A Dinner Party… and a House Fire

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Flourless, dark chocolate brownies with dulce de leche, sea salt, almonds and balsamic reduction.

Recently, the hubby, Greg invited some friends over for dinner. Greg completed medical school in 2010, at age of 32 and never looked back. He is in his fourth year of a surgical subspecialty residency in otolaryngology at a large, level-one trauma center in New Mexico. The medical establishment serves many underprivileged patients. Greg’s hospital work is both extremely challenging and intensely rewarding.

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Fresh ocean cakes with yogurt sauce.

Each year, on the same day in March, his five-year surgical program (and thousands of residency programs across the country) match one newly-minted physician from somewhere in the United States or abroad. This day is called “Match Day,” and it’s a time filled with great anticipation and excitement. I still remember Greg’s match day, back in 2010, when he finishing medical school at Case Western in Ohio.

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Soft chevré with ginger preserves; aged Manchego with quince paste (membrillo); caramelized walnuts, Turkish figs, apricots, cherries.

Over the years, we have had many new residents to our home for dinner, and this year was no exception. The new, 2014-2019 resident and her fiancé, along with her mother, came to dinner over the weekend. The couple lives in Vermont and were in New Mexico house hunting for a new abode to plant roots during residency.

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Acorn squash and red lentil soup garnished with julienned apple and tahini.

As you know, I love any excuse to cook and bake. There is nothing better than hosting a meal: great conversation, good food and drink and lots of fun. This time around, I cooked up a storm while Abba cleaned the entire house. What?! I am still in a happy, yet befuddled, state of amazement. Talk about a perfect day! Cooking without cleaning, followed by a food-filled visit with new friends.

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Persian saffron rice with crunchy Tah Dig.

As it turns out, the resident and her partner recently suffered a devastating loss. While looking for a home in New Mexico, their home in Vermont burned to the ground. During dinner, they explained that they had been travelling and had not yet returned to their home to see what once was. Imagine this: a month before you are to be married and two months before you move to start your first job as a physician, you lose all of your physical possessions. Unfathomable and heartbreaking. Fortunately, the couple was in New Mexico and not at home in Vermont when the horrible fire occurred. This dinner reminded me to be grateful for the security of my belongings, but even more importantly, the safety of my precious family and loved ones.

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Fresh ocean cakes with yogurt sauce.

Despite the sad news, the scrumptious supper party was fun and the food tasted super. We began with a cheese platter adorned with my favorite roasted, caramelized nuts. The appetizer was followed by a velvety acorn squash-red lentil soup, based on a previous Curls and Carrots recipe. The main course included fresh ocean cakes with yogurt sauce and a roasted vegetable platter (recipes below). Persian saffron rice with crunchy Tah Dig rounded out the meal. For the rice, I recommend my recipe or Kiyo’s recipe from the My Lilikoi Kitchen food blog.

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Assorted spring vegetables, including asparagus, tomatoes, onion and heirloom carrots, roasted to perfection and sprinkled with fresh parsley.

Hosting dinner parties has long been a my favorite activity. Even during college, I thought there was nothing more fun than planning and preparing a beautiful feast with friends. Over the past decade and a half, not much has changed… except for the introduction of kids to the party picture. Our kids are very young and are fast asleep by the time the adults eat. However, this time my four-year-old woke up just in time for dessert: my flourless chocolate brownies, adorned with dulce de leche, almonds, sea salt, balsamic-chocolate glaze and served with a scoop of creamy hazelnut gelato. Snu Magoo sat, politely, with the adults. She was dressed to the nines in her princess pajamas and used her best manners. After eating the chocolate treat, she promptly fell asleep at the table.

Her mother’s daughter.

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Flourless dark chocolate brownies with dulce de leche, sea salt, almonds and balsamic reduction.

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Fresh Ocean Cakes with Yogurt Sauce

Adapted from the August 2008 Gourmet Magazine recipe.
Makes eight small “appetizer-sized” cakes or four large cakes. Double this recipe for a crowd.

