Project Food Blog Challenge 3: Fall Harvest Dinner

Table Collage

To say that I love to throw a party would be an understatement. Dinner/lunch/brunch/stuff-your-face-with-dessert parties, birthday/anniversary/farewell/just-because parties – I’ve done them all. For me there is no greater joy than gathering my close friends and family around a table laden with good food.

I would love to say that I’m highly organized and that my kitchen is an oasis of calm, but I would be lying. In fact, I could probably give you an excellent list of what you should not do. (For example, you should not start cooking at 5 pm for a 4-course dinner for 12 people. And you should not try that new recipe which involves stuffing and roasting a leg of lamb when you have guests arriving in an hour.) Nevertheless, the parties are always a success – my friends are the best and there is good food and wine and laughter well into the night.

Vegetables Collage

When I realized that the next Project Food Blog* challenge was to throw a luxurious dinner party, I knew that I would challenge myself, not just with an elaborate meal, but by doing it in an calm and organized manner. (Friends reading this: Please stop laughing!) It’s been nearly a year since I saw my family and close friends and a dinner party would not be the same without them. (I’m from Bombay and currently in Canada for work.) But good food is a great way to get people together and make new friends. So I decided to invite colleagues, some of whom had just arrived in Canada. (I also invited some fellow food-bloggers, who I met through #PFB2010(!), but unfortunately, they could not make it.)

Vegetables Collage2

Thanksgiving is just around the corner and before any of you think I have a distorted sense of time, let me tell you that Canadian thanksgiving is celebrated in October to give thanks at the close of the harvest season. But a traditional Thanksgiving dinner was out when I realized most of my guests were vegetarians. I needed an impressive menu with no bacon, no lamb, no beef, no seafood, and at least one dessert with no eggs. I decided to stick with the spirit of Canadian Thanksgiving and celebrate with a ‘Fall Harvest Dinner’. A reinvention of classic French and American dishes would introduce my Indian guests to new flavors.

Menu

Even a vegetarian menu can be impressive if you get creative – I used the market as my inspiration. Bosc pears paired with arugula, cranberries and walnuts in a simple salad started off the menu. It was accompanied by a twist on a traditional cheesecake – herbed goat cheese and sundried tomatoes baked in a parmesan and bread-crumb crust. For the main course, I replaced the classic Bolognese with a rich mushroom version baked with polenta. Artichokes braised with white wine and fall vegetables formed the base of a slow-braised chicken. Pumpkin or apple pie seemed too obvious for dessert, so I paired them in an Autumn trifle. And I was sure a rich salted-caramel and chocolate tart would be more than acceptable for an eggless dessert.

Cheesecake Collage

Two hours before my dinner party had even started, I knew it was a success on at least one count – I was done! All the food was prepped and ready and just needed last-minute baking/assembling. I had time for a long, luxurious bath and a lovely chat with some old friends (who I called just to inform them of this miracle).

Gratin Collage

Here are the three main rules that helped me achieve this:

Keep it simple. Even though this is a cardinal rule, we all know we want to impress. So pick recipes that have a wow-factor but are still ‘do-able’. Avoid dishes that have a hundred different components on the plate. (Unless you have an army of sous chefs prepping for you, in which case, can you send some over to my place?)

Stick to what you know. All the entertaining guides will tell you this. But life’s short and I love experimenting with new ideas. However, even if the recipe is new, make sure the technique is not (as any contestant on Top Chef who got kicked out because of this will tell you).

Do Ahead. This is one rule that I’m not attaching any ‘But’ to. Stick to it! Pick recipes that can be prepared ahead of time or can be prepared up to a point. It will help you eliminate that famous dinner-party-assassin – stress.

Chicken Collage

Other tips and tools (feel free to customize the attached templates* to suit your needs):

Invites: Prepare a personalized invite* that reflects the theme of your party – again, keep it simple.

Menus: Plan your menu* such that all the dishes are cohesive and go well together. Keep it seasonal and use the freshest ingredients you can find. (Attached menu has links to all the recipes.)

