Tales from the Dining Table: Let the Entertaining Season Begin: Part II

Continued from Part I It's telling that this post has reached a two-part series. I didn't intend it that way. Not until I started writing did I realize how in-depth a night of entertaining can be. Which should serve as Rule 8: Don't underestimate the amount of time it takes to prepare a feast! You might have timed your dishes perfectly and patted yourself on the back that everything was under control when the doorbell rang, until, @#$%! you realized you forgot to get yourself ready. So as part of rule 8, make yourself pretty before perfecting the food and table. Your guests are often happy helping out, but can't help the fact that you are still in your "comfy cooking clothes."

Now, on to the main event. You may be wondering what I decided to make for the main course? Now this is very important when you cook for 10+ people: make something that won't get you in trouble later. I may be a bad example on this one, but I don't support the rule that you should never try something for the first time when company is coming over. There is far too little time in life to make the same recipes over and over again. With that being said:

Dried Figs

Rule 9: Don't make fussy food for a huge group. It's not worth it. Make something delicious and plentiful. This is where my mantra comes in: Braising is your best friend in the kitchen. So I decided on Lamb Shanks braised in Syrah with dried figs. It was an adaptation from Hiro Sone's Terra cookbook. If you haven't worked with shanks before, I highly recommend it. They are so easy and end up tasting decadent. The plump, dried figs I found at Rainbow were saturated with syrah and lamb juice when served. Brilliant. For the finishing sauce, I just reduced down the braising liquid, but added in a little more of the Pavo Syrah- which was the wine were celebrating for Harvest Dinner. For my lovely vegetarian friend, I braised some huge portabellas in their own little vessel. (Which I tasted that night and quite seriously would have been happy eating it in place of lamb…) My preferred braising vehicle? A Staub Cocotte. I love you my grenadine red beauty. For this task I had to have a friend bring over his Le Creuset so I could fit everything in. If anyone cares, please ask why I recommend Staub over Le Creuset.

Braised Lamb Shanks

Rule 10: Always offer a salad course. Now, I don't mean to be hypocritical in what I am *about to say, because I firmly believe in this rule. People like to eat healthy. It doesn't mean that we don't indulge in braised meat and fois gras from time to time, but on a daily basis, fresh vegetables are good. For this reason, and for the French reason- salad cleanses your palate- always make a big, hearty salad. It makes the meal seem lighter and more fulfilling. Those people who are known to "eat like a rabbit" will be happy, those people who would rather eat a rabbit, don't need to take salad. It is an easy and gracious offering. My friend brought over the most beautiful salad: spinach, arugala, persimmons, pomegranate seeds, pine nuts and goat cheese. A true harvest salad. And we didn't touch it. We were so full from course 1-6 that we didn't touch it. So sad, but at least we had the option. Ok, so I am neglecting on minor detail: we didn't touch the salad because dessert was staring us in the face. We had to make the call!

Winter Harvest Salad
Cake Trio

Rule 11: Present your beautiful dessert for all to see through out the meal. Aka- why I love my vintage cake stand. I am known as a cake-person. I love the concept of cake. Which is funny, because I never really loved cake growing up. I liked brownies. I just love the grand presentation of cake. While the rest of the world is wooing over cupcakes, I am making full sized, triple layered master pieces. For this occasion?... A Triple Layer Pumpkin Cake with Pecan Brittle and Marscapone Cream Cheese Frosting. It sat on its perch in the pretty cake stand looking at us as we ate the rest of dinner. It might have been for this reason, that no one felt like they had room for salad. Rule 12: Offer coffee & tea after dinner, even if everyone would rather keep drinking wine. Which was our case. So here's the line up of the unveiled brown bags (as best as I can recall...)

2005 Domaine Carneros Brut 2007 La Tunella Pinot Grigio, Friuli, Italy 2008 Parallel Napa Valley Chardonnay 2005 Moulin de la Gardette "Cuvee Ventabren" Gigondas 2007 Pavo Estate Syrah, Bennett Valley 2006 Zlatan Plenkovic "Zlatan Otok", Island of Hvar, Croatia 2004 Vall Llach "Idus" Priorat Quady Elysium Black Muscat

Rule 13: Always, always, sit down and enjoy the meal with your guests. If you can't, you've made too fussy a meal. Believe me, it took me many dinner parties to get that part down. Born hosts and hostesses have a hard time sitting down, but do it. You'll end up loving it and feeling a sense of victory. rah!

Cheers my friends. To a happy and successful entertaining season.