More Dinner Club Ideas

January 20th 2010

1263697741828 e7883 More Dinner Club IdeasBy now you’ve found 5 other people who would love to do a dinner club with you, so what’s next? Decide how often you will meet. I suggest once a month. If you try to schedule it more than once a month, you  may find people bailing out more frequently. When it’s once a month, people tend to schedule around it.

Pick the person who will host the first one. Even if their apartment is too small, you can always lend them your large dining room, but everyone should get a a chance to pick a theme. A theme can be a color, a holiday, a country or region, even a movie. Last year my club did Spain, cheesy 70′s, porch picnic, and Cajun-Creole food.

For every dinner think of it as three courses, cocktail, and a few appetizers if you’ll be drinking before dinner is ready. If you don’t drink or have a member who doesn’t, still make a special drink that matches your theme, just make a blend of fruit juices, ginger ale, or even fresh made mint-limeade.

We usually do a soup or a salad, but you can have both if you want. Just make sure the portions are small enough that everyone can eat all the courses. The main course can be a one dish meal or you can flesh it out with a few veggies on the plate too. Dessert is often the centerpiece and make sure to have some coffee if anyone likes it.

If you’re planning your first one for February, a Mardi Gras theme would work well. There are tons of red beans and rice, gumbo, and jambalaya recipes you can choose from. Make a bread pudding with whiskey sauce if no one wants to brave making a king cake. Make hurricanes for your main drink using fresh juices and rum.

This month my club meets at my house. We’re doing a fondue night. I found an easy and healthier fondue recipe that uses pureed white beans as its base. It’s still cheesy, but chock full of nutrients and much less fat. I also use 2% cheese. I figure that leaves room for more chocolate fondue.

Before the night is over someone should volunteer to host next months. Everyone can throw out some suggestions for the theme or sign up to bring a certain dish. Set the date then if you can, it’s easier when everyone is in the same place. Most of all enjoy the night!

Posted by Myriam under Dinner Club & Hostessing & Party Food & Winter Entertaining | 2 Comments »

It’s a Great Year to Start a Dinner Club

January 13th 2010

fork Its a Great Year to Start a Dinner Club If you’re like me, you’re trying to recover from all the holiday spending. I went out to dinner so much that I was excited to finally eat at home again. And, of course, my waist was glad too!

It’s time to re-group and make monthly plans with friends to get back on the social track you enjoy. I love the holidays, but I end up doing to many things because I have to or I should. This year I want to bring in people that I enjoy spending time with and do less of the obligatory visits.

Last year six of us began a monthly dinner club that didn’t quite make it through the holidays. I think the last time we met was October. Now it’s 2010 and time to rev that puppy back up.

What’s a dinner club? It’s a less expensive way to get fancy night out. Only it’s in your or your friend’s house. It’s a great place to try out new recipes, drinks, or to show off your sengware dishes.

We limited our group to three couples. You can always have other dinner parties to accommodate your other friends, but this is a group planning effort. Pick your club members carefully. Do they love food and cooking? Show up when expected? If they hate cooking or are picky eaters it could cause too much drama in this kind of setting. You will also need to get input from any other members of the group before you add the next person. It’s important for the group to jell together for the long run.

Mine started up at my 2009 New Year’s Eve dinner party. Six of us complained that we didn’t see each other enough and were praising each other’s cooking. We decided to meet one Saturday night a month. The host would rotate through each couple so everyone got to be a guest as well.

We each bring a dish or two from a pre-determined menu. In our group the host determines the theme, and guests decide what they would like to bring. We do this at the end of the current dinner club for the next month. Usually we have a main dish, some sides, salad, dessert, and a special drink of the night.

In my next post I’ll talk more about creating your dinner club and give you some sample menus. So make sure to check back later in the week!

Posted by Myriam under Dinner Club & Hostessing & Party Food | 1 Comment »

Breakfast on Christmas Morning

December 23rd 2009

jgs christmassparkle  Breakfast on Christmas MorningWe can all remember waking up on Christmas morning when we were little. It’s always magical to wake up with the sun and run in to see what Santa left you under the tree. But we’re the grownups now and while that doesn’t dampen the excitement, it does mean we need to think about making breakfast!

