Hospitality @ Home: Dinner Party Set Up Timeline

As the weather grows colder (hopefully? In most places, though not California, *deep sigh*) we all find our revels moving indoors. When you find yourself in the mood for throwing a dinner party, as I often do, here’s a rough timeline.

Two Weeks (yes, I said Two. As in 2, go with it) Before Your Party

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither should your dinner party, ok?

– Reach out to your guests. Send em a text. Create a facebook event. Write an email. Or make everyone feel like Queen Victoria by sending them a handwritten invitation, and request RSVP’s.

One Week before your party,

– You should have heard from your invitees, but if you haven’t, reach out to the stragglers.

– As your guests joyously reply that they cannot wait to attend your fete, be sure to ask them if they have any dietary restrictions or food allergies.

– Plan your menu. Choose dishes that can be cooked a day or two ahead, or dishes that come together quickly on the day. Soups make a great first course (and can be made a day ahead), Braised meats can be cooked the day before as an entree, panna cotta, mousse cakes, or enriched cakes like date or almond cakes hold well in the freezer and thaw quickly on the day.

But be aware of your limitations while menu planning. If you and your guests aren’t big on the sweets, why not offer a cheese plate as the dessert course. Alternately, if you are possession of a sweet tooth, but you are a disaster with pastry, dessert is one of the easiest things to buy in.

– Place any necessary orders. With the butcher or the local bakery for that 3-pound snapper or leg of lamb, or mirror glaze mousse cake.

2 days before

– buy groceries.

– prepare dessert (if you are cooking one. Picking one up on the day is certainly an option)- an enriched cake like a date cake or an almond cake can hold up well to freezing. Panna cotta or creme brulee need a long rest in refrigeration, and will be fine for 48 hours.

– deep clean areas guests will spend the most time in. A few toys and coasters laying around are nothing to worry over. This is the foundational layer pass, the dusting the top of the bookshelves, the vacuuming under the sofa, the discarding of the pile of magazines that have collected under the coffee table.

– re-arrange any furniture that needs to re-arranged.

1 day before

– Braise/ roast/ prepare mis en place

– make ice

– polish your glassware and silverware

– Clean and stock the bathroom that your guests will use on the night. Sometimes this is your only bathroom. In which case take this time to remove or stash any cosmetics, medications, etc, that you don’t want anyone to see. Also, remove any towels that you wouldn’t want guests to dry their hands on. It’s a nice touch to have a stain removing pen or stain removing wipes placed in a dish on the countertop, too. It’s not a party until someone spills red wine on their white shirt.

6 hours before

– Pull out any dishes that need to thaw or come to room temperature

– Do a final surface sweep of any clutter that would otherwise embarrass you in the guest areas. Set stacks of coasters or cocktail napkins on the corner of any surfaces where your guests might set a drink down.

– have a stack of clean absorbent towels (paper is fine if that is all you have) stashed in a discreet place near the dinner table and the bar so they are easily at hand for any (inevitable) spills.

– Arrange any last minute mis-en-place. If your roast is finished with a last minute pan sauce, chop the shallots and pre-measure wine for it. If your first course is a salad, wash the greens and prepare the dressing now so all you need to do is toss it together just before serving (though a hardy green like Kale can handle 6 hours in a citrusy dressing, so you can put it together well ahead….. and now you know why you see kale salads on so many restaurant menus….)

– Set table. Or if you have a partner or other household minions, this is a good task for them.

2 hours before

– Get dressed in your dinner outfit (don’t be a hero, put an apron over your couture).

– Set your lighting. Will there be candles over a zillion surfaces? Lay them out now.

– Put on music.

– Set out canapes and arrange bar, in case any guests wander in early.

– Set up coffee/ tea tray for after dinner and set aside.

1 hour before

-Whip cream for dessert- if needed.

-Put finishing touches on any dishes that need them. Wrap platters with foil and hold them in a warm (not hot!) oven until you are ready to bring them to the table.

-Pour yourself a glass of wine.

-Take the first bite of your canapes so that when your guests arrive, no one will be too self-conscious to take the first bite. Seriously. Thats just being a good host.

