parties

St. Patricks Day Dinner Party

As I have explained, St. Patrick’s day is a big deal in our house.  This year it is going to be even more awesome as it falls on a Friday and my sister in law Sara will be in town to celebrate.  DC watch out!  Last year I pulled together this fun little dinner party to celebrate.  Hopefully the menu and pictures inspire you for this Friday. Sláinte!

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Decorating the table is easy for this one – anything green or gold works!  I used my favorite gold flatware and gold and black votive candles.  I just so happen to have several mini beer mugs (don’t you??) that I used to hold a sprinkling of baby’s breath down the middle of the table.  Paired with green linens and a rattan charger for contrast it was a super easy table to pull together.  For additional green, Bells of Ireland and Babys breath in a large vase at the end of the table.

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Black Velvet

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Guinness is essential for a St. Patrick’s day feast, but for those of you who are not a big fan or who want to class it up a bit may I suggest the Black Velvet.  Half Guiness, half Champagne (or in this case Cava) you use the back of the spoon to pour the two which creates this amazing layered effect.  Also the cava brightens up the Guinness making for a lovely drink.

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I served these with an Irish cheese board that included Dubliner cheddar, a Irish whiskey washed cows milk cheese, some fig jam, candied walnuts and a Cashel blue cheese from County Tipperary.

Brown Butter Soda Bread

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I make this every year without fail.  It is hands down the best soda bread recipe I have ever tried and even better, it makes two loaves!  The browned butter gives it a nutty rich taste and the rosemary adds a freshness.  If you have never baked bread, this is where to start as it requires no kneading or pans and is practically impossible to mess up.  Make sure to pick up some good Irish butter to serve it with.

Boston Lettuce with Buttermilk Dressing

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You have to have some green right?  I love beautiful Boston lettuce (some call it bibb but not this Bostonian!) as its so tender and light.  You can serve it whole like I did which makes it look like you plucked it right from a beautiful Irish garden, or cut into wedges for individual servings.  Drizzled with this buttermilk dressing its a great fresh start to the meal.

Patrick’s Irish Stew Pot Pies

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This stew that I posted last St. Patrick’s day is delicious all on its own but my boy looooves pot pies so I figured it would be the perfect opportunity to combine the two.  Also a great excuse to use my cute little shamrock cookie cutters!  Make the stew in advance, then just put into individual bowls.  Defrost some puff pastry, you will probably need 2 sheets for 4 pies.  Cut out circles slightly larger than the top of the bowl.

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Brush the edges of the bowl with egg wash and then top with the puff pastry.  You will need to cut slits in the top to let steam escape or you can use a cookie cutter like I did to make a shamrock hole.  Brush the top of the puff pastry with the egg wash and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Bake for 30 minutes or so until golden.

Guinness Ice Cream Floats

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No real recipe needed here – just scoop your favorite vanilla ice cream into a tall glass and top with as much Guinness as you would like.  Drizzle on some chocolate sauce and you are in business!  All of these dishes are pretty easy so even when St. Patrick’s day falls on a weeknight you can impress your friends.  Happy St. Patricks!

ACC’s Fave Registry Items for Wedding Season

And so it begins – wedding season.  I am so excited that this year 3 different couples we are friends with have gotten engaged, love is in the air!  Of course that also means showers, registries and combining households.  When Patrick and I got engaged people almost immediately asked where we were registered, as if we had stepped off the beach in Puerto Rico and directly into a Target to start the list.  I know a lot of couples, especially those who meet each other later in life when they are more established, say they don’t need anything so they aren’t going to register.  However, the reality is that people are excited for you and the way they know how to show it is to buy you table linens!  If you don’t register then people will freelance and you will end up with a lot of stuff you don’t need.  Registries have some a long way – you can use sites that consolidate several different stores,  register for travel and other unconventional things.  We registered for a bar for our basement and we use it all the time (thanks Auntie Jan!).

My friends have been asking me what they should register for their kitchen so I figured I would pull some tips together for folks looking to make the most out of their registry and for guests who are struggling with what to buy for their friends and family.  Don’t look for a one size fits all list – every registry is personal to the couple so don’t trust any resource that tells you it has “everything you need.”  The first thing you should do is take stock of what you already have as well as what type of lifestyle you have or plant to have.  Are you big entertainers?  Cocktail enthusiasts?  Cooking shortcut specialists?  This will help you narrow down what direction you should go in.  Then follow some of these themes (I have linked to the items that I registered for and love).

