Friday, January 22, 2010

Surprise Dinner Party

[Warning: Long Post]

One of my good friends got engaged at the beginning of December. I'm so happy for them; they are perfect for each other! So to celebrate a few of us decided to throw her and her fiancé a surprise dinner party!

It was a great excuse to cook some favorites and try out some new recipes.

I decided a while back that I would make Nonni’s lasagna (Nonni was my great-grandmother and I realize this probably isn't a 100% accurate translation to Italian, but that's what everyone called her). It’s an old family recipe and it’s usually a hit (just ask my cousin's husband, he probably would have eaten almost the whole pan if my boyfriend wouldn't have stopped him - it's always nice when people argue over who gets to eat the food you made).

The sauce needs to simmer for quite a while to let the flavors develop, and my house smelled so wonderful.

Meanwhile I started on my desserts. Yes, plural. One of my Christmas gifts from my boyfriend’s parents was a tart pan; I’ve wanted a tart pan ever since I took a one-night pastry class at Whole Foods. Plus, one of my friends attending the gathering LOVES fruit tarts. However, that class was a long time ago and when I pulled out the recipe packet there was a couple of gray areas. So, I decided to make mini cheesecakes in addition to the fruit tart, that way if the fruit tart was a bust I wouldn’t be dessert-less and if the fruit tart was a success there would just be a variety. I sometimes get a bit over-ambitious when I plan these sorts of things, but I was sure I would be just fine, I thought I had plenty of time to get everything done…

…Thankfully, my parents were able to come and help me out with a few things so I would be ready when everyone arrived (due to some unexpected events my original schedule was a little thrown off…more on that later). They were a HUGE help!

And a big thanks to the girls that helped out with salad, chairs (otherwise half the party would have been sitting on the floor, I don't currently have a large dining table), and finishing up last minute ganache in the kitchen!

I’ll give a quick review on the results from my time in the kitchen last Saturday.

Nonni’s Lasagna
The last couple of times I’ve made the lasagna I’ve made it ahead of time and then froze it or refrigerated it until needed, but I’ve also had some problems with the first couple of pieces of lasagna being a bit runny (even though it rested for very long amounts of time). So this time I decided to make it all in one day and I also made the sauce a little thicker than the last couple of times. It turned out great! Sorry, I won’t be posting that recipe, family only.


A view of the table setting for the party & the lasagna (of course).

Fruit Tart
I only have a hand mixer, the recipe called for a stand mixer. Most, not all, but most recipes you can adapt to a hand mixer. I think this one would have been better with a stand mixer. The dough just didn’t come together on its own, I needed to smoosh it together and knead it a bit. Then, after it chilled, it was difficult to roll out and kept cracking, but I also don’t have amazing upper body strength and thankfully my dad was still at my house and was able to help out.

I have never made real, honest from scratch, pastry cream. I was a little nervous, but decided to give the real thing a shot instead of using a filling that was based on instant pudding or cream cheese. There is absolutely nothing wrong with fillings based on instant pudding or cream cheese, I have used them before and will use them again, I just wanted to go all out for my first tart. My mom helped me with the pastry cream because it was a lot more needy and high maintenance than I’d realized (you can’t stop stirring it at all) and I had a million other things I was trying to get done in the kitchen and in my house before guests arrived.

The pastry cream was delicious! I arranged the fruit on top and used a glaze from a different recipe to finish it off.

Mini Cheesecake
I love cheesecake. I love cupcakes, partly because they are small. So what would be better than a mini cheesecake? I got the mini cheesecake pan for my birthday, this is the second time I’ve used it and I love it! I just used a pretty basic plain cheesecake recipe this time and topped it off with some chocolate ganache.

It was so nice to have everyone together at once. We had a great time! What more could you want from a Saturday night?

Hmmm…Maybe a surprise announcement? Details next time…

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