Anatomy of a Dinner Party: a day in the life of a hospitalityaholic

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The Times Of Our Lives

Friday, October 23rd, 2009

There are times in our lives that are defining, life changing.  I was so lucky to witness one such moment yesterday at Kathianne’s.  After she and I sat down to the most satisfying lunch of luscious split pea soup (my favorite!) and yummy rosemary cheese biscuits, her husband arrived home.  Now, I did not know that her husband was a trauma surgeon, our friendship is that new.  But trauma surgeon he is and he had come home to check his final test scores that would determine their future.

The yummiest lunch

I am thrilled to report that I was fortunate to catch their special event on film. But the doctor is private and would prefer not to have his photo online. Understandable.

I quickly took my leave so they could start celebrating. A million congrats to you both.

Time to get home – so much to do!  It was Mrs. Walker’s birthday and I could not let the day pass without baking her a cake.  I decided on a chocolate mayonnaise cake with seven minute frosting.  Super tasty!

The recipe for you:

Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake
Adapted from The Red Hat Society Cookbook
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup granulated sugar
4 heaping tsp cocoa
1 cup mayonnaise
1 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350F.  For the cake, sift the flour with the baking soda.  In a large bowl combine the sugar, cocoa, mayonnaise, milk, vanilla, and flour mixture. Pour the batter into two 8 inch greased round cake pans.  Bake for 25 minutes. Cool

Time for the frosting.  I used Paula Deen’s recipe found here.  It is fantastic

And now some photos:

ready to frost! remember to use parchment paper under your
cake plate so you don’t have icing everywhere!

Like this

Halfway there

Good to go!

My frosting skills are getting better. They are still very homespun, but what can you do?  Well, if I ever want to go to Carnegie Hall, the answer is “practice, practice, practice….”

Frosting completed, I happily walked my cake next door to a very surprised Mrs. Walker.  And not a moment too soon, either!  Just after I arrived, Mrs. Walker’s daughter Cheryl, grandson and great grandbabies drove up.  I was tickled to share in one of their special moments as Cheryl’s granddaughter (who couldn’t have been all of 4 years old), sang Happy Birthday.  It was adorable.

And again, I quickly took my leave so they could celebrate as a family.  I’m getting good at this.

And for my own special moment for the day? Besides getting to be a veritable fly on the wall for everyone else’s magical times?  It came that night as Eric whisked me off to Sotto Sotto, a very high end restaurant here in Atlanta.  In the small and romantic room, we dined on sweetbreads with trumpet mushrooms, fungi risotto with black truffles, tortelli di mele – raviolis with sausage, apple and sage, and an amazing special of tagliatelle with lamb ragu. We shared the stories of the day, held hands and gazed in each other’s eyes.

The special moments are everywhere. Take a second to absorb it all.

Happy Friday, Darlings!

xoxo, Patti

Uh, The Dog Ate My Camera?

Thursday, October 22nd, 2009

You know when you get super involved and the time passes just like that?  Last night was like that.  It was Wednesday, and that means our weekly get together with Miss DeVore.  So many things have happened to both of us recently that we grabbed a glass of Chardonnay and got to gabbing.  The sweet potatoes were baking in the oven while I seared a pork tenderloin and put some broccoli in the same pan with wine and butter and just let it cook all together.  Then I set out to make a sweet potato pie with a ginger snap crust while Diane took a look at my site for editing purposes.

How was dinner? Well, pretty darn tasty except for the fact that I didn’t remember about pictures until after we were finished eating.  We inhaled this dinner and gabbed some more.

Miss DeVore was loving the mashed sweet potatoes.  Mashed is my favorite way to enjoy them.  Bake them, scoop them, put plenty of butter, cream and salt in them and enjoy.

The pie?  Well, it tasted just fine, but the crust was soggy on the bottom even though I had prebaked it first.  It was also my first trial for the Pie Off on Saturday, which I plan to enter – if I can get the crust right.

It was an exciting night – new developments for both Miss DeVore and me and…..what’s all that racket in the back yard?

