October 03, 2010

Project Food Blog Challenge #3: Luxury "Tea" party


"Challenge Prompt: Celebrate! You've made it this far, and the next challenge is to hold a party for your friends and family (at least four guests, you can include yourself in the 4 person count). Whether you're an experienced host or an entertaining newbie, get creative and host a luxurious dinner party where your guests will discover new tastes and exotic flavors."


From the beginning of Project Food Blog, this was the challenge I was most worried about. I am a dinner party "newbie." I have never hosted a dinner party in my life and have never been to many dinner parties. The extent of my dinner party knowledge comes from watching the British show, “Come Dine with Me.” My parents set the PVR to record every episode of it, so I am more than familiar with the format: guests show up; things are kind of awkward; guests get drunk; guests criticize the food and think they can cook better; and the host ends up crying over dirty dishes and a bottle of wine.

People my age—early 20-somethings-- don’t really have a lot of dinner parties. People my age know something about potlucks though. I have been to a lot of potlucks. If you host a potluck for 20-somethings, the table will most likely include some variation of Kraft Dinner, chips, cookies and something someone's Mom made. So when it came to hosting a dinner party, I was clueless. My first thought was, “will I have enough food?” My second thought was, “how do I host a luxurious dinner party on a young person’s budget?”


I decided to draw inspiration for the menu from an everyday “luxurious” treat: tea. We have a designated tea cupboard in our kitchen full of everything like chai, herbal, Darjeeling, black, green, and in many varieties. I decided, instead of pairing wine with each course, I would pair tea with each course or somehow incorporate tea into the dishes. That way, my guests could discover new tastes, teas and traditions.


Our apartment is quite small, so four of us squeezed around our small table that usually fits two comfortably. For the centrepiece, I bought a blossoming tea from David's Tea ($3.50) and put it in a mason jar. I must say, flowering teas make beautiful and cost-effective centrepieces. I purposely bought a blossoming tea called the "Fountain of Youth," (because we're young, get it?) Mike took pictures as the tea was blooming and put them together in this video:


(samosa and sandwich prep)

The other issue about the party was that it fell on Homecoming weekend. As a recent graduate, I still love Homecoming celebrations, so the only day I could hold the party was Sunday. Let's just say, the deadline for this post was tight. But as a writer, I always love the thrill of a looming deadline.

I knew the weekend would be busy, so I prepped most of the food on Friday evening. I made the sandwich fillings, samosas, sauces, chutney and prepped the vegetables for the tempura. On Sunday, I assembled the sandwiches, made the dessert and cooked everything else. I had no idea how to time all of the courses, so I cooked everything right before the party started and kept it warm in the oven. When the guests arrived, I had everything prepped and ready to go, so there wasn't a lull between courses. 

Course 1: English "Tea"

English tea sandwiches

As someone with English heritage, I know about tea and I drink copious amounts of the stuff. In England, “afternoon tea” is usually served with scones, clotted cream, jam, cookies or sandwiches. For the first course of my dinner, I served a traditional “English tea” with finger sandwiches, biscuits, cheese and vegetables.

The sandwiches were egg salad and chicken curry salad (chicken, raisins, diced celery, mayo and curry powder). I drew inspiration from these recipes here. The plate also included traditional English biscuits, such as Hovis and Cream crackers, with cheese. I paired this course with a traditional Earl Grey tea.

Course 2: Indian Samosas and dips

Indian samosas

Most dinner party experts will say never make something you have never made before at your dinner party. I defied this rule many times over. I had never made anything on my menu before, except for the sandwiches. I had also never cooked more than two meal courses at a time. But this was a challenge, so I once again challenged myself. 

The baked samosas were a first for me and were surprisingly simple. I was inspired by fellow Project Food Blog competitor, "Good Food, Good Wine and a Bad Girl" who made Potato Samosas and a trio of dips for the last challenge. I based my dip off of her mint and cilantro chutney and instead of apple chutney, I made mango chutney with raisins. I paired this course with the traditional Indian tea, Masala Chai. One of my guests, who has part Indian heritage, gave me her stamp of approval on the samosas. 

Course 3: Japanese tea "soup" with salmon and tempura vegetable

Eggplant tempura

Apparently I shouldn't have worried about not having enough food because by the third course, we were starting to get full. Instead of pairing this course with tea, I decided to incorporate tea into the food. I found a recipe for Japanese green tea "soup," which is basically rice with green tea poured over it with toppings, like green onions, nori and sesame seeds. I used this and this recipe. I added a little piece of salmon cooked with sesame oil and sesame seeds. For the side vegetables, I made tempura eggplant and sweet potato using Panko breadcrumbs, flour and water. 


