A Midwestern Meets Mediterranean Dinner Party

by Kelly on July 27, 2012

As I mentioned early in the week my projects in the kitchen have been a little pathetic this summer. So when family came into town I was determined to redeem myself. Thankfully, around the same time I received an invitation from McCormick Gourmet to participate in their Dinner Party Chain so the stars seemed perfectly aligned for a great feast.  I’m a huge fan of home entertaining so I was thrilled to be involved in an effort to get more people together over a delicious meal at the table.  Not to mention I grew up with a spice cabinet full of tins (Yes, they were tins back then if anyone remembers.) of McCormick spices so I was looking forward to trying more of their latest line of spices, many of them international blends like a heavenly sounding Cocoa Chile Blend, Cuban Seasoning, and Southwest Seasoning.

Since Pinterest has become my latest guilty pleasure I started by bookmarking recipes that caught my eye and finally settled on a theme for my dinner party – Midwest meets Mediterranean.

The Midwest came in the form of using great local ingredients whenever possible, or at the very least, from local businesses.  That meant kolrabi, berries, green beans, and fresh mint from the farmers’ market and a gorgeous sirloin steak from local venerable Chicago meat shop Paulina Market.  I paired that with classic cornerstones of Mediterranean cooking like red wine, mascarpone cheese, fennel and from my assortment of McCormick Gourmet herbs and spices, Basil, Oregano, Italian seasoning, and Garlic Powder, among others.  It made for perfect casual dinner party menu.

We started the night with a Kohlrabi, Fennel, and Blueberry Salad.

I made the recipe as written except that I substituted 1/4 teaspoon McCormick Gourmet Roasted Ground Ginger for the fresh ginger.  I was intrigued by the fact the spice was roasted and love that it made for a smooth dressing and added pronounced spicy ginger flavor.  I’ve made this salad before and was thrilled to share it with my family because it features an unusual pairing of ingredients that just work.  It’s also filling, while still being fresh and light, the perfect start to a summer meal.

For our main course I served a Zesty Red Wine and Herb Sirloin Steak straight from the McCormick website.

It called for marinating the beef in a mixture of red wine (I used Italian of course), Steak Seasoning, Italian Seasoning, Worcestershire Sauce, Garlic Powder, and Olive Oil. It was very  easy to make, which was perfect since my summer meals tend to be more streamlined and fuss-free.  I loved that the marinade brought out the savoriness of the steak without overpowering its natural flavor.  It was incredibly juicy and was quickly devoured.  Even Oliver, who celebrated his 4th birthday during my family’s trip got in on the action with a few table scraps.

Alongside the steak I served some Roasted Orange Herb Green Beans.

Loosely based off another recipe from the McCormick website, I combined some haricots verts with melted butter, Mediterranean Oregano Leaves, Basil Leaves and orange zest before roasting them off in a hot oven.  These ended up being the surprising hit of the dinner, possibly even more so than dessert!  Thanks to the hot oven they became lightly crunchy on the edges, almost like fries with a delicious sweetness from the basil and brightness from the lemon.  We kept commenting that we should have made a double batch as we ate them from the bowl with our fingers while waiting for the steak to rest.  I absolutely believe in keeping things casual and friendly at my dinner parties.  Manners are welcome to fall by the wayside.

And from dessert, we closed out the meal with Cherry Mascarpone Cheesecake Pops With Caramelized Graham Cracker Crumbs made with rich mascarpone cheese, local cherries and the star of the pop, caramelized graham cracker crunch.

Laced with a generous amount of Ground Roasted Cinnamon, it helped the pop successfully mimic true cheesecake and also provided a nice textural contrast.  Much like with the green beans, many mini-handfuls of the crunch were stolen during assembly.  I also used my Zoku Quick Pop Maker to make popsicles on demand, which made for a fun party activity.

