An Elegant Dinner Party

Malcolm and I have several shared hobbies, and cooking and entertaining is at the top of the list of things we like to do together.  It is even more enjoyable now that we are retired and have time to immerse ourselves in the process. When we were younger, we could knock out a five or even six course dinner party in one day and still have energy to enjoy our guests. Those days have passed, but we still love to cook and entertain.  Our retirementally evolved approach to serving an elegant meal without being overwhelmed with details and exhaustion is pretty straight forward.

Plan Ahead

  1. Choose a tried and true main dish that can be prepped early
  2. Make a shopping list
  3. Print hard copies of menus or have them handy on a laptop
  4. Create a time line of when to do what
  5. Divide responsibilities, but be flexible
  6. Make sure you have everything on hand that you will need
  7. Prepare side dishes ahead, or prep them for cooking one day in advance
  8. Wash, dry and store salad greens one or two days before
  9. Make salad dressing days ahead
  10. Chop, dice and store ingredients that require a lot of prep time
  11. Set the table several days in advance, including folding napkins
  12. Locate serving platters, bowls, pitchers etc. that you will use
  13. Purchase wines that compliment the food and have at least 1 bottle per 2 people
  14. Choose a dessert that can be made one or two days ahead

At this stage of life, the key to keeping things fun, is to plan a menu that includes some items that can be made ahead, like soup and dessert, and a few things that can be easily prepared in front of your guests, without a lot of mess. We typically start two or three days ahead with our kitchen prep work and by the night of the dinner, the kitchen will be well organized, including a time-line to keep us on task.

Set the Table

I always set the table a couple of days in advance, including all of the glasses that we will need for the evening. If I am using fresh flowers as a centerpiece, I will arrange those a few days ahead also. This centerpiece is made of two bunches of miniature roses that I picked up at the market for about $10.

P1870517

What’s For Dinner

On this night, we served a deconstructed Caesar Salad, a duo of Yellow Pepper and Tomato soup, with Beef Wellington as the main course. On the plate with the Wellington was whipped potatoes and shaved Brussels Sprouts. I forgot to take a photo of the soup, but it is a staple recipe that we make often, so I’ll share it another time.

edit2

We made the soup one day ahead and warmed it just before serving. The salad (romaine leaves) were washed and prepared the day before, and stored wrapped in paper towels to keep them crisp in the refrigerator. I stacked the leaves and drizzled each with homemade Caesar dressing and shaved Parmesan cheese just before serving.

Malcolm assembled the partially cooked, individual Beef Wellingtons the day before and let them stand covered in the refrigerator overnight. He brought them to room temperature prior to finishing in the oven while we were having our second course.

The Brussels sprouts were washed, sliced thin and stored in a zip-lock baggie for a couple of days. I sauteed a small amount of pancetta in a pan and tossed in the sprouts with a little bit of water, salt and pepper to steam for about ten minutes while one of our guest sipped her wine with me in the kitchen.

The whipped potatoes were made several hours ahead, reheated and whipped again just before plating.

Neatness of the plate depends on how much wine I’ve had, so I get no points for presentation on this one.

Serve a Show Stopper Dessert

The star of the evening is always dessert. It is Malcolm’s favorite thing to make and he pulls out all the stops to make it extraordinary. This is the recipe I am going to share with you because recipes for everything else on the menu can be easily located on the internet. This recipe was originally published in Gourmet Magazine in 1989. It has since disappeared from the archives, but there are a couple of copy-cat recipes still floating around. The one we found botched it pretty badly, so we have revised it, hopefully to its original form as best we can.

Nectarine Mousse Cake

P1870511 (2)

This cake is fairly involved and takes approximately four hours to complete, so you might want to make sure you have some very special friends or family around to share it with.

Cake-1

Almost there……….

Cake-2

If by now you are thinking that we are a crazy couple of coconuts, you are not alone. We fully recognize that what is fun for us may be drudgery for others. As a foot note, we entertain like this about 8-10 times per year for close friends and family.

We also like to make tacos, meatballs, and homemade pizza at impromptu gatherings. We are not the least bit fussy about what friends serve to us and are just happy for a return invitation. This is a hobby that we love and for as long as we are able, we will continue to be a couple of crazy coconuts in the kitchen.

