Awesome Dinner Party: Homemade Baguette & Bruschetta, Roasted Chicken with Apples & Leeks, Smashed New Potatoes with Garlic & Chives, Chocolate Marsala Cake Posted by: | May 3, 2010
 

It’s been a long day and even though I’m extremely exhausted, I still can’t wait to dish it all out on my smashin Dinner Party tonight! All I can say is, everyone’s plates was clean and all dishes were finished to the last piece (we all ate Usman’s portion as well). Nothing beats that feeling of seeing your friends enjoying your food and gobbling it down (including myself – even the cook can be starving). Despite my announced menu yesterday, I still did last minute changes today to the Appetizer and Dessert. I decided to leave out salad for Bruschetta (using fresh home-baked baguette, of course) and make Chocolate Marsala Cake for dessert instead of Cherry Clafouti. Mainly because I want to make use of my half-used Marsala wine. And also because it looks much fancier :P No harm impressing your friends a little bit more right?

So here is the 3-course Dinner for 8 (eaten by 7) in a glance:

Starter: Bruschetta (see Recipe)

Everyone was hungry and gobbled this yummiest appetizer really quickly. My friends even finished up the bruschetta topping leftover without the bread! This recipe is so quick to make but always an exciting start to a Dinner. The winning ingredient? My homemade baguette of course: thick, crunchy and rich in flavor. If you still think breads are something you can only pick up from bakeries, check out my first bread-making entry and you will see how easy it actually is to make. Bread-making is probably one of the biggest myths in the kitchen. To those who don’t know, it seems to require special equipments, special skills, special high tech oven etc. But truth is, it is literally high return – low investment – low risk and awesomely fun. I’m glad my friends finally got to eat my bread for the first time, and it didn’t take long for these yummy things to disappear:

Another important secret to best-tasting bruschetta: Apply the topping only minutes before serving. The tomatoes can make the bread soggy if you leave it on for too long. Bruschetta must ALWAYS be dry and crunchy, to contrast with the juicy texture of the tomato topping.

Main Course: Roasted Chicken with Apples, Leeks and Rosemary (adapted from Real Simple)

This was a real crowd stunner. It looks gorgeous, tastes amazing, but took me exactly 20 minutes to prepare. The rest of the time, it was doing its own magic in the oven. The sweet juice from the apples combine with the tender chicken to create a heavenly taste of sweet savory goodness. The sugar from Apples also caramelized the leeks and made the chicken brown really beautifully. The gravy that came out of this dish was superb to drizzle on the chicken and everything else. This is a real winner meal for big dinner parties as it requires very little preparation time, plus you can make your appetizer while it roasts in the oven. This is why I’ve been making different varieties of Roasted chicken for the past 3 dinner parties. However, I guess I should venture out of this comfort zone and make something completely different next time. It was good while it lasted. Sigh. What? You don’t believe that it’s so simple? Check out the recipe then. There’s a reason it was featured on Real Simple recipes.

INGREDIENTS (serves 7-8):

  • 5 medium sweet, crisp, juicy apples, thickly sliced
  • 3 leeks (white and light green parts), halved crosswise and divided into 3 pcs lengthwise
  • 6 small sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt and black pepper
  • 8 small chicken thighs and 8 drumsticks

METHOD:

1. Heat oven to 400° F/200° C . In a large roasting pan or big bowl, toss the apples, leeks, rosemary, oil, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper (or more to taste).

2. Season the chicken with 1 teaspoon each salt and pepper (or more to taste) and nestle, skin-side up, among the apples and leeks (distribute the apples and leeks evenly among the chicken pieces):

3. Roast until the chicken is cooked through, crispy and brown on both sides and the apples and leeks are tender & caramelized, about 40 to 45 minutes. Turn the chicken every 15 minutes for even roasting. If you are almost done and your guests still take some time to come, turn off the oven when you are 10 minutes away from being done and roast the remaining 10 minutes during the Appetizers. Roast chicken has to be eaten as quick out of the oven as possible.

The fresh Rosemary leaves also played a great role. The aroma alone already screams Roast Chicken! Remember to always use fresh rosemary sprigs. It’s much more expensive than the dry ones, but it’s well worth it. Trust me.

Side Dish: Smashed New Potatoes with Garlic & Chives (adapted from Simply Recipes by Elise Bauer)

This is a perfect side dish to go with any roast dishes. I prefer it much more than the usual mashed potatoes, as it still retains much of the potato skin and chunks, creating an interesting combination of textures which otherwise would have been a uniform powdery mass in mashed potatoes. Plus, a little mess in your food is always more fun to eat! Moreover, it’s a real no-brainer to make:

INGREDIENTS (serves 7 – 8):

  • 500g – 600g new potatoes or baby potatoes (about 2 1/2 big handfuls)
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • Salt
  • 1 minced garlic clove
  • 1-2 tablespoons minced chives

METHOD:

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C or 350°F. Put the potatoes in a medium oven-proof pot, such as an earthenware pot (with a cover) and add about 1 tablespoon of the butter, cut into pieces. Cover and bake in the oven for 20 minutes.
  2. Take the potatoes out and mix them so they’re coated with butter. Sprinkle the potatoes with salt. Return to the oven, cover, and cook for another 45 minutes to an hour, depending on how large the potatoes are.
  3. To test for doneness, poke a potato with a fork. If the fork penetrates easily, they’re done. When the potatoes are tender, remove the pot from the oven crush each potato, 4 – 5 at a time, with a potato masher. Only a strong crush would suffice. If you pound around more, you’ll end up with mashed potatoes, which we don’t want. Toss with the garlic and remaining butter. Add more salt to taste. Sprinkle chives on the potatoes to serve.