Shopping: Make sure your shopping list is complete. There is nothing worse than starting to cook and realizing you forgot to buy an important ingredient. (You know you’re an analyst when you have an excel spreadsheet as a shopping list*!)

Cooking: Have a game plan* ready and stick to it. Get your guests to help with last-minute touches – a common task is also a great ice-breaker when guests are not familiar with each other.

Relax: A party is supposed to be fun! If things go wrong, breathe and remember: your friends are there to see you and will most likely not notice all the tiny imperfections that are driving you crazy. And even if they do, the best ones won’t care.

Dessert Collage

Having implemented everything in my bag of tricks, I was ready to welcome my guests as they came through the door. We chatted over wine (apple-cranberry for the  many teetotalers) and mustard batons. The creamy goat cheese(cake) proved to be the perfect foil for the light, bitter-sweet salad. The braised chicken came out of the oven, skin crackling and meat tender. The vegetarians exulted over the rich mushroom Bolognese. The autumn trifle with its many layers was a joy to behold and the chocolate-caramel tart had even a non-dessert lover going for seconds. I’d been worried about how my guests would respond to a decidedly non-Indian menu, but knew my work was done when one of them thanked me for introducing him to a new cuisine.

Batons

We lingered over our plates, sharing stories and anecdotes; laughter and camaraderie were our companions at the table. Someone once asked me the secret to a successful dinner party. It’s no secret. Themes, invites, menus, table settings – these are the bells and whistles. Just like in life, good food and good company are all you really need.

Guests

Table Collage 1P.S. A big thank-you to my landlord/hostess in Canada, who let me use her beautiful things for the dinner party. (She had an event to attend, but joined me later for a late-night leftover-binge.)

*PFB voting is now open. A big thank you to everyone who voted for me!

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90 Responses to Project Food Blog Challenge 3: Fall Harvest Dinner

  1. Winnie says:

    Amazing job…Heena, you are a star ;)

    • tiffintales says:

      Yay! Thanks so much Winnie. (Insert huge grin.)
      Looks like we both did a fall dinner. I’m loving this season :)

  2. Liren says:

    Heena, this is just breathtaking, from start to finish! I couldn’t help but chuckle when I read, “Two hours before my dinner party had even started, I knew it was a success on at least one count – I was done!” I know the feeling well! If I can get showered an hour and a half before a party with little work left to do, I know I did my job right! Unfortunately, that’s not always the case, but it’s the goal :)

    Congrats on a successful party and I’ll be voting!

    • tiffintales says:

      Thanks a lot! I totally agree with you – the fact that I could take a leisurely shower was new to me : ) Your party was equally gorgeous. Good luck with the challenge!

  3. What a beautiful looking dinner party! Well done and good luck…hope to join you in round four :)

  4. Ashanka says:

    Man! what do I have to do to get a dinner invite??? Tell me!

  5. Great job! Looks beautiful!

  6. Kathy Gori says:

    Just lovely! What a warm and welcoming evening you provided. I’d be happy to drop by any old time. Best of luck, you have a vote assured from me.

  7. Anna says:

    You did great, everything looks amazing, that chocolate cake is making me drool LOL.

  8. harsha says:

    I’ve been following ur blog 4 sum time now, & loving it. CANNOT believe ur frm mumbai – ur dishes r so versatile.
    AND ur party looked so chic (for lack of a better word,sry :)) I just HAD 2 comment.
    Nw i really want 2 learn to cook. :D

    hw do u get the time? what kind of analyst r u?
    Im an SEO and I dont get to BREATHE

    • tiffintales says:

      Thanks for the compliment.
      I LOVE to cook – so I experiment – both with cuisines and flavors. You should definitely learn.
      And I know what you mean by time – I’m a technology analyst and there are some days when I don’t get home until 11 pm. But I have a passion for food, photography and this blog – so I make time, either on weekends or on days when I get home early.

  9. You have a lovely style of writing – in addition to the fantastic food, photography, invites etc! I’ve just spent a relaxing and enjoyable 10 minutes reading this.

