Saturday, February 9, 2013

Spring Tasting Dinner

I had this party quite some time ago and never got around to posting it.  This was a twelve course tasting menu with paired cocktails.  It makes me tired even typing that out...  gosh, I used to have a lot of time on my hands before I decided to start my own business!

This was all small plates, each one paired with a drink.  It took about 5 hours to serve all of these courses!  It was a lot of fun to create an experience like this for my guests.

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I thought this pairing was particularly inventive; a drink that is edible!  The sourness of the pinot noir, nuttines of the pecans, and creaminess of the goat cheese went very well together.  Carbonating the grapes was especially fun, you can read all about it should you dare in the post for the recipe!

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This appetizer is one of my favorites to make; the flavors are intense and you can customize it endlessly (mini tostadas, tacos, crostini, etc).  And you can say the same for sangria; a couple of bottles of wine, some fruit and/or exotic juice, and voila, a sparkling and delicious drink!

Another thing that I really enjoy about making small plates or a pairing party like this one is the ability to showcase different global cuisines.  I love cooking (and therefore eating!) many different types of food: Asian, Mexican, Italian, etc, and it's fun to be able to pull those flavors together to create a really interesting and complex meal.

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Come on... how cute are those cucumber saketinis????

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This is another go to recipe (hey, when you're planning 12 courses, you have to stick to some of what you know!). Not only is it a great vegetarian option, which is key when entertaining a large group, but the flavors are intense and it is easy to prepare. This is especially yummy in the summer, when the corn is so sweet it seems to melt in your mouth.

The jalapeño margarita might sound strange, but the spiciness really adds something, and it's particularly good when paired with other spicy flavors.

I tried to alternate the courses between flavor profiles to really keep this interesting, and made sure to have basically at least one dish from every food group; chicken, beef, seafood, pork, veggie, bacon (yes, that's a food group!)

I made the crust for these mini pizzas square purposely so that they would fit on this platter.  Talk about detail oriented, ha ha.  Or do they cal that OCD?

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Another important thing to keep in mind when planning a meal like this is color.  I like to use vibrantly colored foods that are as attractive to the eye as to the tummy; and if the food itself is not particularly aesthetically pleasing, you can always add a colorful garnish or sauce!

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This link will take you to my original recipe for these rolls, but I did make some small changes to it.  As you can see from the photos, I used penne pasta instead of regular elbow macaroni, to give the rolls a floral appearance.  To continue that theme (and the theme of spring), I rolled strips of bacon into "roses" and pressed them into the center of the mac n cheese rolls.

As far as the changes to the recipe, I added 2 cups of cooked butternut squash and swapped out the regular cheddar for white cheddar, giving it a smokier and richer flavor.  Yum!  Toasted garlic bread crumbs on top!

Bourbon!  I think cherry and bourbon go really well together, it's one of my favorite flavor pairings.  For this recipe, I infused the bourbon a couple of days in advance, then drained the cherries and coated them in chocolate.

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I love these mini ramekin dishes.  They look adorable for savory or dessert dishes, and how nice is it to be able to serve something in the dish it was cooked in?!

The day after this party, I had about one of each drink left over in the fridge, just waiting in their pretty little serving glasses.  I had a lovely time finishing them off while cleaning up, ha ha.  It's always smart to allay the pain of doing housework by getting a little buzzed!

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This picture doesn't show the proportions very well, but this is a bite sized piece of tenderloin that I cut to make look like a tiny filet.  The original recipe was for a meal sized portion and I pared it down to make appetizers.

The fried basil on top was a nice addition and is very simple to do; simply slice the basil leaves into long strips and fry in hot oil for just a few seconds, then place on paper towels to remove excess oil.  The basil adds a fresh, earthy flavor to the dish, and the fried texture is a pleasant surprise.

These drinks came out looking so icy cold!  For this effect, I dipped the wet rim of each glass into water, and then into powdered sugar, and repeated.  Brrrr!

I think this was about the point that the party started to get a bit rowdy, which will explain why the quality, and quantity, of photographs declines after this point!  A crowded kitchen and hungry, drunken people can really get in the way of good food photography!
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What can I say about champagne and butter poached lobster? I think anyone with taste buds would agree that it's a great combination.

And then there were desserts!  Three courses of them, naturally.  Wouldn't you be disappointed if there were any less?!

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Blueberry and ginger go amazingly well together!

Serving this many drinks (12 courses x 20 people = approx 240 glasses!) was sure to exhaust even my prodigious tiny glass collection so in advance of the party, I went miniature glass hunting and came upon these adorable mason jars.  I thought they would be perfect to serve a drink or dessert in and I've even used a few to give gifts of homemade jam.  Home Goods is the ultimate resource for affordable little finds like this.

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I love these tasty little shooters!

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This is similar to a normal brownie, a bit less sweet with darker chocolate and a hint of coffee flavor.  What really makes this dessert special is the tiny chocolate covered coffee bean on top.  Plus, bonus, it looks cute!

And finally, the most adorable jello shot cocktail ever!

One of the best compliments I've ever gotten on a recipe was on this one. One of my guests said, "think about the incredible effort, detail and time Leah put into making this tiny dessert, just so we could all enjoy 30 seconds of exquisite flavor that we'll never forget." It was a very sweet comment!

I knew the night was a success when each and every guest was able to stick it out until the final course, which I served around 1 am. Definitely my most ambitious and challenging event to date, but lots of fun to create and plan (yes, I'm crazy!).

Here are some random pics from the party.  Cheers!


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