Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Soup - French Onion Soup Au Gratin

My guests then ascended to the dining room.  Unfortunately, I didn't have a golden capsule for them to ride in, but they made it safely.

French Onion Soup Recipe courtesy Tyler Florence



  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 4 onions, sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 fresh thyme sprigs
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup red wine, about 1/2 bottle
  • 3 heaping tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 quarts beef broth
  • 1 baguette, sliced
  • 1/2 pound grated Gruyere


Melt the stick of butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onions, garlic, bay leaves, thyme, and salt and pepper and cook until the onions are very soft and caramelized, about 25 minutes. Add the wine, bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer until the wine has evaporated and the onions are dry, about 5 minutes. Discard the bay leaves and thyme sprigs. Dust the onions with the flour and give them a stir. Turn the heat down to medium low so the flour doesn't burn, and cook for 10 minutes to cook out the raw flour taste. Now add the beef broth, bring the soup back to a simmer, and cook for 10 minutes. Season, to taste, with salt and pepper.

I used my own homemade broth. I toasted the bread beforehand, and because I don't have a broiler in my second oven, I placed the toasted bread on the soup, topped it with the grated cheese, and heated the bowls in my oven until the cheese melted.

The wine served with this soup was 2010 Lucien Albrecht "Balthazar" Pinot Blanc Reserve.  

 If I had been choosing, I probably wouldn't have put a white wine with this soup.  But I know nothing about choosing wine, so it's a good thing I didn't do it!  I do know a good wine when I taste it, however.  This went very well.  It was a full-bodied white that reminded me of a red wine.  It had fairly assertive flavors, nice roundness, and stood up nicely to the rich, onion-y brothI really enjoyed it!  

A word about the wines for this meal.  Again, I relied on my wine guy.  He's great!  His name is Erik, and you can find him at the Central Market in Mill Creek.  I can't say enough good things about him. If you ever need a recommendation for a good wine, go to him.  He knows his products, and he's great to work with.  I just give him my price range and the menu, and he does the rest.  He makes me look good every time I do this.  Every once in a while, I come up with some dish that challenges him, but each time he has risen to the challenge and chosen a great wine.  Which is great, because I know next to nothing about wine!  He takes all the pressure off me, and really completes the meal.  Thank you, Erik!  

Tomorrow, Crab en Brochette.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Appetizers - Cheese Spread and Crackers

"Our appetizers become your lift-off
on a memorable meal."

What a spread!

 To start the meal, we began in the living room with a self serve appetizer and an assortment of cocktails.  I found recipes for three of the original Space Needle cocktails here.

As I told my guests, if they had enough cocktails before dinner, all my food would taste fantastic, or at least they wouldn't remember if it didn't!  To start them on their way, I served each person a Cloud Buster.

Champagne, vodka and lemon peel. This will chase the clouds away!

Then they were put to work on the cheese and crackers.  The cheese spread was pretty basic.  But that's what was listed on the original drink menu, so that is what I fixed.

Cheese Spread

12 oz grated sharp cheddar cheese
10 oz cream cheese
3 T sherry
1 T prepared horseradish
1/2 t garlic salt

Mix all ingredients thoroughly.  Better if made a day or two ahead.  Bring to room temperature before serving.

I served olives and pickled cocktail onions with the cheese and crackers, just because I think they add a nice pop of flavor.

I followed up the Cloud Buster with half servings of both the Milky Way and Panorama Punch drinks.  Roy was hoping we'd drink our way around the menu.  Not quite!  But we did make it halfway around. It kept them busy while I prepared the soup.

Tomorrow, the soup course.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Setting

I wanted to keep things pretty simple.   I didn't want to go too space age, I wanted the decorations to be subtle, something only Mary would connect to the whole Century 21 anniversary.  Of course, I think Walter P. gave it away when they walked in the door!