Overall, we had a fantastic time.  Plates were licked clean and conversation was animated and never-ending, all of which is common in my family.  But there’s no reason to feel left out of the fun.  If you visit McCormick Gourmet‘s Dinner Party Chain page on Facebook you can create your own themed menu to be entered for a chance to win your own prize package to host a dinner party and you’ll also be entered for the grand prize: a trip to NYC for the Food Network Food & Wine Festival.  You can also check out their Facebook wall to see what other bloggers’ came up with for their dinner parties as well as to join in the conversation.

Roasted Lemon Herb Green Beans
Adapted from McCormick
Serves 4Ingredients:-1 1/2 pounds haricots verts (trimmed)
-2 tablespoons butter, melted
-1 teaspoon dried basil leaves, I used McCormick Gourmet
-1/2 teaspoon dried oregano leaves, I used McCormick Gourmet
-1/2 teaspoon grated orange peel
-Freshly ground black pepper and sea salt, to tasteMethod:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Toss together all ingredients in a bowl and pour into an oven-proof skillet or baking sheet lined with tinfoil, spreading out green beans so they are in a single layer if at all possible. Roast for 10 minutes and stir green beans to flip and continue cooking until they are tender and lightly crispy on the edges.

Cherry Mascarpone Cheesecake Pops With Caramelized Graham Cracker Crumbs
Adapted from Gilt Taste and Allrecipes.com
Yield will depend on your popsicle form, but I got 6 Zoku-sized popsiclesIngredients:-2 graham crackers, crumbled
-1/4 cup brown sugar
-1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon, I used McCormick Gourmet Ground Roasted Saigon Cinnamon
-2 tablespoons melted butter
-1 teaspoon vanilla, I used McCormick
-1 dash salt
-4 ounces mascarpone cheese
-1/2 cup plain low fat yogurt
-Zest from 1 lemon
-1/4 cup 2% milk
-2 cups sweet cherries, stemmed and pitted
-2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
-3 tablespoons honeyMethod:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a small baking pan.
In a small bowl, mix together crumbled graham crackers, brown sugar and cinnamon. Combine melted butter and vanilla, then stir in. Spread evenly in prepared pan. Sprinkle alt over the top. Bake in preheated oven for 15 minutes, or until lightly browned. Let cool and crumble. Set aside.

To prepare the popsicle base, combine mascarpone cheese and plain yogurt and beat until smooth. Add the lemon zest and milk. Combine until smooth.

Add to blender along with cherries, lemon juice, and honey. Puree until smooth.

Fill your molds (If using Zoku, prepare according to maker directions.), leaving a little room in the bottom to sprinkle on the caramelized graham cracker crumbs. Insert popsicle sticks and freeze until firm.

As part of my participation I received a party kit including a gift card for groceries and party supplies and an array of spices from McCormick Gourmet, but as always the opinions are all my own.

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Shannon July 27, 2012 at 4:03 pm

what a fun dinner party :) while i always love roasted green beans, i’m especially smitten with those cherry mascarpone cheesecake pops… holy delicious!!

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Kelly July 27, 2012 at 4:56 pm

The pops were great. A little bit creamy and sweet, but without being over the top. My mom thought it was such a waste when I got my quick pop maker but I’ve actually used it quite a bit.

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Ashley Bee (Quarter Life Crisis Cuisine) July 30, 2012 at 11:33 am

This looks like a lot of fun! And all very tasty :)

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Kerstin July 30, 2012 at 10:44 pm

What a fun dinner party theme – everything looks amazing :) And I SO wish I was enjoying one of those pops right now – yummmmm!

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Cara August 1, 2012 at 3:41 pm

Love this dinner party theme! And I agree with Kerstin – the popsicles sound totally amazing.

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Sues August 4, 2012 at 8:39 pm

OMG those cheesecake pops look so incredible! I so wish you still lived in Boston, so I could attend you dinner parties!

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allie s September 26, 2012 at 6:59 pm

miss your blogs – I always enjoyed them and read them at least weekly. I liked reading about your cheese finds and your creative cooking.

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Kelly September 26, 2012 at 7:18 pm

Allie – Thanks so much for the comment. I’m not giving up blogging completely. I’ve just had a big life change (Ah!) and am still trying to catch up to the pace of day to day life, but a new post is coming soon!

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