October 3, 2010

Project Food Blog: Luxury Dinner Party (Challenge #3)


Project Food Blog is the first-ever interactive competition where thousands of Foodbuzz Featured Publishers are competing in a series of culinary blogging challenges for the chance to advance & a shot at the ultimate prize: $10,000 & a special feature on Foodbuzz.com for one year.

Challenge Prompt: Celebrate! Whether you're an experienced host or an entertaining newbie, get creative & host a luxurious dinner party where your guests will discover new tastes & exotic flavors. Share your hosting secrets with readers, like how to cook for a crowd, plan a menu, or involve guests in the prep.


This challenge couldn't have come at a better time, because yesterday was my 37th birthday. Age has never bothered me before, but for some reason 37 bothers me. I woke up yesterday with terrible back pain; I just felt old. However, as far as birthday celebrations go, it was a pretty good one...I had a multi-course dinner at Araka with my girlfriends on Wednesday, met a couple other friends at Monarch for dinner & drinks on Thursday, saw Anthony Bourdain speak on Friday, & threw a Spanish tapas tasting party last night.

I chose to feature traditional Spanish tapas for us to taste...mainly because my husband recently started working as the Assistant Cheesemonger (Assistant to the Cheesemonger) at The Wine Merchant in St. Louis & we hadn't yet tried any of the Spanish cheeses & meats. Our main "luxury item" was Jamón Ibérico, the most expensive ham in the world. Jamón Ibérico is not widely available in the United States; in fact, it was not available at all until December 2007, because the USDA had not approved any of the Spanish slaughterhouses. We also tried Jamón Serrano, a spicy Chorizo, & three Spanish cheeses: Ros (aged sheep's milk cheese), San Simon (creamy smoked cow's milk cheese), & Urgelia (semi-soft salt brine-cured cow's milk cheese).

My menu also included a whole salt-baked red snapper. I wanted to feature a seafood dish, since Spain is--as Anthony Bourdain stated during his talk in St. Louis on Friday night--the best place in the world to eat seafood. I'd never baked a whole fish in a salt crust before but had been wanting to do so for a while. The fish was moist and flavorful, complimented with a garlicky Spanish allioli. Surprizingly, the allioli is made with only raw garlic, olive oil, & a touch of lemon juice...no egg yolks like a French aioli.

I was impressed with the gazpacho recipe I used; I liked it much better than the gazpachos I've tried in the past. Usually, I feel like I'm eating a bowl of salsa. This recipe, however, is made by blending some bread with the tomatoes, cucumber, & red pepper to create a thicker, creamier soup. I let guests season their own soup with black truffle salt & oil or smoked salt.

For dessert, I baked a Spanish chocolate truffle cake. With 2 1/2 sticks of butter & 6 eggs, this cake is very rich, dense & eggy. A bittersweet chocolate ganache topped the single layer cake. I made ice cream with a fruity Spanish olive oil to go with it...because no birthday party is complete without cake & ice cream.

Since I was offering a variety of berenars (snacks), I also put out a platter of mixed Spanish olives (thank you Whole Foods olive bar!) & almonds to go with the wines Jerad picked out: a 2008 Juan Gil Monastrell, a 2009 Dominio de Eguren Protocolo Blanco, & several bottles of Segura Viduas Brut Reserva Cava (sparkling, my favorite!).


Gaspatxo Andalus (Gazpacho)
Orada a la Sal (Whole Fish Baked in Salt) with Allioli
Mona de Xocolata (Chocolate Truffle Cake)
Oli d'Oliva Gelat (Olive Oil Ice Cream)


1. KEEP IT SIMPLE. There's no need to cook an entire 5-course meal; a platter of three or four really good artisan cheeses goes a long way. I prefer to make a few dishes to set out with a cheese platter, charcuterie, & olives for my guests to enjoy "buffet style." We all have more fun standing around & noshing from platters while talking. The last time I threw a formal dinner party, I spent most of the time in the kitchen...and I got a bit tipsy on wine & screwed up a couple dishes (as in not whisking oil into the salad dressing, just dumping vinegar & onions on the salad instead). A simple menu will let you enjoy the party as well.

2. PLAN AHEAD. Do as much as you can ahead of time so that you're not rushed at the last minute. A couple years ago, I'd invited people over for dinner but was way behind in my prep. In fact, I'd started nothing when people arrived. My guests asked if they could help, and I started assigning jobs...peeling garlic for chicken with 40 cloves, slicing vegetables for a tian, & destemming grapes. At one point, I found myself standing in the kitchen doing nothing while my guests were basically cooking their own meal.

3. BE FLEXIBLE. Sometimes things don't work out the way to you plan, so you must be willing to make adaptations. My Vitamix stopped working while I was making gazpacho last night; it just wouldn't turn on (and I thought those things were unbreakable!). Eventually, I had to concede that we weren't going to have gazpacho. I figured that we had enough other food, so it would be fine. I didn't let it bother me. Thankfully, though, the Vitamix started working again, so I made the gazpacho while my guests were there. It's always good to have a back-up plan in case something doesn't work out...like the oven gets too hot & burns the bread or your misbehaving puppy grabs a hunk of cheese off the table...hypothetically speaking, of course.

4. HAVE FUN! This is, ultimately, the most important part of throwing any kind of party. If you're stressed out about everything being perfect, it will kill your buzz (literally & figuratively speaking). My dinner party was a great time...and it wasn't necessarily because of the food...it was because there were lots of laughs with good friends.

My fav pic of the night: Jerad with our friends' baby.


Brownieville Girl said...

Happy Birthday.