Ingredients for ocean cakes:

1 pounds fresh, assorted fish, such as wild salmon, tuna and halibut, cut into small, 1/2″ inch squares
2 standard slices artisan sandwich-style bread (I used a kalamata olive farm bread), pulsed into bread crumbs in food processor
1 large egg, beaten
1/4 cup plain, 2% Greek yogurt
1/2 tsp. each: coriander, fennel, cumin, turmeric
1/4 tsp. red chile/pepper flakes
2 Tablespoons each: fresh chives, dill, parsley, cilantro, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely minced
the zest of one lemon
dash of salt and pepper, to taste. Use more or less depending on the saltiness of your fish.
sunflower oil, for frying

Ingredients for yogurt sauce:

3/4 cup 2% Greek yogurt
1 Tablespoon lemon juice, or more, to taste
1 Tablespoon each: fresh chives, dill, parsley and cilantro, finely chopped
kosher salt and cracked pepper, to taste
extra virgin olive oil infused with garlic, for drizzling

Preparation:

  • Mix all of the ingredients, through the lemon zest, in a large bowl.
  • Use an ice-cream scoop to form into small patties, or form large patties with your hands.
  • Heat sunflower oil, a tablespoon at a time, in a large pan over medium-high heat. Fry the ocean cakes in batches, browning each side.
  • Place the cakes on a greased cookie sheet. Spray the tops of the cakes with cooking spray and season both sides with salt and pepper.
  • If you are preparing the cakes in advance for a party, you can stop at this point and refrigerate the cakes until your guests have arrived.
  • Preheat the oven to 375•F. Cook the cakes for about 10-15 minutes, until they are crisp on the outside and cooked/hot throughout. You can turn the cakes partway through the cooking process.
  • Meanwhile, mix the ingredients for the yogurt sauce, through the fresh herbs, in a small bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Drizzle the top of the yogurt with the garlic oil.
  • Serve the ocean cakes alongside the yogurt sauce.

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Roasted Spring Vegetables

Serves four to six as a side dish.

Ingredients:

1 bunch of asparagus, tough stems removed
1 pounds multi-colored, heirloom carrots, peeled and cut into sticks
1 small sweet potato, peeled and cut into sticks
1 small red onion, cut into eighths
1 small white onion, cut into eighths
3 large, on-the-vine tomatoes, cut into sixths
cooking spray
2 Tablespoons olive oil
kosher salt and cracked black pepper
2 Tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped

Preparation:

  • Preheat oven to 400•F.
  • Spray two large cookie sheets cooking spray.
  • Lay the vegetables evenly on the cookie sheets.
  • Spray the vegetables lightly with cooking spray.
  • Drizzle the olive oil evenly over the two trays of vegetables.
  • Season the vegetables evenly with salt and pepper.
  • Bake for about thirty minutes, turning halfway through, just until the vegetables are tender and light gold.
  • Arrange the vegetables on a platter and sprinkle with fresh parsley.
  • Serve, room temperature, as a side dish. Or, serve as a salad, drizzled with a French vinaigrette and sprinkled with roasted walnuts and soft goat cheese.

©Shanna Koenigsdorf Ward, shannaward.com (2013-2014), unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author, Shanna Koenigsdorf Ward, and/or owner is strictly and completely prohibited.

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63 thoughts on “A Dinner Party… and a House Fire

  1. This all looks so wonderful. What lucky guests you had. I too love any excuse to have a dinner party. Since having kids they have become less formal and more like having friends over who also have kids. Still great fun, especially for the munchkins. I am also grateful to have my family safe and sound. We had a fire back in 1986, the same day the space shuttle blew up. While we didn’t lose everything, my mom did lose her engagement ring. We all made it out, even the hamster. Talk about dinner parties…our neighbors didn’t know what to serve for a fire party so we all had cinnamon toast while the fire was being put out in the middle of the night!

  2. Shanna–I loved this post (well, not the part about the new resident’s house fire–how horrible!). I loved your ending with your daughter eating the brownies and falling asleep at the table. 🙂 I’m going to make your flourless brownies in just a bit for tonight. Have you ever tried the fish cakes with matzah meal for Passover?
    Best wishes for a joyous Pesach,
    Merril

    1. Thank you so much, Merril. 🙂 I bet your Pesach Seder will be awesome! I think these fish cakes would absolutely work with matzah meal. Just add the crumbs slowly, until the mixture is thick and well-binded. You may need an extra egg if your matzah meal is very dry. My best to your family for a wonderful holiday. -Shanna

      1. Thanks, Shanna. I forgot to say that I think it’s so wonderful that you have this tradition of the dinner party for the new residents. It reminds me of the dinner party a friend of mine has every year for the graduate students in her husband’s program at UMass. I’m sure they appreciate it so much!

  3. I dream of hosting dinner parties, but need to be lodger-free first! Yours looks delicious. The house fire thing happened to a friend of mine when he was a young lawyer, very similar set up, they were away and the first thing they knew was they got a phone call from the authorities. Luckily they did a big rebuild and it looks a fine house. But that scenario really does cause us to look again at what possessions mean to us.

