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Shrimp Cocktail Bruschetta and a Dinner Party Plan

About a month ago, two of my favorite people in the whole world ran off to a funky little motel in the Catskills and secretly eloped. (This place looks seriously cool! You can check out some of the wedding photos on the Roxbury facebook page.

I was ecstatic when I heard the news. And then, almost instantly, my mind went into dinner party mode. If there were ever a perfect reason to throw a dinner party, this was it.

Don’t you just love the idea of a dinner party?? Good food, plentiful drinks, amazing company… I love every bit of it; planning the menu and decor, preparing the meal, presenting each course, coming up with a few special touches… It’s something that I wish we could do more frequently.

But with three little kids (including a teething four-month-old, who’s fully convinced that sleep is for suckers), it’s hard enough to get a simple macaroni and cheese dinner on the table on any given day of the week. The thought of preparing an elegant, five-course plated dinner for ten is a bit overwhelming even to consider. It can be done though. It just requires a little careful planning.

A carefully crafted menu is the most essential component of any successful dinner party (aside from your guest list, that is). For our feast, I wanted to use fresh, seasonal foods which would bridge the transition from summer to fall. In order to spread the preparation throughout the week and keep things as simple as possible during the party, I wanted to serve dishes which could be easily reheated without any loss of quality. And then the big thing… I wanted to be able to sit down to enjoy each course with my guests. I mean, who wants to spend the whole time in the kitchen while your guests are laughing at the table (and threatening to eat the cupcakes prematurely)??  My goal was to create a menu where each course could be effortlessly completed and served within ten minutes of the previous course.

Here’s what I came up with…

Sunrise Champagne Cocktail

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Shrimp Cocktail Bruschetta on Toasted Baguette

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Heirloom Tomato and Goat Cheese Tart in a Pine Nut Crust with Balsamic Reduction

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Seared Scallops over Sweet Potato Bisque with Applewood-Smoked Bacon

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Braised Beef Short Ribs in a Fig and Red Wine Reduction

with

Creamy Brie Mashed Potatoes

Roasted Asparagus

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Pumpkin and Nutella Wedding Cupcakes with Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting

Aside from the anti-sleep demonstration, which my four-month-old staged throughout the entire party, the dinner went off without a hitch. Preparation between the courses was a cinch and everyone enjoyed the meal.

Interested in hosting your own simple and elegant dinner party? Here are a few little tips:

Start with a signature drink; something fun, unique, and fitting for the event. We were celebrating a wedding and what wedding celebration is complete without champagne?? My Sunrise Champagne Cocktail is a simple twist on a classic Bellini. Fill champagne glasses a little more than halfway with champagne. Top with passionfruit juice. Finally, drop about 1/2 teaspoon of grenadine into the glass. The grenadine will fall to the bottom and disperse, creating a beautiful layered color effect…an effect which happened to match the layered colors of the bride’s wedding dress. Coincidence? I think not.

As guests arrive and mingle, have some little hors d’oeuvres available. Keep ’em light though. You don’t want your guests to overfill their bellies before dinner. And, you don’t want to be busy in the kitchen fussing over snacks as your guests are arriving, so keep it easy. The shrimp cocktail bruschetta I served during our party is an ideal option. It takes the concept of a tomato bruschetta on toasted baguette and combines it with chunks of fresh shrimp and the flavors of cocktail sauce. Simply arrange on a platter and set out for your guests to enjoy. You’ll be free to greet your guests and enjoy a cocktail as you focus on preparing the first plated dinner course.

For the first plated course, serve something cool or at room temperature. It will make it easier to get things started. I served the heirloom tomato and goat cheese tart I recently shared with you. You can prepare and freeze the crust a week or more ahead of time. It takes only a few minutes to finish the tart on the day of your party. Pop it in the oven just as your guests begin arriving. It will make your house smell delicious and will be ready in perfect time for the first course. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature with a drizzle of balsamic reduction.

Serve a soup as part of your second course. They’re easily reheated and offer a ton of options depending on the season. I served my seared scallops over sweet potato bisque with applewood smoked bacon. The bisque can be completely prepared a few days ahead of time. Refrigerate the bacon pieces and freeze the bisque to keep it fresh. During the party, you’ll only need to quickly sear the scallops and reheat the bisque and bacon before serving. Within 5 or 6 minutes, the second course will be ready to serve.