If you’re a planner you can put on a slow cooker of cranberry-orange oatmeal in the slow cooker. Serve it with some toasted pecans and extra dried cranberries on the side. If you normally pour milk over your oatmeal, try using orange juice instead. Another great variation is to make a spiced oatmeal, top with eggnog and freshly grated nutmeg.

If eggs are more your style try making a southwest breakfast casserole that has eggs, sausage, peppers and cheese. It needs to cook for 8 hours, so you can put it together the night before and wake up to a hearty breakfast. You could also cook up a quiche a day or two before and serve it warm or at room temperature with some sliced oranges, pears, and apples.

Of course you can make waffles or pancakes. They don’t take that much time to make from scratch and the varieties are endless. Try making gingerbread waffles or chocolate chip pancakes topped with minty crushed candy canes.

If you want something sweet that’s even easier French toast may be the answer. My favorite holiday variation is to mix the eggs with eggnog and nutmeg.  Then dip the thick sliced bread in. You could also use slices of stollen or panettone to soak up the custard for an interesting twist.

Muffins are always a favorite in my house. I try to freeze a few from my weekly batch so I can just heat up homemade muffins whenever I need them. Gingerbread, cranberry-apple, apple topped with candied walnuts, chocolate-banana, the sky’s the limit. Take a look on foodgawker.com and do a search on muffins. I’m sure you’ll find a few combination you would have never thought of.

Another favorite of mine is breakfast burritos. I stuff mine with scrambled eggs and potatoes mixed with a smokey chipolte salsa. Make sweet quesadillas by spreading the tortillas with nutella and then toast them in your pan. It’s similar to a crepe.

No matter what you make serve it up on your best Noritake dinnerware. You’ll feel elegant even if you’re in your fuzzy slippers.

Posted by Myriam under Holiday Entertaining & Winter Entertaining | No Comments »

Throw a Leftover Party

November 27th 2009

dinnerwareturkey Throw a Leftover PartyChances are no matter where you were yesterday for Thanksgiving, you have leftovers. Even if you didn’t host dinner, you probably had a bag of leftovers packed up and sent with you. Relatives and friends alike love to think they’re helping us out. Especially when they are overwhelmed with leftovers themselves.

You could heat and eat the same old meal. Or you can think of each dish as a single ingredient and create some new dishes in a mini Iron Chef competition with yourself. By creating new dishes you’ll stretch your food budget, and surprise yourself with your creativity.

Have a pizza shell in the fridge or some dough in the freezer? Try making pizza with some of your leftovers. Try bbq turkey with shredded turkey, pre-made bbq sauce, chopped onions and bell pepper. Add some drained, canned pineapple if you’re feeling adventurous. You could also toss some turkey in pesto sauce spread over a crust, top it off with crumbled goat cheese and some leftover cranberry sauce. Make a vegetarian pizza with sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce on a crust covered in a garlic butter sauce.

Pasta is another great option. You could make a left over casserole with whole wheat ziti, turkey, leftover veggies, Use leftover gravy or a mushroom sauce to bind everything together. Toast leftover dressing and crumble over the top.

Turkey lasagna with a sweet potato cream sauce and spinach is another favorite. Or try egg noodles combined with turkey and green bean casserole – add a little milk to loosen it up if needed.

Have some leftover creamed corn? Try mixing it with diced pepperoncini peppers, and some turkey or grilled shrimp. Toss the mixture with angel hair pasta. Creamed corn is also the perfect base for a corn chowder. Just add milk, diced red peppers, cubed potatoes, more frozen corn if needed, and some fresh thyme. It’s my favorite cold weather soup.

If you made the turkey at your house this year, you can use the carcass to make turkey broth. It freezes great. You can put it in quart containers, or freeze in ice cube trays and store in Ziploc bags. It’s great to be able to take out a few cubes of stock at a time. Much better than opening a carton of stock for a few tablespoons worth.

Don’t forget the power of omelets. Any of the mixtures above would work great. Turkey and goat cheese is one of my favorites, but you can use any cheese you have on hand. Omelets are perfect for using up the tiniest leftovers.

Take these ideas and invite some of your friends over for a Thanksgiving leftover party. It just may be the least expensive party you’ve thrown all year!

