Though I like to cook and have a reasonable fondness for the company of others, I don’t host dinner parties that often. This is because I can’t seem to just have “normal” ones. Actually, I’m not even sure what a normal one is, but I think it means basically cooking something you normally do, only a little more of it, adding a dessert and a couple nice bottles of wine, and inviting a few other people over to help you eat it.
I always seem to go bigger and more complicated. Perhaps it’s true that everyone needs a challenge once in a while, and this is one I set up for myself. So, for my most recent dinner party, the idea was trying to “harmonize the food and wine for each course to a particular soundtrack, based on mood.” Which indeed was a wee bit of a challenge.
Selecting the moods
How many courses, and which mood would each have? At the start, the only thing that seemed obvious was that the start [snacks] needed to exciting and energizing, while dessert was by nature romantic. Retrospectively, only, I realize was I did from there was segue gradually down from that starting mood to the ending one. So exciting gave way to merely happy [appetizers], then to engaged/interested [main course], and onto refreshed (which I’m still not convinced is actually a mood) [palette cleanser], and finally to the relaxed romantic.
Again, the starts and ends were quite easy. Exciting = dance music to me, and I already had a large dance playlist. I could afford to get pretty picky with that, knocking out the slower numbers and the ones I didn’t like as much, and still being left with a good 7 hours of thumpa thumpa. And I similarly had a good start on the romantic already, which just required a little removal of some racier items, and the addition of some more love songs.
But happy was tough. Apparently I’m not the big a fan of the upbeat pop tune. I was really having to comb through to find enough to last a sufficient amount of time.
For engaged I looked for songs that were of moderate mellowness and featured smart lyrics. I am much more of a fan of this type of music, it appears, so this was easier to put together. A lot of women artists feaured here—Alannis, Tori, Sarah… even a little Madonna.
And refreshing? I decided that was electronica… Not sure why. As I have only about 12 electronica songs, it was easy to gather them, and that was long enough for the palette cleanser course.
Food and wine
Jean was actually a big help in getting this part settled. I really didn’t want to do fiddly little appetizer things, because I hate making that kind of stuff, but I was failing to see how I could possibly make soup or salad “fun”. He’s the one who suggested that a two-tone soup, which we’d once had at a restaurant, could be kind of fun, especially with chow mein noodles. So that’s what I went with, adapting a carrot and parsnip recipe that was meant to have everything combined, but instead cooking it in two parts.
Similarly, it was his point that salmon seemed too dull to be the only main course protein on offer, leading to the idea of offering duck as well. Which of course meant we had to serve Pinot Noir, the intellectual wine—as we learned at the KW Symphony’s food and wine concert. And that concert is also where I got the Julia Child chocolate recipe that I thought I would make a suitable dessert.
With those main items selected, the rest just had to be built up around it. And we were so well stocked in wine at this point, selecting those proved pretty easy, and required no special trips to the LCBO. Everything was already in our wine cupboard.
Oh yeah, the people! On the first date we proposed, very few could actually attend. So we were pretty surprised when, on the second day we suggested, everyone could go! But that’s a good problem to have, since we wouldn’t have invited them if we didn’t want to see them. So we were eight guests, plus Jean and me. Inventory revealed we actually did have enough chairs and dishes—as long as we weren’t too fussy about everything matching—and a little creativity allowed everyone to sit at the same table, albeit covered with three different, small table cloths.
Everyone was willing and able to bring something, and that also helped round out the menu and assuage concerns that someone would go hungry. And on the day, all were really great about helping with music changing, wine opening, dish delivery and removal. I could definitely why I wanted to spend time with these people.
So how did it go?
Generally, I think it went well. Jean and I had fun. Everyone else claimed they did too. I felt most items I made turned out well, and certainly everything brought was delicious. Definitely the most challenging part was the final preparation of the main courses, where we had to cook duck, beans, salmon in sequence in the oven (cause each needed a different temperature) while also preparing the sweet potatoes and reheating the magret, but we mostly managed that. (We probably would have done a little better had we not already had a couple glasses of wine by then, but hey, it was a party, and we didn’t have to drive.)
After that, everything was actually pretty easy to serve, as it was all ready, so then we could largely relax and just enjoy the company and conversation.
As I had typed up the menu for the whole evening, I’ll copy that in here now. Thereby making this the longest post ever!
1 – Gathering
“Cue the pulse to begin.” —The Burnside Project
Soundtrack: Swing, Disco, Dance, Hip/Hop, Reels, Jigs… As long as it’s got a beat and you can dance to it
Wine style: Refreshing white and lively red. Choice of:
- Peller Estates Ice Cuvée (ON; champagne with dosage of ice wine)
- Bartholomew Park Winery 2008 Sauvignon Blanc (CA,)
- Malivoire 2008 Lady Bug Rosé (ON)
On the menu:
- Lightly spiced orange hummus
- “Guess the secret ingredient” guacamole
- Trail mix
- Pita, corn chips, baby carrots, cherry tomatoes
2 – Appetizers
“I’m picking up good vibrations.” —The Beach Boys
Soundtrack: Upbeat pop
Wine style: Rich white. Starting with a 2006 Sauvignon Blanc from Samson Estates (ON).
On the menu:
Creamy carrot soup with parsnip swirl, topped with dried apple and mango and crisp Asian noodles
Rye toasts with smoked salmon canapé
Assorted Ace bakery bread
3 – Entree
“Did I say something true? Did I have a point of view? Well, I’m not sorry.” —Madonna, “Human Nature”
Soundtrack: Mostly alternative with some folk, pop, rock, and R&B
Wine style: Rich red—with a rustic edge
- Rodney Strong’s 2007 Estate Pinot Noir (CA)
- Malivoire 2008 Guilty Man red blend (ON)
On the menu:
Roast duck + magret de canard with apple-mustard glazed, served with tangy apple relish
Crisp-roasted salmon fillet topped with tomato-basil relish
Mashed sweet potatoes with touch of maple and cream
Roasted balsamic-tarragon scented green beans
French-style potato salad in Chardonnay
4 – Palette cleanser
“Find out in the garden.”—Mirah
Wine style: Off-dry white: Malivoire 2009 Chardonnay musqué spritz
On the menu:
Lavender sorbet and crudité
5 – Dessert
“The sweetest thing.” —U2
Soundtrack: Jazz, pop/rock/R&B ballads
Wine style: Sweet and rich. Choice of:
- Stratus Cabernet Franc (red) ice wine (ON)
- 10-year-old Tawny Port (Portugal)
On the menu:
Gateau au chocolat: l’éminence brune
Blueberry cobbler with blueberry whipped cream
Le Cendrillon (Québec), Oka (Québec), and Nettles Gone Wild (ON) cheeses
Tea and coffee
“No pressure over cappuccino.” —Alanis Morissette