Walter P. Chrysler

If you are an Elvis fan, you'll recognize the name of the movie he filmed at the Seattle World's Fair in 1962.  Even if you don't recognize the name of the film, you may recognize that Walter P.'s toupee is made from Elvis's hair.  Taken from a screen shot I found from the movie, and once again I'm amazed at how well it fits on Walter P.'s head.  Unfortunately, the photo was so dark I had to lighten it up considerable to show any detail.  So Walter P./Elvis looks a bit like he needs Grecian Formula.  

Your toupee is so natural looking!

I was lucky enough to find a couple of souvenir plates at Goodwill.  Again, I'm amazed at the serendipity of  shopping there!  The first time I looked, I found two plates, one in Monroe, and one in Everett.  And haven't found any since.  Which was fine, I didn't need a lot of them, just the two to help set the scene.

The Beam bottle Space Needle we already had, from my husband's grandfather.

I have this great vase that I got from Goodwill some time ago.  When thinking about this party, I realized it was the perfect vessel for flowers!  The shape is very much like the space needle, and the colors echo the original paint.  Orbital Olive, Astronaut White and Re-entry Red.  All I needed to add was the Galaxy Gold!  Which, by the way, is historically more tangerine than gold.   

That's Galaxy Gold, not orange!

These colors also became the basis for my decor.  

Along with the dinner menus, I found pictures of the drink menu from 1962.  I used the pictures to create souvenir coasters.

Can you see Mt Rainier today?

The flip side

I searched everywhere for a tablecloth similar to the original ones, which can be seen here.  Check out all the photos there, they are great!  But alas, I couldn't find one.  Neither could I find the great salt and pepper shakers, which I know I've seen in the past.  Oh well.  You do what you can.

So, I pulled out my gold tablecloth from Target, and used it.  I found the red chargers at Goodwill.  I recreated the candle holders, using vellum paper wrapped around a glass vase I got at Fred Meyer.  Simple, and it works!

I struggled with the flowers, and ended up going with a simple bouquet.  But I loved the exuberant colors, so it's okay.

Where I put the most of my time and energy was the menu.  I'm pretty pleased with how it turned out.  There were a couple things that still needed tweaking, but with the death of our printer in the midst of my preparations, I flat out ran out of time.  

As I mentioned, a few months back Sue and I were at an estate sale, and happened across one of the original Space Needle menus from 1962.  From what I remember it looked similar to this.  I think the original menu was a tri-fold.  I opted to go bi-fold, just to save my sanity in the formatting of it.  I found a terrific Space Needle die cut at my local craft store.  It went on front.  I picked fonts similar to the original.  I couldn't find an exact one, but the one I found was pretty close.  And I paraphrased the descriptions from the original texts I found.  They had a different way of saying things in 1962!

Here's what I came up with.  You can click on the pictures to enlarge them.

The front of the menu

Lots of courses to work through!

Just for the fun of it!  Paraphrased from the original.
Okay, my dining room doesn't rotate like the real Space Needle.  I thought about having everyone change seats after every course, but it seemed pretty disruptive.  So, I found some pictures of the view from the Space Needle back in 1962, and played a slide show of them during dinner.  So, to quote the original menu, "From no other dining table can you look out upon such an extraordinary changing scene".

Tomorrow I will share the appetizers.

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Space Needle Dinner

What fun preparing for this!  First let’s talk about the inspiration for this party.

I’ve known Mary and Roy for ages.  Mary is my best friend Sue’s sister, and the family has had the good judgment kindness to adopt me as an honorary sister.  I wanted to invite them to dinner for ages, but I never felt good enough about my abilities.  This family throws lavish parties without blinking an eye.  To add to my trepidation, Mary is an excellent cook.  She attended Le Cordon Bleu.   Need I say more?  But, I bit the bullet, and throwing caution to the wind, invited them anyway.

This year commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Century 21 exhibit in Seattle.  Mary collects artifacts and memorabilia from the Seattle World’s Fair.  In fact, some of her collection is currently on display at the International Fountain Pavilion at Seattle Center.

