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

August 20th, 2009 browsing by day


Maiden Post – Make it look effortless

Thursday, August 20th, 2009

Welcome to my blog – Anatomy of A Dinner Party. I will be documenting each party I give here, the good, the bad and the ugly.

Last night was a dinner for 12. I had promised everything would be made from scratch.

The menu:

Stuffed Mushrooms
Pappardelle Bolognese
Garlic Bread
Salad with walnuts and goat cheese
Mini lemon tarts topped with a raspberry

I take my party giving seriously, so from the moment I invite our guests, I am planning. First, the list making. Of course, one needs a shopping list for ingredients, but I can’t stop there. There are lists for serving vessels, as well as a to-do list for each step of the party.

As soon as I hit “send” on the invites, the panic sets in. Nevermind the fact that I have been doing this for well over 20 years and have owned a catering company. I get terrible performance anxiety until the party starts.

The party was set for Wednesday night, so Monday started my prep. Off to Ikea for wine glasses that match and those fab $.49 dish towels that I am so fond of using for napkins when serving pasta. They cover laps beautifully and if they get stained, who cares? I also pick up a cute candle lantern and more votive holders (you can never have enough). Next stop, Trader Joe’s for their wonderful cheap Two Buck Chuck (decanted, all wine tastes special). Yes, I will take a case, thank you. On to Kroger where I buy all the meat for the bolognese and all the produce, as well as the sparkling water (sparkling water bottles on the table just add to the abundance already set out for your guests). By this time, it’s 5 p.m., so I am headed home.

It’s Tuesday, and I did none of the food prep I had hoped to do on Monday. This will be a big day. After getting my darling Eric ready for his day, I attack the kitchen (what I like to think of as “my office”) in earnest. Prepping the Italian sausage, beef, onions, garlic, grated carrots, mushrooms, fresh herbs from Crystal’s garden (thanks Crystal!) for the sauce takes well over an hour, but it is now simmering on the stove and the house smells amazing. For my bread dough, I use the 5 minute artisanal bread.
If you love fresh baked bread, this book will change your life, as well as your waistline. But that’s a story for another day.

Bread dough made and rising. On to the fresh pasta. I am accustomed to making a small batch of pasta for lasagna, but have never attempted to make a batch that will feed 12 guests, that also needs to be hand cut. I thought using my Kitchen Aid would do the trick, not that I have ever heard of anyone using this method with great results. The first batch worked well, with a silky ball of pasta now wrapped in Saran Wrap, resting on the counter. The second batch feels like old Play Doh, not a good sign, but I wrap it and hope for the best. At this point I have been cooking for 6 hours and I’m getting a little cranky. I unwrap my pasta and set to cutting it into portions that will fit through my hand cranked pasta maker ( I only used the Kitchen Aid to mix the pasta). For some inane reason, I decide to use the difficult dough first (really? what was I thinking?) and it is not being kind. The dough is ripping and falling apart. I move on to the dough I made first and while it rolled out much easier, I am over it. I roll out and cut until I cannot look at one more piece of pappardelle before chucking a majority of it out and calling Via Elisa, the place in Atlanta for fabulously fresh pasta. Although it is after hours, someone miraculously answers the phone and takes my order for 4 pounds of pappardelle. Whew, the day is over and my sweet husband takes me to La Fonda for dinner.

Wednesday – party day! I still have to make the stuffed mushrooms, rise and bake the bread and make the mini lemon tarts. The table needs to be dressed and I have got to make it all look effortless before my guests arrive. I remove the stems from the caps of the mushrooms, marinate the caps in olive oil and make the stuffing which consists of the chopped stems, a beaten egg, bread crumbs and mozzarella. I then move the mixture to a Ziploc container, which as soon as I turn around suddenly, falls on the floor. My heart stops, and I find myself swearing like a sailor. Funny enough, the container falls right side up, keeping some of its contents intact. I clean up what falls on the floor (no five second rule for slate kitchen floors in homes with two furry dogs) and save the rest. I will stuff and bake these right before the guests arrive. Even with my spacious fridge, I am running out of room. The lemon tarts await assembly. I use my trusty lemon bar recipe, but form the tarts individually in cupcake tins. This one dish comes off without a hitch and I even have some leftover curd for my lemon curd loving husband.

Three hours and counting until my guests walk through the door. Bread is shaped and set out to rise for 40 minutes before baking and the mushrooms are stuffed (the leftover stuffing is just enough for the amount of caps I have!) Time to breeze through the house with a dust rag, bathroom cleaner and vacuum (this is not the time for deep cleaning, candles hide a multitude of sins). Jump in the shower and get dressed. The bread and the mushrooms get baked, and the sauces and pasta water are set into their pots to heat. The salad is assembled. The candles are lit. I have time for a glass of chardonnay before my friends get here. I receive a phone call from Nedra, a new friend who is the Shopping & Fashion Reporter for the Atlanta Journal Constitution, saying she is delayed by a parade at the Georgia Dome. Better to be stopped by a parade than traffic – this way you have something to entertain you while you wait.

Our canine children get relegated to the bedroom so as not to maul the guests upon arrival (it’s a friendly maul, but a maul just the same). Guests start arriving, the mushrooms are plated and devoured, Eric is manning the cooking pasta and sauce and everyone seems to be having a good time. Our guest list for this party includes some really fantastic folks. Crystal, one of our dearest friends, arrives first and jumps in to help. Next, Diane, our friend who is an editor for CNN, gets here. Then Jeff, our favorite next door neighbor. Then Jeff’s brother Tim and his wife Becky. Tim and Becky are working with the youth of our ‘hood and doing great things. Val, who is a delight and lives behind us, gets there around the same time as Chioke and Taruan, who live next door to Crystal and Teague and are too fabulous for words. Next to arrive is Miss Patricia Tinsley, a true southern belle. Nedra finally wrangles herself out of the parade route to join us as we polish off the mushrooms and sit down to dinner.

This is when I finally relax. This is the payoff. Filling our home with people we love and hearing their laughter over great food (if I do say so myself) is what I am all about.

My next posts will include pictures! I would love to hear about your entertaining quests, so leave me a comment!

xoxo, Patti