  10. sophia says:

    Your pictures. They are STUNNING. I’ll bet you could make my hideous tablecloth look amazing, too. Thankfully, you don’t even need that beause your tablescape is BEAUTIFUL. So is the food, and your guests!
    I would say good luck, but you don’t need it! ;)

    • tiffintales says:

      Thank you so much! But I take what seem to be a gazillion pictures before I get a couple that I like :D And everyone needs luck! : )

  11. Lori Lynn says:

    Wow, your photography is amazing. I especially love the photos of your guests. Best wishes with the challenge.
    LL

  12. Wow this looks absolutely amazing. Such a beautiful post and dinner! I’m so inspired now for thanksgiving!

  13. OMG! That is an amazing dinner. you are getting my vote. ;)

  14. Jeanette says:

    Wow! What a beautiful display and creative menu. Love the entertaining tips as I had to learn these the hard way (definitely make a few things ahead!). Beautiful pictures and setting!

  15. Jeanette says:

    I’m having trouble with the recipe links. Can you post the link please? Thanks!

    • tiffintales says:

      Can you let me know what the exact problem was so I can fix it – were you able to open the menu? Thx.
      In the meantime here are the links:
      Mustard Batons (Around My French Table – Dorie Greenspan)
      Bosc Pear Salad (Epicurious Best Recipes)
      Goat CheeseCake (Red Fruit Festival)
      Wild Mushroom Bolognese (Think Like a Chef – Tom Colicchio)
      Slow Braised Chicken (Think Like a Chef – Tom Colicchio)
      Wine Braised Artichokes (Think Like a Chef – Tom Colicchio)
      Autumn Trifle (The Traveler’s Lunchbox)
      Chocolate Caramel Tart (The Traveler’s Lunchbox)

      • Jeanette says:

        Thanks for the links! When I was clicking on the menu items, I was getting just a blank screen, but now they seem to be working. Just a question on the slow braised chicken. There doesn’t seem to be a specific recipe on the link. I’m making the mushroom polenta, braised artichokes and a braised chicken dish today for a friend of mine who has cancer. I think she will really enjoy this menu!

        • tiffintales says:

          The recipe is actually from Think Like a Chef by Tom Colicchio. I couldn’t find an online version of the recipe. But I really wanted your friend to enjoy it – so I looked again today until I found it. Here is the recipe. Note: Instead of the vegetables in the recipe, I just arranged the chicken over the vegetables that were already braised with the artichokes. Hope this helps and I really hope you and your friend enjoy the meal. Give my best to her.
          It warms my heart that you chose my menu.

  16. Elder bro says:

    Heenz
    This is a great entry. Wow !! And we thought it couldnt get better than some of the earlier entries . You are hitting the spot ..you rock !!

    • tiffintales says:

      Thanks Elder Bro!!
      You’ve definitely earned an invite to the next dinner party with all that flattery ; )

  17. Everything looks amazing! I’m so sorry I couldn’t make it, but it looks like you pulled off a beautiful party :)

    • tiffintales says:

      Thanks! And it looks like you had a fabulous birthday weekend : ) We can catch up some other time.

  18. Michelle says:

    This looks like a wonderful evening! Good luck with #PFB2010…I hope we can both advance to the next round!

  19. Such a fantastic job! Your table and menu look perfect!

    • tiffintales says:

      Thanks! I haven’t got the chance to read your post yet. But you sure caught my eye with that bacon : )

  20. Isabelle says:

    Gorgeous post! Your photos are so lovely, and they totally capture the spirit of the party… everyone looks like they had a ton of fun. Plus the dishes are so inventive and fun, it’s hard to believe you were working around so many restrictions. Great job.
    Best of luck to you with this challenge. You’ve got my vote!

    • tiffintales says:

      Thanks Isabelle! I find that sometimes the best ideas come when you have to work around restrictions – it forces you to think and be creative. I just read through your post and see that you’re no stranger to detary restrictions : ) The meal looks fabulous!