UPGRADE!  This is a familiar refrain in my family as I love to upgrade (sometimes by force) people’s stuff.  I am sure you didn’t wait to meet the love of your life to have coffee cups but do you really like them?  Do they all match?  How about your cookware?  Pots and pans are great for this, especially if you are still using the set you won for free in college.  I love All Clad for saucepans and roasting, Le Creuset for dutch ovens and Swiss Diamond for non stick pans.  Knives are also a good upgrade – your cooking will be so much better if you have good quality knives.

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Small Appliances – The first thing that went on my registry was a Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer.  I had always wanted one, and really could have just bought it for myself, but it always seemed a little extravagant since I already had a hand mixer.  My Aunt Carol got it for me and I use it every single week.  If you don’t have one I cannot recommend it more – it is a counter hog but its such a workhorse and you can buy attachments that make pasta, ice cream, and on and on so you don’t have to buy other appliances.  Other great items are a really nice coffee maker, wine fridge, or food processor.  (This is also a good place to upgrade – how long have you had that toaster??)

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Shop Local – Registering at a small local business not only helps support your community but really gives you the personal touch you lose in the big box stores.  We registered at Hill’s Kitchen, a store you will find me referring to a ton on the blog.  For people who like to actually shop in a brick and mortar store this gives them that option and usually local businesses have unique items you won’t find anywhere else so your registry doesn’t feel as generic.  Leah, the store’s owner, spent a ton of time with us helping us pick out items that were absolutely perfect.  Even better, now when Patrick needs to buy me a present he knows he can head to Hills Kitchen and Leah will know exactly what I like and already have!  I am sure if you ask around in your own town many of your favorite stores are registering people as well.

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Go with the classics – I know a lot of people in my generation think they don’t need fancy china to entertain.  You absolutely don’t need it but once I started thinking about it I really liked the idea of having the same pieces for years and years with all the holidays and family memories attached.  Make sure to pick a pattern that is timeless, we went with Golden Grosgrain by Vera Wang for Wedgewood.  I love the very subtle gold details and how fine the pieces are.  Best of all they go right into the dishwsher, which was a must for me.  I also don’t wait until a holiday to use my china, I pull it out for week night dinners or casual brunches.  Nice heavy flatware is also a good idea – I have 6 place settings for everyday by Laguiole but registered for 12 settings at Crate and Barrel.  Once you start to have larger family meals you will be glad not to mix and match.  Just like with the china, make sure its a classic pattern that isn’t so trendy you will be bored with it in a couple of years.

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Entertaining Pieces – I entertain all the time so glassware, table linens and serving dishes were really important.  Think carefully about how you entertain – if you do lots of dinner parties then tablecloths and linen napkins are a good idea.  Stemless wine glasses work for just about any kind of drink and are easy to store.  Are you the one who always hosts for the big game?  Get a big beverage bucket and a dish for chips and dip.  We actually have two beverage dispensers – they are great for punches for parties or even just water for backyard BBQs.  If you are big into cocktails this spherical ice maker is Patrick’s favorite toy and these shakers are the best.

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Hopefully for couples looking to start their registry this gives you some ideas.  For guests I usually recommend sticking to what the couple wants (thats why they created the registry right?) but that doesn’t mean you can’t still be creative.  I really love to get one thing off of someone’s registry and then building a gift around it.  If someone asked for a cocktail shaker get them the one they want along with a bottle of St. Germain, a good cocktail book and some cute glasses to match.  Here is wishing you and your friends and family a lifetime of love and happiness!

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ACC Parties: A Classy Cocktail Affair

Happy Valentines day!  This post is a perfect fit for today – romance and cocktails.  This party plan is for a classy cocktail party which I threw to celebrate the engagement of our dear friends, Erikka and Michael.  They are such an amazing couple so I wanted to go the extra mile to make this one memorable which meant dressing up, gold everywhere and thoughtful touches.  One tough issue to tackle as a hostess is either guests who you aren’t super familiar with or guests that don’t know each other all that well.  That was the case here, with family and friends coming in from all over so I wanted to keep the mood light while still making it feel special.  My solution – a make it yourself cocktail bar.  The centerpiece of this party certainly gave me some sleepless nights leading up to the date (are people going to think I am a jerk asking them to make their own drinks???) but it was a hit!  It really encouraged mingling and being engaged in the party and also freed up myself and Patrick to make sure everyone was felt taken care of with food etc.

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Pick a couple of classic cocktails that are relatively easy to make – I went with the  classic martini, manhattans, negroni and vesper.  I printed out the recipes and framed them so even a cocktail neophyte could be their own mixologist.  Then set out everything people will need to make the cocktails – the key here is in the luxe touches.  Instead of setting out giant bottles of vodka and gin I put them out in pretty decanters.  You will also need a selection of liqueurs like vermouth for the martinis.  We also had sparkling wine (my favorite house one of course) for those who didn’t want to do the cocktail thing so I set out casis, framboise and St. Germain as good toppers for the bubbly.  Red and wine wine as well as some beer rounded out the bar.

