For some people, entertaining is a way to conduct business, for others it's a way to flaunt domestic prowess. For me, it's a simple matter of time. Between work and writing for this blog, I don't have a lot of time to socialize. Since I always need to develop new recipes to keep the posts coming, bringing a diverse groups of friends together at my dinner table, let's me catch up on their lives, while providing me with new material to write about.
Call me selfish, but since face-time with my friends is my primary motivation for entertaining, I don't want to be stuck in the kitchen all night making dinner. At the same time, I wouldn't be caught dead serving reheated food. My solution is to put the dinner table close to where I'm cooking. That way, I can prepare a great meal while catching up on all the latest tidbits of my friends' lives.
A serendipitous consequence is that my friends also get a front row view of dinner being made. It gives them a chance to feel like a part of the experience, even if they aren't cooking and it also allows them to ask questions about something that normally goes on behind closed doors.
Some might see this as a sign of bigger issues, but I always have more fun at parties that have plenty of alcohol. It's a social lubricant, and for an introvert like me, it's just the kick in the pants I need to venture out of my comfort zone and meet some new people. That's why I always keep my fridge stocked with beer, and at least a bottle each of red and white wine. If guests insist on bringing something, I let them know that they're free to bring more alcohol. This means I almost always end up with more alcohol than when I started:-)
I also like to get things started by coming up with a cocktail or two to hand to guests as they walk in the door. Making cocktails is a bit like cooking in that it doesn't require measuring. My usual formula for a good cocktail is to incorporate the four S's: something strong (i.e. your choice of liquor), something sweet (this could be simple syrup, flavored liqueur, and/or juice), something smelly (I use everything from basil to tea leaves here), and something sour (usually citrus juice, but I've used rhubarb juice, balsamic vinegar, etc). Aside from being a fun way to express your creativity, cocktails make for a great conversation starter.
This particular dinner party was centered around chocolate. I'm not talking about a red mole where you sneak a bit of chocolate in at the end. This was a full-on brown barrage, with some form of chocolate making it into every dish except the dessert. Here's what I made:
Apricot Glazed Goose with Chocolate Gravy and Chocolate Mashed Potatoes - I love goose because it's flavorful and moist like duck, and yet it's big enough to feed eight people. To get the beautiful crispy glazed skin, I just roasted the goose with salt and pepper first, then glazed it with apricot jam, before returning it to the oven for a final few minutes. I served this with chocolate mashed potatoes and chocolate gravy, made with stock from the neck of the goose.
Cacao Chestnut Stuffing - Stuffing is always better when it's actually stuffed in a bird, soaking up all the juices dripping off the meat as it cooks. Goose has a cavernous opening that's perfect for filling with stuffing. This chocolaty chow includes apricots soaked in sherry, sausage, celery, chestnuts and cacao nibs. While it's tough to go wrong with bread soaked in meat juices, this one was especially good.
Fatback and Chocolate Syrup Brussels Sprouts - Not much more to this than shredded brussels sprouts, cooked with bits of fatback (salted pork fat), and chocolate sauce. The fatback releases enough oil to pan roast the brussels sprouts, and a bit of chocolate sauce added at the end helps with the caramelization, turning this much-reviled cabbage into a delicious mess.
Haricots Vert with Chocolate Butter and Smoked Salt - These green beans include just 4 ingredients, but they taste much more complex. The coco powder in the butter gives them a wonderful nutty flavor, while the smoked sea salt adds a ton of character to these otherwise ordinary legumes.
Tarte Bourdaloue - Since every other course involved chocolate, the only way to keep the surprises coming was to do a dessert that didn't involve chocolate. This tarte bourdaloue seemed like the perfect creamy end to a decadent chocolate-filled menu. The buttery crust filled with pears, almond frangipane, and custard didn't last long, and soon there were only crumbs remaining.