Sunday, October 3, 2010

PFB #3: Luxury Dinner Party or Ode to My Backyard

"One and a half hours 'til go time!" I yelled as calmly as I could while carrying groceries into the kitchen. "Ryan, can you chop the wood? Josephine, you pick tomatoes."

I continued barking a list of to-do's, pre-heated the oven, and lit every burner.
Last minute work deadlines, a crowded grocery store, school pick-ups, and a shower that still needed to be taken weighed on my timeline. Still, I was looking forward to my guests' arrival, getting out of the kitchen, and celebrating my advancement into Project Food Blog's round 3, "Luxury Dinner Party." (Click to Vote)

I had previously sent out "Wish you were here" style postcards announcing the up-coming "Ode to My Backyard - A multi-course taste-bud-tour through the Willamette Valley. Come hungry!" After all, nothing says luxury and sets up guests for salivating like a snail-mail teaser.

What better setting for a luxury dinner party than my backyard where fresh air and fresh food collide?

Before moving to Oregon from North Dakota, "luxury" and "lawn" are two words that were never uttered in the same sentence . . . unless of course an entomologist says, "Mosquitoes and ticks who wish to live in luxury migrate to a lawn as their habitat of choice." Translated - "Don't step foot on your grass unless you want to be bug food!"

I loved being outdoors even then!

You can imagine how my love affair with fresh air blossomed after moving to Oregon and finding that grass doesn't have to be filled with parasites.

After hassling my in-laws in last week's post, it seemed only right to invite them to this celebration of our new home state. Being recent transplants from Minnesota, my husband's family is still in an environmental honeymoon phase with the Willamette Valley and were thrilled to come share the evening.
Addition benefit of backyard entertaining . . .
1. Using my kitchen/dining room as a staging area so I can stack plates, warm food, let garnishes sit out, work last minute prep, and let counters get just as messy as I want. It's a major stress reducer when my guests aren't witness to my behind the scenes madness.
2. Unpacking the people. My house is small and crowded isn't comfortable.
3. Lighting creatively. Twinkle lights, candles, and stars. With the right lighting, even mac and cheese can be luxurious!
6. Enjoying a soundtrack of frogs and crickets.

I created the menu around local produce and foods that my friends, family, and/or I cultivated.

The Ingredients
1. My husband's Garage Beer Lager and Garage Beer Stout
2. Uncle Jack's home-grown beef
3. Jen's Willamette Valley Fruit Co. marionberries and raw honey
4. Linzi's Silver Falls Creamery goat cheese
5. My garden zucchini, tomatoes, and spinach

With so many ingredients, there had to be 5 courses. With each course, there must be local beer!

That means we needed plenty of time to savor and digest. No one wants to sit at a table for 4 hours, so I created stations - three different rooms in my yard.

Station 1 - An umbrella-ed table welcomed guests with appetizers as they came into the backyard. With Lager Fondue, sweet tomatoes, and Chevre Crostini the conversation got off to a great start. The candles lit up the brown bottles of beer and jeweled jars of Minted Honey Marionberry Compote, which the guests would take home at the end of the evening.

Station 2 - At the table on the patio, each place had an outline of the state, reinforcing the theme of our dinner. As my husband poured the heffewizen, the guests each found their place and I tossed the spinach. The lemony pears echoed the lemon in the beer. The squash blossoms in the centerpiece hinted at what the second course would bring - a smooth zucchini soup that satisfied both gluten intolerant and tolerant alike. A round of trivia saw us through to the last sip of heff as the deep dark of night set in. The beer grew dark as well with Porter Braised Beef over Creamy Polenta.

This is a special toast to all of you who voted for me in Round 2. Cheers!
Four courses down. One more to go. Since my mother-in-law is from the polite state of Minnesota, she was culturally bound to do a few dishes. Helpful! This gave us time to walk around, light a fire, and grow hungry for dessert as we finished our porter.

Station 3 - The flames were intoxicating, or was it the Stout Brownies?

Either way, we lingered by the warm fire under a blanket of stars, sipping stout and coffee until our eyelids drooped.

Then we talked and laughed some more.


2 Garlic Cloves, grated or finely chopped
1 1/2 cups lager beer
8 oz grated fontina cheese
6 oz grated sharp cheddar cheese
2 tsp cornstarch
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
Kosher salt and pepper
Tomatoes and bread to dip

1. Place garlic and beer in fondue pot and bring to a gentle boil. Lower heat to a simmer. Add cheese and stir until it melts, being careful not to let mixture boil.
2. In a separate cup, dissolve cornstarch in little water and pour into pot. Bring to boil stirring continuously until sauce is smooth and thick. Add salt to taste and cayenne pepper. Serve with tomatoes and bread or oven fries.

