped fresh ingredients, a selection of beef (from the roasted bones), duck breast sliced thin, and chopped pork belly. I think I piled all 3 on mine LOL along with 2 sous vide eggs – I was on a protein high for awhile!
BUT – let me tell you – the MOST AMAZING PART!! We made our OWN FRESH Ramen noodles!!! REALLY!! And they were so easy!
I’d made them in cooking school the past summer, but hadn’t practiced them since. To be honest, my daughter and I were pretty skeptical that they’d turn out, and I even asked Hubby to do a grocery run for dried noodles just in case…
The flour and water combo was pretty slaggy and crumbly, and we only had 1 hour to proof the dough rather than the 3 hours required (I put it in a low oven for the hour). But once we started kneading it out of the oven, it was PERFECT! We pulled it with the Kitchenaid pasta attachments.
We tested a few strands, and landed on a 1-minute boil to get the noodles to perfection. Our triple-batch was JUST enough for 11 people to be FULL to the ears on Ramen.
It was so delicious, barely anyone spoke for a full 10 minutes at the table – all you could hear were happy slurps.
While I wasn’t sure I could do a hot soup “DIY” style for a larger group, it ended up being the perfect way to feed a group while letting everyone customize their dishes. I would MOST definitely do it again!
HAPPY New Years 2020!! Who else is excited for a whole new decade?!
My 2019 ended with another e p i c a l l y delicious NYE dinner with fellow cook, El Jefe Chef Fong, and our “sous-chef’s” May and Jenny.
The “NYE Cookathon” tradition began when we had small boys at home and didn’t want to pay for babysitting AND dinner out. And so, with me looking for a cooking challenge, we spent our first NYE at home, with Hubby putting together IKEA furniture and my beloved Nana helping in the Kitchen. We’d sit every hour or so, once I’d finished cooking a dish, then go back to boys/chores or cooking the next course. In between, we’d write a list of all the ups and downs the previous year had brought us.
As the years wore on, the food became more complex – and more delicious! Or not – after an evening of wine, one out of 10 dishes ends up biting it… On the whole, though it was actually BETTER food than eating out at most places anyhow, so it became a tradition. At some point friends with their kids starting joining in and it’s grown to about 10 of us who gather each year, kids upstairs with a giant batch of mac + cheese, adults at the table eating the “good stuff” haha.
This NYE the Menu wasn’t as complex as previous years (8 courses of French Laundry and 3 days of cooking, anyone?!), but still DELICIOUS – and more relaxing! It’s a mix of French + Italian, and all over YUMMY. I think all the guests were pleasantly full and fully pleased.
Personal touches included Salmon that Kid Tt smoked out in my new Weber Smoker, and Risotto and Bisque from my end-of-summer Stock cook. I also took a half of blood orange for the salad and dehydrated slices for the Whiskey Sours – UM, YUM! None of the recipes were new, which made it fun to play with some new ingredient additions instead.
The whole family got involved for the first time, with our eldest making some amazing Whiskey Sours, the younger daughter taking charge of the tablescape, and one of our sons doing the smoking – such a fun event to host as a family!
How did YOU ALL celebrate the closing of the ’10’s, ringing in the roaring 20’s?! However you did, I’m wishing you an incredible 2020 and decade ahead!
Things shifted this Christmas, and I’m totally ok with that. With the loss of my beloved Nana, it was also an opportunity to renew traditions that had been on for decades. And this year, that meant my sister and myself taking over Christmas Dinner!
Tired of turkeys since Thanksgiving and other meals (including our 50-60+ person Christmas Eve, based around a gigantic turkey), somehow my sister and I decided that we would be free in creating new traditions to cook something new, delicious and – anything not turkey LOL. This year, we chose my favorite Duck Breast with Cassis and Raspberries, from my ultra-dog-eared and well-used the Food of France book.
I found the exact recipe (and photo) from the book here (although disappointingly not credited?!). I highly recommend purchasing the book – I use SO VERY MANY recipes in it, but this is by far one of my favorites!! The Pommes Anna (scalloped potatoes) was also taken from this book.
To add a fresh element, I also added a chopped Brussel Sprout Salad, which seems to be a winner every time I make it! I generally just google a recipe, then make it up with what I have, but this one is close.
In the end, it was relaxing, yummy and enjoyable for everyone (except my Pescatarian daughter who had smoked fish).
Sometimes change can be good. Sometimes traditions can evolve into newer versions of themselves. And sometimes it all works out just DELICIOUSLY!
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… OK, it wasn’t THAT bad, but when trying a new dish – especially a slightly technical one – with guests is always a bit of a dice roll. I DID warn them all that we might end up ordering pizza by the end LOL!
I’ve made Poached Egg Ravioli many times, with it’s beautiful silky yolks resting in a nest of truffled ricotta and spinach. After a perfect 3.5 min boil, a single giant ravioli is plated and, once cut through, the creamy yellow flows into a bacon Brown Butter sauce. VOILA! <a combo of these recipes HEREand HEREare simply magical>. It’s the #1 request from guests – when I give them a choice.
