And then there were 200. Thanks again everyone for your support and votes in this crazy Project Food Blog competition! What a wild ride this has been so far. Thanks for sticking with me here! Now on to round three!
When the awesome folks over at Foodbuzz say the word “challenge” they mean it. Especially this time around. Hosting a luxury dinner party on extremely short notice ain’t for the weak and wimpy. Good thing I LOVE a challenge. Dinner for 4 (that ended up being 7 actually) in less than 24 hours? BRING IT.
Playing hostess can be a lot of fun. It gives you the chance to do things you wouldn’t normally do – like fold napkins into pretty little fans and peel a rutabaga while jamming out to ‘Cover Girl’ on the New Kids on Block Pandora station.
::Pause. Blinky face::
Because really, what other occasion would there be to peel a rutabaga? 😉
It can also be stressful if you don’t have a game plan. Don’t toss up a Hail Mary and hope to reach the man in the end zone here. Plan a cohesive menu that won’t leave you freaked out and frazzled. And take care of the little things before staring anything else (Do your cloth napkins need ironing? How’s that tablecloth that’s been stuffed in a drawer since last Thanksgiving look?) Things that can be made or prepped ahead of time = good. Things that need constant attention and tending = bad.
Sorry, Risotto. You’re cut. Fried Chicken? You’re out of here. You may be in charge of feeding the hungry herd, but you also want to enjoy your guests.
PLANNING THE MENU
When I sat down to plan the menu for my gathering for our friends, my goal was to make my guests feel pampered, without spending our life savings on dinner. See, we’re not a real fancy group. When we get together, we tend to prefer the company of Bud Light and bean dip to champagne and caviar. I knew I could kick it up a notch from our usual without losing that comforting, down home, Middle America feeling.
I kept two things in mind: What’s in season and what’s on sale. It’s officially fall, so things like squash, pumpkin, apples and pears are in abundance (not to mention cheap) and my store just happened to have an amazing deal on pork tenderloins this week. That got the ol’ rusty gears a-turnin’ and I was able to come up with a delicious, seasonal meal that felt expensive without actually being so.
ALL THE SMALL THINGS
Before I started on the food, but after I flew around the grocery store Supermarket Sweep style (remember that show??), I got my table ready. These were not the things I wanted to be thinking about 15 minutes before my guests arrived.
A simple runner with fall details would do the trick.
I tied the napkins with gift wrap ribbon. The acorn detail came from a a little bag of (fake) fall goodies I found for half off at the craft store.
On the center of the table, I filled small, square vases with cinnamon sticks and a fall candle. Then I added a few pine cones (from that same Bag-O-Fall as the acorns) for an extra touch.
THE FOOD & PREP
The best part about this menu is that almost everything can be made ahead. The things that couldn’t be made ahead were super simple to toss together. The only action happening in the kitchen while my guests were here was making the pan sauce for pork at the last minute. See, easy-peasy. Look for the recipes coming soon! 🙂
Soup: Butternut Squash Soup with Roasted Red Pepper Puree and Toasty Cumin Squash Seeds.
This soup is so simple, yet so delicious. It’s got such a great warm, sweet flavor that’s made extra special with addition of fresh thyme and orange zest. The red pepper puree adds just the right amount of smokey heat. It was a great way to kick off the meal and probably my favorite dish of the night. The best part? Make both the soup and puree the night before and reheat slowly over low heat while preparing the rest of the meal.
Entree: Spiced Pork Tenderloin with Apple and Shallot Pan Sauce
Pork tenderloin is the perfect entertaining main dish. It’s not overly expensive, it’s a flavorful cut of meat and it’s pretty tough to screw it up. I’ve never had a pork tenderloin come out of the oven anything but super moist and tender. In keeping with the fall theme, the tenderloin is seasoned with a simple but festive blend of cinnamon, ground coriander, salt and pepper. It’s seared in a hot pan on the stove then transferred to the oven to finish cooking. The sauce is a simple combination of apples, shallots and thyme cooked in butter and apple cider until crisp tender and delicious. The combination of savory pork and sweet fruit made for a delicious meal.
Side: Roasted Root Vegetables with Rosemary
Does this look like a big bowl of fall comfort or what? Red skinned potatoes, carrots, parsnips, celery root, leeks, rutabaga, and onions are simply seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic and a hefty helping of fresh rosemary, then roasted in the oven until browned and caramelized. Holy heaven! There’s a lot of chopping involved here. Not going to lie. And root vegetables? They are a pain in the you-know-what. They’re covered in dirt. (I was also covered in dirt. Thank you Celery Root!) They’re tough to peel and cut. Have no fear though – prep the veggies first thing the morning and roast in the afternoon. Then just reheat in a 13X9 inch pan while roasting the pork and serve.
Salad: Mixed Baby Lettuce with Bosc Pears, Goat Cheese and Citrus Vinaigrette
I chose to serve the salad with dinner because, well, this is my house and frankly, I like a little salad with my dinner. 🙂 Actually, I thought something a little lighter and fresher on the side with heavier flavors of the pork and vegetables would be a welcome addition. This just a simple salad of mixed greens, crumbled goat cheese, sliced pears and an orange and lemon infused vinaigrette. I made the dressing the night before and, prepped the rest of the ingredients in the afternoon and then tossed it together right before dinner. Very refreshing.
Dessert: A’la Mode Sundae Bar
Put a little pie in your sundae! For dessert, I thought it’d be a lot of fun to get everyone involved to make their own customized dessert. I prepped a variety of pie-inspired toppings and let everyone go to town with big bowls of cinnamon and vanilla ice cream. I topped mine with cinnamon apples, caramel sauce and oatmeal crumble. Yum. What a great way to end a fantastic meal!
Favor: Dark Chocolate Cranberry Bark
I wanted to send my guests home with a little thank you. They did literally drop everything to come over at the last minute. What a great group, huh? 🙂 So I made this dark chocolate cranberry almond bark as a favor. Of course, all but one guest left before I remembered I had it in the fridge (d’oh!) but it’s too simple not to share. Melted dark chocolate is mixed with dried cranberries and almonds and spread on a cookie sheet to set. I topped it with a white chocolate drizzle and then broke it into pieces. This is a great make ahead idea – it will keep for a good long time in the fridge. 🙂
So there you have it! A relaxing dinner party featuring all the flavors of fall in the Midwest. Seasonal and easy on the wallet, this a simple meal anyone could entertain with. Great food, great friends, great times. This amazing crowd (who was kind enough to supply their favorite beverages for us to share) even gave me a standing ovation. ::blush::
See how we squeezed in a few more folks? The more the merrier!!
Missing the important things like my make-up and styled hair, but I had the most amazing time planning and executing this party! Can I put you down for my next one? 😉