    1. Wow, Denise, your friend’s story is so sad. It’s a good thing she/he was away, at least. I can’t imagine getting that phone call. Have a great day – and wishing you many dinner parties in the future. Best, Shanna

      1. I would love a partner who cleans the house as well! Or at least one of us cooks and the other cleans. Have a great day too!

  4. I really cannot imagine what your guests have gone through – so so sad. But what a fab dinner – looks like it was a great success. Such a lovely tradition too, matching the new residents. How lovely that Greg cleaned up while you got to cook up a storm – sounds like a success on many levels! x

  5. Wonderful food but terrible story about the house! Luckily there are these worldly meetings with friends that perhaps may soothen things a little.
    Those brownies seem fantastic, and being flourless they are perfect for us with gluten intolerance!

    1. Thank you for your visit, Tusca. Your blog is so international, fresh and fun. I adore it. All of the foods in this post are GF, with the exception of the fish cakes. However, you can use GF sandwich bread in place of the farm bread, if you like. The brownies are my favorite – I am having one now with some spicy tea.

      1. And I am so happy you like my blog! I have little time to actually read other blogs, but yours is in my “reader”, which means I like yours too 😉
        I like the fact that you cook so differently from me!!

  6. So sorry about the fire, but I was concerned it had happened to you when I saw your blog title. Glad you do not have to add that to your list of recent “challenges.” Love that you love hosting parties. Thinking you know I feel the same. If only we could throw one together! Maybe one day? Your food looks goooooooood.

    1. Liz, I think we should find a way to meet up one of these days and have the most fantastic, fun, bi-coastal dinner party in recent history. I love the food you cook! In the meantime, I can’t wait for this month’s blogging alphabet challenge. Have a fantastic week! xx Shanna

    1. Thanks, Michelle. I am a perfectionist on all counts, and I was very grateful for a little help with housekeeping. Here’s an irony: after five hours and lots of liquids, no one utilized either of the clean bathrooms (other than me!). 🙂 Have a fantastic week.

  7. Lovely dinner party! My boyfriend (Candice’s) is actually just finishing off his first year of MED school at the University of British Columbia! So nice of you to invite residents over for dinner from time to time! Sounds like me in the future!!

    1. Candice…Wow. A big congrats to you for supporting your boyfriend. It’s a long road, filled equally with challenges and rewards. We consider ourselves part of a broad, medical family. Practitioners really do serve in a unique and extremely giving way. You guys would always be welcome for dinner. Thanks for the visit and personal note. My best, Shanna

  8. Oh, I feel so bad for your guests, Shanna. It is quite a devastating loss, but as you said, it was good they were not there when it happened! And it is so nice of you and Abba to host new residents, especially these guests who, I’m sure, took much comfort in your generosity and warmth. Your dinner table looks beautiful, so full of things I would love to eat! The ocean cakes are a must for us, and soon! I started to cook more fish lately and this recipe would be great to add to our fish nights. I love to have friends over and enjoy contributing to dinner parties too. I was asked to bring something sweet for Passover Seder with friends this week. I thought to make your brownies, but she said specifically no chocolate. So now I have to think of something fast!

    1. Thanks for the visit, Ngan! I always appreciate your notes. As for your Passover Seder, here is a very easy recipe from an Israeli cookbook:
      Almond Cookies

      2 3/4 cups sliced almonds
      1 tsp vanilla extract
      1/2 cup white, granulated sugar
      2 egg whites (from two large or jumbo eggs)

      1. Pre-heat oven to 350 F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
      2. Whisk the egg whites until fluffy. Then mix in sugar, vanilla, and almonds.
      3. Using a spoon or melon-baller, transfer small tablespoons of “dough” to prepared sheet. Flatten with the back of your spoon.
      4. Bake for eight to ten minutes, or until the cookies are light gold and firm. Let cook for a few minutes on baking sheet, then remove. Store at room temperature for a few days or a refrigerator for one week.

      Also, Jackie Rothstein, a friend, developed this Passover recipe. It’s excellent:

      “Hazelnut Torte

      Bake 350 for 30-40 minutes
      Line two round glass 8″ pans with wax paper

      Mix together:
      9 egg yolks
      1 c sugar
      1 T instant espresso
      11 oz ground roasted hazelnuts (buy raw hazelnuts, roast them at 325 for about an hour, cool and then rub the nuts to get the skin off and then grind—all the skin will not come off)

      Beat:
      9 egg whites until very stiff. Fold the yolk mixture into the egg whites. Be careful not to stir too much.

      Divide into two pans and bake.

