~~~ My most sincere thanks to everyone who voted for my Irish Bangers and Colcannon thus helping me move into Project Food Blog’s Challenge 3: Luxury Dinner Party.  Your comments and level of enthusiasm have been extraordinary.  I was so happy to be able to share my classic dish with you but I think I’m even more excited to share my Luxury Dinner Party with you today. It’s hard to believe that I now have a 1 in 2o0 chance of winning $10,000!!  Don’t forget that voting opens tomorrow for this challenge and if you haven’t signed up for Foodbuzz yet so that you can vote, it literally only takes 30 seconds to do. ~~~

I’ll be the first to admit that while I’m confident in my cooking and baking abilities, my confidence level in my ability to entertain is considerably low.  Dare I say that I’m an entertaining newbie?  It’s probably a safe bet.  So the concept of planning and hosting a “dinner party” was both foreign and frightening to me.  Lucky for me, my mom has hosted more dinner parties than I can count so I have a good sense of what makes a good party and in the few times that Kyle and I have hosted a holiday, I’ve started to incorporate my own methods in the process.

This time around, I knew the menu was going to be the centerpiece of the evening because for Challenge 3, we were encouraged to “get creative and host a luxurious dinner party where your guests will discover new tastes and exotic flavors.”  And since voters and judges aren’t able to taste the dishes I made, I had to make sure my menu stood out.

I have to say that when I do entertain, my biggest concern is dessert; and not what it will be, but how it will fit with the rest of the meal.  I feel that dessert should be indulgent but oftentimes, my main course when we have guests is pretty indulgent too. I wanted things to be different for this meal and since I already knew what my dessert would be (thank you Josie and Project Pastry Queen!), I decided to theme my dinner around the dominant flavor of dessert: maple. I was going to get it right this time.

As I started planning my menu, I wanted to make sure that each course had at least one dish that contained maple and I knew that the main course would include a pork tenderloin. It was a good starting point. I hunkered down at my office desk [read: kitchen table], broke out a few cookbooks, pulled up both of our laptops, and started printing off sweet and savory recipes from MarthaStewart.com. (Holy maple recipes, Martha!) Incorporating maple into savory dishes was something entirely new to me but my mom had the brilliant idea for a maple sweet potato soufflé (“always elegant for a dinner party,” she said) and I knew that would pair perfectly with the pork. Not surprisingly, Martha had a recipe for that too but it was my vintage Woman’s Day cookbooks that guided me through the soufflé process. (Thanks Mom for the ideas for the soufflé and to check the cookbook!) I added French string beans at Kyle’s request to round out the main course.  My menu was coming along!

For hors-d’œuvres, I decided on maple bacon mini quiches, added a salad (watercress, endive, apples, and bleu cheese) and rolls to the main course, and took a look at what I had. It was almost midnight on Friday night by this point and although I felt like my brain was pretty fried, a light bulb came on.  The more I added, the more French the meal was shaping up to be. I decided right then to split the salad into its own course after dinner, as is served in most of Europe, and to change the rolls to gougères, moving them to a cheese course that would follow the salad course. A five-course French-inspired maple-themed dinner party sounded pretty luxurious to me!

Maple Bacon Mini Quiche

It turned out that our friends and guests, Ron and Rosy, were big fans of maple (phew!) and while they didn’t know about my food blogging side until last night, they were really excited to hear about Project Food Blog and didn’t mind being my guinea pigs since all of the dishes I was making were brand new to my repertoire. It was a risk on my part to do this for a dinner party but I trusted my recipes and abilities.

I also put a huge amount of trust in the lessons about entertaining I’ve learned from watching my mom and from watching and speaking to Ina Garten (post coming soon!).  Ina emphasizes the importance of preparing as much as possible in advance so that you’re not slaving in the kitchen when guests arrive.  This concept was partially responsible for driving how I planned my menu.  I wanted to make dishes that were fully ready in advance (mini quiches, salad prepped and in the bowl, vinaigrette, gougères, cobblers, and ice cream) so that I could let the soufflé bake while we had hors-d’œuvres, get the marinated tenderloins on the grill and then quickly blanch and sauté the [already cut and washed] string beans right before we sat down to eat. If you’re wondering about my decision to grill the tenderloins, I’ll tell you that it was a simple one. I have one oven, which was going to be used for the soufflé, and which could not be opened while the soufflé bakes.  Working with this constraint, I turned to my grill and there couldn’t have been a better solution to the unfortunate situation of only having one oven since the pork turned out absolutely perfectly!

