Welcome all to “Food and Friends,” where six winning bloggers get to host America’s Test Kitchen dinner parties. For the next six weeks, we will travel across North America and into the homes of these bloggers who will be using our new Menu Cookbook as their guide to entertaining for a party of eight.
This week we travel to the Northwest for the next “Food and Friends” dinner party. Megan Pence graciously invited us into her “one-butt” kitchen for a Family-Style Italian Supper. Follow along as Megan takes us on the plan, prep, and oops story of her America’s Test Kitchen dinner party.
Meet Our Lovely Host
America’s Test Kitchen is my go-to resource for all things cooking. I live for spending my Saturday mornings with the cast of America’s Test Kitchen, cup of coffee in hand, and just soaking everything in. All of the tips and techniques they’ve tested, I apply in my own culinary adventures and come out looking like an absolute rock star. At least, in my own mind… So, when I was presented with the opportunity to put their newest creation, The Menu Cookbook, to work in my own kitchen, I pounced at the chance. A dinner party for eight with
America’s Test Kitchen‘s help? It was bound to be a success!
The prospect of cooking for eight in any kitchen, let alone a one-butt kitchen like mine, is intimidating. Thankfully the geniuses behind America’s Test Kitchen have streamlined the process making it conducive for anyone to cook. The Menu Cookbook laid out how to whip up a beautiful, nearly stress-free dinner party for eight. Plus, it gave me the time to sit down to enjoy my company with a glass of wine while things simmered away on the stove.
Food is the centerpiece of any gathering. Friends and family hover around the outskirts of kitchens snacking on whatever they can get their hands on, in addition the loyal food-driven hound waiting at the feet of the cook, hoping something slips off the counter and into his wide open mouth. I wanted to make sure that this dinner party provided us the gateway to creating lasting memories and, just as importantly, full bellies.
The core of my dinner party guests went to college together. We studied together, played sports together, and ate cold chicken out of one another’s fridges while pulling all-nighter study sessions. Now that we’re grown up and (slightly) more sophisticated, it was time for us to sit down to a real family-style meal where we could reminisce, laugh, and meet the newest members of our post-college circle.
Preparing the Day Before
While flipping through the pages of my chosen Family-Style Italian menu, I was delighted to find it was already categorized into ‘What to Make the Day Before’ and ‘What to Make the Day of’. With my strategizing finished before it even began, I was able to focus my energy and attention on areas of the party preparation where it was actually useful. There was no sense in stressing myself out or focusing energy where it wasn’t required!
The day before the party, I began with the menu’s Homemade Ricotta and Pistachio Biscotti. Having made biscotti before, I was fairly confident in my abilities to knock it out of the park. Simply put, it was incredible. Pre-packaged biscotti, often found at your corner coffee shop, is everything that real biscotti is not. The America’s Test Kitchen Pistachio Biscotti is everything that real biscotti is – still slightly moist, with a few crumbles to coat your lips, and perfect for dunking in Vin Santo or a cup of espresso. The addition of the pistachio was delightful, and I’m not ashamed to say I dipped a finger into the dough before I could bake them. From there an epic battle of willpower versus decorum took over. It was hard not to devour it all, especially since the final product was dipped into melted bittersweet chocolate. Everything is better dipped in chocolate. All but one biscotti made it to the dinner party the next day. I just couldn’t resist.
Making Cheese: Hooray Food Science!
The next task at hand was to make the ricotta. As a former South-Beach dieter, the thought of fat-free, grainy, and lifeless ricotta did not appeal to me in the least. I was terrified of not liking this, but I went full steam ahead, combining just a few ingredients and science to create an epically delicious appetizer for my friends.
The process of making cheese at home is nothing short of captivating. Watching lemon juice turn the heated milk into fluffy curds in 15 seconds flat was the highlight. As I stood in front of my range, staring, unblinkingly at the cheese taking shape, my wonderful fiancé pulled me away for a walk with the dog so I wouldn’t spend the next 25 minutes glued to the scene. When we returned the curds had doubled in size and the cheese was ready for straining.
After letting the cheese rest overnight, the remaining ingredients — minced basil, lemon zest, salt and pepper — were gently folded in and left to meld until my guests arrived. Lovingly plated and presented with garlic toasts, topped with various infused olive oils, the group was in heaven. I felt a sense of almost-smug satisfaction knowing that I made cheese and it was good. Really. Darn. Good.
The Main Course: The “Minor” Oops
Remember when I said that America’s Test Kitchen had created a nearly stress-free dinner party? Well, they did. The one-butt kitchen of my tiny apartment is not conducive to feeding a large group. Instead everything was moved to the cabana of my apartment building with seating for eight and a little extra room to move around. In the chaos of moving the necessary accoutrement, one important ingredient of the One-Pot Bolognese went missing. Hiding is a more accurate term, I suppose.
The Bolognese was going off without a hitch, wafting wonderful smells throughout the kitchen and creating hunger pangs all around. It wasn’t until after the party and the clean up began, I realized what had gone missing… the tomatoes!
Everything stopped, I stood there with the bowl of tomatoes in hand, that had been accidentally pushed to the rear of the fridge never to be seen again, or at least until dinner was over. Nervous laughter escaped me, panic ensued, and worry that I had shot this dinner party down in a ball of flames crept into my mind. Everyone else thought it was hilarious and reassured me, the party was wonderful! Only now can I find the situation equally as funny. Even with that oops, it was indeed delicious – with the guys going back for hefty second servings.
Night Cap: Biscotti and Vin Santo
The final piece of our party, of course, was dessert. The aforementioned biscotti was a delightful way to wrap up the meal. With a group of post-college kids, who are by no means wine sophisticates, we would have been perfectly content to serve our biscotti alongside a nice strong cup of coffee. Perhaps someone with a more tested and tuned palate would appreciate what the vin santo had to offer. It just wasn’t us.
Overall, this dinner party was a momentous success. A plan was provided and (almost) perfectly executed, allowing me time to enjoy my company, have some fun, and not feel completely overwhelmed by the prospect of feeding such a large group. We met some new people, formed some new and, hopefully, lasting friendships, and filled our bellies with positively delicious food that could have easily served ten with hearty appetites.
I’m so pleased to have been given the opportunity to review this new cookbook for America’s Test Kitchen. With the rave reviews provided by my guests, I know they will be back for another food extravaganza. The confidence I built in myself and my abilities will ensure this cookbook will be put to use again and again, well into the future.
And so for now, happy feasting and I’ll see you around the blogosphere at Wanna Be A Country Cleaver!
Thank you so much, Megan! Your enthusiasm for the Test Kitchen and excitement for everything fod shone through in your dinner party. Thank you for bringing us into your kitchen and sharing your party with us.