I walked to the back door and Mrs. Walker was giving one of her sons the devil.  I asked her if she was okay and she held up a mop and showed me where  the handle had broken off – “I broke this on his butt!” was all the explanation she gave regarding her adult son, who had just sped off in his car.

Two lessons learned here – don’t forget the photos for my readers and DON’T mess with Mrs. Walker. She’ll get you.  I’m so happy she’s my neighbor. She’s the greatest.

And – it’s her birthday today! I am going to make her a birthday pie and take it over with some champagne.

Go out and have a gabfest with your besties. Just don’t forget the pie is in the oven.

xoxo, Patti

Some of My Favorite Things

Thursday, October 15th, 2009

I love lots of stuff.  My friends, my dogs, most of all, my Eric.  But there are lots of fun websites out there to love, too. Since I’m not doing any cooking right now (I will tonight), I thought I would share some fun sites you might learn to love as well.

For just gazing at pretty food, here are my three favorites:

Foodgawker: As much as I love this site, they don’t love me much.  I keep submitting my best photos and pithy food commentary and they have rejected me every time.  Maybe I just crave their approval. Or not. Either way, it’s a great way to peruse recipes when you are looking for something new and different.

Same with Tastespotting.  Although I understand that aren’t as picky about submissions as Foodgawker, I haven’t even tried. Maybe I just like the sites that play hard to get. Who knows?

Don’t be put off by the name – Food Porn Daily – The photos displayed here are museum quality and get you up close and personal with the food. I could watch this all day.

Here are a few that make me laugh:

Tastestopping – for all the Foodgawker and Tastespotting rejects. I belong on this site. Until I can convince Foodgawker to love me!  And they will…they will….

Cake Wrecks – Oh my goodness. This is endless, hilarious fun.  Just click on it and see if you can get right back to work. Bet you can’t.

So there are some of my favorite food websites. But what about just my favorite things?  Here are a few:

Fireflies in Summer


Apple Crisp

I could go on and on, but I would love to hear about some of your favorite things! Leave me a comment and let me know. It gets lonely here waiting by the computer.

More food stories tomorrow.

xoxo, Patti

Hot Tub, Hot Pizza, Hot Time

Saturday, October 10th, 2009

Since we had company Thursday night and both of our weekend nights are filled, I was hoping to hang out at our house Friday night and sit. Not sit and think – just sit. Maybe cuddle a dog or two.  Then Denise called and invited us over for pizza, wine and a soak in the hot tub.  Denise and Rick live directly behind us and we had not seen them in a month and we just love them. So we packed up and headed over.  So glad we did.

The two of them are so easy to be around.  No one was going to any lengths to impress the other. We sat, we ate pizza, we drank wine, we caught up.  It was so relaxing.  For once I was very happy to let someone else call all the shots.  And so it will be for the rest of the weekend.  Although we are hopping from event to event, it will be in the hands of our hosts to entertain us.  All we have to do is show up and be good guests. Easy enough.  This weekend’s itinerary:

Friday night – hot tub with Rick and Denise

Saturday – Soup party at Tracy’s (first stop by Jay and Val’s football party around the corner)

Sunday – Brunch with Holly, Clint and Matt
Dinner with John and Danny

Today we will rest a bit before tonight. I am slated to bring stuffed mushrooms to the soup party, so eventually I will have to leave the house for supplies.  But for now, I’m happy to lounge about, blogging for you and perhaps cuddle a dog or two.

Happy Weekend, my Darlings. Make it count.

xoxo, Patti

P.S. – Our beloved Sylvia sent me this uplifting quote when I needed it most. It’s from Dr. Suess:
“Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”

Pat, Deacon and the Lure of CNN

Friday, October 9th, 2009

As hoped, last night’s dinner with Teague’s folks was a success.  Granted, the beef took twice as long to cook as expected (maybe the calibration on my oven is off?), but the company was divine.  Pat and Deacon look great and were thrilled that I added Miss DeVore to the guest list.  I thought it would be fun to have someone there they had not yet met and they all got along famously.  Pat and Deacon are both more than well rounded on current events and Diane, who works as an editor at CNN, was more than happy to engage them in conversation on the state of the media.

