Sunday, August 22, 2010

Dinner for Jacquie

My sister Jacquie is in town this week with her three kids, from Minneapolis, and of course everyone said "Let's have a dinner!" What was I to say? Yes!

This dinner could be called The Mad Dash or Raid the Farmers Market; I am on a chicken budget this week with the two new basket orders, so I bought 3 whole chickens and a bunch of legs & thighs and white meat ($30 hormone & antibiotic free at the Persian Market). I made up the rest of the menu and decor based on what I found or got for free/trade at the Corona del Mar farmers market today and Rancho Sante Fe last weekend:

$10 worth of Dahlias and a bunch of free peaches, as the peach lady and I are now friends:

I had my little helper Lauren today; while I usually have multiple tables set the day before, this time I had nothing done ahead save a few cakes; I came home from the market at 2pm and dinner was to be on the table at 5! I threw the vintage French sheeting and burlap from the market tables over the round tables, with French sterling silver and usual Matteo napkins from Cargo & Company; Lauren is always smiling and having fun, so this sweet face kept my stress under control...

Here are my little helpers, nephew Michael (6) & niece Lauren (8):
I was really happy with the flowers; I cut them down short for sight across the tables and added the peaches, on skewer sticks:

I did the French candle in the cauliflower trick, always a conversation piece as long as you don't overuse it. This really works in a row of 6 or 8 down a long table in the center; you must find fresh chou-fleur and they must be just a little larger than your fist, to be cute. Also great under hurricane shades, sous verre:

I wanted to do the animal sculpture veggies as I mentioned; there is a book somewhere for sale on this, but here is a link on the net with suggestions; I got Lauren going and she needed no prompting; I became the assistant, only helping with the hot glue gun and cutting the potato bases; I didn't think of it, but this Chinese eggplant became a whale:

and the giant squash from the mid-week market became a turtle; this was pure kid creativity!!
the bok-choy fantail goldfish were in multiples:
and Lauren conceived a "porcupine fish" (? but it IS cute!):
the birds:
more goldfish:
and one of the penguins:

this was just a smiley-blob, but it was happy:
for appetizers, I steamed artichokes from last Sunday's Rancho Santa Fe market, prepared a la Julia: cut the top 1/4 off, trim other sharp points, rub with lemon juice. Bathe in vinegar water; all that prevents it from browning. When cooked, scoop out the "choke" and sharp leaves; this was the most civilized artichoke we have ever eaten; leave it to Julia to give us this...
the leaves were dipped in a homemade (Julia's) mayonnaise with added fresh crushed garlic, my "aioli." It was delish; it took a long time to explain commercial vs homemade mayonnaise to the teen boys; "but why isn't it white?":
Dates stuffed with gorgonzola and wrapped in bacon then baked; I think last time I pre-cooked the bacon; they were dipped in a reduction of Black Currant Basalmic Vinegar from Gourmet Blends; This combo was a very complex but great taste:
I forgot to mention, the Canon Rebel is out of gas so I used the Canon SureShot for all these pics; I am officially spoilt and will now budget to get the Rebel or something comparable. I regret all of these photos....the Rebel would have done better; I am sold. Sold sold. Jo will be happy...

Besides the dates & artichokes, we had cheeses for starter to keep the hungry crowds at bay. When I got home from the market, I threw the chocolate cakes in the oven, then did the tables with Lauren, then the animal sculptures, then cranked on the food; we had chicken three ways, legs & thighs a la diable (anything spicy belongs to the she-Devil in France); great recipe from Patricia Wells:
Brushed with Dijon mustard mixed with chile flakes (I use Paprika and Cayenne instead), dipped in egg and sprinkled with bread crumbs, this is best with little tiny legs and thighs found at the Japanese market, but here I did the big pieces, which were eaten in entirety by the time the next plate came out:

A pair of chickens stuffed with herbs & lemon & garlic, roasted to Julia's specifications. Not too brown but roasted to perfection; here on a bed of fresh spinach from the market; these were juicy and herb-y~
After this we had chicken breast cut in fine slices and cooked with an egg and parmesan coating; these were all gone in three batches too, no photos, gone too fast and I was busy cooking.

As the day grew short, the big kids helped the little kids learn how to light all the little tealights on the table, much to Jacquie's dismay.
Lauren was very careful, and was just fascinated by the 19C candlestick with the wings;
Dessert was homemade cheesecake with fresh berries and boysenberry & strawberry sauces:
flourless chocolate cake; this is one of my oldest most loved cake recipes; Lorenza deMedici. LOVE.
Sauces from last weekend's berries: strawberry and boysenberry/mulberry, strained of the solids; these went on the cheesecake, chocolate cake and (not shown) 3-layer white cake with creme chantilly frosting imbibed with Kahlua (my Mom's fav); no one could name a favorite, everyone took a slice of each and said they blended perfectly ~
As the night wore on, the candles melted perfectly over the cauliflower; it was very 18C~
the night went swimingly....we partied on into the 11 o'clock hour:
the candlelight kept us going, and the light reflected so well on the flowers:
I had a few white nectarines in too, but I loved the colors of the peaches:
Mom and I cleaned up and did dishes til 1am, then I fell into bed til 5am when I got up to get ready for the day and Rancho Santa Fe. This morning I woke up feeling like this party had kicked my butt... To answer Roberta's question from this morning, I spent about $120 on the dinner, maybe less, including food & flowers & candles. I had my sister buy the wine, and that helped. There is no way I could go out to a restaurant with 14 people for that price.....


  1. Your post has left me in total awe. The way in which you cook, and set a table for you family is divine. The animals made out of vegetables tugged at my heart. Bravo to Michael and Lauren (so adorable). I'm always impressed when someone goes the extra mile to create a beautiful meal ( & boy did you) and the set a gorgeous table. My mother always set gorgeous tables and in turn taught that to my children. Such a priceless piece of yourself to pass on to those young people in ones life. Truly a memorable evening for all. xx

  2. I will never look at a zucchini in the same way again. You are fantastically talented. xo

  3. Amazing! Amazing! and may I say Amazing!

    Everything tasted as good as the photos look. Of that I am sure.

    I hope you were able to take a nice long nap yesterday.

    The children are beyond adorable.

  4. I love the sea animals created from veggies ~ you are too clever! You are creating memories that will last a lifetime for your family ~ this is what life is all about.

    You have a true gift for entertaining ~ dinner, dessert and the table scape are absolutely fabulous ~ I am so looking forward to the day I can partake in the festivities.

    I'm more than willing to help you with the lens suggestions. I'll shoot you off an email.


  5. Oh, I love the animals! Beautiful!