"We are what we believe we are."
C.S. Lewis

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Dinner Menu To Avoid Crying: Autumn Edition

 Last summer I posted my original dinner menu to avoid crying while hosting a dinner, you can read the post Crying In The Kitchen right HERE.
I was thinking about this post quite a bit these last few weeks.  I was due to host a dinner this past Saturday that was a sit-down (as in I couldn't just serve drinks and throw out sandwich fixings) and included an important group of my husband's colleagues.  I wanted the dinner to be special, yet easy, and I wanted to be stress-free so that I could chat and mingle and not appear (or BE) the least bit frazzled.
Once one has cried in the kitchen before a dinner party it changes the entire game: a crisis of confidence ensues, the fear of it happening again demands organization and simplicity.
I was quite happy with this dinner in the end so I thought I'd share the menu and the steps involved.  As you can see from my scrawled note above I planned each course in advance.  I served the dinner on platters and in bowls, more and more I enjoy entertaining this way, it is referred to as "family style" and I do believe it creates an atmosphere of comfort and conviviality not to be found in a "plated" dinner.
My good friend Pat was one of the guests as her dear husband is MrBP's business partner, bless her she brought the dessert, a delicious home baked apple tart.  It went perfectly with the menu.
The scrubbed squash and the fresh herbs: thyme and rosemary.
 Early in the day I sent MrBP to the Happy Store for the wine, beer and brandy while I set to washing up all of the veg.  Pepper squash is in the season so it was local and organic.  I find fresh herbs so luxurious in their promising fragrant bundles, don't you?

I scrubbed up some organic red potatoes, also local.
I wanted to prepare a fennel salad as an alternative to the green: what is more attractive than a table groaning with vegetables, both green and roasted?  I made the simple lemon vinaigrette I always make, it is courtesy of Ina Garten and it is detailed HERE.
After setting aside my large jar of lemon vinaigrette I set to chopping the fennel and tossing it with the arugula.  Placed in a serving bowl it was ready to go.
Set all of the bowls and platters on the counter well ahead of time.
This evidence of your organization will be very comforting to you.
 My next step was to prepare the chicken.  I had purchased flat chicken breasts that I simply rolled around in ground almonds which had been seasoned with fresh thyme, salt and pepper.  Drizzling olive oil over was the final step before I plastic wrapped the entire tray and then placed it in the refrigerator.  I wouldn't have to see it again until I put it in the oven when our guests arrived.
I always bake more chicken than I will need.
Leftovers never hurt!
I used almonds as this menu is gluten free, but if you are allergic to almonds you could easily substitute in some good bread crumbs.

The mango chutney is always popular and elevates the chicken to something a bit special, but really it's easy-peasy, it's from a jar!
Set your jar of mango chutney next to the serving vessel.
 I prepared the carrots by peeling them, chopping them up and placing them in their pot with a little water at the bottom and some fresh thyme.  Now they're ready to be quickly steamed and sauteed with some butter and brandy just before serving.
I find it is essential to have all serving dishes at the ready: the little covered dish I use to serve carrots was placed just next to the pot so that there would be no frantic last-minute searching.  We bought this dish at E.Dehillerin in Paris, it's one of my favourites.
French brandy, linen from Provence, a Paris serving dish... it's a theme.

The fennel and arugula salad.

The mixed green salad with fresh dill.
 I planned to serve drinks when our guests arrived and to place the vegetables for roasting and the chicken in the oven at that time.  You'll want to serve some nibblies during cocktail hour but nothing elaborate or too filling: a few nuts and some other salty treats should do the trick.
 I may or may not have purchased these vegetable sticks because they matched the flowers on the bar!
 I set the table mid-afternoon.  Once that is finished one has the feeling that something can go awry and still all will be well.
 I set up the decaffeinated coffee, the dessert plates and the coffee cups.
 The very last bit of prep was to chop the potatoes and the squash before placing in the oven.  A good drizzle of olive oil, some salt and plenty of fresh rosemary... done.
The dinner went really well, we had a great conversation and made some plans to do a little trip together next summer.  All signs of a good evening.  The food was gobbled up and I would definitely cook up the whole business again.
I should note that though the menu was gluten free I was in fact the only person present with that particular dietary restriction... I served warm bread and of course there was Pat's dessert with the shortbread crust.  These days with so many people going gluten free it's nice to have a menu that can accommodate various special diets.
Do you think you might give this simple menu a try?  Have a great day Dollfaces!
xoxDani

36 comments:

  1. And you had time to take pictures, bravo! No more crying in the kitchen for you.

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    1. BB yes further evidence of no tears: pictures!

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  2. The menus sounds perfect, I can't ever imagine being able to host anyone for dinner, for starters, I think I'd need to learn to cook first.
    Love the hefalump note pad.

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    1. Tabs that's from iomoi, they have lovely notepads and those bamboo pens which I find charming.

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  3. Perfection! Love the idea of the almonds instead of panko, just for the flavor and texture; definitely doing this! So true about setting the table; any panic subsides. I save all my menus so I don't have to reinvent the wheel; I do about 2-4 dinner parties a month ( empty nest!). I have to leave notes to make ice as we don't use much and my fridge does not have an icemaker. Looks like a really nice evening. Is the silk dress new?

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    1. Lane I think the fat content in the ground almonds creates tenderness in the dish... the dress is new to me I found it on ebay in the spring. It's very comfortable and a good silk, Miu Miu and made in Italy.

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  4. I've copied that Lemon vinaigrette recipe for future use! I love how organized this all is. We frequently give dinner parties and even though I think I'm prepared ahead of time, there is always last minute craziness that keeps me from my guests. I love the arugula/fennel salad combo. It must taste interesting. Terrific planning. And time for pictures too!!

