Remember my post about Successful Entertaining? Well, I recently had the opportunity to practice what I preached. We were scheduled to host our Gourmet Supper Club (we call it that, but actually we are just four couples who enjoy food and cooking) this past Sunday night. At our last event, on New Year's Day when L and T prepared an incredible New Orleans Brunch, T said he wanted me to prepare quail when it was our turn. That started me thinking and planning---how to prepare the quail. Grilled quail, baked quail, stuffed quail, creamed quail, quail and grits, quail with wine, or what?
The truth is, there is no better way to prepare quail than to fry them. So, I thought well, we'll just lower the formality level a little and have the event at the farm. This group has not been to our farm, so it would be a good opportunity for a different experience for them. I planned for us to meet about 4:00--to give us plenty of daylight--and to eat in our barn. I had it all planned in my mind. I even decided to print menu cards for the occasion and to move one of the "old family rugs" out to the barn to serve as an anchor for the table and to add a little color to the concrete floor. The best laid plans, right?
Well, I could not control the weather, and by the end of the week it looked bleak. On Thursday, I called and changed the venue to our home. Here's how this party stacked up against those seven rules I wrote about from Southern Accents:
Camouflage your flaws. I had to do that; it was too late to enlist my housekeeper's help in special cleaning. Tom and I hit the high spots on Saturday, and I spent time making the sure the dining room had some wow. Here's how the table looked:
Do not be afraid to fake it. My menu was as follows: Buttermilk Fried South Georgia Quail; Yellow Squash Casserole; Grape Tomatoes and Bleu Cheese in Romaine Nests; South Alabama Truffles; Cathead Biscuits and Henry County Gravy; Chocolate Mint Trifle Shooters; House Wines. I knew the quail would have to star in the menu, so I looked for ways to ease the workload. There are wonderful frozen biscuits at the market; check. Gravy, no problem. Squash --can make ahead; Salad, easy. That left the quail, the Truffles, and the Shooters that would require the most effort. Remember, I wrote about the truffles--grits wrapped around crabmeat and deep fried. While I looked for shortcuts, I also needed a little wow in the menu and I knew the Truffles and the Shooters would provide that. The shooters were simply my version of chocolate trifle (starting with brownie mix) served in my colored shot glasses. This was a heavy meal, and I knew we needed just a taste of dessert. The wine we offered with dinner was Cantina Zaccagnini, a montepulciano d'abruzzo, that I had read about in the Wall Street Journal (Weekend Edition). We like it; it's just a good red house wine. One member of our group is quite the wine connoisseur (his wine cellar is bigger than our house), so I never try to bluff my way around wines. We don't know much, but he is gracious about our oenophilic (how about that for a new word?) ignorance.
Be a mix master. You may not see it readily in the photo, but I used three different patterns of stemware and three patterns of demitasse spoons for dessert.
Know when (not) to fold them. You can see in the photo that I used my good old animal print napkins--in the traditional fold. They are so soft and absorbent from many washings, and I knew that the fried quail would be messy. They were just the ticket.
See how low or high you can go. You can easily see in the photo that I used the tall silver vase, this time with pheasant feathers in it. This was another way I saved time. The vase and feathers were in a different setting in the house, and I just moved them to the table. I'm not even sure the vase was freshly polished---do you think anyone noticed?
Break up the couples. Yes, I used place cards so no couples were seated together. They thought my place card holders were great--wine corks with a dime glued to the bottom for weight and stability and a cut about one fourth inch deep across the top to hold the card.
Some rules are made not to be broken. You can see that I maintained the traditional place setting.
A lot of work? You bet, even with the shortcuts. But this group is appreciative. They notice the little details; they want a description of the food and the wines, and they are gracious in their compliments. I love to cook under those circumstances.
Another thought. You know this is all about timing, and this is the time in my life when I can get the creative juices flowing about cooking and entertaining. I have the time, and I enjoy the preparations. When our children were young and at home it was hard to get beyond chicken nuggets and mac and cheese--and add that Andrew didn't want two foods mixed together or to touch on his plate. I remember thinking that we might never have a nice meal again. The key is to do the best with whatever stage you are in and to share meals and your home with friends.