The main course should typically be the heaviest item on the menu. Try to plan something which gives you flexible timing. I served braised beef short ribs in a fig and red wine reduction. This dish is an ideal main course, since it actually does best when prepared a day ahead of time and can be reheated and held until you’re ready to serve. Preparing a day before allows the sauce to chill, making it easier to remove the excess fat which will rise to the surface. You can then adjust the seasoning of your sauce and slowly reheat the short ribs, keeping them hot and ready in the oven until it’s time to serve.

To keep things easy during the party, do whatever little preparations you can ahead of time. On the side of the short ribs, I serve creamy brie mashed potatoes, which can be fully prepared a day ahead of time, and roasted asparagus, which take only a few minutes in the oven. Get your asparagus ready for roasting by washing, cutting, and arranging on a baking sheet earlier in the day. Before roasting, toss in a bit of olive oil, salt, and pepper. Then simply pop them into the oven.

For dessert, serve something which can be made ahead of time and requires little or no preparation during the party. I served pumpkin-nutella cupcakes with cream cheese frosting. They made a beautiful centerpiece on the table and were ready to eat when the time came. This meant that I could sit back and relax once the short ribs were served…Well, I would have been able to sit back and relax if the aforementioned anti-sleep demonstration weren’t still underway. Alas, what can you do?? He’s lucky he’s so stinkin’ cute!

Recipes for the short ribs, creamy brie mashed potatoes, and cupcakes will be coming up soon! For now, let me whet your appetite with this simple and delicious shrimp cocktail bruschetta!

Shrimp Cocktail Bruschetta

Ingredients

  • 6-8 plum tomatoes, seeds removed and finely chopped
  • 2 cups shrimp, deveined, cooked, and chopped
  • 3 green onions, chopped
  • 3 teaspoons prepared horseradish
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Tabasco, to taste
  • 1 French Baguette, sliced
  • Olive Oil

Directions

Combine tomatoes, shrimp, green onions, horseradish, lemon juice, worcestershire sauce, salt, and tabasco. Adjust seasoning as desired. Refrigerate until serving. Brush the slices of baguette with olive oil. Arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake in a 375 degrees oven until lightly toasted. Serve shrimp bruschetta topping with toasted baguette slices.

Surf and Turf – Anniversary Style

Five years ago, on a sunny early-September afternoon, I married my best friend. And what a beautiful five years it has been. As I sit here reflecting on the past five years, I am eternally thankful for all we have. Love, trust, respect, humor, empathy. We are acutely aware of how fortunate we are.

Photograph courtesy of Tamela Kemp Photography ~ http://www.tamelakemp.com

After a long dating relationship, begun during our college days, we decided to formally tie the knot, which we’d informally tied long before. We carefully crafted all of the details of our wedding to represent our tastes and the result was a memorable wedding day, which our friends and family continue to remark on.

Photograph courtesy of Tamela Kemp Photography ~ http://www.tamelakemp.com

We married at the Thomas Birkby House in Leesburg, Virginia; a lovely property, circa 1770. We said our vows in front of the carriage house, where 130 or so of our closest friends and family had gathered. The bridesmaids wore warm autumn brown and carried rust colored Leonides roses. I carried a bouquet of ivory roses with moss green hydrangeas.

Photograph courtesy of Tamela Kemp Photography ~ http://www.tamelakemp.com

Immediately following the ceremony, our guests enjoyed a cocktail hour in the courtyard to the sounds of a harpist. Hors d’oeuvres were passed and guests mingled while enjoying the assortment of wines and specialty beers we’d hand-selected.

Passed Hors d’oeuvres Menu

Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail with Tangy Cocktail Sauce

Little Washington Tartlette ~ Melange of Virginia Country Ham, D’Anjou Pear, Baby
Arugula and Parmigiano-Reggiano,

Dried Figs with Gorgonzola garnished with a Poached Cranberry

Smoked Salmon on Sweet Potato and Apple Pancakes

Crispy Tomato Toast with Fresh Mozzarella and Basil

Photograph courtesy of Tamela Kemp Photography ~ http://www.tamelakemp.com

Following the cocktail hour,we moved into a large white tent with a ceiling of soft, gathered fabric and a brass chandelier, where the pièce de résistance of our wedding awaited; the food. Of all the details we’d carefully planned, the food was our highest priority. Well, at the very least, it was my highest priority. And when it came down to planning the meal for our wedding, our plan was certain. Skip the traditional multi-course dinner in exchange for a wider assortment of unique, carefully-crafted, decadent hors d’ouevres; arranged on tables scattered throughout the tent. Casual but elegant. Enough food to fill everyone’s bellies, all in bite-sized portions. My favorite way to dine.

