How about celebrating spring by welcoming guests into your home for a memorable dinner party? There’s no better inspiration than hostess with the mostest Karen Preston. This lovely mother of two is a talented foodie who enjoys gathering friends and family for occasions that are always extra special. An invitation to Karen’s place is prized.
Spring Dinner Party
by Karen Preston
It’s not inexpensive to host a special dinner, so it might be something you do infrequently. That’s why it’s worth the effort to do it right.
Although your guests will not recall the finer points of the menu, they will remember the way you made them feel (valued and pampered) and they’ll also appreciate the attention to detail that shows you care.
Entertaining With Style –Here’s How it’s Done:
- Create a simple, but elegant tabletop using a runner, placemats, real cloth napkins and a small bouquet of fresh flowers. Guests should be able to clearly see one another without an overly large arrangement obstructing the view.
- Always use candles; even tealights will cast a flattering light.
- If you have white dishes, get them out. There’s a reason restaurants use them: they always makes food look more appetizing.
- The seating plan for a small gathering is unimportant, with the exception of placing yourself in a position to easily access the kitchen.
- A little background music, not loud enough to impede conversation, adds to the ambiance.
- The most important rule to guarantee a successful party is to be organized. Everything must be prepared in advance in order for you to enjoy the company of your guests during the party. If you are properly organized, you should only have to ladle and garnish the soup, plate and dress the salad, grill the salmon and plate with roast vegetables and, finally, serve the dessert.
- The wines should be opened and kept on ice. Even the red can be served slightly chilled if you wish.
- A glass of ice water should be present at each place setting, and a back-up jug should be on hand for refilling. You can cut back on stemware by offering a separate jug of water and bucket for rinsing the wine glass between tastings. I picked up an inexpensive ivory metal jug and matching bucket for this at Homesense.
- Greet each person warmly on arrival, and provide their initial beverage. You can designate someone to refill glasses during the party. I have been known to ask each of the guests to help serve and/or clear multi-course dinners; however the dishes always wait until the next day, or at least until your guests have departed.
- Remember to serve plenty of sliced baguette through dinner to sop up the many wines tasted!
- And of course, have arrangements for your guests to return home safely at the end of the evening.
Oysters/Mignonette/Lemon/Grated Horseradish Root
Baguette with an Infused Oil or EVOO and Balsamic Vinegar
Spring Greens with Shaved Fennel, Mandarin, Almond and Herb Chèvre
Grilled Garlic and Herb Salmon
Roast Spring Vegetables and Tomato/Scallion Skewers
Mini Cheesecakes/Fresh Berries/Cream
Local Cheese/Honeycomb/toasted Nuts
The oysters come shucked (do not try to do this yourself), on ice and with their liquor (juice), which means careful handling to avoid spilling. The Whalesbone on Kent Street is a local supplier. Ensure the source is easily accessible the day of your party and delegate someone to do the pick up for you. Ideally, oysters should be served within a few hours of shucking, still on ice, with lemon wedges, mignonette and a few gratings of fresh horseradish root. (Do not use the stuff in the jar. If fresh horseradish isn’t available, use a basic cocktail sauce.) Plan on at least three oysters per person.
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 tbsp minced shallot
1 tsp cracked pepper
Wine Pairing: Melon de Bourgogne from Norman Hardy or Cuvée Catherine from Henry of Pelham.
A really simple potato and leek soup, the vichyssoise looks elegant garnished simply with a few croutons, a small drizzle of olive oil and a few snipped chives. This one may be served chilled, but my preference is to present it warmed (gently…so as to not scorch the cream).
4 leeks, white and tender green parts.
2 tbsp butter
2 lbs (5 cups) Russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
4 cups chicken broth
1 tsp salt
½ tsp freshly ground pepper
½ tbsp. lemon juice
1 ¼ cups heavy (35%) cream
Clean leeks to remove sand and slice thinly. Heat butter in a large Dutch oven and cook leeks, covered, for about 10 minutes, until soft. Add potatoes and stock, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes or until tender. Use an immersion blender to puree until smooth, then add seasonings. Add cream and heat gently.
Wine Pairing: Pinot Gris from The Grange of Prince Edward.
Spring Greens with Shaved Fennel, Mandarin, Almond and Herb Chèvre
This salad is a version of one I enjoyed several years ago at Vittoria Trattoria in the Byward Market. It has bright citrusy flavour to balance the rich soup and is easy to throw together beforehand.
Using spring greens as a base, add thinly shaved slices of fennel bulb and red onion. (You can rinse the red onion slices in a little warm water and dry with a paper towel to mellow it for those who find raw onion a little strong.)
Add a can of drained Mandarin orange segments, reserving juice. (Blot the segments dry before adding to the salad.)
Top with toasted, slivered almonds and crumbled chèvre, then refrigerate until serving. Use your favourite vinaigrette recipe or a good quality bottled variety, such as Garlic Expressions, adding a little of the reserved Mandarin juice to sweeten. Drizzle this on just before serving.
Wine Pairing: Chenin Blanc from By Chadsey’s Cairns or a Sauvignon Blanc of your choice.
Roasted Garlic and Herb Salmon
Make the marinade paste in the morning, spread it over the salmon fillets in a freezer bag and refrigerate until dinnertime. I grill it using a foil BBQ Buddy. Excellent served with Roast Spring Veggies (recipe follows).
