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My first "real" dinner party, with a few pics too....

post #1 of 12
Thread Starter 
So as I've mentioned in my other posts, I love dining out. I'm spoiled. I eat at some of the best restaurants in the world (due to my job, that has me traveling). Well last year I spent too much fine dining so this year I decided I need to learn how to cook. I'm 25...have a halfway decent kitchen.....it's about time.

My father is a good home cook, so a few tips from him, and I've been pretty much cooking/practicing/ as much as i can....probably 3-4x a week trying to get the hang of it.

Well Saturday my girlfriend invited her friend and boyfriend over for our first "real" dinner party....

I'm posting here mainly because I have a lot of questions and would like a few tips and some feedback too! some other sites basically just pat you on the back, this site I know will give me some honest, reputable feedback from some real cooks.

The menu was pretty simple (I'm sure for some of you guys), and while I went for a somewhat Italian theme, there love for French Onion and my cockiness for making a good French onion soup, threw that into the mix.

served in this order:
Caprese salad
French Onion soup
Filet Mignon ravioli w/ brown butter balsamic
Garlic bread
Garlic and Parm. Roasted asparagus
Tiramisu in chocolate bowls for dessert.

We started cooking on friday night, due to I like to cook my french onion soup the night before, and leave it in the fridge....for some reason it just tastes way better the next day.

We also made the raviolis and froze them over night as we feared that making them on saturday, if they "flopped" we would be stuck...so we made them friday night, cooked a few and tried just to be on the safe side.

Now....we froze them, first getting them hard on a cookie sheet in the freezer, then transferring to a freezer bag....is this the best way if you're going to eat the next day? fridge better?

second, the filling came out great, while using some cheaper cuts of filet mignon wasn't necessary, and I knew it wasn't when I went into it, but had some supermarket cuts in the freezer that I needed to use up.

We had a problem with the filling not "crumbling" so we used an egg or two and some breadcrumbs, and they stayed together well.....my question is....is there any way to keep meat filling from "crumbling" without the use of breadcrumbs? (my filling was basically, some onions (i actually used some left over shallots), ground filet, some fresh parm and some fresh parsley and oregano, before adding the egg and breadcrumbs). I like when I cut a ravioli in half with a fork, for the rest to stay in the ravioli..kind of like a meatball.

also, was it a good idea to use the left over shallots for something like this? or should i have just stuck with onions...from what I understand shallots are a little "stronger" so I used not nearly as much as I would have used onions. any thoughts? recommendations?

here is a picture

this was my second time making homemade raviolis..but first time with a pasta roller, BOY what a difference!!!!!

then we also decided to "experiment" with the chocolate bowls.....telling some female co-workers what I was planning, they laughed and said "good luck".....well a bit discouraged, I figured, hey why not...

so..I bought some dark baking chocolate,(i think 53%?) chopped it up, and melted 2/3rds of it in a homemade double boiler (glass pyrex over water) brought it up to like 110 then rested on a towel, and mixed the rest of the chocolate in. I researched "tempering" chocolate and since I don't have a marble anything, this "method" looked easiest, although I'm sure it's nowhere near "real" tempering or anything...

any suggestions for the home cook for tempering easier/better?

here are the bowls "in progress".....at THIS point, I said, "uh oh, were going to the crate and barrel outlet store and picking up something to serve the tiramisu in because I know for sure this isn't going to work!

Since it's valentines day, I found these long stem strawberries and figured, why not, I'm going to have chocolate melting anyways..

so saturday we went to crate and barrel outlet (everything is REAL cheap, 99cent plates, etc), and picked up some more dessert plates/bowls...but we came home and amazingly.....surprisingly, the bowls worked out! And, amazingly strong too, only 1 broke. the rest...were so strong you couldn't break them with a fork even after dessert was finished.

here are some more pics.

don't laugh and my plate garnishing/presentation....I know....I know.....hey...can I blame it on being a beginner?

we plated the desserts about 2 hours before dinner, and fridged them, didn't seem to affect it....but is this an OK idea? the tiramisu might have settled a LITTLE, still came out great though.

I used a mixture of amaretto and espresso and some sugar for dipping the lady fingers in...next time I'll toast some almonds for garnish to compliment the amaretto I think.

also, I had the choice of "fresh" ladyfingers...which were soft or the ones in a box, hard....i used the ones in the box....is there a big difference? which ones are recommended for tiramisu?

also went crazy and made chocolate martinis with chocolate chips on the bottom...

Any tips? suggestions? comments? anything I did wrong, or things I put together that didn't compliment each other? I served both white and red wine, as they like white and I like red...nothing special, I think we had...

blackstone merlot
bogle petite syrah
ecco pinot grigio
ruffino pinot grigio
post #2 of 12

I Think You're Obsessing Unnecessarily

In the first place, there's nothing wrong with simple. Some of the most memorable meals are simply prepared. It's not just the food that makes a dinner party, it's the people who are sharing it.

All it all I'd say you done good.

Some comments on the ravioli. It is very difficult to hold ravioli more than a couple of hours without freezing it. As it sits the dough absorbs moisture from the filling, and can turn soggy. So freezing overnight, as you did, is a good way to go.