Posted by Myriam under Fall Entertaining & Holiday Entertaining & Hostessing & Occasions & Recipes | No Comments »

Turkey Alternatives for Thanksgiving

November 17th 2009

dinnerware turkey Turkey Alternatives for Thanksgiving

Sometimes a tradition seems like a perfect fit, but it’s always ok to stretch your culinary muscles. Some families do ham instead of turkey, but I want to get you thinking about a few main dishes that are less ordinary. In fact, they’re so delicious you’ll want to serve them all year round.

One reason to skip the turkey this year is to avoid all the leftovers. If you are just a couple or small family, you’ve probably had enough of turkey sandwiches and tetrazzini to last a lifetime. While you can always freeze turkey for another time, you could choose something less expensive and put that money towards holiday presents.

You could stick close to the usual theme and cook up some turkey cutlets. Rachel Ray cooks up some Turkey Cutlets with Corn, Sage and Prosciutto Stuffing. Or try Bon Appétit’s Turkey Cutlets with Brussels Sprouts and Dried Cranberries to pack all the flavors of the holidays into one dish.

Make a vegetarian traditional dish, stuffed winter squash. You could use your favorite stuffing, add your favorite sausage (meaty or veggie), apples, and celery in butternut or acorn squash. Take a look at this recipe to get a few ideas, Acorn Squash Stuffed with Wild Rice, Hazelnuts and Dried Cranberries.

Pot pie is an American favorite. You can fill it with minced poultry meat or leave it just veggies. Add in a cream sauce, cheese, or mushroom gravy to top your filling and sandwich it in 2 pie crusts. Meat loaf is another cheap and easy option. This Turkey Meatloaf with Mushrooms and Herbs is a step above the everyday meatloaf.

Make a stew in a pumpkin, a seasonal risotto, or try a pumpkin lasagna out. You don’t have to be without gravy for your mashed potatoes. You can even buy organic turkey gravy in the soup section of Whole Foods, and you can make mushroom gravy with no meat drippings. Why not try some stuffing muffins to go under all that tasty gravy? You can eat a couple and then freeze the rest for another meal.

Don’t forget your side dishes. If you do lasagna or pot pie, you will need to skip the mashed potatoes. But you can still make an assortment of vegetables, and without spending all that time on the turkey you’ll have time to make some new favorites. Add a spinach salad, cooked greens, Brussels sprouts to the traditional sweet potatoes and green beans. It’s your Thanksgiving. Start some of your family’s traditions this year.

Posted by Myriam under Holiday Entertaining & Seasonal Entertaining & Thanksgiving | No Comments »

Plan a Relaxing Day with Friends

November 2nd 2009

dinnerware fallpath1 Plan a Relaxing Day with Friends

As you’re taking down your Halloween decorations and preparing for the winter holidays, take a day out to have some relaxing time with friends. One of my favorite things to do is have a bunch of people meet at my house to go on a walk. It’s nice to slow down the pace and go outside to take in the beauty of the season.

Make sure to dress for the weather, and tell everyone to wear comfy shoes. If you aren’t near trees or nature, plan a road trip to find some. This time of the year is perfect for catching the last of the fall leaves in all their beautiful color. Enjoying a cool afternoon breeze, and perhaps the chance to pull out your favorite wool scarf, are great reasons to get outside. If it’s very cold, plan a short walk. Or make everyone steaming hot coffee in insulated cups to take along with them. You can enjoy the season and your friends even on a simple walk around the block.

If you have a backyard, you could use your fire pit to make a nice warm place to hang out there. Or if the weather really gets tough you can light a fire in the fireplace and enjoy your friends inside. Just remember to not stress out about the details, this is a day for everyone to kick back.

Make a few things ahead of time and you won’t have to disappear into the kitchen. You can actually relax at your own relaxing weekend party! In the morning, before your guests arrive, heat up a big crockpot of chili. You can use your favorite recipe, or make this easy sweet potato black bean chili from scratch. You’ll have to put the beans on the night before, but after that it takes almost no work.

Go ahead and fill up a few small bowls with garnishes. Then you can just pull them out of the fridge when you get back from your walk. Use sour cream, shredded cheese, scallions, jalapenos, minced cilantro, black olives, and a few different kinds of salsas. Set up bowls and soup spoons by the crockpot before you leave for the walk. It’s just one less thing for you to think about when you get home.

In another slow cooker make a nice hot drink for your friends. A hot toddy is always nice, or give  hot buttered rum a try. If you have kids involved, or just want to have an alcohol-free day make up some hot chocolate.

