Party Like It’s Dinner Time!

I love a dinner party. To me, hosting one is just as wonderful as attending one.

Last week, we were invited to dinner at the home of our friends Scott and Dejan… on a Thursday night. Go ahead, wipe up your spilled drink, close your mouth, or pull the dog out of hiding. Your shriek of surprise wasn’t necessary. Dinner parties can happen and be successful on a work/school night. I promise.

They supplied dinner and drinks. We brought dessert. Try that. Don’t expect the host to do the most. They may demand it, but arguing is well worth it. It’s an easier experience on everyone and no one feels like they didn’t do enough.

We got to their house at 8 o’clock.

The action centered on the kitchen for quite a while, which is a good thing! I love standing there, talking and watching (or maybe helping if they’ll allow). Within just a few minutes, okra was on the grill. Yes. Okra. on. the. grill. I’d never had it or heard of it, and now I feel like I’ve missed out all these years.

They treated the okra with oil, salt & pepper, then put it on the grill. It’s done when the pointed end of the okra splits open. It’ll look like tweezers or a bird’s beak waiting anxiously for a morsel of food. They served it with a homemade remoulade sauce. We also had d’Affinois cheese (very soft and similar to brie) with crackers and cheese straws. Perfect way to begin and wonderful tease for what was to come. (Side note, the little fork in the picture is called an “ice cream fork” – who knew?)

We eventually made it to a wonderfully set table. I love a table cloth.

Dinner was a big, tender, well-seasoned and perfectly grilled steak. Next to that, there was a nice pile of wild rice. In a bowl along side the plate, an heirloom lettuce (didn’t know it existed) and tomato salad with peppers from their garden and a nice, light coating of homemade balsamic vinaigrette.

Red wine was served with the appetizer and the meal.

We provided dessert: An almond pound cake  topped with macerated berries (strawberries, blackberries and blueberries bathed in sugar, lemon and water) and cannoli cream (an Italian dessert, usually found in a pastry tube). Of course, you get the recipe. The finale got good reviews, so I was happy!

For the cake: I used a tablespoon and a half of almond extract, that’s a bit more than the recipe calls for. I wanted a punch of almond flavor. Almond Pound Cake Recipe.

For the cannoli cream: 1 1/2 cups whole milk ricotta. In a strainer, placed over a bowl, put a piece of paper towel. Then add the ricotta and press it down/cover with plastic wrap. Leave it in the refrigerator overnight, so the moisture will come out of the ricotta. Then, in a large bowl, combine the drained ricotta, 1 cup powdered sugar and 1 tsp. cinnamon. Mix well.

For the berries: I sliced up about 8 strawberries, then tossed in 2 handfuls blueberries and a container of blackberries. To that, add the zest of half a lemon, 4 tbsp. sugar and 8 tbsp. water. Mix and let sit covered in the refrigerator overnight. Mix before serving. The juice is delicious!

You know the hosts are excellent when they send you home with goodies. We got leftover steak for the dog, a container of the delicious remoulade sauce and 2 cans of an Italian sparkling mineral water that we hadn’t had before – they wanted us to try it – and we did… so good!

Try a dinner party. Throw one, and at the very least, accept an invitation, especially if it’s on a work/school night.

I learned a new preparation for a great vegetable, had a fun, relaxing conversation with great friends and found out that a weeknight doesn’t have to revolve around the same ol’, same ol’.

Tip: Don’t be afraid to change-up a boxed mix. The almond pound cake I made for the dinner party dessert came from a Duncan Hines recipe that began with a boxed cake mix and grew into something great. Whether it be cake, cookie, muffin or cornbread mix or even canned icing, a little add-in can go a long way. Keep extracts in the house. I have coconut, vanilla, cinnamon, lemon and anise (licorice). Keep nuts, chocolate chips and shredded coconut on-hand. Zest from citrus fruit can add a zing, too. Don’t be afraid to experiment. I’ve even added cayenne pepper to chocolate cupcake mix!

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