23 Comments on “An Elegant Dinner Party

  1. Wow! That’s an impressive meal, and that dessert looks wonderful. I’m glad you enjoy this, and I hope your friends know how lucky they are. I bet it’s a wonderful time at the table, and it sounds like, with all the prep work, you have time to enjoy your friends.

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  2. You friends are very lucky people. The menu sounds delicious. I have always found desserts the hardest to get it right. You and your husband make the dream team. Lovely flowers also 🙂

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    • I’m with you on that Gilda. Desserts are not my thing. I’ll be Sous Chef any day, all day just to avoid having to make a dessert.

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  3. Very impressive. I’d appreciate a dinner invitation to your home anytime! My husband and I don’t entertain a lot, but we (sort of) enjoy it when we do. Things always turn out OK, but we can usually expect at least one stress-related argument during the preparations. We just add it into our time-line 🙂

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    • Actually, we are cooking for a couple of friends tonight and you are welcome to drop by :-). Very casual. The stress-related arguments (in the kitchen) have dissipated over the years, but it’s nothing a glass of wine won’t fix. I will have to remember to add it into our time-line.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Suzanne,
    What a lovely hobby to share; I wish Dan had more interest in cooking, though he surely likes to eat! We don’t entertain a lot and when we do it is nothing so grand as this and tends to be casual and outdoors on our screen porch overlooking our little lake.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Nancy,sharing a meal with good friends is always a pleasure, no matter what’s on the plate! But, I have to admit, if Malcolm didn’t like to cook, we would NEVER entertain. My favorite thing to make is reservations!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi, Suzanne – I’m with Janis on appreciating a dinner invitation anytime! 🙂
    Your meal looks absolutely incredible — your friends and family are very lucky indeed!

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  6. Wow impressive dessert Suzanne! I’m available to attend your next dinner party although might need 24 hours notice to fly over LOL:) Mike and I used to make special Saturday night dinners just for the two of us. We have lost that over the last year so you have inspired me to introduce them again. Dinner for two or with family and friends is always a special occasion. I will be sharing your dessert recipe with my daughter it looks perfect and I bet is tasted delicious. x

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    • Sue, date night in the kitchen used to be a thing with us too. We always cook together, but rarely make it special for just the two of us. Thanks for reminding me that we need to get back to that habit. Let me know if your daughter makes the dessert. It is not difficult, just a little time consuming. So worth it!

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  7. Oh my goodness, can we please come to dinner on your home made pizza night? I love how organised you are, because I have the same tendency to make lists and to do as much as possible ahead of time… So that one can relax and enjoy the company of the people that are invited to share in the dinner.

    Everything looks so beautiful. From the flowers to the food and the dessert is just crazy gorgeous!! Keep that man!!! I mean just WOW, that dessert looks like something one would see in a patisserie in Paris.

    Beautiful all around…

    Peta

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    • Peta, when I married him I didn’t know he could cook. He made one meal for me when we were dating – lobster, which was delicious, but very easy, so I thought he probably asked his mom. It’s a skill he developed entirely on his own out of his love of beautifully prepared and good tasting food. Without a doubt, his desserts would sell in the finest restaurants. Yep, I’m going to keep him.

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    • Tracey, that dessert is perfection. The Peach Schnapps soaked into each layer of the cake and the light fluffy mousse – how could it not be! Thanks for stopping by.

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  8. I’d say you have this entertaining thing nailed!

    Over the years I’ve learned to become considerably more adept at the pre-work so that the eventual meal flows without much fuss. I tend to be more success on some occasions than others 😉
    I could really relate to your comment “Neatness of the plate depends on how much wine I’ve had”. That can also be applied to my propensity to forget details 🙂

    I’d be happy if I only had to deal with salad and dessert. They are my two favourite things to prepare. Everything else in-between is just ‘whatever’.

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  9. Now, that looks like an amazing evening. I applaud your efforts. 🙂 I must admit we entertained a fair amount back in the day, but since retirement and downsizing, we usually meet friends at a restaurant. Different chapter, and we’re okay with it. 🙂

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  10. Lovely menu…and that plate looks delicious. We like entertaining as well, but l hate cooking. Luckily he loves to cook and he has a wonderful time doing it. I smooch and then do the cleaning up which l definitely hate, but prefer to the actual cooking. We don’t do fancy though :-). I’m a big fan of as little as possible to wash as there is no dishwasher..haha!

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