Birthday Dinner 2018

For my birthday this year, rather than going out for a meal, I decided to cook a really fancy dinner for a few friends. Unfortunately, I was constrained by the size of Safetyfourth’s table to just a few friends, but the meal turned out excellent. I served a cheese board with assorted cheeses and crackers prior to dinner, mushroom and pea risotto, grilled asparagus, and grilled salmon for the main course, and crêpes suzette for dessert. I also served everything on my brand-new dishes (thanks mom and dad!).

I saw this article about dinner parties a while ago, and it struck a chord. I really enjoy the calm, relaxed, yet refined atmosphere of a dinner party. It feels adult, which I guess I would characterize by doing things intentionally. That’s actually a topic that I feel like I have enough feelings on for a whole blog post, but suffice to say that the reward for intending to do something and then following through with it is very strong. Anyway, dinner parties are one manifestation of that - an intentional act of refinement, a practicing of expertise to prepare the meal, and even a bit of problem-solving ability required to figure out how to make everything ahead of time, but not too far ahead of time - how to keep things warm and juggle resources.

So, I like dinner parties, and decided to throw one.

Order of Operations

First, I prepared invites. These started the theme of “fancy” with a custom emboss (yet another project that deserves its own blog post). They were physically printed on cardstock and hand-delivered or mailed to each of my guests.

Next, I wanted to upgrade Safetyfourth’s dinnerware situation - what Safetyfourth has is a bunch of mismatched plates of different sizes, colors, and materials. It’s good enough for day-to-day use, but would be a noticeable detraction from a fancy dinner of the kind I wanted to serve (not to mention, I needed dinnerware for my apartment in NYC in a couple months anyway, and Palantir is handling my move). So, I looked around at dinnerware sets. I eventually settled on Roulette Blue Band Dinnerware from Crate & Barrel, along with York Mirror flatware, Otis Highball glasses, and Oregon white wine glasses (mostly listing them out for my own future reference in case I need replacements). It makes a very handsome set, all told. It’s also pretty similar in design to the set that I used growing up.

For the actual food prep, I started early in the morning with the dough for the brioche dinner rolls, and also got the salmon marinating. In the early afternoon, I finished baking the rolls before starting on the risotto, the longest dish to make, and one that required near-constant attention. I started by chopping up the mushrooms and onions before cooking for the next hour. Honestly, it wasn’t my best risotto - I had to split it into two pans to try to get the volume to surface area ratio correct for the correct speed of water evaporation that would result in the right consistency for the risotto. It was pretty challenging to handle two pans at once, especially since they had different surface areas.

After the risotto was done, I put it in a large pot to mix in the peas and parmesan, before putting it on the back burner to keep warm until dinner. At that point, there was about 30 minutes til guests were going to arrive, so I was pretty on-schedule. I quickly prepped the asparagus and tossed it in the oven. Luckily, the asparagus is a nearly zero-prep component of the meal - preheat the oven and toss the asparagus with olive oil, salt, and pepper before baking. After the asparagus went in the oven, I set the table quickly before starting on the salmon, handling 3 pieces at a time (out of 6 total). I had two pans going - one for the bottom of the fillets, and one for searing the top of the fillets with a grill pattern and finishing the cooking. By batching them and pipelining, I was able to get total cooking time down to about 20 minutes, so I was pulling the second round of salmon off the grill right as guests were arriving. The asparagus also finished up while the salmon was going, so I turned the oven down and put the rolls back in to heat up before dinner.

Guests arrived around 5:30, so as I tidied up the kitchen, we also snacked on the cheese and crackers that I’d set out. After snacking for a while and after the salmon had rested enough, dinner was served.

After a delicious and relaxed dinner, I prepped the crêpe batter for crêpes suzette before diving into the orange glaze. I managed to flambé very successfully this time! My crêpe batter wound up a bit lumpy - I might be adding the ingredients in the wrong order, or the cold milk might be causing the butter to chill and harden, so I still have a bit of room for improvement there. You couldn’t really tell in the final product though, which turned out beautiful, with a quenelle of vanilla ice cream on top.

Check out each page for the specific recipes:

Overall, the dinner was a huge success! Thanks for reading :)

Tags: #food