There is little I like more than having friends over for dinner. There is the prepping, the cooking and the baking, things I love and do every day. But that is followed up with wine, and eating, and laughing. It is the most satisfying thing to me. I love entertaining.
Here’s a secret too- I kind of think I’m awesome at it.
I know that sounds like I’m blowing my own horn, and that’s totally because I am. But I have a cute little apartment, and I can bake a mean cake, and Jordan- the handsome man who lives with me- stirs a great cocktail. We have people over fairly often, and I think we’re good at it.
There are reasons for that though, and mostly it’s because I have cooked, and currently bake, professionally, and Jordan used to bartend. After cooking for a hundred people a night for 5 years making dinner for a few friends doesn’t seem so hard. And when you paid your way through school keeping people liquored up, it’s almost second nature in your own home to keep wine glasses filled.
I’m often surprised though when we head over to other peoples houses how stressed out they get. They often make things fussier than they ought to be, or doubt their skills, or find themselves rushing around at the last second.
So I thought that I might start writing about throwing a great party. About planning a menu that is simple and elegant, what you can make in advance, and little ways to make your dinner table pop. And, with the help of Jordan, I think I’ll also give some suggestions for drinks.
And so, without further ado, here is our first Entertaining section!
Warmed Spiced Olives
Pissadierre with Arugula Salad
Local Mussels with Bacon, Garlic, and White Wine
Baked Frites with homemade Aoli
Hazelnut and Fig Jewel Cake
To many of you this might seem like the simplest and most basic thing, and it is, but when I’m thinking of a menu I try to stick to one geographical area. No “Around the World” dinners, I keep it simple by staying in one region. For this dinner everything was inspired by the South of France.
I also hate serving food in the kitchen and bringing it to the table. I love family style meals, I don’t want to pretend I’m in a restaurant when I’m at home. Plus, this way you don’t have to ask your host for seconds!
In the theme of the South of France as well I wanted a relaxed table setting, I had a small bouquet of sunflowers in the centre, a floral tablecloth and my blue gingham napkins. I set each setting with appetizer and dinner plates and I marked each spot with an additional sunflower.
I love sunflowers, and while they may not be abundant in Provence, they are aplenty here. And they go beautifully with my “flame” coloured pot that I served the mussels in.
To help make sure you know what to do when;
Two Days Before Hand:
Get all ingredients
Make Puff Pastry
The Day Before
Clean your house
Do small things like iron your tableclothes and make sure you have enough clean napkins. You don’t want to worry about things like that when your guests are arriving.
The Morning Of:
Make the puff pastry
Make and bake the cake
De-beard the mussels
Now go clean yourself up, do another tidy (I sweep my flour about a thousand times before guests arrive, as I am always dropping things!) and pour yourself a glass of wine.
An hour before your guests arrive:
Bake your pissaldierre
Make your salad dressing
Set your table up nicely.
When Guests Arrive
Warm up and serve the olives
All the rest can be done as you’re ready- from tossing the salad and serving it up with the tart, to cooking the mussels for the main.
1lb Mixed Olives (I like to get a mix of green and black, but I always try to find nicoise olives, the tiny Italian black olives. Ooh I love nicoise olives!)
1 tsp Edible Lavender Flowers
1 tbsp Fresh Thyme
1 tbsp Olive Oil
1 tsp Fresh Rosemary, finely chopped
Mix all the ingredients together and let sit as long as possible, for at least 1 day.
When you’re ready, warm them in the oven (they are very forgiving, any temperature between 300 and 450) for about 5 minutes.
Serve with an additional bowl for the pits.
1 cup Cold Unsalted Butter, cut into cubes
2 cups AP Flour
1/2 tsp Salt
1/2-3/4 cup Ice Water
4 medium Onions
1 tin Good Quality Anchovies in Olive Oil
15 Pitted Nicoise Olives or other good quality black olives.
1 tbsp Olive Oil
Sa;t ad Pepper
(To see my full tutorial for the dough click here.)
On a clean countertop toss the cubes of butter into the flour and salt.
With a rolling pin roll out the butter, flipping it over often with a spatula or pastry scraper.
