A Season to Celebrate
How to throw the perfect winter fête
Winter entertaining can be a challenge, but it can also be fun. Even in New Orleans it may be too cold to use your courtyard, balcony, patio or pool to lounge and to sit by. You are probably exhausted from hosting or attending countless holiday parties. But there are a few easy ideas and tips that can help you put together a warm and cozy winter dinner party inside your home.
Keep the guest list intimate and manageable, perhaps six to eight for dinner. If you have a lot of friends, you can do back-to-back dinner parties. Once you have one party organized and set to go, it is easy to replicate it on a second night.
Hire a chef! This is something that is very affordable, when factoring in the cost of groceries and the time it would take for you to shop and cook the dinner. Keep the menu simple, and let the chef know your budget. The chef can do the grocery shopping and food preparation and even pitch in with getting the food to the table. Then you can concentrate on having a good time at your own party.
There’s nothing better than comfort food on a winter night to help you forget all about early nightfall and the cold weather. Chef Ryan Hughes of Purloo restaurant creates a seasonal menu. He says, “I like to cook food that draws on the flavors and traditions of the regions.” Dishes for the dinner include a low-country style she-crab soup garnished with aged Madeira wine, curried lamb, roasted local vegetables, cornbread Madeleines, and one of his favorite desserts, Harper Lee’s Alabama Lane Cake.
Hughes’s restaurant Purloo is a place both to eat and learn. His open kitchen is not uncommon, but at Purloo Hughes and his staff perform theater in the round. Thirty seats wrap around the kitchen on three sides. Except for a walk-in refrigerator and dishwashing station, everything is on full view. “I want people to see the ugly, the dirty,” Hughes says. “I don’t care. It’s all out there for everybody to see.”
Hughes knows he and his staff members are performers, and as they work, they expect guests to ask questions. The cooks are happy to explain each step of how they prepare your dinner. This is the experience you can have at home for your dinner party when you engage a chef for the evening.
Ask your guests to dress up. It makes the evening feel more special, even when serving the most humble menu. Email invitations are fine, but it’s exciting to get an invitation in the mail the old-school way. While you’re at it, write a menu card to display at the dinner. People love to talk about food, and a written menu is a great conversation-starter.
Have your guests gather in the kitchen, and watch the chef put on a show. Serve a signature cocktail and some simple nibbles. For this part, Chef Ryan Hughes suggested Cava and Bayou Rum sparkling mojitos with a grapefruit twist. A cup of hot soup makes for an excellent starter on a winter night, and it can also be served in the kitchen as a first course.
Choose one color with which to set your table. Winter white is classic and simple to work with. Using all-white tablecloths, runners, dinnerware and serving platters creates easy elegance. Serve the main course from the kitchen so the center of the table can be decorated with candles and white flowers. “Fancy” touches like place cards, candles and flowers can make a dinner with friends become a celebratory get-together. Set the table the day before the party. It is so much more fun and relaxing than doing it the day of your dinner.
Ask your guests to dress up – it makes the evening more special.
Serve cocktails in the kitchen and watch the chef put on a show.
Cava and Bayou Rum sparkling mojitos with grapefruit
3 tablespoons sugar
1 grapefruit, rind removed and juiced
1 cup Bayou Rum Silver
1 bottle very cold cava
Put the sugar and the juiced grapefruit into a small pitcher and muddle. Stir in the rum. Strain into chilled champagne glasses and top off with the cava. Garnish with grapefruit peel.
Chef Ryan Hughes of Purloo talks about the menu
A sharply designed menu and the winter white table were designed by Baraya Hall Event Design.
The winter menu includes roasted veggies, Harper Lee’s Alabama Lane Cake and cheddar cornbread Madeleines.
A cup of hot soup served as the first course in the kitchen.
Low-Country She Crab soup With Madeira
5 tablespoons butter
5 tablespoons flour
1 small white onion, fine dice
1 stalk celery, fine dice
2 cloves garlic, minced
salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon paprika
2 quarts milk
1 pint heavy cream
1 cup crab or seafood stock
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 teaspoon liquid crab boil
2 teaspoons Worcestershire
1 teaspoon Tabasco
1 pound lump crabmeat
½ cup crab roe
2 green onions, sliced thin
1/2 cup Madeira
In a medium sauce pot, make a roux with butter and flour, do not brown. Add the onion, celery, and garlic; season salt, pepper and paprika. Continue to cook over low heat and stir for about 4 minutes.
Whisk in milk so that no lumps form. Stir in crab stock and heavy cream. Bring to a simmer and pour in half of the Madeira. Season with parsley, crab boil, Worcestershire and Tabasco. Cover, and simmer on low for about 30 minutes. Add crabmeat, and simmer for another 10 minutes.
Ladle soup into bowls, garnish with crab roe and top off with a splash of the remaining Madeira and a sprinkle sliced green onions.
Curried Pickett Farms Lamb With Sweet Potatoes
2 pounds lamb stew meat
4 tablespoons curry powder
1 tablespoon kosher salt
½ cup Canola oil
1 onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
2 tablespoons garlic, chopped
2 medium jalapenos, chopped seeds and all
1 bunch green onions, chopped
1 11-ounce can crushed tomatoes
2 cups chicken stock
1 tablespoon fish sauce
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons lemongrass, chopped
2 tablespoons ginger, chopped
1 can coconut milk
1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced ½ inch
1 bunch fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped
Season lamb with 3 tablespoons of curry powder and 1 tablespoon of salt. Set aside for 30 minutes.
Heat the oil in a medium heavy bottomed pot over moderate heat. Brown lamb, remove from pan and set aside. Add the onion, bell pepper, celery, garlic, jalapenos, green onions remaining 1 tablespoon curry powder and stir until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the seared lamb, tomatoes and chicken stock, fish sauce, sugar, lemongrass and ginger. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until lamb is tender, about 1 hour. Add the coconut milk and sweet potato and cook until tender, about 15 minutes.
Season with salt and pepper and chopped cilantro. Serve over creamy grits.
Chef’s Note: Pickett Farms lamb can be found under the Royal Farms label in your local Rouses.