Apple & beet salad with a Disney twist! Let me apologize now. Some of you are surely here for a kid-friendly beet recipe. You can try to get your kids to eat it – I certainly won’t stop you – but it was actually created for an adult dinner party. I’ve been discussing how to host a fancy dinner party over the last couple of weeks (part 1 and part 2 if you’re interested), and I had this lovely plan to culminate it with a discussion of my Disney-themed party. However, my party got rescheduled, because I am nothing if not frenzied, so for now I’ll just drop this little tidbit in here.
I found this really beautiful apple and beet salad on Food and Wine when I was searching for salad ideas for the party. It was an instant obsession. Everyone knows who the evil queen is, right? She wanted poor, beautiful Snow White to eat her poisoned apple. She also had a thing for ripping people’s hearts out, which is a little bit on the evil side, but to each their own I guess. Anyway, I looked at this salad and saw the beets, which look a little like hearts, had dyed all the apples red. They looked a little… poisoned. So that was it. I knew I had to serve apple & beet salad at my party. Unfortunately, my husband hates beets and he’s my tester, so I revised the whole recipe to make it less beet-heavy. Here’s what I came up with.
Recipe for Apple & Beet Salad
Serves 2-4, 15 minutes active, 75 minutes cook time
2 green apples
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp olive oil
salt & pepper to taste
1/4 cup goat cheese
Cut the greens off the beets, leaving about 2 inches on the bulb. Save the greens for later. Next, put the beets in an aluminum foil-lined pan and roast at 450° for 45 minutes – 1 hour.
When the beet is ready, pull it out and let it cool. While it cools, cut the apples into slices and take the ends off the greens.
Peel roasted beet. The skin should come off easily with your hands or a towel.*
Chop beet into small pieces, about 1/2 inch. Try to retain as much of the juice as you can.
In a medium bowl, mix the beet pieces with apples. The apples should start turning pinkish-red.
In a separate bowl, toss the beet greens with apple cider vinegar, olive oil, salt, and pepper.
Put greens on plate, followed by apples and small beet chunks.
Add walnuts and goat cheese. Then you’re ready to serve!
*If you are not a regular beet chef, here’s a great tutorial on roasting beets. It’s how I learned. Also, if you didn’t gather from the pictures that beets turn everything red, beware – they turn everything red. You might want to wear gloves. I don’t personally, but I do wind up washing my hands a LOT, so it’s something to consider. The less you like beets, the smaller the beet pieces should be. I enjoy them, but the hubby doesn’t, so I make them small enough to be mixed in with an apple bite. You can toast the walnuts up if you want to. Just put them in a pan on your stove. Nice and simple. In fact, all of this is simple! But it looks pretty nice, so I think having an apple & beet salad at my dinner party will work out just fine. Enjoy!
Fancy dinner party timing can be a real hassle. Last week I talked about the basics of hosting your party, but if you want it to be successful and not pull your hair out, you will need to be a timing pro. You’ll want to write things down. I mean with a pen and paper. Do you remember those? You probably have some in a drawer somewhere. You may glance at them every once in awhile and think of throwing them out, but you never do. And now, vindication! You can use them! I know you’re wondering why someone who frequently talks about her automated to-do list suggests paper, but think about this. You’re going to be cooking all day. Your hands are going to be gross. Do you really want to constantly check your iPad or Galaxy or whatever gizmo you have?
That’s not to say you won’t need your gizmo – you probably will, unless you are a recipe printer. I’m not. But it’s just easier to have a piece of paper stuck on the fridge or taped somewhere when you only need to do a quick glance. Memorize it if you prefer, but you risk a really long gap between meals, or something burning, if you don’t. So, there’s that little tidbit of advice. Now let’s talk about the good stuff. I do have a Disney-themed fancy dinner party coming up, but I’m going to use last year’s French menu as an example for now. Feel free to steal it.