Dessert: Chocolate Marsala cake (adapted from “How To Be A Domestic Goddess” by Nigella Lawson)

This is a very chocolaty, luxurious tasting cake, as you have to use dark chocolate of at least 70% cocoa. In fact, for baking, never settle for less cocoa in your chocolate unless you are using white chocolate. As they say, good dark chocolate can be healthy and make people happy :) As they did to my friends. You need a springform pan to make this (8″ pan), as the cake would break if you try to remove it from a normal pan. And I was in a fancy mood, so I decorated my cake with pretty silver sugar pearls. Feel free to decorate your chocolate canvas as you like, as long as it doesn’t make it lose its own classy look. This recipe was taken from Nigella Lawson’s “How To Be A Domestic Goddess” book, which is still a go-to book when I want to make fancy desserts that are not too fancy for my kitchen:

INGREDIENTS (serves 8 to 10):

(For the cake)

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 113g or 4 ounces dark chocolate (60% – 70% cocoa), broken up
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/3 cup self-rising flour, sifted 3 times with a fine sieve (sifting adds air into the flour and hence increasing its volume, helping the cake to rise better)
  • 3 tablespoons Italian Marsala Wine

(For the icing)

  • 113g or 4 ounces dark chocolate
  • 1 tablespoon Marsala wine
  • 1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream (35 – 45% milk fat) – I actually used less as I’m not a cream-person, and it’s very fatty. So my icing was thinner at the expense.

METHOD:

1. Preheat oven to 180 deg C or 350 deg F. Melt butter & chocolate together in a bowl put on a pot of simmering water (my favorite way to melt chocolate, very oldschool), or simply in a microwave for 2 minutes on low – medium heat. Set aside to cool slightly. Beat the eggs and sugar together until thick, pale yellow, and doubled or even tripled in volume. Now this is the hard part: gently fold in the sifted flour into the egg mixture, using a spatula. You have to fold in bit by bit to avoid forming lumps, and you have to avoid stirring too much to not lose all the air in the egg mixture. Once done, fold in the butter and chocolate very carefully into the cake mixture as well. Always bit by bit, scooping gently from bottom and folding it on top in the middle, until the batter is full combined with the chocolate (this uncooked cake mixture is yummy as well, so I had no problem licking them off my fingers). Pour into the pan and bake in the oven for 35 minutes. Once its done, the top should be firm, but the cake should be dense and still somewhat damp underneath.

2. Cool the cake on the rack for 5 minutes, then drizzle over the Marsala wine evenly. You can do so by drizzling 1 teaspoon at a time. Leave the cake to cool completely before releasing it from its pan.

3. Now to the icing: melt the chocolate, Marsala, and cream in a bowl over gentle simmering water. Take it off the heat, and whisk until it is smooth, thick, but not solid. Spread this evenly on the top of the cake with a spatula, and let it ooze down the cake for cool glossy effect (This effect was lost after a few hours later as the icing was all set and dried up somewhat, so next time, I will spread the icing only before serving for best presentation). You can serve it with just a bit of icing sugar dusted on top for the final touch to impress:

So that wrapped up a great Dinner, with gleeful friends and awesome wine. Oh yes, not to forget, we had 2 good bottles of Chardonnay (chilled) from Australia and New Zealand, which had a great sweet and fruity taste to pair with roast chicken and dessert. We were so busy eating the whole time that we never took a proper group picture of ourselves. But what does it matter when all you need to remember is the joy and the food :) Wine is very important in contributing to the total flavor of the meal, so if you are hosting a dinner, spend some time to research for the best wine to pair with your dishes and tell your friends so they bring the right wine. Perfect way to contribute.

It was a fun night. However, it was not so easy to prepare as there was so much to be done within one day: bake bread in the morning (with dough made from the night before), then groceries, baking cake in the afternoon, and cooking until 8pm. It’s a full-weekend job if you want to cook for friends, but the pay-off is so worth it. I won’t be hosting a dinner party of this scale again anytime soon, but I will continue to make something fancy every weekend :) That’s what weekends are for.

 

5 Responses to “Awesome Dinner Party: Homemade Baguette & Bruschetta, Roasted Chicken with Apples & Leeks, Smashed New Potatoes with Garlic & Chives, Chocolate Marsala Cake”

  1. Usman Sheikh says:

    Hey Chi Anh,

    Now I am really bummed out that I couldn’t make it!

    I am here for another 3-4 weeks weeks :)…so let me know if there is any possibility of a rerun!

    Usman

  2. Marie says:

    Wow you’ve out done yourself once again! A full three-course meal for 8 people! You better be careful or you might have a career with food! :)

    • Chi Anh says:

      Haha thanks Marie. You’re always so encouraging :D Yeah, maybe some investors might be interested in my food venture one day *HINT at Usman*

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