Brita and I met back in the fall over the internet (as you do), and we instantly bonded and decided to collaborate with our blogs. She lives in Nashville (a city I am dying to visit someday soon), she loves food (obviously), we are both sort of closet “Tone It Up girls,” and she’s also super badass because she does roller derby. Brita is one of those people where I just know that if we were friends “in real life,” we would have so much fun and probably work out together and then bake cookies, because that’s how we live life.
It turns out that we both recipe-tested for the Yellow Table Cookbook, and through that experience we were both inspired to become better at hosting dinner parties … Or just to host dinner parties, whether they are officially successful or not. With that thought in mind, we decided to collaborate by developing a dinner party menu together, and then we would each actually THROW that dinner party and blog about it together, sharing the recipes for all of the goodies we served. We ended up throwing our parties on the same night (hers in Nashville and mine in good ol’ Lebanon, PA), so it was like a legit cross-country virtual dinner party.
I do have to say … dinner parties are a LOT of work. I spent most of Friday night and part of Saturday morning prepping the food, and since I’m a professional party-planner (not), I ran out for my “tablecloth” and flowers two hours before the party started. (Actually, that “tablecloth” is just a piece of burlap from the fabric store for about $10, so I felt pretty baller.) Luckily I was able to work enough ahead that once my guests arrived I was mostly doing things that absolutely had to be done at the last minute. Anyway, with all that being said, this dinner party was a lot of work BUT it was definitely worth it.
The thing I love about dinner parties is how everyone always hangs out in the kitchen, no matter how small it is. This is fine by me – it allows me to spend time with my friends even while I’m working (and I like to put them to work, too – thanks again Abbey for the mushroom help!). This is why my future perfect fantasy home will have a large, open kitchen that’s ideal for entertaining, with a big center island so my friends can sit at the counter with a cocktail in hand while I finish prepping our meal. As it is now, I have a fairly small square-shaped kitchen, and my friends are constantly apologizing as I have to ask them to move for me to get into the fridge or at the sink, and Gilmour (our dog) likes to lay perfectly in the center of the floor. Probably about half of my dinner party took place in the kitchen, as opposed to around our table, but we have a lot of fun in there.
The menu we landed on is a celebration of spring with an abundance of asparagus. It’s asparagus season!!! And strawberry season is starting! Those are reasons enough to celebrate around here. The menu was definitely well-received, and the cocktails were maybe a little TOO well-received … Here’s a little breakdown of what was on the menu, along with some recommendations for what could be done ahead of time if you’re prepping for a dinner party:
This is a copy cat of the “Basilic,” a delicious cocktail from Parc, one of my favorite restaurants in Philly. It’s made with cucumber, basil, citrus vodka, elderflower liqueur (St. Germain) and club soda. It involves some muddling and shaking, but it’s really quite easy. I had Robert on cocktail duty so I could stay busy with everything else, so he was making these for our guests as they arrived. Then one of our friends suggested that we teach them so they could continue making it for themselves, and therefore Robert didn’t have to be a cocktail-making machine. (Not that he’s not good at it – he used to be a bartender back in the day.) Making individual cocktails can be a pain so it’s definitely better for a smaller party like ours (we only had 8 people in total), but it can also be fun for your guests to learn to make it themselves. Spread the knowledge! Everyone loved the cocktail so much that we ended up needing one of our friends to run out for an extra bottle of the citrus vodka so we could continue to make some more rounds of it.
DO AHEAD: slice up the cucumber, chill the club soda
Brita developed the recipe for these tasty stuffed mushrooms. They are REALLY easy to make, and totally delicious. I tested them the week before and one day had some of them as cold leftovers in my lunch at work, and it really brought my lunch up a notch. I might start making some of these on a weekend just so I can pack them in my lunch.
DO AHEAD: Make the spinach/cheese mixture and the herbed panko mixture. I didn’t do this, but if you have room in your fridge you could probably get the mushrooms all stuffed and everything ahead of time, and then when it’s time to bake them you can just plop them on a baking sheet and into the oven.
First of all, this tart involves a puff pastry crust … so you know it’s going to be good. It has things like garlic, leek and swiss chard to add some texture and flavor, and then it’s enriched with creme fraiche and cheese. Pieces of Italian sausage are added to the mix and then it’s topped with asparagus and more cheese. Most of the prep work for this one can be done ahead of time, and it would make a great brunch dish as well.
DO AHEAD: Make the egg/veggie mixture and cook the sausage and chop it up. Store the egg mixture and sausage separately.