How to Plan your Fancy Dinner Party Timing
1. Pick when the guests will arrive.
Oh hey! Guests! When should they show up? You might think this should be the least of your concerns, but unless your friends love last minute invitations, you’re going to want to give them a heads up at least two weeks in advance. If you have an event with a dress code, make sure you give them time to prepare. They might also want to get a baby-sitter. I have no problem hosting kids at my dinner parties (they eat pizza), but I can’t watch them, not even my own. I also serve a lot of wine. My friends know this, so they don’t always want to drag the kids along. Maybe you don’t want kids there at all so you ban them. Whatever, it’s your party.
The reason this makes a difference in your timing is that once you send out those invitations, your start time is set. Now you know exactly how much time you have to get things done. Personally, I like to invite my guests to show up at 6:30 P.M. Most of them will be there by 6:45, and all of them will be there by 7:00, even the perpetually late ones. I will have the appetizers ready by 6:30, 6:35 tops. I will also be dressed, the table will be set, and the kitchen will be as cleaned up as it can be (the rest of the house will be clean, but I won’t do that – the hubby will). Anything else may or may not be prepared, but at least I have a goal time.
2. Write out your menu with active time & cooking time separated.
This is probably the most important step if you want to get your courses out at different intervals. Actually, if it’s your first time, you might need this step just to get everything completed before the guests show up. You may think you’re a great prepper, but you will find out otherwise if you’re trying to put together an entire salad while your guests are waiting on you. They may not notice – serve enough wine, they probably won’t notice – but you don’t want to be serving the last course at 11:00 at night. So, as soon as your menu is set, go ahead and write out this part.
You may remember last week I said to practice practice practice. I hope you did! Sometimes when you use a recipe the timing will be completely off. Whoever wrote it may be able to make their cheesecake in ten minutes, but I sure can’t! The ones I find are the worst are vegetable-heavy recipes. These cookbook writers are obviously much faster choppers and dicers than the rest of us, so they can’t be trusted with times. When you practice, try to remember how long it takes you. You can copy times over from the recipe, but you can also tweak them once you’ve seen you in action.
3. Decide what to do in advance.
Now that you have a nice schedule of how long everything is going to take you, you can decide if you want to try it all at once or prepare in advance. My fancy dinner party timing is designed to take place over two days. Am I cooking the entire two days? No. But it gives me a break in between things, and who doesn’t want that? If possible, I like doing desserts entirely the day before. Once I picked churros, which have to be fried, and that was the worst decision I ever made at a dinner party. I was so tired of cooking by then, I gave up trying to make them look beautiful and just served blobs of fried dough. I did creme brulee last year, and it did have to be broiled at the last minute, but that was totally doable.
One other thing I really like to do to keep my fancy dinner party timing in check is early morning vegetable chopping. That goes for all recipes. I’ll put them in baggies or bowls or something to keep them separated. For the most part veggies stay fresh looking after you cut them, so it’s one less headache later in the day. Soups are usually good in the slow cooker, so that’s another thing to think about doing early in the day. I rarely do the main dish or the side dish ahead, besides seasoning. Obviously this will all depend on what you’re cooking; a roast will go in the oven a lot earlier than something would go on the grill.
4. Set the table and get ready at the last minute.
Get ready at the last minute, you say? Are you crazy? I’m asking everyone else to dress up and I will barely have any time to look my best? Yep, sorry. Pro tip: You’re the one cooking. That means spills, flours, oil, sauces all over the place. Prolong the mess as long as you can. You can invest in an apron if you want, but taking it on and off every five minutes while you switch courses is going to get annoying. Also, this must be said – keep your hair back. No one wants a hair in their food. If you’re wearing an up-do, you can do that once you’re up for the day and it will stay. Probably. I don’t know your hairstyling skills. Mine are generally terrible, but I can still keep my hair in a bun.
Having perfect fancy dinner party timing isn’t really going to be affected by setting your table, but I would suggest doing it last, doing it first, or having someone else do it. I can’t do it first at my house because we’re a madhouse and something will mess it up, so I stick to last minute. If you’ve never read anything by me before, you might not know this, but I hate decorating. So my centerpieces will usually be something simple and a couple of bread baskets. Super easy. Waiting til the last minute doesn’t hurt me at all, although it might change how fancy my napkin folding gets. Yes, I use real napkins. I bought them for my wedding, so I might as well use them.