SO OF COURSE, always on the lookout for ways to challenge myself, I figured how much better it would taste SMALLER with tiny quail eggs?! The trick is that a chicken egg poaches perfectly with the cook time of #6 rolled fresh pasta – 3.5 minutes. Quail eggs poach in only 1.5 minutes (see my notes about these little devils HERE), which means a thinner pasta is required.
My big mistakes were starting with a pasta that was too wet. This is one instance where a drier pasta is preferred, and mine was WET. No matter how much extra flour I used, the recipe I usually use <included in Gordon Ramsay’s Masterclass HERE> just wasn’t doing what I wanted, but I was short on time and used it anyhow. Let’s just say it did NOT willingly do a #7 roll, but I thought it would still work at the time…
The second mistake was not letting my ricotta strain to get all the extra moisture out. In the end, about half of the prepared ravioli disintegrated on me, but thankfully the half I did have were enough to feed my dinner party 3 pieces each with a DELICIOUS tomato/lemon/pepper sauce – and the mini quail egg “surprise” in the middle was perfectly poached along with the pasta in 1.5 minutes precisely!
All things considered, mistakes do happen. Maybe one day I’ll learn to test a recipe at least once before inviting people over, but not likely! And no one seems to mind. Worst case, I can always pull a Cassoulet out of the freezer, or make a quick dried pasta to soak up my delicious sauces. But now that the troubleshooting has been done, I’ll definitely be making this dish again!
Do you have a dish you’ve been practicing?? Share the details!
Do you find you spend more time in the Kitchen while guests are over, than actually sitting with your guests? I often do!
I’m constantly trying to figure out perfect menus where I can pre-prep 95% of the meal, and simply finish off and serve once guests start arriving, so I can be sitting, relaxing, sitting and enjoying wine while they’re seated.
The other night came pretty close with a beautiful Mushroom Risotto – which paired perfectly with a recently made Peking Duck stock – and simple Duck Confit.
I LOVE plating dinners for guests, and probably do it about half the time. I get to use more pretty plates this way – LOL – and it leaves the entire center of the table for pretty things like candles and clippings of Boxwood from the front yard. The Boxwood is handy since half my family is allergic to fresh flowers, it needs to be trimmed anyhow, and it seems to go with any seasons’ setting!
Kale Caesar Salad w Toasted Panko + Poached Quail Eggs
Kale is our go-to for Caesar Salad, which we have ALL.THE.TIME. in our house. It’s STURDY and can stand for an hour or so on the counter, even dressed, without wilting too much which is perfect for dinner parties.
We keep toasted Panko on hand all the time – it’s a quick grab to sprinkle on anything you want to add a slight CRUNCH too.
Quail Eggs are my NEMESIS, but I’m determined to eventually master them! They’re fussy to open, but once you do the yolk to white ratio is perfect for poaching. They can be emptied into a shallow bowl of vinegar until you need them, then empty the entire bowl of vinegar and eggs into boiling water for 1m20s and – DONE! I’ll post the exact instructions soon.
Since I was serving Duck Confit as the Main Course, the Peking Duck stock from our “Stock Up” day was perfect. Risotto can be pre-made up to 95% cook and the final add-ins, then re-heated quickly for service.
Add some high-heat grilled torn Chanterelles with parsely (this way the parsley isn’t raw to the tooth as when it’s typically sprinkled on at plating – add it just as the Chanterelles are finishing), and once plated, a drizzle of Truffle Oil. Voila!
Duck Confit w Garlic Confit Cauliflower Puree + Green Beans
Ok, so the main course was a bit of a cheat. We buy an AMAZING Duck Confit locally and I keep batches of it in the freezer to add to anything from Mac + Cheese to a lunch salad. Cook at 450d for 20min and it’s gorgeous, crispy-skinned and done. Guests feel spoiled, and it’s ALWAYS delicious, so win-win!
Cauliflower puree is a big dinner party go-to, since it can be completely made before hand and re-heated in the moment. Be careful – it can spit during re-heat… Ouch. I also keep Garlic Confit on hand at all times – it’s beautiful just on toast, or added to just about any dish you want a SLIGHT garlic flavor from.
French Butter Cake w Okanagan Peach Slices + Grand Marnier Whip
I have an old recipe from some magazine or other, at least 12 years ago, for this Breton Butter Cake that we’ve probably made about 1,000 times now. We love it, and it pairs SO incredibly well with the 70lbs of Peaches I buy every August from the Okanagan, and can for just these occasions. THIS recipe by the Baking Wizard comes pretty close.
It can be pre-made entirely, and sitting in the fridge until dinner service starts. Once we sit to the first course, I pop it in the oven for 50mins and it’s done and still warm in time for dessert!
All in all, I think this particular dinner party was a success and I actually got to enjoy some conversation! But it wasn’t just the menu, I confess – Boo and Tt were SO helpful with some of the finishing, plating and serving that I was more free to enjoy.
Sidenote, I owe my boys $20 each Haha.
One guest brought Tt his first Aquaponics tank and we can’t wait to try it! Aquaponics uses fish “poopy” water to feed plants without the use of any soil, then filters the water back into the fish. It’s a circular system and can be used large scale to breed your own edible fish and grow an entire garden from them, so we’ll see how far he takes it LOL, but for now – time to get some goldfish and Kale seeds!