10 thin slices of French Baguette
4 oz goat cheese
2 small roma tomatoes, sliced
Kosher salt and cracked black pepper

Toast bread in oven under the broiler for about 2 minutes checking frequently to keep from burning. When toasty, remove and spread generously with goat cheese. Top each with a slice of tomato. Finish with a sprinkle of Kosher salt and cracked pepper.

4  handfuls baby spinach
1 large pear
1 lemon
2 tbsp chopped hazelnuts, toasted
2 tbsp bleu cheese crumbles
2 tbsp Balsamic Vinaigrette

1. In a large bowl, toss spinach and vinaigrette. Meanwhile, thinly slice a cored pear and squeeze 1/2 lemon over slices. Squeeze remaining half over spinach.
2. Place a small handful of spinach on each plate. Top each serving with pear slices, hazelnuts, bleu cheese crumbles, and pepper. Serve.

ZUCCHINI SOUP (gluten free)
4 medium/large zucchini (amount is flexible)
1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 quart chicken stock (amount is flexible)
3 tbsp oil
1/8 tsp red pepper flakes
Kosher salt

1. Combine oil, onion, and garlic in medium/large pot and saute until vegetables are soft.
2. Meanwhile, peel half of the zucchini. Cube all squash and add to pot along with red pepper flakes and generous pinch of salt. Saute until soft. Add enough stock to cover vegetable, bring to boil, then reduce to a simmer for about 10 minutes.
3. Once vegetable are super soft, puree soup with an immersion blender or in batches with a traditional blender, adding more stock or water as needed to achieve desired consistency. Bring back up to heat and serve when ready.

Rich porter and a slow braise elevate humble stew beef is in this easy inexpensive dish. You may use tri-tip or sirloin but if you want to be kind to your bottom line, stew beef is the way to go!

3 lbs cubed stew beef
1 bottle porter
2 tbsp oil
Kosher salt and pepper to taste
Creamy Polenta
1/4 cup parmesan, grated
1 tbsp flat leaf parsley, chopped

Heat oil in a deep pan and add beef. Once beef is seared on all sides (about 5 minutes) add beer, bring to boil, then reduce heat to simmer. Cover and let cook for about 1 hour. When ready to serve, spoon over Creamy Polenta and finish with parmesan and flat leaf parsley.

CREAMY POLENTA (gluten free)
3 cups milk
1 1/2 cups cornmeal
Kosher salt

Place milk and cornmeal in a medium saucepan. Heat over medium/high stirring continuously. When cornmeal begins to thicken, reduce heat, adding water if needed to keep loose. Once polenta has thickened, stir in a bit more water, cover and keep over low heat. When ready to serve, simply add a bit more water to loosen if necessary and season with salt to taste.

(adapted from Tosca Reno's Eat Clean Cookbook)
2 cups hazelnuts
1 tbsp espresso powder
3/4 cup granulated sugar
4 large egg whites
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp orange zest

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Place racks in center of oven.
2. Place nuts in food processor and process until fine. Mix processed nuts into sugar, salt, and espresso powder in a large bowl.
3. Add orange zest and vanilla to nut mixture and mix.
4. In another bowl, beat egg whites until stiff.
5. Fold nuts and egg whites together and spoon batter onto lightly greased or parchment lined baking sheets.
6. Bake for 20 - 25 minutes.

1 bottle stout beer
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup semi-sweet mini chocolate chips
3/4 cup canola oil
2 large eggs
1 tbsp espresso powder
2 tsp vanilla
1 1/3 cup flour
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking powder
pinch salt

1. In a small sauce pan, bring beer to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until beer is reduced to about 3 tbsp. Set aside to cool.
2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a muffin tin.
3. Combine sugar, chocolate chips, oil, water,eggs, vanilla, and espresso powder in large bowl. On top of sugar mixture, add flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt. Gentle mix baking powder into flour and cocoa then stir into wet ingredients. Spoon into greased muffin tin and bake 20 minutes or until the center looks set.

3 cups frozen marionberries, thawed
¼ cup raw honey
3 - 4 large mint leaves, torn
1 tsp lemon zest
¼ tsp vanilla extract

1. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, muddle mint in honey, bringing just under a boil. Add vanilla. Reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes.
2. Remove from heat and let sit another 5 minutes. Strain honey while still warm over fresh or thawed frozen berries and lemon zest. If honey becomes too thick, re-heat until it is thin enough to strain. Gently fold honey and berries together.