Hospitality @ Home: Kale Salad

shaved brussels sprouts
kale salad ingredients
the beginnings of a beautiful salad

Let us take a moment to consider Kale. That humble, sweet green with the bitter bite that has the texture of an innertube when not prepared correctly.  You can’t swing a salad spinner around Los Angeles these days without hitting a restaurant with a Kale Salad on the menu.  I am ever hopeful, but alas, have been burned many times by the sub-par kale salad.

Until I encountered the amazing version at Food Lab in Silverlake.  I had read about it on Yelp!, Twitter, Facebook, everywhere, and when I met a friend there for lunch a couple weeks ago, I knew I had to have it. Studded with almonds, shallots, brussels sprouts and romano cheese, this salad is my new obsession.

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Restaurant 101: What’s a busboy do?

Image
tell tale signs of a bus boy– water pitcher and dirty plates.

A dining room runs like a football team, every staff member has a position and plays a very specific role.  It is only by having several positions with different areas of focus that you can ensure service is smooth.

For the first installment– let’s start with the foundation of the front of house staff: the bussing crew.

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Hospitality @ Home: Fondue!

The lovely ladies that I work for did it again this season with a fabulous holiday gift– the Le Creuset fondue pot.  Since they thoughtfully gifted it with Gruyere and Emmenthaler, I needed to christen this baby quickly.

The Le Creuset 'Heritage' Fondue pot

Once the New Year’s mayhem subsided at work, I treated the Gent to a Fondue Dinner courtesy of the tiny kitchen….

One of the most fun parts of fondue is putting together the array of dip-ables to accompany the molten cheesy goodness. From the minute that I decided to make a fondue dinner, I could not stop thinking about FONDUE AND PRETZELS.

getting ready for the oven

I roasted up some mushrooms, brussels sprouts, and baby potatoes (fondue and pretzels). I cooked up a peppery, medium rare New York Strip (fondue and pretzels). I chopped up some granny smith apple, radishes, and added some cherry tomatoes (pretzels…? PRETZELS???).

zomg. buttery. chewy. YUMMMMM.

Then I made some fresh, soft pretzels.

And omydearsweetgoodness, was I so ecstatic/depressed that I did. Ecstatic because they were so delicious, and came together so easily. Then depressed because now all I can think about–even 24 hours later– is FONDUE AND PRETZELS.

Recipes are below. Enjoy.

But don’t say I didn’t warn you.

the fondue dinner

Traditional Cheese Fondue:

  • 1/2 pound imported Emmenthaler cheese,  shredded

    say cheese....
  • 1/2 pound Gruyere cheese, shredded
  • 4 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon cherry brandy, such as kirsch
  • 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
  • Pinch nutmeg
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • Assorted dip-ables

In a small bowl, coat the cheeses with cornstarch and set aside. Rub the inside of the ceramic fondue pot with the garlic cloves.

Over medium heat, add the wine and lemon juice, toss in the garlic cloves, and bring to a gentle simmer. After the wine simmers for a minute, remove the garlic cloves. Add the cheeses one handful at a time; stirring continuously until incorporated. Melting the cheese gradually encourages a smooth fondue. Once all the cheese is added and mixture is smooth, stir in cherry brandy, mustard and nutmeg. Add salt and pepper if necessary.

Serve with chunks of French bread, or fresh soft pretzels.  Some other suggestions are granny smith apples, radishes, bosc pears, and blanched vegetables or roasted vegetables. I love brussels sprouts with their bitter bite. Spear with fondue forks or wooden skewers, dip, swirl and enjoy.

Couple of rules for fondue:

1. Don’t eat directly off of your fondue fork or skewer. The fondue will be really hot right out of the pot and could burn your mouth, and at a party, double dipping is just tacky.

2. If you drop your dip-able item in the fondue, tradition requires that you kiss the person to your left. So be strategic….

 

Soft Pretzels:

adapted from Alton Brown

  • 1 1/2 cups warm (110 to 115 degrees F) water
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  •  4 1/2 cups flour
  • 2 ounces unsalted butter, melted
  • Vegetable oil, for pan
  • 10 cups water
  • 2/3 cup baking soda
  • 1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water
  • Pretzel salt, or sea salt, or any variety of salty yummy seasoning

Combine the water, sugar and kosher salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle the yeast on top. Allow to sit for 5 minutes or until the mixture begins to foam. Add the flour and butter and, using the dough hook attachment, mix on low speed until well combined. Change to medium speed and knead until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the side of the bowl, approximately 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the dough from the bowl, clean the bowl and then oil it well with vegetable oil. Return the dough to the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and sit in a warm place for approximately 50 to 55 minutes or until the dough has doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Line 2 half-sheet pans with parchment paper and lightly brush with the vegetable oil. Set aside.

