Sunday, October 13, 2013

Voo-Doo Dinner Party

 I have been wanting to have a party in the apartment for some time now.  But our little cozy apartment isn't conducive for a lot of people to comfortably enjoy themselves (this is about the point Levi reminds me we need to start house hunting).  So last year we agreed to have a dinner party with ourselves and 6 guests and have it the weekend before Halloween so we could have a theme.

That was about as far as I got in the theme planning at that point.  I get very menu inspired and started pouring over the internet and my cookbooks looking for ideas of what to cook.  I think I changed the menu 5 times.  One of the items I was wanting to try was cassoulet, but it takes a long time to make and since I've never made it before-I didn't want 6 people to become guinea pigs.

In addition, when looking at the time table I had to make the dinner (the party was on a Friday evening and I get off work at 2p), some of the items were not going to allow me to finish in time.  So I then decided to go with my strongest suit-my jambalaya.  I first found a recipe for jambalaya in a tiny book my mother gave me about casseroles.  Over time, I made many substitutions and changed so many of the original elements to suit my own taste I dont even use the recipe anymore.  Levi loves the jambalaya and it does go over well in any environment-even my parents who don't like too many onions and are sensitive to spice enjoy it. 

Eventually, the menu looked a little like this:
7p: Beer tasting with Crab fondue and french bread
8p: Mussels in white wine sauce
8:15p: Wilted lettuce with bacon vinaigrette
8:30p: Jambalaya with a side of cooked asparagus
9:00p: Lemon Tarts and Limoncello

I decided the theme should be Voo-Doo Cajun and I made little voo-doo dolls for each person and found little cardboard coffins to use as the place settings.  I thought with the theme, I could get away with simple table decor so I found a piece of black fabric left over from our costumes and set tapered candles and Mardi Gras beads and masks on it in the center of the table (I got mine in New Orleans, but you can find them at any party store).  I went to the dollar store for silver plates (aluminum platters) and made menu cards that I typed out in French.   I burned the edges with a lighter to give them a creepy feel.

The formal invitations were snail-mailed (if you want people to take you seriously-regular mail is the way to get a response) and slightly vague to the theme as I hadn't really decided what I was doing at that point.  I did specify, no costumes, for a few reasons: 1. This being a couples dinner-guys are less likely to get excited about dressing up. 2. I didn't want the added hassle. 3. We all had parties the next night and I wanted this to be as easy and relaxing on my friends as possible.

For the record: I did reach out to everyone regarding food preferences and allergies and everyone said they didn't have any.  So I felt my menu was fine.

The day of:
I had been cooking all day and setting up the living room for dinner.  Levi came home at 5p to help get things ready and we were in fairly good shape by the time people started to arrive.  I was still cooking, but the fondue and beer tasting were ready to go and Levi took charge in getting people set up with a drink and snack.

After the final couple arrived I announced the menu, since I was pretty sure no one spoke French (I don't, but I had a lovely translator help me).  At that point, three people informed me that they don't eat seafood!  My gracious hostess escaped me for a moment because I'm pretty sure my response was, "Well, you're screwed."  Maybe not my finest moment, but after cooking for 5 hours-who's all that charming?

Everyone sat around the table and started digging into the mussels.  Well, about half of us dug, 3 people picked at theirs, but eventually we had one convert!  He ate as many as I did and I love them!  Since we were moving slowly through them, Levi and Conan decided to have a race to finish the rest of the mussels (yes, we get very classy sometimes)-I do believe Conan won.

The jambalaya was a hit and everyone (yes, everyone) loved it and had multiple helpings.  The lemon tart and limoncello (that Lisa and I made) were also a big hit!

Everyone left happy and full and we ended up having a wonderful time!  But I did go through that experience with a few takaways:
1. Avoid menu items that cant be prepared ahead of time-even if it only takes a few minutes, you end up spending much of your time in the kitchen.
2. A beer tasting is a great way to get people talking at the beginning of the party (especially when not everyone knows each other).  We get the large bottles of beer so we don't have to invest in so many 6-packs and they're perfect for a tasting. 
3. Place cards gives you an opportunity to strategize the party and put people next to each other who may have more in common. For example: I usually don't put a quiet person next to a louder person.

Nest Post: Jambalaya Recipe

Have any tips or ideas?  Please share in the comments below!

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