  1. Lindsey - yum!!! You really outdid yourself here! And of course, with the homemade beer and the fondue, you've won my heart. :) Looks like the dinner was a success and that everything tasted fantastic. Great post. (VOTE!)

  2. The lager fondue sounds marvelous, and it looked like a nice time! I'll be voting for you, AGAIN! Good luck!

  3. So hungry all of the sudden, and am jealous of your feast! It looks amazing!!!

  4. Funny, my husband and I were talking about fondue just a few hours ago, and here I read about your yummy-sounding fondue! I just might have to try out your recipe!

  5. I love the incorporation of all the home brew in each course....brings back memories of a very HOT Australian summer, and a batch of over-active homebrew in the garage. The bottles kept exploding, and help had to be sent in the way of an unwilling male with a teatowel wrapped around each forearm, oven mitts, a welding mask, and a cricket box covering the crown jewels. He looked like a badly dressed bomb disposal expert.......
    Your party looks like great fun, with great food. Well done!

  6. We baracade our beer cause we've heard too many explosion stories like your Fiona! Hilarious! Thanks for all the comments folks! Makes me feel bad I didn't invite all of you to dinner!

  7. YAY! That was so much fun to read, I can only imagine being there in person. Good luck!

  8. I love that the weather was still nice enough for an outdoor backyard party! Good luck and I hope we can both advance to the next round of #PFB2010!

  9. Oh i wish my backyard was large enough to have a fire pit! Great idea on having the various stations, and i love how local your produce was. Great job and good luck.

  10. Very well done! You did a great job at planning the menu and it all sounds wonderful, lucky guests! You reminded me how much I love fondue and we haven't had it forever....

  11. this looks like a great time - and the food looks delicious! great job - you've got my vote!

  12. I didn't realize you were in Oregon - that's my home state! I love that you did beer pairings, and that you celebrated the local bounty. We're supposed to vote on the parties we'd like to be invited to, and you've definitely got mine!

  13. too fun! not only were you working hard on an amazing dinner but those ripped guns as well! Get it!


  14. Wonderful! From one "home brew widow" to another, you certainly have my vote.

  15. Your menu sounds awesome. Good job!

    Sounding My Barbaric Gulp!

  16. Great way to celebrate where you are. Voted!

  17. Beer is an excellent addition to this feast...but what about a good Oregon Pinot?? :)

  18. What a fun party! I've never been a big fan of beer, but probably because I've never tried some of the ones you're using. Fabulous post! You've got my vote!

  19. Lisa - Love that Oregon Pinot but garage beer is cheaper!

  20. looks like an awesome evening! i just found your blog via project food blog, and i think we have a lot in common - i was raised in north dakota, went to high school in south dakota, and now live in oregon! and my boyfriend and i dabble in homebrewing. fun to see a blogger from my area!

  21. What a fun night you put together! Your menu looks amazing as well. Good luck in the competition!

  22. fun evening. Home made beer: wow!

  23. p.s. I voted for you!

    (See my entry here:

  24. Beautiful party and great dishes. Best wishes!

  25. A big vote for you! Love that you used so many local foods... that is the BEST way to go! And your husbands beer... super cool- Megan @

  26. Hurray for beer with every course, that's definitely worth voting for in my book!

  27. Looks like you threw a great dinner party! Hope we both make it to the next round! :-) You have my vote!

  28. Everything looks great, nice job!

  29. Homemade beer! That's so awesome! My husband's been talking about brewing his own beer but until he actually does it, I have to live vicariously through you. Good luck in PFB!

  30. We got one of our ingredients from the backyard, but this is some serious effort! Wow, I'll bet this was a lot of fun! Voted!

    (Our entry is here: )

  31. Fun party. Love the fondue and beef and the lager pairings -- you got my vote for local fresh and delicious food. Lighthearted Locavore (Lexi)!

  32. Looks so tasty and fun! Good luck in round 3!

  33. I love your spotlight on all things local - especially the beer! Garage beer sounds fantastic! Voting for you right now.

  34. Enjoyed your post once again - all the food looks great! You have my vote. :-) Good luck!

  35. Now this is my kind of dinner party! Lovely meal, lovely guests!!! I could go for a stout brownie right now! Voted!!

  36. An all-beer menu is awesome, an all-beer menu including homemade brews is... significantly more awesome. Good luck this week, voting for you!

    Lick My Spoon