My day yesterday was not stellar.  I usually like to keep things light here, but I took a stand on something I believed in yesterday and lost an acquaintance because of it.  It stung. But there were guests arriving and I needed to move forward.  My sweet Crystal swung by early to help and it was wonderful having her in the kitchen with me before her inlaws came for dinner.  Having best friends working with you side by side in the kitchen is a very healing thing.  We tied the beef, we chopped and roasted potatoes. It helped my mood immeasurably.  We also had time for a glass of chardonnay before everyone else got there.

Crystal and I were so busy cooking and visiting that I forgot to photograph the food. But here are some nice photos of the table. The roses came from my front yard – aren’t they lovely? Although I ironed the tablecloth, the wrinkles persisted. I need a new tablecloth. One that won’t wrinkle. I’ll find one and get back to you on that.

Deacon brought us a gorgeous bottle of Chateau Tour du Mayne 2005 Haut-Medoc.  It looked too beautiful to open so we are saving it for a special occasion.  As the beef was taking its sweet time to cook, I decided we should go ahead, sit down and enjoy our salad.  That done, the beef made its appearance and was gobbled up happily along with the green beans with almonds, roasted potatoes and dinner rolls. All our guests  ooohhhed and ahhhhed over the cheesecake with coffee.  It was a lovely evening.

On an entirely different note, I would like to say congratulations to President Obama on winning the Nobel Peace Prize. We salute you, our dear president and support you in your efforts.

Getting off my tiny soapbox now and  wishing you all a wonderful Friday. Our weekend is filled with lots of parties, so I will be bringing my camera and letting you all take a peek.

xoxo, Patti

Getting Ready For The In-Laws

Thursday, October 8th, 2009

Good Morning, Darlings. Tonight we are hosting the parents of our dear friend Teague, in-laws of our sweet Crystal. Lots of scurrying around to get ready.  Last minute cleaning and prep.  Here’s our menu for the evening:

Beef Tenderloin
Tossed Salad
Roasted Red Potatoes with Rosemary and Garlic
Green Beans with Almonds
Dinner Rolls
Strawberry Cheesecake

It may not seem like it to you, but this is a really easy meal. Let me break it down for you.  The beef tenderloin gets rubbed with butter, salt and pepper and goes into the oven for 25 minutes at 500F.  Salad is just bagged salad (why would I cut up all those greens?).  Potatoes – cut up little red potatoes, toss them with olive oil and spices and stick in a 400F oven for 1 hour. Green beans – canned green beans heated up and toss in some almonds. Dinner rolls – prepackaged and heated up.  Cheesecake –  store bought.

My concern is that I’m phoning it in. It all seems so easy that I feel like I should be more stressed out, but I’m not.  I’m more concerned about what to do with my crazy dogs when they arrive tonight.  I know that when folks come to my house they expect a certain level of food expertise, but there are those who are just happy to be somewhere they will get fed and not have to worry about anything else.

So, today I will set about making the table the focal point of the meal.  I am going to iron my white tablecloth.  I will set out my nicest tableware.  I went to the Dollar Tree and picked up these cool, wide glass containers for the roses that are low enough to see over.  I will fill them with knockout roses from my front yard – they are perfect for table settings because they have no scent.  Remember, this is an Important Tip:  do not set your table with scented flowers or candles – they will only compete with the food for what smells best. And after slaving over a meal for your guests, you want them to smell only the yummy goodness you are bringing to the table, yes?

Question – what is the most important aspect of the dinner party?

Food?  Well, of course, you want everything to taste good.  But is it any less fab if you pick it up from a purveyor who does it better than you can? Absolutely not.  In fact, in most cases it helps to know your weaknesses and garner strength where you can.

Drinks?  They don’t hurt.  But the in-laws are tee totalers. So tonight, I will have a nice glass of wine with Miss DeVore before eveyone else arrives.

Tablesetting?  To me, a lovely table setting is like putting on your makeup.  It makes the whole package look better.  Plus, there is nothing like the sound of your guests ohhhhing and ahhhhing when they walk in and see your table scape.  It is the icing on the party.  It makes everyone know that you think they are special.  And you can do it on the cheap.  Pull some things from your house you love and set them on the table. Whatever makes you happy (not the cat, of course, but you get my meaning).