It’s always a treat to spend some downtime with the people you care about. After a beautiful, relaxing walk with your friends, sit down to a simple meal. You don’t have to wait until Thanksgiving to appreciate everything in your life.

Posted by Myriam under Fall Entertaining & Hostessing | No Comments »

Halloween Dinner All Grown Up

October 25th 2009

dinnerware spider4 Halloween Dinner All Grown UpI had my big Halloween extravaganza last night, the annual Gothic dinner party. I invited 12 people for a total of 13 including me – a perfect number for Halloween. Everyone comes dressed in black, and a few guests add makeup and accessories to create a costume as well. The table was covered with a black table cloth that was accented with small gold one to cover the center of the table. The only lights in the room were witch hat string lights and candles everywhere (especially the dinner table). The lightning machines behind the graveyard scene covering the windows looked like a spooky storm, complete with thunder sounds. Like I’ve said before, setting the scene is one of the most important parts of a successful Halloween party.

I love the new rolls of Halloween scenery you can buy this year. Various scenes that are 4 feet tall and the rolls have 50 yards of it. I covered one entire wall with a spooky forest theme at the top with a graveyard scene below. It’s an amazing effect, since it’s on one of the biggest walls in the room.

Over the front windows I have scary ghosts panels and when the lights are on inside, you see the ghosts and tombstones glow outside. It’s a great effect inside and out. I found some spider web lace panels at a fabric store and used that as sheers for the remaining windows. Add as many jack-o-lanterns as there are surfaces, a raven with blinking red eyes, and obligatory skeleton and you’ve created your own haunted house.

On the table I used regular dinner plates as base plates, water glasses, wine glasses, and a full set of silver for the evening. It’s important to have as much done ahead of time as possible. Each guest brings a dish and I have a multitude of slow cookers ready to keep each course warm until we’re ready to serve it. This year I broke my cardinal rule of starting off any dinner party with an empty dishwasher. Don’t make my mistake. It’s a beautiful thing to fill up your dishwasher as you clear each course. It makes end of the evening clean up a breeze.

Black and grey is a great color scheme to theme your Halloween table. Check out the Noritake Black Pepper or Stone Charcoal patterns. If you’re looking for some cool dishes for your Halloween party it’s a perfect place to start.

Here’s my Halloween dinner menu:

  • A shot of pomegranate liquor to start out the meal in an ice skull

  • Tossed mixed greens with an orange vinaigrette decorated with berry ‘eyes’

  • Spicy tomato soup garnished with radish-olive eyes

  • Dead Man’s Ribs and Veggie Loaf Coffins

  • Whole Cauliflower cooked in a tomato olive sauce as a bloody brain

  • Spooktacular Mashed Potatoes – I left out the eggs, used coconut milk and earth balance to make it vegan

  • Gluten Free Corn Muffin Bats and Ghosts

  • Gluten Free Brownies

  • Meringue Bones stuffed with raspberry jam

  • Vegan Apple Crumb Pie

  • a liberal amount of a sparkling Sauvignon blanc and Devils punch

I hope that my party menu inspires you to have your own Halloween soirée this week.

Posted by Myriam under Fall Entertaining & Halloween & Holiday Entertaining & Party Food & Table Setting | 1 Comment »

Halloween Dinner Ideas

October 13th 2009

dinnerware pumpkinsoup Halloween Dinner IdeasYou can go with any theme for your Halloween dinner party, but it just won’t be complete without a few dishes to remind you of the holiday. From mummy hot dogs for a kids party to ribs served on a platter with a carving knife stabbed into a fake heart – they all create an atmosphere your guests won’t soon forget.

I throw a fancy Gothic dinner party. I have my guests dress up in all black or a dressy costume. Each guest chooses a dish to bring from a list of recipes. I make sure there are recipes that everyone can make.

You can create a buffet using ordinary crockpots to keep the food warm, and allow for people to arrive at different times. I do a big sit down dinner with multiple courses. Of course, you have to count on your guests a little more, but the results really shine.

It takes some planning to have each course ready when you want it. After all, you want to be in the party not in the kitchen all night! If you want to do a little bite (amuse bouche) to start your meal, try something cold that you can have plated up in the fridge. Do the same with your salad course, plate it up, and put dressing in the serving bottle you want to use.