Tying in with Mary’s love of the Seattle World’s Fair, Roy has teased me for years about taking him to the Space Needle for dinner.  This is because back when I was young and foolish, I told everyone I was going to make a million dollars.  I told Roy that when I made a million dollars I’d take him to the Space Needle for dinner.  All he remembers is the part about the dinner, not the million dollars, which I have yet to make!

So, I had my theme.  I’d recreate a meal that might have been served at the Eye of the Needle restaurant back in 1962. 

Several months ago, Sue and I were shopping an estate sale and came across a menu from the old Eye of the Needle restaurant.  So, how did I get access to that menu?  I didn't want to tip them off about the plans I had.  Luckily, a quick Google search found this.   It became the basis for my menu.  I found a few other menus, or mentions of food from the Seattle World's Fair, which helped me plan some of the side dishes.  Here is what I chose to go with, an adaptation of the Complete Space Needle Dinner.  It ended up costing me a bit more than $6.95 per person, I think, even adjusting for inflation.  Where is that time machine when you need it?

Cloud Lifter
Milky Way
Panorama Punch

Cheese and Crackers

French Onion Soup Au Gratin

Crab en Brochette with Bernaise Sauce

Grilled Salmon

Roast Prime Ribs of Beef
Artichoke Bottoms with Tender Green Peas
Potato Gems

Eye of the Needle Salad

Sebring Sattelite

If you are planning a Mad Men party, this menu would fit in perfectly!

Tomorrow, how I put it all together.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Seventh Course - Dessert

Dessert!  Let's hope you saved some room.  A seven course meal can be very filling.  So this dessert, although rich and satisfying, seems so light when you are eating it.  Yummy Maple Star Anise Mousse.

I've served this before to accompany baklava in the fall.  You can find the recipe here.  The flavor is phenomenal.  The maple is subtle, and the star anise adds a complexity that is very intriguing.    I wanted to give it a lighter, fresher take for spring, so I layered it with strawberries.  I had never used unflavored gelatin successfully until I tried this recipe, so don't be frightened when you see it listed as an ingredient.  This isn't your grandma's molded  jello salad!  Now I want to try more recipes using it. 

The wine with this course was 2005 Chateau d'Arche 'La Perle d'Arche' Sauterne.

Nice honeyed fruit flavors.  I also served coffee, a nice finish to a meal made fabulous by the company.  Be sure to look for Bill's book, The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The Titanic Tragedy.  You'll enjoy it!

Next up, dinner with my best friend, her sister Mary and respective husbands.  Mary is an excellent cook, and has even completed the course at Le Cordon Bleu.  Nervous?  Yes!!  I'll let you know how it goes, they are coming this Saturday night.  I hope I have a fun evening planned.  I can't wait to tell you all about it!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Sixth Course - Salad

The first time I did a formal dinner, I did lots of research on what goes into a seven course meal.  What I found was that opinions vary, and you do have some leeway.  I have always found it intriguing that the French serve their salad after the main entree, as a palate cleanser and digestive.  So I thought I'd try it, and I thought it was refreshing to have that break before dessert.  I have done most of my menus in the same way ever since.

The salad I chose for this meal is one I've done before.  Salad de Menthe.  Butter lettuce and chopped mint, topped with toasted walnuts and dressed with a light vinaigrette.  Very simple, very light.  You can find the recipe here.  I stayed pretty true to the recipe, using fresh mint from my garden.  

The wine with this course was 2010 Willow Crest Pinot Gris.  As a nod to Sherlock Holmes, I used my collection of souvenir glasses from the Sound of the Baskervilles Holmesian Games.

I thought it was an excellent pairing.  It was bright and crisp, not as complex as the earlier Pinot Gris, but it was accompanying a less complex dish.  A wonderful prelude to dessert.  Which I will talk about tomorrow!

