Minty Dinner Party

Yesterday I posted all 6 recipes for the dinner party I had last Saturday. Since I go out so much, most people wonder if I can cook. I do but not in the traditional sense. I like to say I’m a natural cook. I hardly follow recipes. I cook by “feel.” I am usually “inspired by” the things I’ve eaten, read about or seen. I am a voracious cookbook reader.  And I love cooking shows. By reading and watching people cook, it’s almost like I can cook myself.


Last Saturday, I was “put to the test.” I did about a day of research. I planned this menu:

I found this recipe from though it’s an old Gourmet Magazine recipe from 1994. I was going to attempt to make Rick Bayless’ “Essential Simmered Tomato-Habenero Sauce” as the tomato sauce.

I was derailed when once again I realized I wouldn’t find wonton wrappers at Trader Joe’s.

This course became the spinach bruschetta. I actually would have liked to have attempted to do the swiss chard, bacon and ricotta as the bruschetta toppings but I decided to keep it simple.

  • Heirloom Tomato “Carpaccio” from Rick Bayless

He actually serves this with a tomatillo salad, avocado and fresh herbs. I kept it in mind but in my head, I was thinking “sliced tomatoes” would be easy. I know I could have bought tomatillos easily but not so easily because I was going to one store (goshdarnit) and that store was Trader Joe’s.

The heirloom tomatoes I bought went into the seafood salad I made.

Minced Chicken with Vegetables in Lettuce Cups

At this point, I was still thinking appetizers but if I served enough lettuce cups, maybe it could be a main. I ditched that idea when I realized I would have to buy a bunch of sauces. I was house-sitting and was only really working with the few staples I found in the house including oil, soy sauce,  salt and pepper. I didn’t want to buy cornstarch, hoisin sauce, oyster sauce, sesame oil, etc.

I may have bluffed my way into a main course but I seriously didn’t have any idea what it’d be. I was considering this Umbrian Fish Soup though some of the ingredients wound themselves up into other things. The baugette became my bruschetta, the celery, onions and flat-leaf (Italian) parsley went into quite a few things including a seafood salad.

When I got to the store, I had those recipes and a general idea of my shopping list. I bought more oil, kosher salt and peppercorns (to grind for fresh pepper). I also bought balsamic vinegar but really tried to keep the flavors for the recipe based on fresh ingredients like lemon juice, shallots, leeks and garlic.

I used more or less everything I bought. I ended up not using the ground turkey (it would have been for the lettuce cups), asparagus, marinated mushrooms, sundried tomatoes and apricots. I was surprised to find I used everything else though!

I asked a guest to bring hummus for the veggie tray I set out and started cooking. It took me about 3 hours of prep and actual cooking time to whip up this dinner for 5. Ideally, I would have liked to be able to serve the food right away but I didn’t want to still be cooking when guests arrived some some things had to be kept warm in the oven.

What actually transpired:

spinach bruschetta

Seafood Salad

green beans and squash stir fry

Porcini Risotto

Chicken with pea sprouts and bell pepper

Nectarine Compote for Ice Cream

** For more pictures of the cooking, go here to my my flickr set.

Bon Appetite!