Continue to do this until all the butter is in long thin strips.
Pour 1/4 cup of the water on top and gently fold the butter mixture on top of it.
Continue doing this, adding more water as needed until a cohesive dough is formed.
Chill the dough for at least an hour, or up to two days.
Slice the onions thinly.
In a medium pot over medium heat warm the olive oil.
Cook the onions, stirring regularly, for about 10 minutes.
Lower the heat and let the onions cook until very soft and a light even brown color. The onions should be soft enough that you squish them in half when you pinch them with your fingers.
These can be kept in the fridge for up to 5 days.
Preheat the oven to 400F
Roll out the dough on a well floured surface, to a rectancle about 1/4 inch thick (it can be square or circular in a pinch!)
Carefully cut the edges of the dough- you don’t want to drag the knife- that can seal the layers together. Instead cut straight down.
Now do the same thing about 1 inch from the edge of the dough, creating a border. You do not want to cut all the way through.
Put the dough on a parchment lined baking sheet.
Spread the onions on the pastry- keeping clear of the border.
Now put the anchovies in a lattice pattern over the onions, and then place an olive at the point where the anchovies meet.
Bake for about 35 minutes or until the crust is a uniform brown colour.
Allow to cool for at least 30 minutes before serving.
3 cups Baby Arugula
1 cucumber, thinly sliced.
Juice of 1 Lemon
1 tsp Dijon
3 tbsp Olive Oil
Mic the lemon, dijon, and olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Add arugula and cucumber and toss. Serve immediately.
Mussels with Matchstick Frites
8 thick slices of Double Smoked Bacon, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 cup White Wine
2 cloves of Garlic, minced.
4 lbs Mussels
1/4 cup Unsalted Butter
Debeard the mussels- each mussel has a hairy bit sticking out of it- this is like it’s arm to attach to rocks etc. Pull it off- this is done easily enough by hand but is extra easy with the help of tweezers.
In a large pot over medium heat cook the bacon until it is very crispy.
Strain off the fat.
Add the garlic and cook until it is fragrant, but not browning.
Add in the mussels and the wine and immediately put a tightly fitting lid on top.
Shake the pot vigorously and cook for about 3 minutes.
Take off the lid. When the mussels are all opened add in the butter and shake again.
When butter is melted you’re ready to serve!
3 lbs Yukon Gold Potatoes
1/4 cup Olive Oil
1 tbsp Rosemary, finely chopped
1 tbsp Salt
1/2 tsp Pepper
Preheat oven to 450F
With a mandolin (or a lot of patience and practise) cut the potatoes into matchstick sized pieces.
Coat with the olive oil, rosemary, salt, and pepper.
On a parchment lined baking sheet spread out the potatoes
Bake, stirring every 15 minutes or so until the potatoes are evenly cooked, about 45 minutes.
1 Egg Yolk
1/4 Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/4 Canola Oil
1 tsp Dijon
1 tbsp Lemon Juice
Salt and Pepper
(For my full tutorial click here!)
In a small bowl mix together the yolk and dijon.
Slowly whisk in the olive oil, drip by drip, whisking vigorously to keep it emuslified.
If it starts to get thick add in some lemon juice.
Add in the canola oil the same way.
Season with salt and pepper!
Fig and Hazelnut Jewel Cake
1/2 cup Butter, softened
1/2 cup Brown Sugar
1/2 cup White Sugar
1 tbsp Vanilla Extract
3/4 cup AP Flour
1/2 cup Ground Hazelnuts
1 tsp Baking Powder
1/2 tsp Salt
about 10 Figs, cut in half
Coarse Sugar for Sprinkling.
Preheat oven to 350F
Butter and flour a 10 inch tart pan, or round cake pan with a removable bottom.
In a large bowl cream together the butter and sugars.
Add in the eggs one at a time. Add the vanilla.
Mix in all the dry ingredients, except the coarse sugar. Stir until just combined.
Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with an offset spatula.
Place the figs in a circular pattern around the pan, like a flower.
Sprinkle with the coarse sugar and bake until an inserted skewer comes out with only a few crumbs, about 35 minutes.