5. Keep your clock out while you eat.
You spent all this time scheduling it, now you have to keep your fancy dinner party timing perfect by watching the clock. Does that suck a little bit while you’re hosting all your friends? Yes, kind of. But someone always volunteers to help, so it could actually mean one-on-one time with people. Fun! You can have Siri or Alexa or whoever time things for you, but I feel like that would ruin the ambiance. Now, how long should you have between courses? I guess that’s up to you and how fast you eat, but I like about fifteen minutes between the end of one course and the start of another. I swear, it doesn’t make the meal last forever.
Let’s see how this works. I have people showing up at 6:30. My appetizers have to be ready to go. They have half an hour to eat them. Then at 7:00 I serve an amuse-bouche. No need for a fifteen minute break here; I tell them my rules (you have to try, no offense taken if you don’t like it), then move on. So, we’re serving salad around 7:05. We have a lot to eat so courses are small. Assume everyone’s done in five minutes. That means soup needs to be ready at 7:25, a main course at 7:45, and dessert at 8:05. Everything’s done by 8:10 if I’ve planning my fancy dinner party timing correctly. That’s a great time to play a game or something, plus you only had to sit at the table for a little over an hour. Wah-lah! Dinner has been served.
I planned on keeping this fancy dinner party series on a week-by-week basis, but unfortunately I had to reschedule my Disney-themed dinner. How’s that for some crappy fancy dinner party timing, huh? This is probably not a huge deal to anyone, but I wanted to let you know in case you were eagerly waiting to steal my Little Mermaid soup or whatever I’m serving (hint: it’s not that). Don’t worry, it will be here sometime in May. Until then, I’ll have more frenzied ideas on the way!
I have a confession. I love hosting a fancy dinner party. It makes no sense for a busy gal like myself. I cook for days, I barely sit down even during dinner, and cleanup is awful. Yet I love it anyway. My cooking skills are on display for everyone to see and praise, plus I get to personally judge my organization and time management. Why is that fun? I don’t know. When you’re a self-employed person, I guess you start coming up with weird ways to assess yourself. I also serve a LOT of booze, so it’s like my guests are all reliving college, but in a fancier way.
My annual fancy dinner party is coming up soon, so I thought I’d write a little series about it as I get prepared. I’ve been doing this since 2010, and shockingly they’ve all gone quite well. My cuisine has gotten better, and my timing last year was about perfect, so I think it’s a great time to share my secrets. Do you need to know how to cook to host a fancy dinner party? Yes. Don’t kid yourself on this one. Your only other option is to have someone else cook it, whether family, friend, or caterer, but then they might as well host it themselves, right? Luckily, if you follow my schedule, you’ll have plenty of time to learn.
Secret #1 – A fancy dinner party is not a weekly event.
I said my fancy dinner party is annual, and I’m not kidding. You guys, it is so much work. I’m a bookkeeper and I work with CPA’s who try to smother me in paperwork every March and April. That’s why I celebrate the end of tax season with something nice. My husband and I invite over 6-8 of our friends, tell them to dress up, and then serve them dinner. But, I don’t have time to do all the cooking and prep work every week, and he would probably balk at the cleaning if I tried. I’m not saying you can’t do it more than once a year, but if you’re serious about providing good food that you yourself cooked, you’re going to want a break in between.
Also, this may not be a secret, but fancy dinner parties are expensive to throw. I coupon from time to time, but we do alright for ourselves and I prefer not to spend my precious time driving from store to store looking for the best deal. What kind of ingredients do fancy foods have? The pricey kind. By only throwing one or two a year, you save yourself the hassle of trying to cut costs for every course. There’s also cleanup to think about. I try to be a green hostess when I can, but my husband and I agree we will not be using dishes we have to put through the dishwasher. Think about it. Five courses for ten people is fifty plates. Kill me now! But we’re being fancy, so we have to get the high quality disposable plates to make sure it looks nice.