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    1. AWSL, everyone loves that vinaigrette! I find the arugula fennel a great combination and a bit different.

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  5. As someone who was there - I have to say it was a delicious dinner and and a lovely evening. I was going to ask you how you did the (very tasty) chicken, and now I know. Thanks!

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    1. Thank you Pat and your dessert was perfect! Try the chicken, isn't it easy?

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  6. Very good menu - well thought out - and yes I also over do the food as leftovers is good and I absolutely can't stand a dinner party without enough food!

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    1. Naomi yup it's pointless without enough to go around!

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  7. Dani, thank you for sharing your successful and delicious looking dinner menu and how you created an enjoyable atmosphere for your guests. It is a challenge for me not to be a bit frazzled before a dinner party but this has improved over the years. Your clever menu planning and organization was clearly a key. My husband is the "artist" in the kitchen and an excellent cook but the place tends to look like a hurricane hit it no matter how hard I try to keep things under control before guests arrive. I am also inspired by how lovely you look for the party. After all of my efforts cooking, cleaning the house and creating a nice table setting I never have the energy or inclination to put much effort into getting dressed up.

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    1. AmW, I plan my outfit ahead of time and then at about 4:00, when everything is pretty much accomplished I have a nice large bubble bath, attempt a hairdo, put on some makeup and get dressed. Then a glass of wine! I recommend.
      Messy Hubs in the kitchen: you're not the only one, MrBP is an excellent cook but creates a total mess on every surface, it takes days to clean it up!

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  8. Thanks Dani! I love throwing dinner parties and the key for me is just what you've done - preparation! If it only another couple I will let them see the behind the scenes shenanigans (especially if I am doing something dramatic) but if it is the usual 10 people that we have for supper I always prepare in advance and just switch on the stove(s) at the appropriate time (you know I love that extra oven drawer!). Nothing seems too much since did the ten course meal for 14 people for the 100th anniversary of the Titanic. Now I am working on a Dickens Themed Christmas Dinner for early December - how I wish you could be there!!!

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    1. WMM I wish I could be there as well, that sounds lovely.

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  9. Thank you for sharing this menu! I must try the ground almonds with chicken, it looks so simple and delicious. I usually use bread crumbs or panko, but my husband has been musing aloud about reducing our gluten intake.

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    1. Had to look up panko, I've never heard that word before.

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    2. Louise I haven't found GF too difficult and I've relied on whole foods rather than the substitutes, the store bought GF bread tastes like sandy cardboard and is far too costly. Of course I still buy bread and cook pasta for the rascals or there'd be a revolt!

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  10. Everything looks colourful and I am sure it was delicious. You have inspired me to plan a larger than usual dinner party! But I will need to wear an apron as I am a messy cook! If I thought I could wear a gorgeous silk dress like you did Dani and keep it clean I would!
    I am going to steal some of your ideas....merci

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    1. Hostess I wore my apron all day long, I'm addicted to them. I had just changed into my dress when MrBP took that pic. Steal away!

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  12. The dinner looks lovely with the bounty of the season. Sometimes simple is best for the chef and guests alike, especially if there are dietary concerns. Did you grow the fennel as well? I planted some for the first time this spring and only realized later that it is not a perennial here as it will not withstand the winter. It didn't get very large so I'm curious if you have any tips on how to grow it large in a single season.

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    1. Hi xoxo I did not grow the fennel... we may not have the growing season for it here, now that I think of it I have never seen local fennel, it's always from the US. Good for you for trying, I'm very impressed by your gardening skills!

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  13. This diner seems so yummy and fantastic. I agree with you that to have a stress free diner, the key is preparation and trying to have things you can do in advance, with only a minimum left for the last minute... I don't do "plated" diner neither, I agree too stressful... I don't host often and therefore my main issue is not having a core of key recipes on which I can rely on... You know the ones that you are sure will never fail no matter what...

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    1. Steph I agree you need one menu to repeat, try this one, are you a vegetarian?

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  14. Hi Dani, that looks like a lovely dinner; simple is best, especially when you have good produce.

    I'm glad my computer let me back on your blog - you were a no-go area for a day or so!

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    1. Patricia, yes I had a link in my blog reader to a blog that had been compromised, once I removed the link all was well. Phew!

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  15. NO MORE TEARS Bravo Dani, you look lovely as does the dinner. So happy you've found (and shared) a formula that works for you. And you totally had be a the blooms/ snack combo. Would write more, but still gobsmacked at WMM's 10 themed courses for 14. I've done big or fancy but never both.

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    1. GF I don't find those little veg sticks very tasty but I do love the colours!

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    1. Raina let me know if you make it and find yourself not crying!

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  17. So wonderful and so healthy for your guests too. Fun to go to a dinner party and feel like you're doing your body good. And that photo of you in the previous post, SO BEAUTIFUL!

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  18. Wonderful, simple menu! Love all the veg, too! I am wondering if you have a non-nut and g-f topping that you go to? I am celiac, and one of my sons is viciously allergic to tree nuts, and so they are never in the house. No wonder you looked so radiant and calm on the day! Will be copying all this for sure!

    I have a friend who only ever entertains with the same menu. All her friends look forward to her specials, and she is always as calm as a cucumber! Good idea, huh!

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    1. wild rose she's a smart cookie!
      I have to say I really rely on ground almonds to replace bread crumbs so I haven't searched for alternatives. If I find one that works I'll let you know, nut-free AND gluten-free is a tricky one!

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