  21. What a wonderful sounding menu, the pictures are gorgeous. Thanks for sharing, it sounds like you had a wonderful time:)

  22. Mhel B says:

    I’ve seen a lot of Fall/Autumn Themed Dinner parties in this category, but you have by far, has the most dreamy and elegant tablescape. I love the combination of colors of your tablecloths and napkins. The candles added a very ambient and dramatic effect to the whole setting. I love your spread of menu, and even the printed menu! A real harvester’s cornucopia of dishes! I felt it was a real celebration of a bountiful harvest of life rather than an entry to a challenge. You have my vote and I’ll be linking you in my blog as one of my favorite’s in this Challenge. Goodluck and hope to see you on the next round!

    • tiffintales says:

      Thanks for your lovely and thoughtful comments. It’s my first fall here in Canada (I’m originally from Bombay where the seasons don’t change as dramatically) and I was inspired by all the glorious colors – reds and oranges and yellows – that are on display everywhere. And I wanted to incorporate the abundant harvest I saw in the market into my menu. It worked out great and was a beautiful evening. Thanks for your vote – and being linked as someone’s favorite is always a delightful thing : )

  23. I love that PFB keeps introducing me to fabulous blogs like yours! The fall inspired menu is perfect and I’m a huge fan of the mustard batons! You have my vote :)

    • tiffintales says:

      Thank you! I know what you mean – I’ve encountered so many beautiful and inspiring blogs in this process. The mustard batons are fabulous – and so easy to make.

  24. riceandwheat says:

    We don’t really get a fall here in San Francisco, so I love that I can vicariously live through you and your incredible fall-inspired menu. Love your gorgeous table settings and the food sounds absolutely incredible! Too bad I don’t live in Canada or I’d be begging you for an invite. :) Good luck in PFB!

    • tiffintales says:

      I’m from Bombay and this is actually my first fall : ) I just love all the vibrant colors. You’re welcome to drop in any time you’re around.

  25. Liz the Chef says:

    This is one amazing post. I am in awe of your cooking, your photography – what a hostess!

  26. Jun Belen says:

    WOW! So very impressed with your luxury dinner. Loved the photos. Loved the menu. Loved your attention to detail! Well done!! I want an invite to your next party, please!

  27. i love that we all telepathically thought of Fall!!! so wonderful. What a warm atmosphere! Voted. See my entry here.

  28. stephchows says:

    beautifully done! voted for you!

  29. DJ Karma says:

    Your pics are always so stunning! You’ll be great for the next round- hope you make it!

  30. AJ says:

    Great menu!! Def. screams fall. Yummy food as well! Voting for you!! :)

  31. Jessica says:

    Wow! Everything is so beautiful! Hope we both make it to the next round! :-) You have my vote!

  32. Betty Bake says:

    well done :) its lovely
    I voted for you :)

    Betty Bake Blog

  33. Sounds like a good time was had by all. A fabulous party and menu. You have my vote!

  34. Spectacular. The setting, the food, the writing, the photography. It was all amazing. Well done.

  35. @lickmyspoon says:

    Everything here looks so dainty, yet comforting. I wish I could’ve tried your savory cheesecake. Good luck this week, you’ve got a vote of mine.

  36. Natalie says:

    love your menu. voted for you! hope we both move forward. :)

  37. Pingback: Project Food Blog Challenge 3: Voting now open | Tiffin Tales

  38. Your dishes look delicious! Great job! Good luck in round 3!

  39. It looks so delicious! I love the table settings, so elegant! Good luck.

    • tiffintales says:

      Thanks a lot! The table settings are thanks to my gracious landlord/hostess in Canada and the inspiration is the glorious riot of fall colors everywhere – so beautiful! Good luck to you too.

  40. Excellent post!! It’s gracious, well presented, great food!!
    Good luck, you have my vote!!

  41. Dana says:

    I am not so organized in the kitchen either! I make lists, and try so hard in the days leading up to the party, but the day of is always a whirlwind! It looks like you did a wonderful job with this challenge… good luck!

    • tiffintales says:

      I know exactly what you mean. But this time I was much more organized – the do-ahead tip really helps. It’s a big difference when you’re cooking and don’t have a big deadline of ‘guests arriving in an hour’ hanging over your head. Eliminates the stress.

  42. Your table scape is beautiful and I love your menu. Great tips and you got my vote. Good luck!

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