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Ramekins with all the garnishes needed like stuffed olives, maraschino cherries and citrus twists meant it was super easy for guests to customize their drink.

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Real glasses are a must here, plastic just won’t do.  Shop around to find something that fits your style and budget. I went with these martini glasses from World Market, that were perfect because of the slight bend in the glass they also worked for sparkling wine, almost like a coupe.  I couldn’t help myself and got custom made martini glasses for the happy couple.

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I always like to give out favors and for this party they served a purpose as well.  I found these great mini shakers on a restaurant supply site and got one per guest.  People used them to make their cocktails and then got to take them home to remember all the fun we had.  The shakers set out out on the table added even more metallic glamour.

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If people are knocking back cocktails all night you want to make sure the food is substantial.  I kept with the classic theme and did old school appetizers, just classed up a little.  Pigs in a blanket are always a favorite but made with puff pastry and poppy seeds they have way more flavor than the original.

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Who doesn’t love a cheese puff?  Gougeres are amazing french cheese puffs and best of all they can be made in advance, frozen and then reheated right before the party.  These went FAST.

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The chicken salad veronique cups that I posted a couple of weeks ago were a perfect one bite so people didn’t have to mess around with forks or knives.

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Add a very substantial cheese board, bowls of olives and nuts, and some dips (I made the groom’s favorite with crudite) and people will have plenty to nosh on while they mix and mingle.

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I ordered these beautiful napkins from For Your Party – they are my favorite resource for customized items and they always turn out beautiful.

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Finish off the party with something sweet – I did my Individual Tiramisu because they are a sentimental favorite of the couple.  You could always head to your local bakery and get a selection of cookies, brownies etc to make things even easier.

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It was an incredible night for an incredible couple.  But don’t wait for friends to get engaged to throw this party – this would be a great way to break up the winter doldrums by getting dressed up and shaking some cocktails.  Wishing everyone a very happy Valentines day and congratulations Erikka and Michael!!

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A Warming Dinner Party

Long weekends are perfect for hosting dinner parties – you have multiple nights you can host and plenty of time to cook, set up and recover.  I used this menu recently on a cold night and it was perfect to shake off the winter blues.  Light some candles, stoke the fire and settle in for a nice night with friends.

Chile Oil-Marinated Goat Cheese

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Easy to make and needs to be made in advance is key when thinking about snacks before dinner.  This checks both boxes – I served the goat cheese with a baguette, some crackers and sliced soppresata along with a couple of bottles of bubbly to start the night off right.

Roasted Prime Rib with Thyme Marsala Sauce

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I had never made prime rib before and man is that hunk of meat intimidating!  Especially when you pay good money for something you really want it to turn out well.  First time was a total hit.  This Giada recipe is easy to follow and delivered a perfectly cooked prime rib with a delicious crust and the sweet and savory sauce that went alongside.  Even if you are a prime rib expert this is one recipe worth trying.

Mashed Potatoes

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Had to give my boy mashed potatoes alongside the prime rib.  Use your favorite recipe or if you want to take it up a notch go with my Over the Top Mashed Potatoes.

Balsamic Brussels Sprouts

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Posted earlier this month, these sprouts are a quick and easy side that can come together as you make the sauce for the prime rib.

Dark Chocolate Terrine

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Another new to me recipe from the real Contessa that is crazy good.  I could drink the orange sauce straight and be happy but the rich frozen mousse-like terrine is to die for.  Definitely don’t forget to sprinkle with sea salt before serving.  So just head to the grocery store tonight and you can easily host this fabulous dinner party for your friends this weekend.

Coffee Infused Bourbon

As you all know I am a sucker for favors at parties – last year I did a candy cane vodka for our holiday party and it was a big hit.  This year I was inspired by a coffee manhattan I had at the movie theater of all places.  At the Atlantic Plumbing Cinema in the Shaw neighborhood of DC you can not only book your seat in advance (love that!) but they have a full bar with some really talented mixologists.  Patrick and I were there for a matinee and the bartender had been experimenting with coffee simple syrups and bourbon.  Since bourbon already has coffee notes in it, infusing it with fresh coffee beans just takes it to the next level.  I ran right out and bought some mega bottles of Bulliet Bourbon at Costco.  I needed to make 85 mini bottles (we have a lot of friends!) so got two 750 ml bottles but you can do it with any size or any amount really, even just for one cocktail.  I am not going to give you a recipe here since its stupid simple, just throw some coffee beans into the Bourbon and wait until it reaches the “coffeeness” level you like.  For a 750ml bottle I would recommend adding about 20-25 beans and shaking the bottle everyday for about 5 days.  The beans like to sink to the bottom or float to the top so shaking it helps make sure all the bourbon gets infused.  If you start with less bourbon then you could do the same number of beans, it will just take less time, about 2 days.

