Once again, I would like to thank the judges and everyone who voted for me to advance to the next round. I truly feel blessed and can't believe I am now participating in round three of Project Food Blog. For this challenge, we were asked to host a luxury dinner party where our guests will discover new tastes and exotic flavors. We were also asked to share our hosting secrets such as how to cook for a crowd, plan a menu as well as documenting the party with pictures.
I agree a dinner party involves great planning and even though we were told the details of this challenge in advance, I did not really plan out my party until I found out I made it to the next round which was just this past Friday afternoon. To be honest, I did have a freak-out moment and thought how am I going to pull this off? Then I realized I perform best under pressure. I focus best when I have a deadline to meet. So for this challenge I want to share my secrets of planning an impromptu dinner party that would make your guests think you have been planning it for weeks.
First thing first, I need guests to have a party, and I am fortunate to have great girl friends that live in my condo complex that I was able to call upon to attend. Once the guest list is confirmed, I thought about the theme. Since the challenge is to have a luxury dinner party and my guests are all girls, why not make them feel like they are going to a fine dining restaurant without having to travel far; hence the title of this challenge, Girls Night In.
Next, plan and finalize the menu. My secret to an impromptu dinner party is to make something that can be made at least the day before or the day of. So as a host, you are not constantly in the kitchen cooking and be able to have fun with your guests. I also recommend making dishes you have made before or with slight adjustment that could turn into something elegant. With that in mind, I decided on my menu; and with my friend Sarah's help, she turned the menu template that was provided for this challenge into an elegant menu to be displayed throughout the dinner. She also went above and beyond creating place cards for each guest. We also discussed the color choices and since my menu consists of fall ingredients, we decorated the table with fall colors.
As you see for my first course, I'm serving Shrimp and Thai Basil Wontons with Soy Dipping Sauce. I usually make shrimp and pork wontons, my mom's recipe; but to add a level of elegance, I thought I would make it with shrimp only. The filling also contains Thai basil and lemon zest which really enhance the shrimp flavor. Not only are these wontons flavorful but they can be frozen in advance. When you're ready to cook them, just take them out of the freezer and place them into a steamer. The soy dipping sauce consists of two parts soy, one part rice wine vinegar, thin slices of ginger and scallions. Once again, this also can be made in advance. To execute this dish quickly, be sure you have boiling water in your steamer before your guests arrive. Once your guests arrive, put the wontons in the steamer, set a timer for 15 minutes so you can entertain your guests while these cook. Another tip to be sure your food stays hot, keep your plates warm in the oven so the food won't get cold while you're plating. To plate this dish, simply place the wontons on a pretty dish and drizzle the dipping sauce on top.
Next course is the Fennel, Arugula and Orange Salad with Yuzu Vinaigrette. This is a flavorful salad but also acts as a palate refresher. It is light and refreshing. I sliced the fennel into thin pieces, segmented the oranges and add them to the arugula in advance. Separately prepare the vinaigrette. The Yuzu vinaigrette contains one part Yuzu juice (Yuzu is a Japanese citrus, not as pungent as a lime or as tart as a lemon) and three parts extra virgin olive oil, whisk together then season with salt and pepper. Just before serving, toss dressing with the salad and serve.
For the entree, I chose to make duck, and to tie in the Asian flavors of the past two dishes; I marinated them with five spice powder. I also made an easy hoisin-lime sauce that reminds me of the flavor of a traditional peking duck. Heat two parts of hoisin sauce and one part of lime juice. Reserve and reheat when ready to serve. For the sides, I roasted some butternut squash and puree it. Then I thinly sliced the brussel sprouts and roast them in the oven. I love the way the caramelized flavor of the sprouts and the look of the roasted pieces. They remind me of the fall leaves which inspired me to sprinkle them on the side of the plates. The sprouts were made ahead of time and reserved for plating, no need to reheat these as they create another texture and temperature level to the dish. As to my secret of making this dish in advance, I marinated the duck, place them in the fridge uncovered for at least 6 hours or overnight with the five spice powder, salt and pepper. My reason to marinate the duck uncover in the fridge as the cold air dries up the duck skin which makes the skin extra crispy. I also rendered the fat in a saute pan in advance. Once the fat is rendered turn the heat up to crisp up the skin then seared the duck on all sides. Reserve in the fridge and finish cooking in the oven during the party. During the party, I placed the duck breasts in the oven just before I put together the salad course. They take about 10-15 minutes to cook depending on the thickness, and after they're done, they need to rest for at least 5 minutes before slicing to retain the meat's juiciness. The butternut squash puree is also made in advance and can be reheated and kept warm on the stove top. So whenever the salad course is done, the entree is ready to be plated and served.
Finally the dessert course, following the theme of being able to make everything in advance, this dessert is not only decadent because of the chocolate pudding but so easy to put together. It is a great end to a wonderful dinner. This chocolate bread pudding was put together and made the night before, the only thing you have to do is to warm it in the oven just before you sit down to eat your entree. So by the time entree is done, dessert is ready.
So if you ever find yourself in a situation where you have to throw an impromptu party, be sure you plan your menu with the timing in mind. It pays off to make simple food and do it well. My biggest secret of putting together an elegant dinner, impromptu or otherwise, is to have help. I had the help of my husband tidying up while I was out shopping. He cleaned up when the party is over. He also took photos of us enjoying the dinner party. I also had help from my guests, Mollie, Sarah and Shelly to make this night possible. It was a successful "Girls Night In". Finally no matter what type of dinner party you're throwing, luxury or family style, just remember to surround yourself with people you enjoy and it's a guaranteed good time.
With that said, hope you're impressed that I was able to put together a luxury dinner party within two days and vote for me!