Thank you so much for your support in the last two rounds of Project Food Blog. I sincerely appreciate your support and I know I couldn’t have done it without you. For this week’s challenge we were tasked with hosting a luxury dinner party that would introduce our guests to new tastes and exotic flavors. I was thrilled for this challenge because I felt like it would give me a chance to showcase a side of my approach to food and cooking that I hadn’t shared in the previous post. When making the Kielbasa for The Classics I was able to showcase my love of traditional techniques, but because we were tasked with being as authentic as possible I didn’t get to show how much I love infusing dishes with new and unexpected flavors. I loved that with this challenge’s focus on exotic and new flavors I would be able to do just that.
To decide what exotic flavors to feature, I did research on what food industry insiders were predicting would be the next big flavors of 2010. I thought it would be fun to give my guests a taste of what the food future holds. High on the list were hibiscus, rose water, cardamom, and rooibos tea. I decided to bring these new flavors to some of my favorite elegant dinner party dishes. And because luxury to me says attention to small details and going beyond the everyday, I added my own special touches by making as many of the ingredients from scratch as I could, including making my own Mascarpone cheese and pasta.
Because I think planning ahead helps make a dinner party a success. I actually landed on the following menu about one week in advance and kept my fingers crossed I’d make the next round. I asked all of my guests in advance about their likes, dislikes and allergies so I could plan a menu that would satisfy everyone’s tastes. I highly recommend doing this whenever you have a dinner party because there is nothing worse than serving a dish only to find that it includes an ingredient someone loathes or even worse, is allergic to.
I decided on a flowery Hibiscus-Citrus Punch as a cocktail served with artisan cheeses and Rose-Water Candied Almonds as nibbles. I like serving room temperature appetizers when I entertain because I have found that hot appetizers, while delicious straight from the oven, often become lackluster as they cool, especially for guests that arrive late. I also loved the idea of candied almonds because the rose water allowed me to give my favorite bar snack a twist.
For the main dish I went for Baked Chicken with Orange, Honey and Rooibos Tea Sauce. Even though I am not personally a huge fan of chicken, I love serving it at dinner parties because it’s one meat most guests can agree on. The sauce allowed me to add my own sophisticated twist to the dish, but serving it on the side would mean that picky diners could still enjoy themselves. As sides I made my favorite macaroni and cheese and sweet potatoes, with a hint of cardamom as an added surprise.
I think when I lot of people think dinner parties they get intimidated, especially if it involves cooking from scratch. But by planning ahead and spreading the work over several days, preparing for a dinner party is not only doable, but enjoyable. For this challenge I planned my menu a week out, choosing dishes that would allow me to do the bulk of the prep work in advance so I could enjoy my party with my guests.
I bought my groceries several days in advance. I always recommend that because it gives you time to adjust your menu if there’s an ingredient you cannot find. For example, I had originally planned to use hibiscus flowers in syrup for my cocktail, but when I couldn’t find it I had enough time to rework the recipe to instead include a sparkling hibiscus beverage.
I made my Mascarpone cheese and fresh pasta for my macaroni and cheese and candied nuts during the week. This allowed me to reduce my prep time on the day of the dinner party dramatically. Because the Mascarpone cheese was a new recipe to me I appreciated having the extra few days to tinker with the recipe to get it just right. (Yes, I may be a little Type A. I made it three times.)
I also portioned out all the ingredients I would need for my recipes ahead of time and compiled them in labeled food storage containers and bags so that the day of the party my mise en place would be all ready to go. This is one of my favorite tricks for entertaining. I love it because it means that I can measure ingredients when I’m relaxed and not pressed for time, rather than doing it at the last minute where I might make a mistake.
It also meant that the day of the party I had time to cook leisurely, enjoy a drink, and have plenty of time to prep for the party. To me this is the only way I can cook for a dinner party. The first time I ever held one I made the mistake of cramming all the planning, shopping, and cooking into one day. The result was that I spent most of the party in the kitchen and not with my guests. I felt frazzled and stressed and couldn’t wait for my guests to leave. How horrible! The upside was I was able to take all my mistakes and learn from them, so I have since become a much more comfortable host.
With my dishes in the oven and the table set my guests started to trickle in and the party was finally underway.
The appetizers went over well. The candied nuts were perfect to take off the edge with just a light floral note from the rose water. And the punch was perfect for washing it down, with the hibiscus echoing the same floral flavors in the nuts and citrus juices adding the right balance of acid.
And dinner was served. Overall the meal was a success. I loved how the rooibos tea gave the orange sauce for the chicken a subtle earthiness, but without overpowering the other flavors. The same was true of the cardamom in the sweet potatoes. It added a nice kick of spice that lingered at the end of each bite, making you wonder what the special ingredient was. And the macaroni and cheese, complete with homemade noodles and mascarpone cheese was a hit as always. I knew it would be a favorite and my assumptions were confirmed when one of my friends, who does not normally love cooking, emailed me the next day asking for the recipe.
I’ll be sharing all the recipes this week in individual posts on my blog, but in the meantime I’d love your support in the Project Food Blog contest hosted by Foodbuzz.com. I hope you have enjoyed the post and will help me move onto round 4! Voting for this round will open at 6:00 am PST Monday, October 4 and end at 6:00 pm PST on Thursday, October 7th. View my profile here, and then vote! One of the upcoming challenges is to create a photo tutorial and if I advance, I plan to show you step by step how to make homemade mascarpone cheese, so if my post didn’t already convince you to vote, I hope this does!