Stationary Hors d’oeuvres Menu

Domestic and Imported Cheeses

Savory Cheese Torte with Sun-Dried Tomato

Creamy Brie with Apricot Preserves

Saga Bleu Polenta Rounds with Beef Tenderloin

Smoked Duck on Pecan Crackers with Red Currant Chutney

Bouchees with Brie, Chutney, and Almonds

Miniature Maryland Crab Cakes on a Bed of Creole Slaw with Red Remoulade Sauce

Sate Station – Grilled Beef, Chicken, and Pork with Hot Mustard, Indonesian Barbecue and Peanut Sauces

Scallop Tostada – Seared Sea Scallop on a Salpicon of Lump Crabmeat and Sweet Yello Corn with Poblano Pepper Aioli

Baby Vegetable Crudite with Yellow Pepper Thyme and Black Olive Feta Dips

Butternut Squash Bisque with California Fruit Chutney and Crunchy Cheese Straws

The surprise standout of the menu was the bisque, which we added to the menu at the last minute after enjoying an amuse bouche of pumpkin bisque at a local restaurant sometime during the months preceding our wedding.

Photograph courtesy of Tamela Kemp Photography ~ http://www.tamelakemp.com

We used a wonderful Washington DC area caterer, Ridgewells, who made our vision become reality. Ridgewells is well known in the DC area and they more than fulfilled our expectations. They even worked with us to design custom hors d’ouevres, including a special Little Washington Tartlette, based on one of the courses we enjoyed at The Inn at Little Washington on the evening we got engaged.

Photograph courtesy of Tamela Kemp Photography ~ http://www.tamelakemp.com

Oh, and the cake! The cake, the cake, the cake! Honestly, while planning the our wedding, the cake was not incredibly high on my list of priorities. I had an idea for the design and, of course, I wanted it to taste good, but I felt no need to run around to various bakeries looking for the perfect wedding cake. We’d tasted a few of the cake selections which Ridgewells offered and it was enough for us to feel comfortable having them provide the cake. We requested a Rich Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Mousse and Raspberry Filling. I remember the moment the first bite of that cake entered my mouth. It was a complete surprise. I had expected wedding cake. Know what I mean? Doesn’t it seem like wedding cake always tastes like wedding cake? Well, not this wedding cake. I was floored by how rich and moist and utterly delicious our cake was. Seriously the best wedding cake I’ve ever tasted.

Photograph courtesy of Tamela Kemp Photography ~ http://www.tamelakemp.com

In honor of our 5th anniversary, I decided to prepare two of the items from our wedding menu, entrée style. An anniversary surf and turf duo of Beef Tenderloin on Sage Blue Polenta garnished with Julienned Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Jumbo Lump Crab Cake on a bed of Spicy Creole Slaw.

I seasoned the tenderloins with salt and pepper and seared them in a hot pan with a bit of olive oil. Then, I placed them several inches under the broiler and cooked in the oven until they reached our desired doneness. After allowing the beef to rest for a few minutes, I sliced the steak, which I served over warm polenta. To the polenta, I added some Saga bleu cheese. Any other bleu cheese would be delicious as well. I garnished the steak with thin slices of sun-dried tomatoes.

For the crabcakes, I used my recipe for broiled jump lump crab cakes, which you can find here. I served the crab cakes on a bed of creole slaw, which added the perfect amount of crunch and spice to the dish. Leftover crabcakes and slaw make to-die-for sandwiches the next day.

Creole Slaw

Ingredients

  • 6 cups Cole Salw Mix (Shredded Cabbage and Carrots)
  • 1/2 cup Mayonnaise
  • 1 Tbsp Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 1/2 Tbsp Worchestershire Sauce
  • 1 Tbsp Creole Mustard
  • 1 Tbsp Brown Sugar
  • 1 tsp Garlic, minced
  • 1/4 tsp Cayenne Pepper
  • 1/2 tsp Salt

Directions

Combine the mayo, vinegar, worchestershire, mustard, brown sugar, garlic, cayenne and salt. Taste and adjust seasoning, if desired. Toss with the cole slaw mix. Make several hours or a day ahead if possible.