Fifth Course - Main Entree

Of course, the famous last dinner on the Titanic featured Lamb with Mint Sauce, so I knew I wanted to go with lamb.  But I wanted to blend in a bit of Sherlock Holmes.  There is a very famous lamb dish in the story about Silver Blaze; Curried Mutton.  So I created a chutney curry sauce to go with the lamb instead of mint.  Instead, I added mint to the peas that accompanied the meat.  That, and a lovely rice pilaf, and I think it was visually very colorful, and very tasty!  And the cat did nothing in the nighttime either, but that's pretty typical for Oliver. 

Roast Leg of Lamb with Mango Chutney Sauce

For the lamb:
1 boneless leg of lamb, 4-5 lbs.
8-10 cloves garlic, minced
3-4 T chopped fresh rosemary
2 T olive oil
1T salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Combine garlic, rosemary, oil, salt, and pepper.  Rub over lamb.  Place lamb in roasting pan, and roast in oven until thermometer registers 145 degrees.  Remove from oven and allow to rest for 15 minutes before slicing.

For the sauce:
½ c butter
2 T curry powder
½ c white wine
1 ½ c mango chutney

Melt butter in saucepan, and then add other ingredients.  Cook until wine is reduced by half.  While the lamb is resting, deglaze the roasting pan with the sauce.  To serve, slice lamb and pour a spoon of sauce on top.

Wild Rice Pilaf
¼ c chopped onion
1/2 t turmeric
1/2 t ground cardamom
1 1/2 tsp unsalted butter
1 c long-grain and wild rice blend
3 c chicken broth
2 T pistachio nuts, toasted lightly, cooled, and chopped
2 T golden raisins
2 T dried cherries, chopped

Melt butter in pan and add onion and spices.  Add rice and sauté briefly.  Add chicken broth and bring to a boil.  Lower heat and simmer 45 minutes, or until liquid is absorbed and rice is tender.  Just before serving, mix in pistachios nuts, raisins and cherries.

Minted Peas

2 c peas
2 T butter
2T fresh mint, chopped

Cook frozen or fresh peas until heated through but not mushy.  Toss with butter and chopped mint.  Easy peasy!

The wine served with this course was a 2010 Airfield Estates Runway Syrah.  

I’ve had several wines now from this winery, and they have yet to disappoint.  Even my guests who rarely drink red wine liked it.  Look at that lovely dark red color!  Such a nice change after the white wines.  The entire course was visually very pleasing.

Tomorrow, salad, and why I serve it after the main entrée.

Fourth Course - Palate Cleanser

It’s always nice to have a little break before the main entrée.  This is one of my favorite sorbets for a palate cleanser.  Light and refreshing, it has the interesting twist of star anise, elevating the flavor to something very special!

Grapefruit Star Anise Sorbet

You can find the recipe here.

Check out all the dinner party menus on the site.  There is great inspiration there, and I use it frequently when planning my parties.  Almost every recipe I’ve tried from there has been a winner.

Tomorrow, the main course!

Third Course - Fish

For my fish course I knew I wanted to serve salmon, because I knew most people like salmon.  I’m also blessed to live in the great Pacific Northwest, where we have access to wonderful wild salmon.  

I chose to make gravlax because I thought it would be interesting to have a cold dish.  Also, it is a Scandinavian dish, and a reference to Sherlock Holmes Great Hiatus, when he was masquerading as a Norwegian explorer named Sigerson.


2 lb fillet of salmon (previously frozen)
½ c sugar
½ c kosher salt
½ c fresh dill, chopped
¼ c Aquavit

Use salmon that has been commercially frozen.  This rids the fish of any unwanted parasites.  Combine the sugar and salt.  Place fillet skin side down.  Remove any bones, if necessary.  Rub sugar/salt mixture into the flesh of the salmon, then press on the dill.  Sprinkle with Aquavit.  Wrap tightly in plastic wrap, several layers as you don’t want it to leak.  Place in a pan and put in the refrigerator for 2-3 days, turning once or twice.  To serve, remove the cure residue, rinse lightly and pat dry.  Slice the flesh off the skin at an angle, as thin as you can. 

