Tis the Season for Dinner Party Fun (Part I)featured

A festive winter table

A festive winter table

The Girls

The Girls

There is nothing like a good excuse to have a dinner party! With the busyness of the season, I wanted to take some time to catch up with some old friends I haven’t seen in too long (Alessia & Will, Leda & Tim), introduce them to some wonderful new friends (Brianne & Alex), and enjoy some good food and plentiful wine (thank you Hua for being the best sous chef ever).

The menu for the evening:

appies
Gruyere Gougeres
Hot Crab Dip with Blue Corn Chips

one more app for good measure
Baked Sea Bass and Mango on a Half Shell

soup with inspiration from thomas keller
Butternut Squash Soup with Brown Butter,
Sage, and Nutmeg Creme Fraiche
Honey Wheat Bread Wreath with Honey Butter

greens
Spinach Salad with Candied Pecans, Apples,
Grapes, and Pomegranite Seeds

entree
Lemon and Garlic Herb Roasted Chicken

sweet finish
Riesling Poached Pear
with Cardamom Cream and Burnt Sugar Garnish

When I decided to throw this little party, I knew I wanted to feature seasonal ingredients that would make for a warm, cozy, winter dinner. And of course, I wanted some wow factor ;) .

As I skimmed the row of cookbooks on our kitchen counter, my eyes fell on the no-fail source of inspiration that Hua got me last year for Christmas, The Complete Keller, a beautiful boxed set of Thomas Keller’s French Laundry and Bouchon cookbooks. The pictures in these babies are ridiculous and the writing is sincere, inspirational, and incredibly informative.

From The French Laundry Cookbook, I drew Gruyere Gougeres, a fancy yet simple little hors d’oeuvre.

Gruyere Gougeres

Gruyere Gougeres

Gougeres are made with choux pastry (the base of other delicious French puff treats like profiteroles, éclairs, and beignets), with the addition of glorious gruyere cheese (probably my favorite cheese in all the land…with its sharp tang and creamy finish…mmmm).

The making of the dough literally takes 2 minutes on the stovetop, and I piped them out using the old trick of a Ziploc bag with a corner cut out. The moisture from the dough makes these little cheesy poofs puff up nice and airy. Make sure you serve them hot out of the oven – they’ll bound to be a hit at any party!

From Bouchon, the Butternut Squash Soup with Brown Butter, Sage, and Nutmeg Creme Fraiche, was exactly what I was looking for.

Butternut Squash Soup with Brown Butter, Sage, and Nutmeg Creme Fraiche

Butternut Squash Soup with Brown Butter, Sage, and Nutmeg Creme Fraiche

In total Keller style, this dish is intensely flavored and ethereally textured. Achieved through a multi-step process of:

    1. Making a vegetable stock of leeks, fennel, carrots and onions

  1. Roasting butternut squash
  2. Adding another layer of aromatics (more leeks, onion, carrot, shallots and garlic)
  3. Blending it to a puree and then straining the mixture through a sieve.

Keller recommends letting the soup sit for a day or two to allow the flavors to bloom. I happily complied especially since it also saved me some valuable prep time the day of the party.

The soup is finished off with a seasoning of browned butter, crème fraiche flavored with nutmeg, and a sprinkle of chives (if I had some more time, I would have topped with some fried sage leaves instead of chives).

Every single step in this recipe is worth it, as it all leads to an end result that is heavenly. Every element is in harmony, the flavors are deep and rich, and each spoonful is like hot liquid velvet. Keller once again elevates something as simple as soup to a swoon-worthy meal.

The Hot Crab Dip was something I had found on my Thanksgiving recipe dig.

Hot Crab Dip

Hot Crab Dip

The generous chunks of crab meat throughout this dip make it a luxurious treat, and the crumbled cornbread topping provides a sweet, crunchy dimension. I used this recipe for Buttery Cornbread from Epicurious, but if you’re pressed for time, I’m sure store-bought corn muffins would work just as well.

Blue corn chips were my dip vehicle of choice – loved the color of them, and the corn flavor went nicely with the cornbread topping. One tip: go easy on the horseradish cream. I found that the full tablespoon directed was a bit overpowering.

And that concludes Part I of this Holiday Special! The remaining recipes shall be revealed on Wednesday – minus the Baked Sea Bass and Mango on a Half Shell which will be unveiled on Friday as part of my weekly review/recipe column for Asian Week. I hope I gave you enough to chew on until then :)

Part II coming soon…

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