Happy New Year everyone! What a crazy year 2011 was for the Hartys – between planning our wedding and deciding to leave my job, it’s been a roller coaster. I for one am looking forward to an exciting 2012! Jason and I kicked the new year off with a dinner party hosted by our friends Mike and Jennifer in their home in Rhode Island. I was so happy to plan the menu with them and cook for the party which included 10 of our closest friends. The six-course sit-down dinner included appetizers, soup, salad, entree, cheese course and dessert! Yes, a cheese course. What can I say, I’m fortunate to have friends who love cheese as much as I do!
Jennifer and I did all the grocery shopping (all 2.5 hrs of it) on the Friday morning before New Year’s and spent the rest of the day prepping. Mike and Jennifer were a huge help in the kitchen. We got so much done Friday that Saturday was pretty stress-free and relaxed. After working in a restaurant, you realize how much can be prepped ahead of time and then finished right before it’s time to eat. The party started at 7 and lasted well into the wee hours of the morning – everyone had so much fun. Jennifer did an amazing job outfitting her dining room into an intimate setting using heirloom china and gold and maroon accents. Our guest list included friends Amy and Ken, Phil and Danielle, Jacq and John, Mike and Jennifer and Jason and I. Here’s a look at the dining room and the tablescape!
Here are the highlights of our soiree menu…
Signature Cocktail – We decided on serving a signature cocktail when everyone arrived, something fun and seasonal. I think it’s nice to have a drink already made for a party so everyone can enjoy the party and nobody is stuck mixing drinks. In comes The Long Hello Punch. I found this in Bon Appetit magazine and thought it sounded delicious. And it was. Jennifer even made the fruity ice ring to float in the punch and our friend Cari let us use her beautiful punch bowl set.
Appetizers – We served several bite-sized apps while people were hanging out before dinner. The mix of colors, textures and cuisines made for a good looking table too!
Butternut Squash Bisque with Creme Fraiche, Spiced Pepitas and Fried Sage – For a warm, comforting first course, we served a creamy squash bisque that was garnished with creme fraiche, spiced pepitas (pumpkin seeds) and fried sage leaves. The soup started with a base of celery, carrot and onion. To that I added lots of butternut squash, fresh vegetable stock and herbs. It simmered until the squash was completely tender. I then pureed it and finished with butter and cream.
Winter Greens with Scallop, Avocado, Citrus and Tequila-Lime Vinaigrette – Our next course was a beautiful salad of winter greens (arugula, romaine, radicchio and endive) with blood orange, grapefruit and tangerine segments and a seared sea scallop. This was all tossed in a tequila-lime vinaigrette. Jennifer loves avocado and Mexican flavors so I thought this would be a fun second course! The radicchio and arugula were somewhat bitter but the buttery-ness of the avocado and scallop balanced it out and the citrus gave brightness to the whole dish.
Red Wine Braised Short Ribs, Parmesan Risotto, Glazed Mushrooms, Roasted Root Vegetables – This was our main course and certainly a labor of love! I think this was everyone’s favorite dish too. Braised short ribs aren’t a quick dish to prepare, but if you’ve got the time they are 110% worth the effort. The short ribs were the only thing I actually used a recipe for. I used Barbara Lynch’s recipe from one of my favorite cook books, Stir. I served the short ribs with Parmesan Risotto topped with glazed oyster and shitake mushrooms and roasted vegetables (rutabaga, parsnips, carrots and acorn squash). Once the short ribs were cooked (they took 6 hours total) I strained and reduced the braising liquid with butter and thyme to make the sauce that finished the plate. If you want a melt-in-your-mouth unctuous dish that everyone will love – try making short ribs. If I didn’t serve it with risotto, I would’ve probably served it over polenta. It screams for a creamy grain to be served over. I for one can’t wait for an excuse to make them again!
Unfortunately, I didn’t photograph the cheese course (gasp) or dessert, but both were magnificent. Our friends brought a few different desserts (chocolate-dipped orange madelines, cheesecake and cookies) while Jennifer and Mike hand-picked a 5-cheese plate from one of my favorite places around, Formaggio Kitchen. We served the cheese with a kumquat mostarda, pear compote, sunflower honey and water crackers. The night continued much past dessert ending in fireworks and, of course, dancing. Here’s hoping 2012 is as delicious as it started!