If you’re passionate about something, then you’re going to be looking for everything you can to get better at it. This is very true for me with the art of entertaining. The entire process of planning, shopping, decorating, creating the menu to selecting the wine excites me and ignites my creativity. I have done both large and small dinner parties to lunching with the ladies to a formal high tea. One of my favorite ways to entertain is with four to six guests and serving small plates with wine. Often we will sit in the family room and enjoy multiple courses of small plates while pairing with various wines. It is more intimate, comfortable and conversation tends to flow really easy.
Last weekend, we had the pleasure of spending an evening with my long time friend Jeff, who actually hired me at my current company over eleven years ago. We were delighted to meet Da Gang, who also has a great love of food and cooks for Jeff daily. I wanted to have choices and a lot of flavors for us to enjoy throughout the evening. We started off the evening with Walnut Pesto with toasted crostini’s, and paired with Grgich Hills Chardonnay. It was quite chilly outside, so the fire was roaring, candles burning and perfect for our next course - Cauliflower Soup with Bacon, Corn and Shitake Mushroom Relish. (Recipe below) By this time, we were onto our next bottle of wine, Cuvaison Chardonnay from the Carneros region of Napa Valley. In my opinion, the Carneros region in Napa Valley produces the most luscious chardonnay.
Recently I attended a wine class at the new library in Lafayette, where there was a chef from Chez Panisse who brought a handmade onion tart that was out of this world. She was kind enough to send me the recipe and I have attempted twice to make the crust as good as hers. I am getting closer, but my persistence for perfection to achieve that perfect buttery, flaky and light crust has yet to be achieved. Our next course was the onion tart (third attempt) with a side salad of arugula and tomatoes in lemon vinaigrette. My husband was in the mood for red wine, so we opened a Lancaster Estate Cabernet Sauvignon.
We then had our last savory course of petite crab cakes with a lemon aioli. These delicate little seafood gems are a crowd pleaser. I created the recipe several years ago and even folks who don’t like crab enjoy these. Even though we all had full bellies, we managed to make room for dessert – Apple Shortbread Crisp with Caramel Sauce. If you love apple pie, you will flip for this dessert. A GREAT evening with friends!
Cauliflower Soup with Bacon, Corn and Shitake Mushroom Relish
1 ½ C. Leeks, sliced (mostly white)
2 Garlic cloves, minced
2 T. Butter
2 T. Olive oil
Salt and pepper
7 C. Cauliflower, florets
7 C. Chicken stock
Use a large stock pot. Melt the butter and olive oil over medium heat. Add the leeks and cook until soft over medium heat. About 10 to 15 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for one minute. Then add the cauliflower and season well with salt and pepper. Toss well and cook for 10 minutes. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil, then turn down heat to a simmer and cook for 45 minutes or until cauliflower is soft.
Use an emulsion blender and pulse until the soup is smooth. Alternative method is to place into a blender in batches until all is smooth.
8 Slices of center cut bacon, cooked and crumbled
1 ½ C. Fresh white corn, use a knife to remove from cob (frozen can be used)
1 ½ C. Shitake mushrooms, remove stems and cut into small dices
2 T. Butter
Salt and pepper
In a sauté pan, add the butter and melt. Then add the shitake mushrooms and season with salt and pepper. Cook over medium high heat for a few minutes until the mushrooms begin to brown and become fragrant. Add the corn and cook for 3 more minutes. Set aside until ready to assemble soup.
In a large white bowl, spoon corn and mushroom relish in the middle of the bowl, then some crumbled bacon on top. Spoon the hot cauliflower soup on top. Garnish with diced chives and truffle oil.