I have this habit of inviting people over in an impromptu kind of way.
It’s important to me to be able to entertain spontaneously, to not get all wrapped up in the finer points but rather focus on the food, the people and the fun. Maybe my desire to push the agenda of care-free entertaining stems from growing up with a mother who couldn’t invite her best friends over without three weeks notice, a printed menu and polished silver. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun to throw those kinds of parties too, but really I believe that we should all be able to gather easily around the table, without worrying too much about ceremony or how clean the house is. Those parties are a lot more fun and a lot less stressful.
Sometimes the people I live with get a little tired of the spontaneous invitations I throw around, because the truth is I haven’t completely let go of the need for at least a tidy house, and maybe even pressed napkins. That means they get enlisted to do the jobs in a last-minute kind of way (read: mom is just a little tense for about an hour before the guests arrive). As a footnote, I am proud to be raising kids who will know how to give a party and ask “what can I do next” when someone needs that kind of help.
So I did it again last weekend. We were out to dinner with some customers with whom we have become friendly over the years. Whenever we go to Atlanta, we stay with them. Since they were in our town for the weekend, we spent the evening with them – first at our Wine Bar and then to Nick’s for dinner. While we were at dinner they mentioned that they had gone chanterelle hunting that day and since they were staying in a hotel they couldn’t really use the mushrooms they’d collected, would we like to have them? Yes of course, I jumped at the chance for fresh chanterelles, they’re so lovely. But then I felt that it was only appropriate to reciprocate their generosity and invite them to enjoy the fruits of their labor with us. “I’ll make chanterelle risotto!” I said, as I invited them to dinner the next night.
When I woke in the morning I shook my head at myself a bit. These folks are very nice, but they (or at least she) are not very laid back. They live in a grand home in a posh neighborhood in Atlanta. And since I’ve stayed there I know it is impeccably well-kept. Ours is not. They don’t have children and even though she taught school once upon a time, I’ve never thought them the type who would be very comfortable with kids. We have three. Three big, noisy kids. We recently remodeled our basement to include a rec room for those kids, but I’m not quite finished painting it yet. Their basement houses a temperature-controlled wine cellar with thousands of precious bottles, all catalogued in a complex computer software program designed just for the purpose.
So you can see why I might be feeling somewhat more apprehensive than usual about having these folks over. I didn’t really regret inviting them, but I knew I was going to have to hustle to get our house clean enough to not feel embarrassed about it, and do the shopping and the cooking. So much for that laissez-faire entertaining!
The first thing I did was invite a few wine geeky friends to join us. Rob and I thought it would be fun to bring in some new folks to meet this couple. Plus it helps to have more people around to carry the conversation if I’m going to be distracted in the kitchen. Which I would be, since I had promised them risotto.
Then I planned the menu. I knew the cornerstones of it would be Roasted Chicken (it was Sunday night after all, and Roasted Chicken is our tradition for Sunday) and the chanterelle risotto.
The rest of it shaped up like this:
Salmon Rillettes with Crostini
Roasted Broccoli with Lemon & Parmesan
Cheese, Sliced Pears and Membrillo
I have been thinking about hors d’oeurves lately, since I feel like my usual repertoire needs a shot in the arm. I pinned a few recipes earlier in the week and immediately went back to see which one appealed to me the most at the moment. It was the Salmon Rillettes, and I am so glad I chose it. Absolutely delicious, and it’s richness was the perfect foil to all the fancy French Champagne the wine guys were pouring before dinner. (That doesn’t always happen around here, but when it does, I don’t complain!) The Rillettes would also go beautifully with any dry, crisp white or rosé wine, or even a bottle of sparkling that isn’t so pedigreed. Just make sure it isn’t sweet.
This recipe is adapted from a dish of Thomas Keller (The French Laundry) and I gleaned it from Food and Wine magazine. It’s not super quick, but the steps are well-spaced so you can easily do other tasks in between (like ironing the napkins!). It can also be made up to three days ahead, so if you’re more of a planner than I am, you’re all set.