To maintain integrity of the filling some sort of binder has to be used. The eggs, alone, probably would have done it if you object to breadcrumbs.

I see no reason to have not used shalots. Actually, they bring a different flavor layer to the table. Not necessarily stronger than onions, just different---some say a cross between onions and garlic, but I don't subscribe to that description myself.

Never ever listen to the ladies at work unless you know their capabilities in the kitchen. Anyone who's idea of cooking is to pop a frozen entree in the nuke is, naturally, going to laugh at anything complex. But, obviously, you were right and they were wrong, cuz the chocolate bowls worked out.
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
post #3 of 12
Thread Starter 
thanks for the tips!!!...yes I do obsess!

and I guess I got lucky opting to not put garlic in the filling, and use a little less shallots. My other 2008 resolution, is to not "waste" as much...so I've been trying to use up everything in the veggie drawer. I'll give it a try with just eggs next time....I added 1 egg...it didn't do it...then I added 2 and it didn't do it...almost got too mushy...then I added some breadcrumbs and that seemed to have done it, but almost hated to do it as I feared it will kill the taste. is it best to stuff the ravioli when the filling is hot/warm/room temp.....or after its been sitting in the fridge covered for a bit?
post #4 of 12
Just curious: did you all look like The Joker after sipping on those chocolate-rimmed martinis? :D

Seriously, you did a great job! It's not easy to put together a dinner party. You obviously put a lot of thought into planning it and it really shows.

One thing I noticed is that your Caprese salad might have been done more simple (and more authentic) without the addition of balsamic vinegar, an ingredient which you repeated in your main course. True Caprese is simply ripe tomatoes, bufala mozzarella, extra-virgin olive oil, basil and salt. Pure simplicity, the key is in the quality of the ingredients.

I agree with KYH regarding the ravioli. They sure do look nice!

For your plating (ravioli), try next time to keep things tidy and central. Very important with smaller plates. A slight central overlaping of your ravioli, veg and parsley sprig would have given your dish a more unified look, and the chopped herbs would be unnecessary. Even in restaurants where they serve you "trios" on larger plates, though they might have three items, they are cohesive little vignettes. That said, it does look delicious!

For tiramisu, you did good. The soft lady fingers would have disintegrated to a mush. The harder ones are prefered.

You should be very proud of yourself!!!!
post #5 of 12
Thread Starter 
actually, I think my girlfriend did comment on my "joker" smile until she realized she was drinking one too!

for the caprese salad...i TOTALLY agree....that was a fight I wasn't looking to fight with my girlfriend....she likes balsamic and insisted! if that dish was up to me, I would have leff out the balsamic, but maybe added some roasted peppers for me :D
post #6 of 12
It all looked really good. Hope you had a good time.
Love the balloon idea.
"If we're not supposed to eat animals, why are they made of meat?" Jo Brand
"If we're not supposed to eat animals, why are they made of meat?" Jo Brand
post #7 of 12
It looks like you did a great job. Even though you are learning how to cook, you obviously already know how to cook. One bit of advice I heard about leaning how to cook is this: choose a dish you want to learn, and make it as often as you can stand to eat it for the next few weeks. When you are happy with the results, move on to the next one. Pretty soon you have a selection of dishes that you can make without any stress. Of course, some of us keep fiddling with them for years.

For chilled chocolate, add up to 4 tbs clarified butter per lb of chocolate. This will prevent streaks. Refrigerators are not good for pure chocolate (too cold, too damp). I've used unflavored veg oil in a pinch (only 1 tbs per lb), but butter tastes better. This will make the bowls easier to eat with a fork, but also easier to break (you can make extras and store leftovers in fridge or freezer).

To temper, very gently stir chocolate when it cools to 85°-90°. You don't want bubbles. I just slowly wiggle a spoon or my fingers in the chocolate. The choc should thicken noticeably.

Tiramisu is meant to be made ahead. Isn't it just the restaurant version of zuppa inglese?
post #8 of 12

For a "beginner" it looks like you throw one HE*L :bounce: of a party! Congratulations.

As you expected, you got some good, sympathetic, and competent advice here. It's that kind of site. Stick around.

As a side note, it looks like you and your girlfriend have a shared, deep and (can I say) passionate interest in cooking. That's a very good way to build a long-lasting relationship. Like, a lifetime. :smoking:

Best of luck, and please share with us your further culinary adventures in equally vivid detail.

travelling gourmand
travelling gourmand
post #9 of 12
You've set a high level of expectation for your guests. Be prepared to be begged for invitations! :D
Moderator Emerita, Welcome Forum
***It is better to ask forgiveness than beg permission.***
Moderator Emerita, Welcome Forum
***It is better to ask forgiveness than beg permission.***
post #10 of 12
Be prepared to be begged for invitations!

Yeah... me first!

Mike :roll:
travelling gourmand
travelling gourmand
post #11 of 12
Thanks for that RPM, i really enjoyed it. Just one thing, are you absolutely sure you're a "beginner"?;)
post #12 of 12
Thread Starter 
Hey, if anyone in the NJ area wants to come over....just let me know! haha.

thanks for all the tips guys. I really appreciate it.
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