Keep your soup hot in a crockpot and ladle out in small bowls you set up nearby the minute you want to serve it. Have your main course cooked ahead of time, and you can pop it in the oven to warm up as you eat the soup or salad. If you have a room temp dessert plate it up and cover with a dish towel until you are ready. Or if it’s a chilled dessert, try and prepare it in individual serving dishes to speed up your time in the kitchen.

Make sure you have enough plates to serve on ready ahead of time in the kitchen. Nothing will slow you down more than stopping to wash dishes for your next course. Pick up a few thermal carafes, and make your coffee and tea while you are heating your main course. It’ll be hot and ready to serve when bring out the dessert. Also have sugar and creamers ready to make coffee service a breeze.

I set my table so that all the silver for the night is already in place. Set a water glass, wine glass, and coffee cup just like a restaurant would do and you’ll have less to haul from the kitchen. Make sure your dishwasher is clean and empty before the party starts, then you can put your dirty dishes straight in for an easier cleanup.

Have I got you thinking about your Halloween dinner? There are a ton of  ‘clipped’  Halloween recipes saved in the Halloween recipe notebook on Evernote. Happy party planning!

Posted by Myriam under Fall Entertaining & Halloween & Party Food & Recipes & Table Setting | No Comments »

Plan a Party Around Pears

September 24th 2009

dinnerware pear Plan a Party Around PearsPears are my favorite autumn fruit. Delicious, richly textured, and perfect to use in both sweet and savory dishes. They are a wonderful ingredient to plan a fall party around. You can create a cocktail or a full dinner menu incorporating this luscious fruit. If you have a big kitchen and a well stocked pantry, you could throw an Iron Chef style party. Your guests and you can make the dinner course by course.

If you want to plan your menu in advance and cook yourself, take a look at a few of the following menu possibilities. You’ll be surprised with how versatile the pear is.

Start your guests off with a pear cocktail. Ahead of time peel few ripe pears and puree the flesh in a blender with the juice of a lemon. Strain if you want a thinner syrup or add some water. Use this in your usual martini, or mojito recipe. Liven up the typical mojito by using basil in addition to the traditional fresh mint. If the pear is sweet enough, you may be able to leave simple syrup out of your usual recipes all together.

Assemble a pear-brie bruschetta on top of lightly toasted bread spread with a little pistachio-thyme pesto. It’s a beautiful appetizer. Make a silky pear winter squash soup with a hint of port wine. Serve with a spinach salad topped with dried fruit and goat cheese tossed in your favorite vinaigrette for a complete meal. (Hint: make your own vinaigrette using pear puree, lemon juice and balsamic vinegar. Incorporate some fresh herbs that you happen to have on hand.)

Create a quick and easy pear main course by getting a pre-made pizza shell at the grocery. Spread the crust with garlic butter or a your favorite pesto sauce, then a layer of thinly sliced pears, top with some truffle oil and sliced fresh mozzarella cheese. You can either bake it in the oven or cook it on top of the grill. As another option, Trader Joe’s has an Italian truffle cheese that makes a great panini combined with sliced pear and crusty ciabatta.

You probably already have a pear dessert recipe in your arsenal. But try a pear sorbet. It’s a snap if you have an ice cream maker. Just puree ripe pear flesh with a little of your favorite sweetener as a base. The pear makes it the perfect ‘ice cream’ consistency. Add fresh or frozen berries and a tablespoon of your favorite liquor to amp up the flavor.

Remember pears need to be stored at room temperature and should ripen within a few days. Throw them into paper bag when you bring them home from the store to speed the ripening process up a little. Once they are ripe you should use them immediately.

Posted by Myriam under Fall Entertaining & Recipes | No Comments »

Summer Cooking Ideas

July 30th 2009

Are you in the mood for some good-old-summer food? Check out these recipes, they just scream summertime!

summer slow cooking

Slow cooking this summer? Check out these mouthwatering pulled pork sandwiches with a sweet summer strawberry sauce.

homemade vanilla ice cream

So sweet! Homemade vanilla ice cream- make it yourself!

summer salad

In need of a new summer salad recipes? Try this summer salad that is layered with spinach, strawberries and pot stickers!

Which will you try?

Photos via BHG. Find all these recipes and much more there!

Posted by Myriam under Occasions & Party Food | 1 Comment »

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