Brita’s salad is so bright and refreshing. It’s the perfect accompaniment to the tart, and it has a killer lemony-garlic salad dressing that you should add to your arsenal, regardless of whether or not you make this actual salad. She calls for watercress and arugula as the greens, but Robert and I discovered that we’re not the biggest fans of the peppery bite that those have. We filled out most of our salad with baby spinach and used the watercress and arugula more as accent greens. That worked out really well for us, so if you fall on our side of the peppery camp it’s a good option.
DO AHEAD: Shell the peas, if you’re using fresh ones, or put some in the fridge to thaw if you’re using frozen ones. Shave the asparagus and store it in the fridge. Make the dressing.
This dessert was so fun. I had never made pavlova before this collaboration, and it’s so easy! It’s great for a party because it’s pretty hands-off (the longest part is the baking time), so you can have those in the oven while you’re prepping other things. They keep well at room temperature, so it’s a step that can easily be done a day or two before the party. The chocolate whipped cream takes it to the next level, and then the fresh berries take it home. The fresh fruit against the billowing chocolate whipped cream and the crackly, chewy pavolva is just an amazing combination. (And it looks pretty on a plate, too.)
DO AHEAD: Prep the chocolate cream and chill pre-whipped; you’ll have to whip it at the last minute. Make the pavlova, and chop up the berries if you’re using strawberries.
Brita and I had such a great time building this menu together. I also had a ton of fun treating my friends to a “proper meal” with fun cocktails and dessert and the whole nine yards as opposed to, “Hey – bring some food and booze over and let’s hang out!” Although, those parties are by no means any less fun than a “real” dinner party.
I’d like to say a big THANK YOU to Brita for collaborating with me, and hopefully we can have a dinner party in real life together someday. Head over to her site for the stuffed mushroom, salad and dessert recipes, and I’ve got the recipes for the cocktail and tart for you below.
- 3 cucumber slices, about ⅛-inch thick
- 7-10 fresh basil leaves
- pinch of sugar
- 1 oz. St. Germain (elderflower liqueur)
- 1.5 oz Smirnoff Citrus vodka
- 4 oz. club soda
- Place the cucumber slices and fresh basil in the bottom of a cocktail shaker. Sprinkle with a pinch of sugar and muddle, just a little to get some juice out of the cucumber and release some oils from the basil.
- Add in some ice and top with the liquors. Shake it all around.
- Pour the shaken mixture into your cup and top with the 4 oz. of club soda.
- Serve with a straw and use that to give the drink a final swirl.
- 1 sheet of frozen puff pastry, thawed
- 1-2 links sweet Italian sausage (about 5-6 oz.)
- olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 leek, light green and white parts only, sliced into thin half-moons
- 1 large swiss chard leaf, chopped
- 6 large eggs
- ¼ cup creme fraiche
- ¼ cup grated gruyere cheese
- ½ tsp coarse kosher salt
- 10-12 stalks of asparagus, cleaned and woody ends snapped off
- shredded parmesan (for sprinkling on top)
- Preheat the oven to 400°F. On a floured surface, roll the sheet of puff pastry out until it's about 12-13 inches wide on each side. Place it into a greased 9-inch pie plate, folding the excess underneath while still leaving some of the pastry hanging over the edges. Prick it all over with a fork and bake for 10-15 minutes until it's just starting to brown. If it shrinks a little into the pie plate, that's okay. Remove from the oven and set aside until you're ready to fill it, and lower the temperature of the oven to 350°F.
- Cook the sausage links and set aside to cool. (I brown them, whole, in a skillet over medium heat, and then I'll cut them in half, hot-dog-style, and continue to cook at that size until they're done.) Chop them into bite-sized pieces.
- Heat about 2 tbsp of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook for a minute or two until it's fragrant and starting to color. Add the leeks and cook for a minute or two more until they're softening. Add the swiss chard and cook just until it's barely wilted, another minute or two. Set the mixture aside to cool down a little.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, creme fraiche, gruyere cheese and salt. Add the swiss chard mixture to the egg mixture and stir to combine.
- Pour the egg and veggie mixture into the pie pan with the puff pastry. Scatter the sausage pieces on top, and then lay the asparagus stalks on top of everything. You might have to break some in half to make them fit. Scatter parmesan cheese over the whole thing.
- Bake at 350°F for about 35 minutes or until the center is set. Broil until the top gets nice and browned. Remove from the oven and let it set for 10 minutes before serving.