Photograph courtesy of Tamela Kemp Photography ~ http://www.tamelakemp.com

Later this morning, we take off to New York City for our 3-night getaway, courtesy of Bertolli. Tonight we’ll be attending a welcome dinner at Aureole, which is certain to be a treat! We’ll have a chance to meet the winners of the other categories and the Bertolli team. Tomorrow evening we’ll get dolled up to attend the Zac Posen show, followed by the afterparty, where my winning Braised Lamb Shanks will be served in passed hors d’oeuvres form. Should be a very exciting weekend! Stay tuned for more details.

In totally unrelated news, my little man started nursery school yesterday. Unbelievable.

I’m Baaaack!

Posted on

So nice to see you again! You’ve been missed.

We were away for a long weekend on Long Island to celebrate the wedding of a wonderful friend.

Our weekend had a rocky start. We ended up in the Emergency Room on Saturday morning with my littlest guy, whose allergic reaction to amoxicillin was worsening. My sweet little baby awoke covered in angry looking hives with swollen hands and feet and bright red swollen ears which protruded from his head. He was less than pleased with the visit to the ER, but the docs took good care of him and we headed back to my parents’ house with our puffy baby. A few doses of steroids, lots of extra snuggles, and an early bedtime brought the smile back to his precious face.

Snuggling my sick little guy

That evening, we enjoyed a delicious dinner with my parents and brother; grilled marinated chicken and hanger steak, corn on the cob, potato salad, and garlic bread.

Fresh herbs from the neighbor's garden, which were put to good use in the marinades and potato salad.

Sizzling chicken

Grilled hanger steak, garlic bread, corn on the cob, and potato salad

On Sunday, we attended a beautiful wedding for a beautiful globe-trotting couple. It took place on a riverboat!

The Lauren Kristy Riverboat

Bacon-wrapped pineapple - Bacon makes everything better, doesn't it??

Wedding Cupcakes!

The wedding was full of thoughtful little touches, laughter, and love. It’s evident how perfectly matched the bride and groom are. We wish them a lifetime of love and happiness.

Before we started for home on Monday morning, we met up with my Grandma for breakfast at her regular spot. I order my usual corned beef hash with two eggs over-well and rye toast. It’s always the perfect way to fill my belly for the ride home!

Now we’re back home and I’m ready to cook!

Check back later for something tasty…

In appreciation of Long Island weddings…

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The morning of my friend’s wedding, my husband could not stop himself from eating two bagels; one with bacon, egg, and cheese and the other with scallion cream cheese. I chastised him, “What are you thinking?? Remember that you are attending a Long Island wedding today!”

For those uninitiated in Long Island weddings, you must prepare. For the feast will be more plentiful than anything you’ve ever experienced.

The cocktail hour itself is a bountiful buffet.  Crisp vegetables, fresh fruits, cheese, and olives adorn one table. A short walk away you’ll find a French crepe station with your choice of seafood or fruit crepes. Tables of fried rice with sesame chicken, sushi, and seafood paella are scattered throughout the cocktail area.  And don’t forget the roast turkey carving station or mashed potato bar!

Vegetable Crudite and Dip

Wine Bar

Mashed Potato Bar

Mashed Potato Bar Toppings

I had sweet potatoes with marshmallows, brown sugar, and BACON!!

Roast Turkey, anyone?

My first plate of cocktail hour goodies

After the cocktail hour, the party moves into the ballroom where a salad, decked with cheese and adorned with fresh fruits is waiting at your table.

Choose your main entree from the delicious options. But don’t worry, because you’ll have the opportunity for seconds of any entree!

Chicken Florentine

Filet of Norwegian Salmon en Croute aka "Croissanty the Whale"

Those things, which look like mushrooms, are actually roasted potatoes.

And then there is dessert, of course!

Bananas Foster Flambe, alongside an ice cream sundae bar.

Have I mentioned the open bar, with drinks refilled faster than they can be emptied? (My husband was fairly certain that our waiter was challenging him to some sort of drinking contest.)

Pour me another, bartender!

A beautiful wedding for a beautiful couple.  Wishing them a well-deserved lifetime of love and happiness. Cheers!

Cheers!

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