A clean house?  Sure, they’ll notice if you are living like Big and Little Edie from Grey Gardens, but if you were the Edies, you wouldn’t be throwing a dinner party, now would you?  Clean the bathrooms, make the beds and dump all your Playboy magazines under the bed. Light a ton of unscented candles and keep everyone out of the kitchen if it looks like something exploded in there. Ply your guests with wine (or ice tea). Smile.  A lot.

Your attitude.  Most.Important.Aspect.   You are happy to have guests in your home. You invited them. You like these people. Let them know. Welcome them into your home with a huge smile and open arms.  It doesn’t matter that you are serving Kraft Mac n Cheese from the blue box with a Boone’s Farm chaser.  Do it with love and it is better than dining at a five star restaurant with a bunch of bores.

I promise.

Go out there and entertain – tis the season!
xoxo, Patti

Lunch with a Celebrity, Chicken Chili and That Pumpkin Bread

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

Tuesday was just a bundle of fun. In the early afternoon, I met celebrity blogger, Tami H. of Running With Tweezers, for lunch at La Pietra Cucina.  It was sheer luxury.  I know Tami would never describe herself as such, but ask anyone in the food blogging world and they will know her, her food stylings and her fabulous blog.  We had a great time.  The food was amazing – we both ordered the same thing – the black spaghetti with rock shrimp, scallions and hot calabrese sausage. It was spicy, savory and hit all the right notes.  We both threw caution to the wind and enjoyed some lovely Italian white wine as well.

The lovely Miss H. with the winning dessert
Mascarpone, huckleberries and caramel

And always, as with people who are meeting for the first time in person (we have been running in the same circles for years), there was not enough time for us to visit – we could have sat there for hours and still not run out of things to discuss.  Tami is going for her second experiment of eating on $30 a week. You have to check out her blog to see how she does it.  Today was not that day – this was a total midweek splurge – complete with an afternoon nap for me.

Nap completed and refreshed after my incredible lunch, dinner needed to be tended to.  Even though the chill in the air has subsided a bit, I am still in Autumnal Cooking Mode. Chicken chili was the dish for tonight.  I read a few recipes and decided on my own.  Here’s what I came up with:

White Chicken Chili

2 lbs of chicken breasts – cubed
3 large poblano chilies – roasted (see photo below)
4 cups of chicken stock
1 medium onion, chopped
1 can of corn
2 cans of white northern beans
1/2 tsp Adobo
1/2 tsp Garlic Powder
1/2 tsp Cumin
1/2 tsp Chili Powder
2 TBP Olive Oil (the liquid, not Popeye’s girl)
Sour Cream
Cheddar Cheese, shredded
Cilantro, for garnish (if desired)

First, let’s roast the poblanos and get that out of the way. Hold the chili over a low flame with a long pair of tongs until blackened. After all are blackened, place in a big bowl covered with plastic wrap for 30 minutes.  Cut off the top of the chili and discard seeds and stem. Then slice open the chili (charred side up) and rub charred section with a paper towel – the char will come right off. Then slice chilies for later.

Next, take a big stockpot (not that one, that’s too big – the other one…) and pour the olive oil in.  Turn the heat to medium and let the oil heat up. When it is sufficiently hot, put in your onions and cook until translucent. Then add chicken and let brown.

Next, add those chilies and spices and your stock.  Turn the heat to high and let it come to a boil. Let it boil for about 5 minutes and turn back down to low.  Let simmer for about 2 hours. Remember to stir every once in a while.

After two hours, add corn and beans and heat through.

To serve – spoon chili into bowls, top with sour cream, cheese and cilantro – devour.

Although this was super yummy tasty….it was a fairly small bowl. So I needed dessert. Pumpkin bread! And lemon curd! Mmmmmm…..

I’m hoping that your Tuesday was just as wonderful.  And leave a comment – I know you are out there reading!

xoxo, Patti

Bonus Post – Cheap Eats Calendar!

Sunday, October 4th, 2009

How cool is this? It’s a calendar Berlin B. from put together to show nightly food specials.

