I love to entertain. And when I do, I love to serve many courses and pair a wonderful wine with each one. While it may seem like a lot, with some good planning, and a little cook ahead time, a fancy dinner party isn’t so hard to put together.
LindySez likes it good, but she also likes it easy.
I remember many times during my childhood, my Mother when making the holiday dinners would get so stressed and tired that it was hard for her to sit down and actually enjoy the meal she had created. So I like to take my time and spread the work over a number of days, doing only what has to be last minute… at the last minute. That way I can actually sit down and enjoy myself and my guests on party day.
With a little planning, and some refrigerator room, you can get this done.
So here’s my menu:
Hummus and Bread Sticks
Artisan Cured Olives
Served with: 2004 Verget Chablis Fourchaume
Served with: 2004 Hartford Four Hearts Chardonnay – Russian River Valley
Served with: 2001 Freemark Abbey Bosche Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon
Served with: Point Reyes Vineyard Lat Harvest
OK, it sounds like a mouthful, right? Oh, and it was, many a wonderful mouthfuls!
Let’s start at the beginning, the appetizers. Caviar is totally impressive and very simple to prepare, open a jar, no prep needed. Since I was using caviar in two places, I just bought a bigger tin (2 ounces) and used some of it for the appetizer and some for the fish course. I usually get mine from the refrigerator section of Bev-Mo, but most higher end grocery stores carry it. (Do not buy the stuff in cans on your grocery stores selves…it is not good...and probably one of the big reasons why people say they don’t like caviar. Good caviar does not taste fishy, it taste fresh from the sea). The Hummus and bread sticks come from Trader Joes, but you can get them in almost any store. Rosemary Almonds? Also TJ’s, but you could make them by frying some blanched almonds in some oil and adding rosemary, let them cool then put it into a zip top bag. I buy mine and keep them in the freezer, taking them out about an hour before I need to serve them, you don’t want to serve frozen nuts. (Keeping nuts in the freezer is a smart idea, as they turn rancid easily). Get your olives from your favorite grocery store olive bar (here in California they are everywhere). All of these appetizers go well with a champagne or sparkling wine. How celebrant is that?
Now to the first course: The Winter White Vegetable Soup can be made almost a week in advance. I usually make mine 3 to 4 days ahead. There is a huge advantage to cooking things in advance , for one you get to taste and correct the dish making sure it tastes exactly as you want it to; or if necessary…throw it out and start again it over. Although if you follow the recipe and don’t make too many substitutions, it should all work out o.k.
LindySez RANT: I hate it when I read a viewer comment after a recipe and they say “I didn’t like this recipe, but I didn’t have ingredient A…so I substituted D, and I didn’t have C so I put in this…then I boiled it instead of baking it“. OK…slight exaggeration. While I love to read recipes because they give me wonderful ideas, I also know that you cannot always interchange ingredients. If you are a fairly experienced cook and know something about flavors and textures, you can probably come up with a reasonable substitute. But if you don’t, well then darn it, make it like it’s written.
Immediately follow the soup with the tart. The tart topping of peppers and onions can also be made in advance, just keep it in the fridge and take it out at least an hour before you want to make them.
Party Tip: Make a menu. My friends think I post the menu to impress them and while I do want them to know what they are having, I also use it to keep track of what I’m serving. Did you ever go to a holiday meal where at the end the hostess says “Oh Darn…I forgot the ( fill in the blank)”? I know I have. So when I have a dinner party I not only have a menu, but I have a time-line and plate sketch which shows me the plate I plan to use, and how I want to lay out my food. I thank Hubert Keller for teaching me that trick. And I set my plates out, where I can see them and be reminded about what is supposed to be on them.
After the first naturally comes the second. The Sea Bass in Cabbage Leaves with Caviar is a most decadent and impressive dish. And it’s so easy. While you can make the sauce only a few hours in advance (I hold my sauce in a thermos) the fish can be wrapped in the cabbage leaves the day before. Keep, covered in a container, lined with some paper towels to them keep them dry, and refrigerate. Set these to steam while you are enjoying that Sweet Pepper Tart.
The Chili-Lime Sorbet is Dyno-mite. You can actually make this a week or more in advance. I like to serve it in a demitasse or espresso cup, with a thin slice of jalapeno on top and a slice of lime for garnish. (If making a sorbet is too much, buy something light to serve in between, like Lemon or Mango sorbet. It really helps to cleanse the pallet between courses).
Now for the main event. Keep in mind that you don’t need to make huge portions of anything. You get more courses with smaller portions. Again, all of the elements of the main course can be made in advance. The German Style Short Ribs are really better when they sit for couple of days in the refrigerator, allowing all those flavors to marry. Then, when ready, reheat. Skim any hardened fat off the top before reheating and make this a low-cal meal (um, yeah, right!). Put the meat, along with your Timbale of Potatoes in the oven as your time-line advises…and you will be on track for a great and relaxing dinner.