That's one party I would have been happy to attend!!!!

Margaret Howard said...

I can't figure out how/where to vote! Text me or something and tell me!

Anonymous said...

Happy belated! I love eating tapas and just getting to try a variety of things. I hear you on the keeping it simple tip. I think for the most part people are just happy to be there, and are satisfied with that and good food (not necessarily the most extravagant recipes as well).

XO best of luck!

p.s. I love the last picture too! Too cute :D

Bill Burge said...

Quinn looks so confused.

Stay-At-Home-Chef said...

Oh I've been dying to try Jamón Ibérico...did you enjoy the meat? Good luck in the competition - hope to join you in round four!

Jacob's Kitchen said...

Great post! And happy belated birthday!!! =)

The food looks really delicious, and tapas are perfect for entertaining. Really nice job. I voted for you! =)

Fingers crossed that we both make it through to round 4!

Russell at Chasing Delicious said...

I love the idea of a tapas tasting dinner party! Those cheeses and meats sound mouthwatering.

Happy belated bday and good luck!

Lori Lynn said...

Happy Birthday! Tapas is our favorite.
Good luck!!

Amy (Sing For Your Supper) said...

Wow, a cheesemonger?? That sounds like the best job in the world! Congrats on a beautiful party! I voted for you!

The Cilantropist said...

I love that you baked a whole fish, I have also been wanting to try that for awhile but havent gotten around to it yet! Nice work, your dinner sound fabulous! :)

Anonymous said...

love the black hoof ham and would make this entire meal! thanks and happy birthday!

The Duo Dishes said...

The truffle cake and aioli for the fish are favorites from this menu. You presented a great dinner party. From the sounds of it, this deserves a vote!

edible cville... said...

I loved this. Espcecially how it seemed so easy for you when I get apoplectic at the thought of a dinner party lol! Cheers! You got my vote :0) http://bit.ly/cNNCrR

Natty said...

Happy birthday! I hear you on back pain-- my back, shoulders and legs are still aching from all the chaos of my dinner party. We're not old! We're hard workers! Excellent work.

Ed said...

Great job and you have my vote!

sophia said...

How can you be old when you had the energy to put all this together?! Goodness!! What a spread!

And happy belated birthday! :D

shaz said...

Happy belated birthday! I turn 37 in two weeks, I so know what you mean :) And I'm totally drooling at this spread especially the jamon! I'm rsvp-ing right now.

Tender Is the Bite said...

Kelly, Thanks for the vote! I was pretty close to doing tapas too, it was fun to see how yours turned out. Looks like a great dinner.

Lindsey @ FRESH AIR + FRESH FOOD said...

Beautifully simple and different! I love it and feel like gulping myself! Happy Birthday - you have my vote!


Debbie said...

Wow, I would love to come try some ham you can't buy in the US! The one place my husband and I missed out on our honeymoon was Barcelona, I was so looking forward to trying Spanish Tapas! Thanks for bringing home :-)

Fiona at Life on Nanchang Lu said...

You heard Anthony Bourdain on your birthday?
You're married to a cheesemonger?
And you cooked all this?

Does good fortune know no bounds??

Great spread! Well done, voted!


Lighthearted Locavore said...

I love that you braved a whole fish. Great post. I voted for you. Lexi

I hope you'll check out my N'Awlins dinner party and vote http://bit.ly/bjlTA5

Food o' del Mundo said...

LOVE Spain and TAPAS! Happy B-day! You've got my vote.
~ Mary

Anonymous said...

When I was in Spain last month, we had some of that expensive Jambon. My jaw almost dropped when he said the entire leg cost 200Euro! Great post! Good luck in round 3!

Suzy said...

Awesome party and a great post for this round! You can't go wrong with yummy meats and cheeses and olives. The red snapper was really impressive. You've got my vote...good luck!

Whitney said...

flexible, you are so right!!! you have my vote, what a great party!



Peter said...

I've been to Barcelona and loved the tapas, and gazpacho is one of my favorites, too!

So you definitely got our vote!

We Are Not Martha said...

This looks awesome! I'm a big fan of gazpacho, but I love that you made yours a bit creamier. Good luck!! :)


Deborah Dowd said...

Looks like a successful tapas all around- great menu and the casual approach of a tapas style menu is great for conversation!

Jessica said...

Wow what a great menu! How fun! Happy Birthday! Hope we both make it to the next round! :-)

Anonymous said...

Happy Birthday! Fabulous menu, really tantalizing, and I especially love the image of you getting sloshed in the kitchen and screwing up the salad dressing at your last formal dinner. Too true - keep it easy!

Jean said...

Your tips are spot on--still learning to follow some of them myself. And, you can't go wrong with a tapas-themed party. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Happy Birthday!! Your whole menu looks great, but that cake really has my mouth watering. Great job with this challenge!!

Unknown said...

Everything sounds fantastic, and reasonable in the sense that you can spend time with your friends. Also, I'm becoming a huge fan of olive oil flavored ice cream, good to see that someone else is too. Good luck this week, you've got my vote!

Lick My Spoon

CookEatLove said...

Nicely done!!

Daily Spud said...

Tapas are just about one of my favourite things to eat and ever since I tried salt-baked potatoes, I've been wanting to try salt-baked fish - I can just imagine how good that was! Well done, happy birthday & best of luck in this round!

jen cheung said...

Congrats Congrats going onto challenge #4!!! Must be exciting for you! Good luck and all the best. Happy Thanksgiving to you! You'll be getting the next vote from me :) Your awesome!

Have a happy thanksgiving!
jen @ www.passion4food.ca