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A holiday dinner fête

HolidayTable
Gluttons for punishment that we are, DPaul and I embarked upon another of our madcap dinner party concepts. We entertain relatively frequently, but maybe once a year we go balls-out and conspire to make something a little extra over-the-top. Last year, we did a big Iberian-themed fiesta; the year before, we celebrated the holidays with a carnilicious crown roast of pork. This year, we took the inadvertent pork theme to a whole new level.

The two of us are (luckily!) similarly wired. We have aligned sensibilities around the arc of a meal, and enjoy throwing ourselves into the creative process of planning events. We love devising menus, dreaming up table decorations, and taking a project manager's mind to the tasks that must be achieved leading up to the party. In this post, I'll give you a little visibility into the special madness that is our method to entertaining.

I present to you the menu: 

Appetizers
"Snowballs"
House-cured olives
Coppa-wrapped persimmons

Amuse-bouche
Porcini gelée, brussels sprout, chestnut purée

Soup
Pomegranate borscht

Entrée
Roast leg of boar (feral swine)
Butternut squash risotto

Salad
Dandelion greens, persimmon, hoshigaki, pomegranate, pecan

Dessert
Mission Pie apple-cranberry
Mitchell's egg nog ice cream

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Wine Country Picnic

Wine country picnic

Summertime, and the living is easy …

What a crock. The living’s no easier in the summer. Work goes on every day as normal, tourists flood the farmer’s market and a thick blanket of fog ensures that I lose my hard-earned trucker tan. Summer, feh.

But it is easy to get a small taste of the simple life, to bask in a carefree afternoon of food, friends and frivolity under a balmy summer sun. Certainly chief among the reasons we love living in San Francisco is fast and easy access to the wine country.

DPaul and I make excursions pretty frequently; in fact, we explicitly joined a few wineries’ clubs just to have the excuse to get out of town once in a while. We’ve long been big fans of the Dry Creek Valley area in Sonoma County, but for the last year and change we’ve been enamored with Carneros, the region alongside the north side of San Francisco Bay that straddles the southern ends of both Sonoma and Napa counties. And even more specifically, we’re best buds with Bouchaine.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Bouchaine rocks. I won’t pretend to be any kind of wine expert, and certainly cannot rank their wines against comparable quaff from more esteemed producers (though their rosé of syrah got good marks in our taste-off). All I know is that I enjoy their wines immensely. But what Bouchaine does excellently, better than most, is deliver a flawlessly enjoyable wine country experience. No tour buses and limos, no snotty bling-laden tourists and harried winery staff. Just a sun-dappled back deck overlooking vineyards and serenity interrupted only by a cooling bay breeze.

Bouchaine is an ideal spot for a picnic, and so for DPaul’s birthday last week, that’s precisely what we did. Ten of us met to enjoy a flight of tastings alongside some tasty treats. Bouchaine does offer a picnic program, where you can purchase baskets of meats, cheeses and other goodies, and that’s all well and good. But I thought it would be fun to bring our own picnic of wine-friendly foods to enjoy.

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Spring Frolic 2007

Ah, the benefits of an East Bay Monarchy. This year's Spring Frolic, hosted by our Berkeleyite regent Queen Liz, was held in Tilden Park yesterday. Cool breezes gave way to balmy sun as we flaunted our gaudy, silly hats in…

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Crowning achievement

Roastatthetable

Just as you must kiss many frogs before finding your Prince Charming, you must stumble your way through many awkward, mistimed or outright embarassing dinner parties before you reach entertaining nirvana. But then, sometimes the stars align and everything goes exactly according to plan. We had one of those nights. And it was magical.

We had been planning this dinner party for weeks, debating menus, negotiating dishes, drafting timelines. This is the sort of thing we love to do. Our typical approach is to shoot for the moon up front, devise a menu that is impossible by mere mortals and their terrestrial kitchens, then tweak and scale it until we have something achievable yet still remarkable. We like to try new things, and to do new things with old ideas. We have fun in the kitchen.

A holiday meal needs a masterful centerpiece, and we were inspired by Gourmet magazine to do a crown roast of pork. Not only is it elegant and impressive, it is also charmingly old-school, like something from a Norman Rockwell painting.

The art of entertaining involves knowing your boundaries, and delegation is key. Initially we had planned to do everything, including wine pairings. It’s always lovely when guests bring wine, but then you end up with mismatched bottles that have little relevance to what you’re serving. This time, we delegated the pairings, asking each couple to bring wine appropriate to a single course. Each couple knew the course they were pairing, but none knew the entire evening’s menu until they arrived.

Courses (all five of them) and wine flowed seamlessly, and we started early enough to allow for time to hang around afterwards, digest, play parlor games and still be in bed at an almost-reasonable hour for a school night. Almost.

Lots of clean plates, and precious few leftovers — except, that is, for the pork. This week, it’s all about the pork as we repurpose a mountain of porcine protein into new dishes: Curries, pastas, what have you. I am not complaining.

Horn-tooting details and luscious photographs after the jump!

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Mint juleps

Happy Derby Day! I kind of forgot about it, actually, which is odd for me and DPaul. So, congratulations to Barbaro, who won with 6:1 odds. I did say something about posting a mint julep recipe, so here goes: The…

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Spring Frolic

The sun never broke for us, our original location was mired in mud, but we went ahead and had Spring Frolic just the same. About 20 people came, some in the obligatory hats, to the Dahlia Garden in Golden Gate…

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