It’s dessert time. Slice the cheesecake you made the day before, put up some coffee, tea, or both add a little late harvest wine and take a bow. The dinner was great, your guests have gone home happy and full. Now it’s time to put on some great music and clean up. Since most of it was made days before…it’s not so bad. OK, there are a few dishes, but it was so worth it!
Here’s how I do a time-line…I work backwards from what time I want to serve the main course entree, and forward from the time guests are due to arrive. Think of your time-line as your stress free recipe for success. If you only have to look at one place for all your temperatures and cooking times, rather than having to refer to recipe after recipe, it’s just going to be that much smoother and easier to get it all on the table on time.
Guest due to arrive: 6:00
First course 7:00
5:00 Make the sauce for the fish course – hold in thermos
5:30 Bring in all the prepared food
6:00 – Set out appetizers, get out steamer (I use my rice cooker to steam the fish)
6:15 Heat oven to 375 degrees. Put toppings on tarts.
6:30 Start heating the soup, add cream – adjust seasonings
6:45 Put tarts in oven, set time for 25 minutes
Waters to table
Butter to plates
7:00 Serve soup
7:20 Serve Tarts
Put fish in to steam
Lower oven heat to 325 degrees F. Put Short ribs and potatoes in the oven
7:45 Serve Fish
8:15 Serve intermezzo
Finish short ribs
Remove timbales from oven
Put dinner plates in oven to briefly warm
8:30 Serve main course
Ask guests if they want coffee or tea with dessert, if so, start coffee pot and hot water
9:00 serve dessert
Talk – laugh – have fun!
LindySez: That’s how she does it. And if you have teenage children, hire them to help with the serving and clean-up. It’s good training for them, and lets you relax all the more.
And now the Wine Geek weighs in with a word, or two, about our wine choices, why we chose what we did and what to look for as a good substitution.
2004 Verget Chablis Fourchaume
Our first course called for lean white wine and we chose an old world premier crus Chablis from the Fourchaume vineyard. Chablis is a very distinctive lean expression of Chardonnay, producing steely mineral tones and rich stone fruit flavors. Chablis typically receives little or no new oak and has been known to age. The Verget Fourchaume was a perfect pair for this first course.
If you cannot find this exact wine: Most any premier crus Chablis will give you the minerality and stone fruit flavors which paired so well with creamy soup, rich bleu cheese and the crunchy and tangy onion red pepper tart. If New World wines are more your style, look for unoaked chardonnays, sometime marketed as “naked Chardonnay” Or look for American producers of Chardonnay who use a very limited oak regime. Avoid sweeter, malolactic style chards (known for their creamy, buttery notes) which will overwhelm the flavors in this dish
2004 Hartford Four Hearts Chardonnay-Russian River Valley
With the second course, we shifted gears upward in the Chardonnay family and served the Hartford Four Hearts from the Russian River Valley. Unlike the Chablis, this wine is rounder in style and had flavors which paired nicely with the delicate sea bass and helped to highlight the creamy clam and tomato sauce. Four Hearts Chardonnay goes through 100% malolactic fermentation and is also 100% barrel fermented imparting a distinctive blend of pear, orange blossom and nectarine notes balanced with a weighty crème brulee like character and zesty acidity.
If you cannot find this exact wine look for other wines produced in Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley or ask your local wine merchant for lean restrained Chardonnay’s which go through malolactic fermentation and have a fairly aggressive oak program.
2001 Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon Bosche VineyardWith the entree, the braised short ribs, we confidently served up a traditional and well know old Napa Valley Cabernet from Freemark Abbey. As the premier “brand” in the American Wine world, Napa Valley has made it’s most distinctive mark producing world class Cabernet Sauvignon for 120+ years. The warm climate and cool nights create ripe, lush full bodied flavors of currant, cassis, and blackberry, and this worked perfectly with the meat course. Our Bosche Vineyard cabernet had succulent aromas of cherry, black raspberry syrup, and walnut meat in addition to holiday spices like clove and nutmeg. Chocolate and caramel flavors round out the wine which has a long finish.
If you cannot find this exact wine look for other Napa Valley Cabernet producers. While Cabernet from other appellations will suffice, you are want to pair this dish with a cabernet which features flavors of black fruit, and rich undertones of chocolate and dark cherry.
Point Reyes Late Harvest Viognier (NV)
For Desert we served a Point Reyes Vineyard late harvest Viognier to pair with the Bellwether Farms cheese cake. As expected tropical fruit notes from the Viognier were punctuated by apricot and honey. The wine’s character was rich and unctuous which perfectly paired with the creamy sweetness of the Bellwether fromage.
If you cannot find this exact wine: Serve any new world late harvest Viognier, or sauvignon blanc. You are looking for sweet, tropical notes and a rich honey character. If you want to get more adventurous, ask your wine merchant for an Old World Sauterne selection-there are many affordable ones under $35 dollars (such as Chateau Barsac) Or if you are in the mood to pull out the stops—then get your hands on a bottle of Chateau Yquem ($275+ for the 2007 vintage) and be prepared for an explosion of flavors that will be the perfect finish to this Fancy-Schmancy dinner party!
The Wine Geek