Project Food Blog Challenge #3: How to Host a Dinner Party + a Recipe

I love dinner parties because they combine two of my favorite things: great friends and great food. For the third Project Food Blog Challenge, we were asked to host a Luxury Dinner Party and channel new and exotic flavors into our menu. So how do I go about planning a luxurious dinner party?

Step 1: Set the guest list

Having a set guest list lets you know that you’ll have people there to enjoy your food, and also helps you plan the menu in regards to dietary restrictions and preferences. My husband and I knew instantly who we wanted to invite. Over the summer we made some great new friends and had yet to host a gathering with them. It’s crucial that you pick a compatible group of people, and our friends definitely fit the bill, it was going to be a blast! We confirmed RSVP’s a little over a week before the set date.

Step 2: Choose a theme and set a menu

I find that setting a theme for a party really helps me plan dishes and seek out recipes, narrowing down the options. Plus, it helps the meal flow and gives your guests something to connect to. I let the date, the first of October, determine the theme for our party. I’m having a hard time letting go of Summer, and what better way to embrace a new season than with food?

I set the menu with the intention of reintroducing us to the new and different flavors of the season and “Welcome Fall!” became my theme. I tried to make each dish shine with fresh seasonal produce and warm spices like cinnamon and nutmeg.

One of our friends is vegetarian and I decided that it would be easier to make the entire meal vegetarian, rather than hassling with providing alternatives. Plus, there’s so many wonderful fall vegetables, meat wasn’t needed to provide an exciting and hearty meal.

Project Food Blog Menu Challenge 3

Step 3: Prepare as much in advance as possible

With the menu set a week ahead, I had plenty of time to buy groceries and prepare dishes ahead of time. Being stuck in the kitchen the whole night is not very much fun for the host, so I wanted to have nearly everything completed before the guests arrived. I made a schedule for the week with tasks that had to be done each day.

On Tuesday we made homemade ravioli, Wednesday we prepared the soup and made the ice cream. Thursday was filled with mise-en-place for all of the other dishes— chopping vegetables and herbs and making sauces. I spent the few hours before the party putting it all together and adding the final touches.

It is a lot of work hosting a fancy dinner party, I’m not going to lie. But all of the work you do ahead of time will pay off, I promise.

Step 4: Enjoy the evening

Friday evening came and I had everything ready to go at 8 o’clock. The table was set.

The table is set

And the appetizers and cocktails were ready.

Appetizers are ready

The guests arrived and we mingled while I periodically checked on things in the kitchen. Then we sat down, poured some wine, and enjoyed a spectacular feast.

Second course

Homemade sweet potato ravioli

The food was wonderful and everything turned out as delicious as I’d planned. The soup was the perfect first course for the meal, the salad was fresh and full of fall flavors, I couldn’t believe how fantastic my homemade ravioli tasted, and the dessert was rich and decadent. What a meal!
Great food, great company

 

Plenty of wine

 

Food didn't last long
The whole evening went off almost without a hitch and I’m very happy with how everything turned out. I can credit that to my planning, the enormous help my husband provided, and the graciousness of our guests. We had a fabulous evening, full of great food (and it all really was quite delicious, if I do say myself) and a lot of fun conversation. I wished I had taken more pictures of the party, but alas between playing the host and having a good time, I just didn’t think of it.
There’s one more thing I wanted to share with you, and that’s the recipe for the Apple Bread Pudding with Cinnamon Ice Cream and Bourbon Sauce. As a dessert and baking enthusiast, this was one of my favorite dishes. I created the combination myself, and it was absolutely delicious. Served with coffee, it was the perfect ending to a fall-themed dinner party with friends.
Apple bread pudding

Apple Bread Pudding with Cinnamon Ice Cream and Bourbon Cream Sauce
A recipe from culinary school
Makes 8 large servings

1 cup heavy cream
2 cups whole milk
6 egg yolks
1 cup, plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 loaf of french bread, cubed
1 apple, peeled and sliced into chunks
1/2 cup pecans
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Cinnamon Ice Cream (recipe follows)
Bourbon Sauce (recipe follows)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9 x 13 inch baking dish. Toss the bread cubes, apple slices, and pecans together and spread into an even layer in the baking dish. Set aside.

Combine the heavy cream, milk, and 1/2 cup sugar in a sauce pan over medium heat. Bring almost to a boil, just until bubbles appear at the edges, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks and 1/2 cup sugar in another bowl. When the milk mixture is done, remove from heat and slowly add to the egg yolks (I do this by ladling in a few tablespoons at a time. Continue adding till it is combined.

Pour the custard mixture evenly over the bread cubes, apples, and pecans. Be careful to pour over the top of all exposed bread cubes to prevent them from drying out. Combine the cinnamon and the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar together and sprinkle liberally over the dish.

Let sit for at least 1 hour, or overnight in the fridge. When ready to bake, do so until the top is golden brown and mixture appears to “puff up” a little out of the pan, 45-60 minutes. Cover with aluminum foil while baking if tops brown too quickly.

Note: this is a great do-ahead dessert! If baking ahead of time, store in the refrigerator. When ready to serve, warm in a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes.

To serve, slice and top each serving with a scoop of ice cream and a spoonful of the bourbon sauce.

Cinnamon Ice Cream
Adapted from Cuisinart
Makes 2 quarts

2 cups heavy cream
2 cups whole milk
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon bourbon (optional)

Combine cream and milk in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring almost to a boil, until bubbles appear around the edges, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, whisk together the egg yolks and the sugar in a separate bowl. Slowly add the milk mixture to the egg mixture, a few tablespoons a time, until completely combined. Return the mixture to the saucepan and continue to cook over medium heat, stirring constantly to prevent the eggs from curdling, until thickened. Add the vanilla, cinnamon, and bourbon (if using).

Pour into a bowl and chill in the fridge for 2 hours or overnight. When ready, freeze in an ice cream machine according to the manufacturer’s instructions, about 30 minutes. Scoop ice cream into another container and freeze for at least an hour to harden before serving.

Bourbon Sauce
Adapted from About Southern Food
Makes 2 cups

1 cup sugar
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon bourbon

Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil and continue boiling for about 5 minutes until thickened, stirring constantly. Use immediately, or refrigerate.