8 salmon fillets
1 whole bulb of fresh garlic
1/2 cup EVOO (Extra Virgin Olive Oil)
1 tsp Montreal Steak Spice
Salt and pepper
Juice of half a lemon
1 tsp white wine vinegar
1 tsp Dijon mustard
2 scallions, chopped finely
Pinch of oregano and thyme
Sprigs of fresh parsley, snipped
Small sprig of fresh rosemary, snipped
Half dozen fresh chives, snipped
Cut the very top off of garlic to expose a tiny bit of the cloves. Set on a square of foil and drizzle with a small amount of EVOO. Close foil and roast garlic 45 minutes at 350 °F. Cool a few minutes, then squeeze roasted cloves into a small bowl. Mash with a fork.
Peel and slice shallots thinly and sauté in a small pan in EVOO until lightly golden. Cool and add to bowl of roasted garlic. Add remaining ingredients and stir to combine.
Spread marinade paste over both sides of salmon and refrigerate a few hours until it’s time to grill. Garnish with fresh lemon wedge and freshly snipped scallion or chives.
Wine Pairing: Pinot Noir from Norman Hardie or Hubbs Creek.
Roast Spring Veggies
1 lb fingerling or baby potatoes, washed and cut in half lengthwise
I fennel bulb, top and core removed and cut into wedges
1 lb French green beans, trimmed*
1 bunch fresh asparagus, cut in half (3-inch pieces)
2-3 tbsp EVOO
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Toss potatoes and fennel in a bowl with oil and salt and pepper.
Roast on a baking sheet at 400°F for 20 minutes.
Toss beans and asparagus in remaining oil and salt and pepper left in bowl, then add to the baking sheet.
Roast for another 10 to15 minutes.
*Must use the thin French filet beans or they won’t soften enough.
3 tbsp EVOO
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
½ tsp kosher salt
½ tsp freshly cracked peppercorns
2-4 cherry tomatoes per person
green onions, washed and cut into 1-inch lengths
wooden cocktail skewers
Soak skewers in water. Thread tomatoes and onions onto skewers, alternating the colours. Whisk together oil, vinegar, salt and pepper and brush onto vegetables. Roast on a baking sheet at 400°F for 20 minutes.
Mini Cheesecakes/Fresh Berries/Cream
1 8 oz pkg cream cheese, softened
1 8 oz pkg chocolate cream cheese, softened
½ cup sugar
1 tbsp vanilla
2 large eggs
12 chocolate or vanilla wafer cookies
Fill cupcake tins with paper liners. Blend the cream cheese, sugar, vanilla and eggs together until smooth. Place one wafer in each cupcake liner. Spoon the batter in, leaving a little room to rise. Bake 20 minutes at 350°F, then let pan cool on rack.
Make these the day before. At serving time, remove the paper liners and garnish with fresh raspberries and cream. A gourmet chocolate sauce and chocolate covered coffee beans also make a nice presentation. These products are available at supermarkets such as la Bottega Nicastro on George Street.
Wine Pairing: Sparkling Darkling from By Chadsey’s Cains or Open Smooth Red from Constellation Brands Inc. of Niagara.
Local Cheese/Honeycomb/Toasted Nuts
A local cheese plate at the end of the meal is always welcome, especially for those who don’t have a sweet tooth. Fresh honeycomb is readily available these days and is nice with soft cheese such as Brie. The general rule is to present a hard, semi soft and soft cheese on the plate, along with a handful of nuts, a piece of fresh fruit (apple, pear or fig) and honey. There are some excellent local cheese shops, including International Cheese and The House of Cheese, both in the Byward Market. With dessert, I always offer coffee as well.
TIME Magazine has named Prince Edward County one of its 10 best places to travel in 2015. It’s well worth the trip to enjoy its attractions and to stock up on excellent wines. Besides a thriving art scene and wonderful restaurants and bistros, the county is home to over two dozen wineries. My favourite is that of Norman Hardie, a native of South Africa and former sommelier at the Four Seasons in Toronto. His Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are arguably the best produced in Canada.
Norman Hardie’s Bourgogne complements the briny oysters on this menu. However, a nice sparkler would as well; sparkling wine is also an excellent way to welcome guests. Some favourite Canadian producers are Henry of Pelham in Niagara, Hinterland in PEC and Benjamin Bridge in Nova Scotia.
At Grange of Prince Edward, owner Caroline Granger planted her first vines in 2001 and within a few years was winning awards for her wine. This winery’s Pinot Gris is available at the LCBO and is a lovely match with the potato and leek soup. The salad course would match with a Sauvignon Blanc of your choice and Chenin Blanc from By Chadsey’s Cairns is a lovely match.
The Hardie Pinot Noir complements the grilled salmon perfectly. Another great choice is Hubbs Creek, produced in Hillier by a passionate Italian named John Battista Calvieri. His large format bottles are perfect for multiple dinner guests; however, 750 ml bottles are the norm so count on two bottles for each course if you have a party of eight.
The final course needs a wine to suit the sweeter, chocolate flavours of the cheesecake; Sparkling Darkling from By Chadsey’s Cairns fits nicely. An alternative is Open Smooth Red from Niagara; it’s an inexpensive red available at the LCBO.