We luxuriated our way through this five-course menu over two and half hours, just as the French would do.  We were in no rush, in spite of the anticipation we all had for each forthcoming course.  The wine flowed.  The laughter increased. Our stomachs were never full but always satisfied. A successful dinner party this was indeed…one that made me wonder why we don’t do it more often. One that made me want to do it more often in order to bring good friends together for good food and good laughs.

Note: The recipes for the dishes on my menu will be posted in separate blog posts.

You Might Also Like:

Leave a Comment

  • October 3, 2010 at 6:00 PM

    OMGosh Tara! This dinner sounds so amazing. 🙂 I can’t wait to read your Q/A with Ina too!

  • October 3, 2010 at 6:44 PM

    I would have never known you were an entertaining newbie from this post! You sound like an old pro. I don’t know about you, but I am exhausted today! Party throwing and writing about it so quickly makes me sleepy!

  • October 3, 2010 at 6:57 PM

    I like that you picked one ingredient – maple – and used it throughout your meal! Good luck with #PFB2010 – I hope we can both advance to the next round!

  • October 3, 2010 at 7:04 PM

    Isn’t it amazing the skills we actually acquired from our mothers? I love maple – probably because we make our own maple syrup. Great menu! Best wishes…

  • October 3, 2010 at 7:04 PM

    Gorgeous! Love the theme, the food looks OUTSTANDING! You did a truly amazing job. Entertaining newbie? More like entertaining pro!

  • October 3, 2010 at 7:10 PM

    What a great idea – you ARE an entertainer! I love the theme and how you incorporated the ingredient.

  • October 3, 2010 at 7:29 PM

    Love your dinner party! Those appetizers look amazing and I now super hungry just looking at them. Great Job!!!! Good luck!

  • October 3, 2010 at 7:40 PM

    Lovely lovely. Everything looks soooo delicious. Great post. You’ve got a vote from me.

  • October 3, 2010 at 7:57 PM

    I absolutely love that you chose a theme and centered the menu around it. Not to mention, I love maple. All of the food looks incredible and the decor is beautiful. What a great idea to have a cheese course, yum!!!! Great job and best of good luck!

    By the way, I’m a HUGE Ina Garten fan and am looking forward to your post about speaking with her.

  • October 3, 2010 at 8:03 PM

    Delicious… I love that you chose Maple for your theme. What a fantastic flavor to weave throughout your meal! Best of luck!

  • October 3, 2010 at 8:11 PM

    Wow, Tara, this is just beautiful!! All your hard work and planning really paid off- looks like everything was perfect!! You know you’ll have my vote!!

  • October 3, 2010 at 8:43 PM

    Wow, Tara – everything looks amazing!! I love it all, from the maple, to the French-inspired menu, and obviously the dessert 🙂 GREAT job!

  • October 3, 2010 at 9:31 PM

    I love maple. Great sounding menu, especially the cheese course.

  • October 3, 2010 at 10:07 PM

    Loved how you built your menu around one ingredient…genius! Good luck and hope to join you in round four 🙂

  • October 3, 2010 at 10:30 PM

    delicious menu
    lovely presentation

  • jenniferbeisecker
    October 4, 2010 at 10:22 AM

    NICE!!!! I’m very hungry now…it looks like your all had a great time and great food.

  • Ryan Catalano
    October 4, 2010 at 10:49 AM

    Wow!!!! Looks fantastic Tara!!! Especially the Pear-maple cobbler!

  • October 4, 2010 at 11:22 AM

    Yummy! My mouth is watering now!

  • October 4, 2010 at 11:34 AM

    I am simply amazed by your fabulous photos! This looks delicious!

  • October 4, 2010 at 12:19 PM

    Creative menu and great photos. Good luck moving forward.

  • October 4, 2010 at 12:25 PM

    I love your theme and everything looks wonderful! Those Maple Bacon Mini Quiches are adorable! I could eat ten I’m sure. The flavours are delicious! You have my vote! 🙂

  • October 4, 2010 at 1:24 PM

    vote from me, too! everything looks delicious and i love your dining room table! good luck!

  • October 4, 2010 at 1:36 PM

    if only you could invite us all to your party…good luck on the contest.

  • Liz
    October 4, 2010 at 3:05 PM

    My mom cooked from that Encyclopedia my entire childhood! Thanks for the walk down Memory Lane! Nice work.

  • October 4, 2010 at 3:41 PM

    Love the star-ingredient theme! Your menu sounds delicious! Good luck in round 3!

  • October 4, 2010 at 3:57 PM

    VOTEDDDDDDD! Good luck! Wish you all the best!

    jen @ http://www.passion4food.ca

  • October 4, 2010 at 4:02 PM

    Yum!!! I would’ve loved to have been a guest at this dinner party. What’s not to love about maple?

