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How to throw an unforgettable dinner party

How delighted are we all to get together with family and friends??!! It has been way too long. I absolutely love entertaining, so I went all out for our first post-quarantine dinner party! While I like elegance, it was also important to have fun, to mingle, and have a chance to talk with everyone. My "formula" is so easy to duplicate! Steal my ideas and throw a party that guests will rave about until ... the next quarantine? Ugh.

Planning and Prep

You know you. Keep it simple enough that you won't be a ball of stress, but make it special enough that you will have a blast putting it together, I happen to have a TON of specialty dishes, cups - you name it - that have been begging to be put to use, so I found creative ways to incorporate all of my favs. While it's nice to have a sit-down meal, I decided to have a tapas-style dinner, serving many courses of small bites. (It allows me to get people moving around, and to highlight more dishes!)

I chose to keep the table setting very simple: paper placemats so people could write notes about their favorite wines and cheeses, and peonies from my garden.

Small plates ...

Tasting spoons ...

Use your imagination

to serve things bites

in creative ways!

I love my "crumpled cups" from Revol

and anything tin! I have these trays in

2 sizes, plus a collection of

tin boxes from "Le Cure Gourmand"

But more courses means more to cook! I decided on a balance of some made-at-home bites, some catered courses, and a few activities with my dinner guests where we would prepare dishes in teams!

Valerie Faure is a well-respected caterer in the Twin Cities, and I have enjoyed her meals several times, so she was the obvious choice. She is flexible and wonderful at helping guide dinner parties. We talked through the courses and decided on a menu:

Gazpacho Shooters (Made by me)

Gougeres with Thyme - cheese puffs - Valerie's French Kitchen

Green Salad with Vinaigrette Contest (see below)

Bay Scallops Maitre Paul - Valerie's French Kitchen

Mini Stuffed Peppers - Valerie's French Kitchen

Lamb Koftas with yogurt sauce - Valerie's French Kitchen

Skirt Steak with lemon aioli and fries (Made by me)

Cheese plate (various cheeses purchased at France 44)

Raspberry Tartlets - Valerie's French Kitchen

Dessert Building Competition

Trou Normand - ice cream and Calvados (made by me)

the necessities: bread and wine

Patisserie 46 is my go to for baguettes, pastries and fabulous desserts! Although Chef John has been recognized internationally, he is just as friendly and customer-oriented as the day he opened. I usually dine in (their miel latte and tartines are heavenly!) AND get pastries to go, but this time I simply got baguettes and a few boxes of their chocolates to use as prizes for the competitions. (Such self control, right?!)

Kermit Lynch is the guru of French and Italian wines in the US. Knighted by the French government with their prestigious “Legion d’Honneur", he is a national importer for authentic wines that express theirterroir. He puts together different wine "packages", so I decided on the "Summer in Provence" collection, featuring 2 whites, 2 roses, and 2 reds - mostly from the town of Bandol on the coast.

With all of my courses lined up ...

Let's get this party started

Welcome Cocktail

Lillet Spritz - Lillet is an aperitif wine (a blend of Bordeaux wines and citrus liqueur). I found a cocktail recipe in David Lebovitz's book Drink France, where you mix 3 parts Lillet (blanc or rose) with 3 parts tonic. So light and refreshing!

As guests trickled in. they chose a Lillet Spritz and wandered into the kitchen where I had gougeres, some mixed nuts and the cheese tray out to sample.

Next came the Gazpacho shooters. Valerie makes a fabulous gazpacho, but I wanted to do some of the courses myself, so I made this one:

Chunky Garden Gazpacho

Mix together:

15 oz tomato sauce

2 T olive oil (I used Moulin Castelas Classic)

2 T red wine vinegar

1 T honey

Stir in the following ingredients:

1 tomato, cubed

1 green pepper, chopped

1 sweet red pepper, chopped

1 stalk celery, chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

1/2 cucumber, seeded, peeled and chopped

1/2 tsp hot pepper sauce

1/2 tsp black pepper

Serve chilled

After the Gazpacho shooters and Gougeres, we we ready for the salad, and the first competition of the night! (I decided on 3 "competitions" or ways to win prizes throughout the night, to get people mingling and, just because I love to give prizes! )

Game on!

Vinaigrette making competition! I needed to divide my guests into teams to compete for the best vinaigrette. In France, there is a card game called "Les 7 Familles" where the idea is to get all of the members of a family. I have a collection of these card games and thought it would be fun to use them to randomly choose teams. I had each person take a card and then they matched up their "Family" and that was their team (you could choose teams with dice or regular cards, or however you want). Then I had stations where I laid out ingredients to choose from, and gave a loose recipe or formula to follow: 3 parts olive oil, 1-2 parts vinegar, plus additional mustard, shallots, salt/pepper. I had several Moulin Castelas oils and flavored oils to choose from, a variety of vinegars and mustards too.

Instead of having the group taste and choose, my daughter wanted to be the judge. After she announced the winning team, and prizes were awarded, we dressed our salad with their vinaigrette. (The champions had used a blend of lemon and garlic olive oils, plus a bourbon dijon mustard, shallots and balsamic vinegar - delicious!)

Next up, were the Bay Scallops Maitre Paul, the sausage-stuffed peppers and the lamb koftas with yoghurt dip. We began with white and rose wines, then graduated to the reds when the skirt steak and lemon aioli were served.

Which brought us to the cheese course, and the next competition.

There are SO many French cheeses! To ensure a great selection, I headed to France 44 where the helpful staff assisted my selection of cow, goat and sheep cheeses that would both delight and stump my guests! I had prepared a short description of each cheese, and had a map of the regions available for those who really wanted to take this seriously! They simply had to match the number with the description. I guess it was harder than it looked because the winner only identified 2 of them correctly! (You could also do this in teams)

Our cheese selection:

Langres - Cow's milk cheese from the Champagne region of France

Chebris - Cheese made from goat's milk and sheep's milk in the Basque country

Cabriolait - raw goat's milk cheese from Belgium

Marcel Petite Comté - Cow's milk cheese from the France-Comte area

Chabichou du Poitou - Pasteurized goat's milk cheese from Poitou

Ossau Iraty - raw sheep milk cheese from the Basque country

After cheese- DESSERT!

We began with Valerie's Raspberry Tartlets, then headed to the basement for our final competition - Master Chef style! We once again drew cards to determine teams. I had 3 stations spread throughout the room - each with a tin box, spoons and knives, and a serving tray. The task? To create a dessert bite. Each team would make 12 of their own creations to serve to all guests - and my daughter graciously offered to judge once again!

Each team of 3 had a chance to approach the display of ingredients, then go back to their station to strategize. Then they chose one member to race to the wine barrel and grab whatever ingredients they could fit in their box. (I had bags of 12 wafers on which they could build their dessert - chocolate, orange, waffle or almond).

This was the favorite part of the night! My guests were quite creative, and each bite was delicious! Sadly, in the flurry of activity I didn't get photos of all of the creations. The winning combination was an orange wafer topped with lemon curd, a mini waffle, some whipped cream and a raspberry!

Naturally we had to have a THIRD dessert, and a digestif was definitely needed, so I did a twist on the "Trou Normand", which is normally apple sorbet with Calvados. Apple sorbet is not easy to find in the US, so I substituted salted caramel gelato aver which I poured Calvados, in a crumpled cup of course! Apparently my substitution was well received!

Et, voila! A great time had by all! I hope you are inspired for your next dinner party!

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