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I get my mini bottles from here  but you can also usually find nicer glass ones at World Market or Home Goods if you are only making a couple for friends this season.  This year I decided to print my own labels (mostly because I didn’t get my act together to order any).  If you want to order some I can recommend Tinyprints for this.  They are pretty reasonable and have a bunch of cute designs.  If not just go out and buy labels and then go to Avery.com where they have templates like this Christmas lights one I used.  I do not recommend throwing in a couple of beans into the bottles you give out as decoration as they will continue to infuse the bourbon and at some point all you will be able to taste is the coffee.

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You could certainly recreate my manhattan with the bourbon, drink it straight up or toss a little in your coffee for an extra holiday kick!  Luckily we have a bunch leftover as these are going to make perfect stocking stuffers.  Enjoy!

How to Build a Bagel Bar

The holiday season is officially upon us.  I had my entire house decorated Friday by about noon but I am nuts.  I was at the White House yesterday and the army of volunteers are still putting up their decorations (check out my insta for a pic!) so if you haven’t gotten around to it, don’t feel bad.  For this crazy season I thought I would post things that are perfect for making ahead, ideas for simple but elegant entertaining and of course cocktails to get you through.  This bagel bar is a great combo of all three and daytime entertaining is ideal for the holidays.   Question: who doesn’t love a #sundayfunday brunch?  Answer:  the person who has to wake up early to cook!  I love hosting people for breakfast and brunch as seen here and here but sometimes it can be a real “scramble” getting everything ready in the morning.  Have a bagel bar means just a bunch of arranging and yes I guess some cooking making bacon but come on, we cannot skip the bacon!  Everything else can be prepped a head of time so all you need to do it pop the bubbles and enjoy the day.

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Step one:  Night before order the bagels – these beauties are the thing holding up the whole party so you don’t want subpar bagels and you certainly don’t want to show up at the bagel place to discover that they are out of the best flavors.  I like to order from Bullfrog Bagels on H Street here in DC.  If your bagel place doesn’t have online ordering just pick up the phone and place the order directly with them.  I would budget a bagel per person even though I find that most of my friends only really eat a half once they load up on the other goodies and toppings.  However, no one ever wants to be skimpy and any leftovers can be frozen.  Get a mix of plain, everything and sesame (the most popular flavors) and then grab whatever looks good – I love salt bagels in case anyone is inviting me to their bagel bar!  Now that the bagels are pre-ordered that means just popping out to grab them first thing in the AM or getting a helpful friend or spouse to do it for you.  If you want to save even more time go ahead and order cream cheeses with the bagels, if not stay tuned for how to spruce up plain old spreads.

Step two:  Night before bake some sweets – brunches are built on the two pillars of salty and sweet.  The bagels and their toppings have you set for savory so you need to provide some sort of dessert/sweet option.  If you order your bagels from a true bakery go ahead and grab some sweets there but I like to at least have my hands in something for this party.  This last time around I made Ina’s Ultimate Ginger Cookies but my cookies Banana Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies would be perfect for brunch instead.

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Step three:  Night before prep the fixings – here you can really be creative.  What do you like on a bagel?  What would look pretty and colorful?  What is in season?  What is in my fridge that I want to get rid of?  Valid questions all.  For this bagel bar I went pretty traditional – I had lox, radishes, red onions and horror of all horrors, cucumbers.  One of the few things in the world I DO NOT EAT but here is where being a good hostess kicks in.  Its my understanding that some people actually like these thing and actually the green was a nice addition to the plate so what the hell.  Slice everything thinly and store in plastic bags in the fridge.  If tomatoes are in season they are also a nice addition as well as thinly sliced fennel.  For cream cheese I wanted to have a nice selection so I had plain as well as three flavors.  Flavoring cream cheese is incredibly easy – just blend finely chopped herbs or veggies in with the cream cheese.  The key is to have room temp cheese so that everything blends well.  I find that the paddle attachment in a stand mixer is the best way to do this but good old elbow grease and a spatula will work as well.  Just add in fixings until you get the flavor you like.  For this party I did scallion, honey and walnut and a veggie cheese made with carrots and celery.  Fill small bowls or ramekins with your custom or store bought cream cheeses and cover with saran wrap so they are ready to go.

