Happy New Year – And How to Pull Off a BIG Dinner Party
Tonight’s the night – the night I live for each year. There is just something about a New Year celebration that makes me shake off anything that’s bugging me from the past year and welcome in the New Year with a fresh list of resolutions (I actually keep most of them). And for me, there’s no better way to spend it than making dinner for friends.
Tonight that happens to mean a 10 course dinner with wine pairings, each course featuring local Colorado producers – farmers, ranchers, cheesemakers, wineries, and more. I read alot of food blogs and snicker a bit at folks in CA that do a dinner with local produce in the winter. I mean, don’t they get local stuff virtually year round? Doing that in Denver when it’s below freezing for weeks takes finesse. As I post the recipes in the coming days I’ll make sure to share that with you. But for now, let’s focus on exactly how to pull off a dinner party like this. Whether your dinner is for 2 or for 16 like mine tonight, and whether it’s a couple of dishes or 10, it’s all in the prep work. You’d think I’d be running around like a lunatic today, but actually I spent two hours reading food blogs, then an hour working out while watching Chopped, then went to have my nails done (a luxury I’ve put off for months). Here’s how I do it.
Start by selecting a menu that allows for dishes to be prepared largely in advance. Of my ten courses, 4 are completed and just need to be warmed up, 5 need a little last minute attention that I can do before jumping in the shower, and only 1 (lamb chops) needs to be cooked to order. Do as much the day before instead of the day of your event. I’d rather fall into bed tired the night before and be refreshed the day of the party. Enlist friends to help prep. Two of my best buddies spent a couple of hours here yesterday afternoon and were tireless choppers, mincers, and dicers. Then put all of your prepped ingredients into the refrigerators (I like reusable containers) in an organized fashion so you know where everything is when you need it.
If you’re going to pull off a multi-course extravaganza, you need to consider a few tips:
- The more courses you have, the smaller each one should be – mine will all be very small tapas sized portions tonight.
- Start with a single pop-in-your-mouth amuse bouche – I’m serving a Puff Pastry Tartlet with Goat Cheese.
- Progress through your courses from lighter dishes like soup and salads into heavier courses like fish, chicken or meat.
- If you are having alot of courses, consider making one of them a palate cleanser. I’m serving a Lemon Rosemary Moscato d’Asti Sorbet after my 5th course (recipe below).
I start by deciding what in general I’m cooking – salad, fish, beef – then deciding what to actually make. As I develop or select those recipes, I often end up moving things around in the order I’ll serve them. For example, I usually would serve pork before elk, but the pork is in a spicy and rich posole dish tonight, so I’m serving it after the elk, which is being served with a bolognese sauce. I also create the order of my dishes from which wines I want to pair with them. I chose a Chianti Classico for the Elk Bolognese and a CA Zinfandel for the Pork Green Chili Posole. The CA Zin is definitely a bigger wine that a Chianti Classico, so I want that dish and wine to follow.
Actually serving your meal to your guests is another challenge. Set out all of your plates before the dinner – and if I’m having several courses, I even label them with post it notes so I remember what I’m using for what. Set out all of your glassware as well so that it’s ready to go. If you can afford to hire a server or two (and teenage kids in need of money are perfect for this job), it will allow you to stay seated with your guests. If not, make it a team effort and let everyone help.
Set your table the day before (or even two days before). I’ve developed a cheap alternative to renting a table to accomodate my large group. I put a 6 foot folding table up, top it with a piece of 4 x 8 heavy particle board, and then use a matching tablecloth. See how the table seems to just extend to seat 16? I also needed to use extra folding chairs. I like the padded type of folding chair you can buy at Costco, especially for sitting for a long dinner, and I like to cover them with inexpensive slipcovers. I alternated the folding chairs and my actual dining room chairs to make the table look for cohesive – less like an adult table and a kids’ table.
And finally, the beverages. As a certified sommelier, I like to pair wines with each course – we’re having 7 different wines with the meal tonight (and I’ll be calling taxis for everyone later). Wine pairing takes some practice, but in general, start with drier and lighter wines, working your way to heavier and then sweeter (dessert) wines. That usually means white to red, but in some cases some very light red wines can be served before a very heavy white wine. Your local wine shop would love to help you decide. If you want to serve just one or two, I like Riesling and Pinot Noir as the most flexible and food friendly wines. I also think Champagne goes with everything – but, hey, that’s me! Don’t forget something non-alcoholic – you can’t go wrong with simple sparkling water with some lemons and limes.
So there you have it – all of my tips for pulling off a big dinner party! If you have a big event you need help with, send me a note and I’m happy to answer any questions or give advice!
Thanks for all of your support this past year – I’ve loved getting to know you all and hearing from you. Happy New Year! I hope 2010 is great for you!
Lemon Rosemary Moscato d’Asti
Yields 4 cups
(Serves 20 as an intermezzo course)
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup water
1/2 cup fresh rosemary, roughly chopped
1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 cup Moscato d’Asti (or other sparkling wine)
Combine water, sugar and rosemary sprigs in a saucepan, bring to a boil; lower the heat to a simmer and cover for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and cool. Add the fresh lemon juice and strain the mixture discarding the rosemary. Add Moscato d’Asti and pour into a shallow container, cover and freeze until firm. Remove from freezer, puree in a blender or food processor until smooth. Put into a small bowl, cover and freeze again. When ready to plate up use a melon baller or small ice cream scoop to make 1 to 3 balls per person. Serve in a stemmed glass or dessert dish before the main course. Garnish with rosemary sprigs to serve.
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