As we are having girls day today/tonight, I wanted us to be able to go somewhere cheap and fun… we just have to choose!

Tomorrow – where we went and what we ate!

New Babies, Old Friends and Pad Thai

Sunday, October 4th, 2009

Saturday was a busy day for us. Miss DeVore and I did a little early morning shopping for Clint’s new place and then Eric & I were scheduled to go to the christening party of a friend’s baby. It had been a couple of months since I had seen baby John Charles and he had certainly grown. He was full of charm – more so than most babies. At four months he managed to have me wrapped around his finger in no time with his smiles, giggles and jaunty eyebrow maneuvers. His proud mom and dad, Dawn & Brad, along with big sister Megan, threw a lovely party. Yummy meats and cheeses, salads and even beets – I love beets! This was topped off with a gorgeous cake of blue with white polka dots – so sweet. And Dawn even served that swell punch we all love here in the south at special celebrations – fruit punch mixed with sherbet and 7-Up. It looks so pretty in the punch bowl and definitely signifies that this is an event to be remembered.

It was great catching up with everyone at the christening party and then it was on to the next event. We met my sweet, sweet friend Kathryn and her husband, John and adorable step-daughter, for dinner at Top Spice for Thai. The brief time we spent together at dinner was crammed with two years of catching up, so lots of talking between bites. I had the Pad Thai, which was filled with shrimpy, peanutty goodness. After 1.5 hours, we all packed up and headed home.

Eric and I spent the rest of the night lounging about, watching tv and playing with the Wii.

Hope your Saturday was just as fun. Sunday – Zombie walk!

xoxo, Patti

A Kitchen Imagined

Saturday, October 3rd, 2009

Last night, Eric and I went to LeFlash….a celebration of the photographic arts in the Castleberry neighborhood of Atlanta (just 5 minutes from our house). Although it was enjoyable, the main attraction was seeing the brand new condo of our beloved Clint. He closed on Friday and we were dying to take a peek. We finally met up with Clint around 10:30 p.m. and proceeded to his new digs. The new condo is spectacular, with killer views and most importantly, a killer kitchen. Matt poured us all a glass of champagne and all of a sudden, I swear, the condo filled up like the party in the movie, Breakfast At Tiffany’s. There were a ton of the most hip people filling the space. Some we knew, some we met for the first time, but everyone was super cool. I have never seen anything like it. These people appeared as if by some cinematic miracle. But that’s Clint – he attracts everyone he meets like moths to a flame. Here’s a cool little film made by Matt on Friday night.

My question to you this morning – with what do you stock a brand new kitchen to make it most efficient?

Lets see – I would start with a perfect cookbook. My choice would be Mark Bittman’s How To Cook Everything. This is a great all purpose reference for almost any recipe. It’s great for beginners and advanced cooks alike.

Next, you have to have a sharp, well made 8 inch chef’s knife. Do your research and check out what feels best in your hand. I like Wusthof, personally. You will be reaching for this knife a lot, so make it count.

You need a great cutting board. I know everyone is in a panic these days about cross contamination, and suggest plastic cutting boards, but I am going to disagree and suggest a big, sturdy, wooden cutting board – Boos if you can afford it. I always wash mine with a mixture of lemon juice, soap and bleach and have never had any problems.

What do you need to cook in? A stock pot is nice and doesn’t have to be particularly high end. I would suggest sinking your budget into a great saute pan (preferably nonstick). You can make everything from omelets to stir fries in this versatile pan. Don’t skimp, please.

These are what I believe to be the basics for your new kitchen. Hopefully you are fortunate like Clint and have a sleek, swanky place to cook and enjoy your guests. I know I can’t wait to cook with him at his new place.

Congratulations, Clint! We love you!!!

On an entirely different note – I would like to say hi to Carla over at il piatto blu. I had the distinct pleasure of meeting her through our friend and neighbor, Michelle, last night (Hi Michelle!). Last night was full of magical moments – I hope you are making your own this weekend.

oxox, Patti

Special Note: Thanks to our Darling, Matt Belfi for that fine photo of our Clint!