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Step four:  Morning of make bacon and coffee – ok so yes you do have to do some work here but its truly minimal.  Patrick makes the coffee in our family so that’s one less thing I have to do but get it set up the night before and all you have to do is push a button.  The bacon you should do in the oven as I taught you here so you can do a huge batch at once.  Put as much as you can on baking sheets at 400 degrees for 15 minutes then drain on paper towels and done.

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Step five:  Morning of set up bar – dual meaning here.  You want to set up the bagel bar and the booze bar morning of.  Slice those bagels and arrange them prettily in a basket or on a tray.  Do not make your guests navigate the hazzards of slicing their own bagels – your friends will thank you.  Pull out the prepped fixings from the fridge and set them out as well to come to room temp (except the lox which should be set out right before).  Grab your toaster and set that out as well so people can toast if they want to (do you have toast tongs?  If not this is a great excuse to get some).  Also set up the bar so your guests can grab their own drinks.  I put out sparkling water as well as sparking wine (my house cava of course), some red and white wine, sodas and a variety of juices.  Glasses and an ice bucket and you are all set.

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This bagel bar is the perfect brunch for after a family event like a graduation or recital as you only need a few minutes of prep before your guests arrive and everything is served room temperature.  Pretty presentation and thoughtful homemade touches will make your guests feel special while you can catch some extra zzz before the party.

A Wine Soaked Dinner Party

Inspiration for my dinner party themes come from everywhere, including a bottle.  I was trying to think of an ingredient that I could build a whole menu around when it occurred to me that I not only like to serve wine with every course but I also love cooking with wine.  Why not use dishes that all have wine in them, and not just as a bit player but as the main event.  I tried to really stretch myself and use all kinds of wine – white, red, dessert, sparkling.  Invite your friends to bring over their favorite bottles to match the wine soaked meal and you are sure to have a great time.

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For decor I kept it pretty simple with fall colors and lighting.  Make sure to have wine glasses that match your wine (i.e. flutes for champagne, white and red wine glasses) at the ready so people don’t have to mix in their glass.

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Also try to pick wines that mirror, or are the same as those you put in the dish – I happened to have a magnum of my house white so I could use it in the Beurre Blanc dip as well as serve it on the side.  For the stew grab an extra bottle of red that you are planning on serving because a whole bottle goes into it.  The entire meal can be made in advance and then just reheated which means you will have plenty of time to hang and drink wine with your friends without having to worry about stirring or flipping anything.  Let the wine soaking begin!

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Appetizer – Whipped Beurre Blanc Dip

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If you have never had beurre blanc sauce on something you haven’t really lived.  Luckily the geniuses at Food and Wine magazine came up with this incredible dip that tastes a lot like the rich buttery sauce.  It’s not easy to find an appetizer that uses 2 whole cups of wine!  By cooking it down, this dip looses the booze taste and just retains the delicious winey flavor.  Add in lots of creme fraiche and you have a rich creamy dip perfect for dipping salty potato chips.  I served the white wine that went into the dip along side as well as our favorite local sparking from Greenhill Vineyards – sparkling wine or champagne if you have it pairs nicely with the richness of the dip and the saltiness of the chips.  Also how beautiful is that dip with the shallots, lemon zest and chives on top?  A real show stopper.

Main Course – Parker’s Beef Stew

An Ina classic, this beef stew takes an entire bottle of red wine to make.  She really puts the wine to work by using it as a marinade for the beef first and then as part of the stew.

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What you end up with is incredible slow cooked flavor that also has that tart edge of wine. Make sure to use a nice bottle that you would want to serve along side the dish.  I went with a Cabernet Savuignon, Ina suggests a Bordeaux but really any medium to heavy body wine with lots of flavor will do.  Best part is that it’s a one pot wonder with meat and veggies included so you can serve it on its own for the main event or with some crusty bread to sop up the sauce.

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Dessert – Poached Pears

Last but definitely not least we come to dessert made out of what else but dessert wine.  Another whole bottle goes in (if you are counting that is now almost 2,000 ml of wine in this meal!) and poaches the pears as well as becomes the sauce.  For those of you who think you don’t like dessert wine and have a dusty bottle hanging around somewhere that was gifted to you this is the perfect dish to use it in.

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The fresh ginger and tart pears counteract the sweetness of the wine.  Best part the pears can be made way in advance – just take the ice cream out 20 minutes before you want to serve it to let it soften.  More dessert wine would pair great with this as would port or another bottle of bubbly.  I hope you guys enjoy this menu with your friends – just make sure to have a DD or Uber handy following the meal!

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