Pulling it all together

I love comments! A reader suggested I do a post on how I organized the food for the dinner party I had last week, so it would all be ready at the right time for serving. My lists were not as extensive as those for a big holiday dinner, but I did write everything down, including which plates and serving pieces I planned to use and I made a timeline of when to begin preparing each dish. Here's how it all came together...

Our guests were to arrive at 7:00 pm on Friday, so I worked backwards from that deadline.

I made the creme fraiche on Wednesday.

On Thursday I mixed the Olive Focaccia and Cranberry-Pecan sourdough, let them rise, shaped them, and put them in the extra fridge overnight to proof. They finished proofing at room temperature before I baked them Friday morning. Good bread is not supposed to be eaten warm; it just tastes like steam. The flavor is not fully developed until the loaves cool, so I was not trying to wait until the last minute to bake these. (My only exception to this is soft dinner rolls, which I like to serve warm from the oven.)

Also on Thursday, I washed all the salad greens and stored them in a 2-gallon ziploc bag in the refrigerator so they'd be ready to go the next day.

Friday morning, after the bread was baked, I toasted the pecans that would go in the salad and left them at room temperature to cool.

(At this point I took a break from the kitchen to straighten the rest of the house and go to the gym)

Friday afternoon I washed the beets and put them in my large crockpot with a little olive oil to roast for several hours. I put butter out to soften, though no one actually used it on their bread.

About 5:00 pm I started cooking in earnest. First off, I made the carrot soup and put it in my small crockpot on low to stay warm. I put the salad plates in the frig to chill. I browned the pork chops and shallots and let them simmer. I scrubbed the potatoes, par-boiled them just until tender and drained them.

About 6:00 pm, the beets were done, so I slipped the skins off under warm, running water and cut them into quarters or eights, drizzled them with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and a dash of sea salt and put them in a bowl back inside the crockpot to keep them warm.

I made the berry-vinaigrette for the salad. I set the table. I tore up the lettuce and put it in a tupperware bowl in the frig.

About 6:45 I lit the candles and made one last swipe of the bathroom sink and fixed my lipstick!

I sliced the bread and put it in a basket on the table. I put ice in the glasses--non-drinkers all of us, we had ice water with our dinner.

When our guests arrived, right on time, I was still washing up some dishes (so the kitchen wouldn't be a total disaster) but the food was ready.

I filled the soup bowls, garnished them with a dollop of creme fraiche and put them on the table just before we sat down to eat.

After we finished our soup, I cleared the bowls, then quickly chopped the apple for the salad, dumped the lettuce into my myrtlewood salad bowl and added the pecans and dried cranberries, then tossed it with the berry-vinaigrette. I served the salad on the chilled plates and then put the bowl on the table in case anyone wanted seconds.

After the salad, I needed a few minutes to finish preparing the main course, so I suggested my husband give our guests a quick tour of the guest room/laundry room/canning and baking kitchen we are in the process of adding on. This gave me a chance to finish the sauce for the pork and saute the potatoes in a bit of butter. I served the main course family style, placing the pork chops with their sauce, the pan-roasted potatoes and the warm beets on the table in serving dishes and we passed them around.

And finally, I cleared the dinner plates and we enjoyed the cookies and a selection of dark chocolate for dessert before we moved into the living room with our herb tea. Oh, and I did take a minute to put the food away, for safety's sake, but waited until our guests had left to do all the dishes!

Yes, it was a lot of work, but this is my idea of fun. I can't sing or dance or paint a picture--cooking and baking are my hobbies. I hadn't had a "real" dinner party like this in years, so once-in-a-while it's nice to go all out.

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