Bring the 10 cups of water and the baking soda to a rolling boil in an 8-quart saucepan or roasting pan.

In the meantime, turn the dough out onto a slightly oiled work surface and divide into 8 equal pieces. Roll out each piece of dough into a 24-inch rope. Make a U-shape with the rope, holding the ends of the rope, cross them over each other and press onto the bottom of the U in order to form the shape of a pretzel. Or for pretzel rolls, twist into corkscrews. Place onto the parchment-lined half sheet pan.

Place the pretzels into the boiling water, 1 by 1, for 30 seconds. Remove them from the water using a large flat spatula. Return to the half sheet pan, brush the top of each pretzel with the beaten egg yolk and water mixture and sprinkle with the pretzel salt. Bake until dark golden brown in color, approximately 12 to 14 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack for at least 5 minutes before serving.

Hospitality @ Home: Mmm-Mussels

Mussels

 

 

Mussels
Mmmmm....

 

 

This is one of my favorite go-to meals to make when it’s a brisk autumn day in LA. And with the amazing team at McCall’s Meat & Fish just up the street, I find myself making this dish almost once a week.

Mussels don’t need to be scary. Especially if the shop you buy them from cleans them for you already.

Mussels
Beautifully cleaned mussels from Mccall's

To store mussels prior to cooking, rinse in cool water and store in a bowl half filled with ice. Place a damp towel over the top of the bowl. You need to keep the mussels cool, moist, and with good oxygen access. So don’t wrap them up in plastic wrap or otherwise suffocate them.

Eat mussels during cool months, and those containing the letter ‘R’ in their name– September, October, November, etc.

Pair these mussels with plenty of crusty bread and the Autumn Version of the Gent’s Salad.

Mary’s Mussels:

serves 2 as an entrée or 4 as an appetizer

It is fair to note that I love a lot of garlic, and a lot of broth with my mussels. If I’m feeling particularly decadent, I’ll make a batch of french fries to go along with this. In the pursuit of sopping up all that delicious broth, french fries are definitely my weapon of choice. But chunks of crusty baguette are a close second.

1.5 lbs mussels

1 small onion, sliced into shoestrings

8 cloves of garlic, minced

1 tsp dried basil, oregano, or parsley (or all three, why not?)

4 tbs butter

2 cups chicken stock

3/4 c dry white wine

olive oil

salt & pepper

In a 4 qt dutch oven (or any large pot with a lid), heat one tablespoon butter with 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium high heat. Add onion and cook until translucent. Toss in garlic and cook until fragrant. De-glaze the pan with white wine, then add chicken stock and herbs. When the stock comes to a boil, add mussels and give one big stir.

Cover pot and reduce heat to medium. steam Mussels for about 8 minutes, or until they open. Discard any unopened mussels. Finish with final 3 tablespoons of butter. Serve with plenty of broth in a flat bottom bowls.

Gent's Autumn Salad
Kale, Buttermilk Dressing, Tomato, Crouton.....mmmm

Autumn Gent’s Salad:

The Gent very eagerly brought home a bunch of kale a few weeks ago and absolutely hated it. Too bitter for him. It’s one of those greens that is great on paper, but sometimes too overpowering on the palate. So I baked the Kale with some olive oil, salt & pepper for about 20 minutes in a 400 degree oven to create Kale chips. They are fantastic on a salad, adding an earthy base note for the brighter elements to play off of.  A creamy buttermilk dressing, the bright bite of tomato, and crunch of a buttery crouton…. you know what you could also add to this? Bacon.

umm…. I’ll be right back….

Mixed Greens

Croutons

Kale Chips

Tomatoes

Buttermilk Dressing

Salad seasoning– we love Salad Elegant from Chicago’s Spice House

Layer ingredients in a flat bowl, finishing with dressing & a sprinkle of Salad Seasoning.