    Your pictures are beautiful.

  • October 4, 2010 at 5:19 PM

    Oh wow…what a fantastic menu! LOVED it and I’m sure your taste-testers did, too. You really outdid yourself, good luck for PFB, and you got my vote!

  • October 4, 2010 at 5:25 PM

    You had my mouth watering at French and Maple – it looks delicious!
    Good luck – I voted for you again!

  • October 4, 2010 at 8:28 PM

    I just stumbled upon your blog looking for where to spend my “votes” for the challenge. 🙂 A) I love maple. B) I loved all the planning and thought you put into it. Beautiful work and good luck!

  • October 4, 2010 at 9:00 PM

    Having grown up in New England, maple is one of my favorite flavors! I love how you planned the entire party around it, and all of the dishes sound incredible! You’ve earned my vote on this challenge.

  • Ginger Van Vessem
    October 5, 2010 at 8:48 AM

    OH MY GOSH!!! You are amazing! New England, fall dinner with maple(very New Englandy) as the key was a Brillliant idea!!! The only mistake I can find is that WE WERE NOT INVITED!!!LOL!!!!

  • October 5, 2010 at 11:58 AM

    Great post! That cobbler is calling my name! I voted for you. =)

    Good luck! Fingers crossed for us both to make it through to the next round! =)

  • October 5, 2010 at 12:26 PM

    Love it! Great job..definitely have my vote…Good Luck!

  • October 5, 2010 at 2:00 PM

    Tara, great job! i especially love your photography!



  • October 5, 2010 at 3:34 PM

    Well I am from Quebec so you had me at the word Maple lol. Got my vote. hope I can have yours too!

  • October 5, 2010 at 8:30 PM

    You had me at maple. As a fellow New Englander I love maple and finding new ways to use it. What a wonderful menu and amazing pictures.

  • Ed
    October 5, 2010 at 9:56 PM

    Great pictures! Especially the one of the wine bottle. Voted! Good Luck.

  • October 5, 2010 at 10:54 PM

    Girl you know you have my vote! Hope we both stay in together till the end! 🙂

  • October 6, 2010 at 2:24 AM

    Love your honesty and how you pulled it off! Way to go. I would definatly RSVP to this party. Hope to make it with you to round 4!

  • October 6, 2010 at 9:53 AM

    I like the idea of one ingredient carrying through the menu as a theme! and maple is a wonderful choice!!! Voted.

    (see my entry here: http://www.foodbuzz.com/project_food_blog/challenges/3/view/1094)

  • October 6, 2010 at 10:16 AM

    Great photos ! Everything looked delicious especially the cobbler !!! Good Luck

  • October 6, 2010 at 12:50 PM

    Awesome job! I love the maple theme and the maple sweet potato souffle sounds out of this world. I definitely need to try that 🙂

  • October 6, 2010 at 4:46 PM

    MMMM I’ll rsvp yes to this dinner invite! I love maple anything 🙂

  • October 6, 2010 at 9:50 PM

    What a fabulous dinner and great pictures that take us there!

  • October 7, 2010 at 10:18 AM

    I love that you had one common ingredient to string everything together… maple was a great choice. Everything looks delicious.. especially that pear cobbler. Good luck!

  • October 7, 2010 at 10:37 AM

    Great dinner and great pics! You have my vote 🙂

  • October 7, 2010 at 1:20 PM

    It’s interesting that you picked one ingredient as your theme! Everything sounds really good! I love how you prepared everything in advance, so that all you would need to do was heat everything.

    Best of luck with PFB! Just voted for you!

  • October 7, 2010 at 4:11 PM

    Great post – you have my vote! 🙂

    PS Thanks for stopping by my blog!

  • October 8, 2010 at 2:01 AM

    Oh, it was a lovely menu !!! and the styling is great! Pity the voting is over now! I hope we share the 4th challenge !!!

  • donna boulin
    October 8, 2010 at 3:52 PM

    WOW WOW is all I can say!!! everything looks great You have my vote!!

  • October 9, 2010 at 9:25 PM

    Congrats Congrats going onto challenge #4!!! Must be exciting for you! Good luck and all the best. Happy Thanksgiving to you! You’ll be getting the next vote from me 🙂 Your awesome!

    Have a happy thanksgiving!
    jen @ http://www.passion4food.ca

  • October 13, 2010 at 11:12 AM

    Wow! What a beautiful menu! I am coming for the next one!!!
    Great post! Good Luck!!