Cucumber Salad

½ cucumber, peeled and thinly sliced
1 bunch radishes, thinly sliced
½ red onion, thinly sliced
½ c chopped fresh dill
1 t sugar
¼ c olive oil
2 T cider vinegar

Toss all ingredients shortly before serving.

Sour Cream Sauce

1/2 c sour cream
2T fresh lemon juice
1 T course grain mustard
2 T chopped dill

Mix together.

To serve, layer a toasted round of rye bread, the cucumber salad and then the sliced gravlax.  Drizzle sour cream sauce over, then drizzle a bit of olive oil.  Garnish with a bit of fresh chopped dill.

The wine served with this course was a 2009 Cedergreen Cellars Chenin Blanc Old Vine.  This was my guests’ favorite wine.   Very interestingly, it was almost colorless.  Quite a visual difference from the previous wine!  Nice, nice pairing.

Tomorrow, we cleanse our palate!

Second Course - Soup

Creamy Coconut Carrot Soup

I found the recipe here.

I made a few modifications to the recipe, but stayed pretty close.  I cooked the carrot and onion mixture the day before, and pureed it.  I used chicken broth instead of the vegetable broth.  If you taste the soup at this point you may be disappointed.  I know I was!  But be patient.  Once you add the coconut milk, the heavens part and the angels sing!  But I added a little whipping cream for good measure.  Perfection!  For serving, I garnished the soup with some toasted coconut.  Aren’t my soup bowls lovely?

The wine paring for this course was the 2008 Pierre Sparr Pinot Gris Reserve.  

Everyone liked this wine, but I felt the curry in the soup overpowered the flavors a bit.  The color was lovely, golden yellow.  It was fun to compare it to the Willow Crest Pinot Gris served with the salad.  The Pierre Sparr was more complex, and the flavors more subtle, which I felt made it more interesting.  But the second Pinot Gris probably was a better pairing with the food.  It’s interesting how a wine can be good, but not good with the food you are serving.  Or, how a wine you may not like on its own is transcended by the food you serve it with.  This was an interesting wine, one I felt I needed more time to enjoy.  Rushing through my food in order to prepare the next course has its downside.

Next, on to the fish course.

First Course - Appetizer

Lobster Stuffed Mushrooms 

2 lobster tail 5 oz or more cooked and chopped
12 to 16  large shrimp, cooked and chopped
2 to 3 garlic cloves, minced
1 - 8oz pkg of cream cheese, softened
1 bunch of green onions chopped
1 cup (or more ) of shredded gruyere cheese
1 lb of large mushrooms, cleaned with stems removed

Stir together first six ingredients, and stuff into mushroom caps.  Bake at 375 for about 25 minutes, or until cheese melts.  Serve hot.

Deviled Eggs with Bacon
6 eggs
½ cup bacon bits
Boil eggs until hard boiled.  Peel, and slice in half.  Scoop out yolks into a bowl.  Mash yolks and add bacon and enough mayonnaise to create a soft filling.  Stuff filling back into reserved egg whites.  Garnish with a little paprika.
Why such an elegant mushroom with such a staple as deviled eggs?  Because my husband doesn’t like mushrooms!  I didn’t want him to feel left out.

I have a secret to confess.  I know very little about wine, other than the right wine can do a lot towards enhancing the enjoyment of a meal.  So I have a wine guy.  He’s great!  I just go to him with a menu, and he picks out all the wines.  With this appetizer I served Delmas Blanquette de Limoux Cuvee Berlene 2007.  It was a very nice sparkling wine, a nice way to start a celebration!

Tomorrow, the second course.

Setting the Mood

For this dinner party, I wanted to create a formal atmosphere with a bit of an Edwardian feel.  Luckily, my dining room is perfect!  My huge antique china closet actually came from England, from a furniture maker on Tottenham Court Road, the same area Sherlock Holmes purchased his famous violin!