Even when we go for sushi, the tempura always gets to me. I can eat anything else, but as soon as I get to the tempura, I feel instantly full. I should have known this phenomenon would happen at my party. The fried tempura and the rice were probably too much in the carb region for one course. The rice and tea went well together with green onions and a bit of sesame oil. This was the one dish I was hesitant about serving; I wasn't sure how it would taste or how it would go over. By the end of the course, we all sat back in our chairs and sweated slightly from too much food. I promised my guests that there was only one more course left.


Course 4: Dessert and Drinks

Chai pudding with mango coulis

For dessert, I tried a new recipe that I instantly fell in love with from Food Network.ca: Chai tea pudding with mango coulis and raspberries. I added milk, cornstarch, honey and the contents of two chai tea bags to a pot and heated until thick. Instead of regular chai tea, I used a special "chocolate chai" tea to make more of a chocolate pudding. The mango coulis included blended mango, orange juice and ginger. I loved the dessert, but the contents of the tea bags made the pudding a little gritty. 


For an after-dinner drink, I made Darjeeling Sangria from this recipe. Basically, I brewed Darjeeling tea, then added white grape juice, lemon, raspberries, mint and a splash of Lemoncello. 

Overall, I think my first dinner party went well. Even though I had no fine dishware or silverware -- only 4 plates, 4 bowls and limited cutlery-- and my meal was on a budget, I still felt like I pulled off a luxurious dinner party. My guests sampled different cuisines, different teas and everyone had a relaxing time. Thanks to my friends Eryn and Steve for joining us. For next time I will remember that if your guests are having trouble breathing then that probably means you've made too much food. 

(The aftermath. Did I also mention that we don't have a dishwasher?)

I am beyond excited to have come this far in the competition! If you liked this post then please vote for me starting tomorrow by clicking on the widget or clicking here

Thank you so much for bringing me this far and for all of the amazing support from friends, family and the blogging community. 

12 comments:

  1. Yay - congrats on your first dinner party! What a creative twist on the challenge :-) And I guess I must have been weird because I *was* hosting dinner parties in my early 20s.... I grew up attending them so it was just natural. I think you will enjoy many more dinner parties in your future! Good luck in Round 3!

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  2. resourceful and creative! what a great idea! i am also in my twenties and found this challenge to be just that for the same reasons!

    http://whitneysamusebouche.blogspot.com/

    Whit

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  3. I was trying not to speak for all 20-somethings, but in my experience, I don't see many people I know throwing dinner parties, lol.
    Maybe I will change their minds after this! I definitely look forward to going to more (and hosting more, of course).
    Loved both of your entries :)

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  4. I like the idea of pairing teas with your dinner! And the blossoming tea is so pretty. Everything looks crazy good especially the samosas! Good luck!

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  5. I love tea parties. It was very creative the way that you wove the tea flavors through the various courses. Great Job!

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  6. Sounds like a delicious menu! Hope we both make it to the next round! :-) You have my vote!

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  7. You have once again succeeded in making me incredibly hungry. Also, I very much appreciate the attention you gave to tea for this meal; it was a truly inspired dinner idea.

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  8. That photo of your sink is going to give me nightmares tonight. Post-dinner party is the only time I break the "no pots in the dishwasher" rule. Everything looks awesome, but I'm particularly intrigued by your dessert. I think I'll make that pudding sometime. You've got my vote, good luck this week.

    Lick My Spoon

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  9. I really love Chai anything so the dessert is on my list of "must eats." Plus your centerpiece is creative, natural, and simply stunning. You've got my vote, good luck!

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  10. I think you guys did a great job w/your dinner party. I love the centerpiece, too!

    I'm with you--my guests are often my guinea pigs; I'm not shy about making something new for them:)

    Abt your dessert: I bet the flavor was lovely. Next time, just leave the tea in the teabags and let it steep while you're cooking the pudding. You could even just heat up the milk and let the tea steep for a few minutes before continuing. Then, just lift out and discard the bags. All the flavor; no grit! :)

    Extra points for doing this w/o a dishwasher! You have one of my votes:)

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  11. @lickmyspoon The dirty dishes in the sink did give me nightmares, lol.

    @onlinepastrychef Thanks for the advice on the dessert. I was surprised at first that the recipe actually called for the contents of the tea bags. Next time I will probably only use one tea bag or steep the tea beforehand like you suggested.

    Thanks everyone for your support! I am crossing my fingers. I am so blown away by everyone's amazing dinner parties. I hope my creativity brings me to the next round!

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