Monday, March 12, 2012

How to Host A Festive New Orleans Dinner Party

Lace table cloth, roses, toy crawfish and whimsical plates  (Photo: Lexi Van de Walle)

Entertaining is about people. When I host a dinner I prefer a small group of four to six so that I can focus my attention on the guests. A party is a wonderful way to get to know people, entertain friends and family, celebrate or seal a business deal.

A theme party makes it extra special and doesn't require too much extra work. Our favorite theme dinner is a Creole menu, New Orleans style. Henry, my husband, is from New Orleans and people love it when we serve a classic New Orleans meal. 

An elegant party, large or small, is a complex affair – however, with planning it doesn’t have to be difficult. Three courses will leave your guests satisfied.

For the first course, gumbo is a traditional appetizer -- during the fall and winter months I often make pheasant and duck gumbo with birds that we have in the freezer (my husband's a hunter). Gumbo is the perfect make-ahead meal, ideal for a dinner party. 

A seafood dish for the main course is also traditional. Meuniere Amandine sauce over a sautéed fish filet, also one of my favorites, is typically made with sea trout from the Gulf of Mexico. Fluke is a great substitute, and local to the Northeastern US, for Gulf of Mexico sea trout. I frequently refer to a recipe from the “grand dame” New Orleans restaurant, Galatoire’s

For dessert, a Southern favorite, is bread pudding which is also a crowd pleaser. I enjoy using seasonal ingredients, and a fun variation on traditional (or chocolate) bread pudding is this one made with sweet potatoes and apples. 
Pheasant Hunt, Southampton, New York (Photo: Lexi Van de Walle)
For any dinner party, select recipes that you are comfortable cooking and can prepare ahead. Plan your menu at least five days in advance. Shop ahead for your ingredients, if you can, but leave buying fresh ingredients, such as seafood, to the day of your event. 

Tabletop accessories and music help set the stage. New Orleans is a culture that blends highbrow European elegance and folk traditions of American Indians, and Caribbean, Italian and Spanish settlers. Cover the table with an old-fashioned white lace tablecloth, and use polished silverware if you have it. To add contrast, consider casual and colorful plates -- I just happen to have whimsical dinner plates with crawfish, tabasco and lemon designs. 

The final touches really add authenticity to the meal and set the mood, red roses and a bright red, toy crawfish. The juxtaposition of lace, roses and whimsical fun is quintessential New Orleans. Play some Louis Armstrong and Zydeco music and your all set. 

To ensure a delicious meal, choose high quality and local ingredients. Fish that you or a local fisherman caught, game that was hunted or vegetables that you grew or picked up at the farmers market add interest to the meal. 

A good dark roux can take about a half hour to make

Being a locavore, I prefer scratch cooking to using canned or prepared foods and like to procure ingredients from local sources. In planning the gumbo I make sure I have enough birds in the freezer, and prepare stock (using duck, pheasant and/or chicken carcasses that I store in the freezer) a few days ahead. You can also prepare a roux ahead of time (a time consuming but important ingredient in gumbo) -- a deep brown color makes for a traditional roux and takes about a half an hour to make. I used duck fat that I purchased from the butcher for a super rich roux, deep brown in color. Inventory your ingredients and shop for non-perishables at least three days in advance. 

French 75's make for a festive cocktail
I always include my husband and helper. Not only does he cook but he loves to pair wine and food. French 75 cocktails, made with gin, lemon and champagne, and a relish tray make for a simple start when your guests arrive. For dinner, Henry pairs the wines to selected match the spicy gumbo and selects a more delicate wine for the Fluke Meuniere Amandine Sauce.  

Planning ahead and anticipating every detail of what it takes to flawlessly produce a multi-course meal is the key to being a relaxed host. Several days ahead, select and iron your linens, wash glasses and dinnerware, and polish the silver, if necessary. For each recipe, I ask “how much time do I need in the kitchen after the guests arrive?” I make lists and get as much as possible done in advance. With staging any event, mistakes and oversights happen. 

Lighthearted Locavore heating up the first course (smiling and relaxed)

By 2:00, the gumbo was cooked. By 4:00, the bread pudding was out of the oven and the sauce was made. By 4:20 I had done the meuniere sauce twice (the first one burned). By 5:00, the relish tray, bar and glasses, were set up. By 5:30, the advance prep for sautéing the fluke, the only step of the dinner that had to be cooked last minute, was completed. At 5:40, I showered and dressed and still had 45 minutes to relax before the guests arrived. At 7:00, the party begins. 

Long Island Fluke Meuniere Amandine Garnished with Parsley and Lemon

Sweet Potato Bread Pudding with Apple Cider Glaze

Pheasant, Duck, and Andouille Gumbo 
Pheasant, Duck Stock, + Organic Chicken Andouille Sausage Gumbo Made with File and White Rice (recipe) 

Galatoire's Fluke Meuniere Amandine
Traditional New Orleans Preparation of Sautéed Fluke Fillet and Creole Seasoning topped with Butter, Lemon and Almond Sauce (recipe below) 

Sweet Potato Bread Pudding with Apple Glaze 
Louisiana Sweet Potato Commission’s Recipe (recipe) 

French 75 Cocktail (recipe)


Long Island Fluke Meuniere Amandine
Adapted from Galatoire’s Cookbook

Meuniere Sauce (see below)
2 cups milk
½ tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 egg
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
4 oz. butter
6 8-oz. fluke fillets
2 cups flour
3 tbsp. sliced, toasted almonds
1 lemon, cut into 6 wedges

Prepare the Meuniere Sauce, set aside. In a bowl, whisk milk, seasonings and egg. Dust fluke with flour, place in milk, dredge in flour again. Shake off excess. In a heavy pan, melt butter over medium-high heat and sauté for 3 minutes on each side until golden brown. Place one fillet on each plate, spoon Meuniere sauce and sprinkle toasted almonds and parsley on top. Serve with a lemon wedge.

Meuniere Sauce
4 oz. butter
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
2 tbsp. red wine vinegar

Melt butter over low heat until it begins to brown. Add remaining ingredients. Whisk until dark brown. Remove from heat and set aside.

All photos by Lexi Van de Walle

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