Starting at the entryway, I created a clock.  The face is paper, and I found it in the scrapbooking section of my local craft store.  I added the hands, pointing to 11:40, the time the Titanic hit the iceberg.  The hands came from a clock I found at Goodwill, and fit perfectly.

Walter P. donned a deerstalker for the occasion.  Walter P. dresses for all my parties.  I’ll devote an entire post to him later, he’s quite a character!

We started with appetizers in the living room.  I kept things simple, but elegant.  A vase of white roses on the coffee table, and the wine glasses and plates on a silver platter.  I must confess, I love my dishes!  The pattern is Noritake Goldette, and it dates back to the 1930’s.  It is opulent, rich and perfect for formal dinner parties.  I have twelve place settings, including cream soup bowls and the square luncheon plates.  I usually limit my parties to six people, and I can run out of dishes.  So I bought two other coordinating dish sets, Noritake Penelope and Noritake Bancroft to fill in.  So now I have 36 place settings of dishes and serving pieces to store, but it’s worth it to me!  I found all three sets on Craigslist, for a reasonable investment.  The champagne flutes are Waterford Lismore Nouveau, which I have collected over the years. 

Then we moved to the dining room, as you can see here.

The tablecloth and napkins came from Goodwill.  A quick wash and a press in my Ironrite and they were as good as new, and I didn’t worry about anyone spilling food or wine on them.  In the case of accessories, I try to buy in sets of six, if they are available.  I never buy less than four.  If I have to mix two sets for one course, I give the ladies one style, and the men another.   
You can see this in the napkin rings, the salt cellars and other accoutrements.  You go through lots of utensils during a formal meal, so I have two sets of silverplate flatware that I mix and match.

Crystal glasses, again, acquisitions from Goodwill and estate sales.

For the flowers, I found an oval tin at Goodwill, which I spray painted black.  I used green floral foam to hold the flowers and candles.  I chose to use four candles, to simulate the four funnels on the Titanic.  The flowers are a mix of greenery from my garden, roses and carnations.  I wanted the colors to echo the colors of my wallpaper, and the arrangement to look Victorian.  I really have no skills at floral arrangements, but they didn't look too bad, and my guests thought I'd purchased them from a florist.  So try it, it's not hard to do it yourself!

Tomorrow I will share the first course, with recipes!

To Celebrate a Book

Entertaining can be so much fun! I’d like to chronicle here a few of my dinner parties, in hopes that it may inspire others.  I’ll explain how I choose menus and decorations to suit the occasion.

To start with, I’ll tell you about a luncheon I gave for a good friend who just had a book republished.  His book, The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes:  The Titanic Tragedy can be purchased here.

It’s fun to start with a theme.  Of course, the two obvious themes here are Sherlock Holmes and the Titanic.  So that is where I started.  I knew I wanted to have a formal menu and setting.  Here’s the menu I came up with:

April 21, 2012

Mushrooms stuffed with Lobster
Deviled Eggs with Bacon
Delmas Blanquette de Limoux Cuvee Berlene 2007

Creamy Carrot Coconut Soup
2008 Pierre Sparr Pinot Gris Reserve

Gravlax with Cucumber Salad
2009 Cedergreen Cellars Chenin Blanc Old Vine

Grapefruit Star Anise Sorbet

Roast Lamb with Mango Chutney Sauce
Wild Rice Pilaf
Minted Peas
2010 Airfield Estates Runway Syrah

Salad de Menthe
2010 Willow Crest Pinot Gris

Maple Star Anise Mousse with Fresh Strawberries
2005 Chateau d'Arche 'La Perle d'Arche' Sauterne

I like to make individual menus for each person.  They can become a keepsake, and also help to dress the table, as you will see later.  Here’s the menu I created.

When I think of the Titanic, I think of the colors red, black and gold.  So that became my color scheme for the menu.  The pen nib and cogs I found in the scrapbooking section of my local craft store, and help to add a bit of a steampunk feel.

Tomorrow I’ll show you the table setting and other decorations, then I’ll take you course by course through the menu.