      Filling:
      Red raspberry preserves to taste

      Whip:
      1 pt whipping cream
      2 T instant espresso
      5 T powder sugar
      Beat until firm

      Spread raspberry preserves on each layer and whipped cream on top of the preserves. Put layers together and frost entire cake. Can garnish with leftover whole nuts if you have any or sprinkle with extra ground nuts.

      Lightly Pam the pans before pouring in the batter.

      Lots of raspberry preserves is the hidden secret. Also you can spread some preserves on the bottom of the cake plate so it doesn’t slip. I also slide some wax paper all around the bottom of the cake while I am frosting so it doesn’t mess up the dish.”

      Good luck, Ngan!

      1. Thanks so much for the recipes, Shanna! I am going to make those cookies ASAP! They sound perfect for our Seder. Someone always brings a flourless chocolate cake so these will be a nice light bite to accompany it.

  9. I was a bit worried when I read the title of your post and I said “What?” Although it’s about your guests, it still very sad.
    Wow! What a delicious and healthy array of foods! And the flour less chocolate brownies…mm.. absolutely divine, Shanna. I especially like the acorn squash and red lentil soup garnished with julienned apple and tahini. It looks so delicious. How nice of Greg to help out cleaned the entire house. It’s a dream come true, especially when you’re hosting a party. I feel terrible about the couple losing their homes. Definitely heartbreaking. I couldn’t imagine if the same thing happens to us. Oh my goodness! So nice of Greg to invite them over for dinner. You did great as the chef and prepared them a scrumptious dinner. Definitely thumbs up, Shanna. 🙂

  10. Manchego, soft chevré, Turkish figs…etc…etc…oh my gosh Shanna, that alone on a table does it for me. Then you brought out a fabulous soup. Your guests were most likely in awe. Now, it is my understanding Persian saffron rice is not that easy to make. Your’s looks perfect. What an incredibly impressive dinner. I’m not sure if I would want to go and see the devastation. You really treated them to a wonderful evening. I’m sure they were very happy to be at your table in your home.

  11. Sorry to hear of your friends’ loss. I cannot imagine what it must be like to lose everything in a fire like that. How good of you, Shanna, share your own home and this delicious fine meal with them. And it was a delicious meal! Everything looks so good, with such a wonderful combination of flavors. I’m sure your friends appreciated your kindness.

  12. OMG! That is what I call a proper array of blissfulnesses!!!
    So sad losing everything when you can’t do anything miles and miles away… But I’m sure they felt perfectly at home sitting at that table.
    You truly are the best host in the entire world (I had also woken up to that dessert! and slept after eating it 😉 ).
    Great post and great story but you already know that, don’t you?
    So glad to have you among my (blogging) friends 🙂

  13. Hi Shanna! I enjoyed so much reading your post… and now I’m hungry too, you made such a great work! Eh eh, me too I always find an excuse to cook something for friend and family…cooking for the other it’s just a way to take care of the people we love, I think.
    But poor guests, they passed trought quite a really bad experience… and Snu Magoo…what a cutie 🙂
    Have a great day!Cris

  14. It sounds like you made a fantastic dinner party, though I’m sorry to her about your friends fire. I am particularly scared of fire, and have a few “war stories” to tell (maybe in my blog!). Once when we lived in Brunei we lived nearby to a Chinese graveyard. Their traditions dictated they burn money (which would reach their loved ones who passed away). The problem is that they would often leave it burning and walk away. They would catch fire on dry weeds, and get bigger and bigger until sometimes we would have to call the fire brigade and our house nearly got burnt down once too…
    xx

    1. Hi, Sofia. I look forward to reading more about your experiences in Brunei on your blog. I doubt you would catch anyone burning money in the States! 😉 Must have been quite scary for you as a young girl! Thanks for sharing and leaving a kind note, amiga. Besos!

  15. This sounds like a marvelous dinner party! Everything sounds scrumptious, but I’m particularly interested in the Fresh Ocean Cakes with Yogurt Sauce; I love yogurt in savory dishes so this one calls to me. So sorry to hear of your guests losing their home in a fire; I cannot imagine experiencing such an event.

  16. What a story, Shanna! You and your husband are quite the dinner hosts! I love seafood cakes and love Gourmet Mag, so I’ll have to whip these up when I get a chance! 🙂

  17. We liked reading this post. Its always fun to serve home made delicious snacks when friends come over. No doubt they loved your yummie treats, all looks incredible tasty! Especially the chocolate brownies and fresh ocean cakes with yogurt Sauce makes us drool hihi..

  18. Shanna, I enjoyed your gorgeous food photos and recipes and especially enjoyed your story that accompanied your post. It sounds as though you had a wonderful evening with friends and family. Bon appetit!

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