Secret #2 – Practice, practice, practice.
The other important part of hosting your fancy dinner parties sparingly is the time you have to practice your courses. I legitimately give myself a year to find the recipes I want and perfect them. Actually, I keep a list of potential menus in my to-do list, so I could potentially be practicing courses for years before I wind up using some of those recipes. Sure, you could cook the four dishes you always cook and call it “fancy,” but people aren’t going to dress up for that. You should be serving elegant dishes you wouldn’t serve all the time, and that requires more than day-of practicing.
You might also want to start practicing your plating skills. Have you ever been to a fine dining establishment? The food doesn’t look the same way it does when you go to Chili’s or Outback. Plating food is not a natural skill, and I’m still not all that great at it. But, I get better every year. That’s because of practice! You don’t have to make anything fancy to practice plating. If you’re making a full meal one day, why not dress up the plate a little? By the time you get to hosting your party, you’ll have an idea of what you’re doing.
Secret #3 – Do not invite picky eaters.
Don’t invite the whole world, don’t invite people who couldn’t hold a conversation over their meal, and definitely, one hundred percent, don’t invite picky eaters. You are going to be so irritated if you spend a year working towards this beautifully plated meal and then your guests won’t even try it. I actually have rules when I host. I serve an amuse-bouche while I tell the guests the rules so it comes out nicer, but they’re pretty simple. Unless you’re allergic to it, you need to try it. I don’t care if people like it. I really don’t. What are the chances that ten people would all like every dish you serve? Not good, probably. But, oh man, if you won’t even try it, why did you come?
When you’re making up your guest list, this will pop into your mind. Maybe you will feel guilty if you have one friend you really want to invite, but you know she’ll tell your other friend you don’t want there. Oh well. Be an adult, just tell the other friend you don’t want to do all that work for people who aren’t going to eat it. In the past, I’ve invited two out of three of my very close coworkers. I’ve invited one of my next door neighbors but not the other. If they get all bitter about it, you can make something up. Say you got to choose one friend and your spouse got to choose one friend and that’s all you can fit at your table. Whatever. Just don’t do all that work for people who won’t appreciate it.
Secret #4 – Put thought into your menu.
You can go willy-nilly if you want to. Serve a cucumber salad, borscht, fried chicken, and a flan. See how that goes. Hint: It won’t be the best. I had no theme at all for my very first dinner party, other than that I found all my recipes on Food and Wine, but I’ve gotten better since then. Last year it was French, the year before was spring. Spring was actually one of my most successful menus. Every course featured a beautiful fruit or vegetable. This year I’m doing… Wait for it… Disney! Yes, a Disney-themed fancy dinner party. Believe me, there was more thought put into this menu than any other one I’ve ever done. I’m going to write more on that specific meal in a later post, but I do think it will be great.
It’s not just a theme that matters though. You should decide ahead of time what kind of courses you want to put out. I do appetizers and a cocktail while people arrive and I finish up my prep. I serve an amuse-bouche to tell people the rules. Then I have a salad course, a soup course, a main course with a side, and dessert. Everything from salad on gets it’s own wine. That’s the one thing I have guests bring, by the way. I don’t want them cooking and ruining whatever theme I’ve got going, but they can bring the type of wine I tell them to. Anyway, you don’t have to follow my plan, but you should have your own. Don’t serve three soups and a cheese plate. Just don’t.
Coming up: Planning and Organizing
I said at the beginning this was going to be a series, and I meant it. You don’t want to sit here reading all day, do you? Maybe you’ve already started thinking about holding a fancy dinner party, and now you know what will make it successful. Next time we’re going to talk in detail about planning and organizing the party, because if it’s going to be successful, that needs to be a category all its own. Unless you have two ovens, it can get really tricky to get everything out on time, and that’s just one concern. Enjoy your week and I’ll be back soon!