A Vegetarian Spring Dinner Party

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My husband just completed his MBA, which he pursued from the fall of 2014 until this month, taking advantage of a free tuition program at a state university offered through his employer. It wasn’t easy, since he already has a demanding day job as an attorney and all but two courses were night classes, not online. School was a constant demand on his evenings and weekends for over two and a half years and I’m so proud he accomplished this goal — and did it so frugally! I’m also thankful he can now relax on his nights and weekends, or at least if he has to bring work home, it’s not competing with homework!

I figured we’d go out to dinner to celebrate with some close friends, but a few weeks ago I got it into my head that I wanted to host a little get-together. We don’t have people over often —  the most we’ve done is hold the occasional casual game night at our apartment, and it is admittedly a bit cramped, especially fitting people in our small dining area. But I just felt like this night deserved to be a little more special and personal than going out to a restaurant like we all do so often, and I was craving the hands-on DIY approach. With a few of our friends out of town this weekend, there ended up being 8 of us, so that sealed the deal that I would do a true “dinner party” with all of us sitting around the table together, a little more formal than our normal M.O.

Food-wise, I took my inspiration from some of my favorite dishes I am comfortable making (savory galettes/tarts and puréed roasted vegetable soup), spring-themed menus on Pinterest and elsewhere online, and wanting to feel a little fancy while still keeping things quite simple. Must be all the French-themed cookbooks I’ve been reading! As a vegetarian, I also want the food I serve other people to be particularly hearty and satisfying, more so than I might really need for myself. I served:

  • Appetizers:
    • Basic cheese board type stuff (cheese, nuts, fruit, etc.)
    • White bean dip with fresh herbs
  • Dinner:
    • Chilled soup (made of assorted puréed roasted vegetables, predominately tomato, red pepper, and cauliflower)
    • Radish and shaved Parmesan salad
    • Carrot orzo
    • Three savory tarts:
      • Tomato and goat cheese, made in a tart pan
      • Rustic-style potato and Gruyère galette (with celery and onion)
      • Rustic-style kale and Asiago galette
  • Dessert:
    • Flourless chocolate cake with a chocolate glaze and strawberries
    • With freshly whipped cream

I have recipe links and notes on the menu below (um…extensive notes) but first, a gazillion pictures, some of which my friend took, but I’ll leave out photos of our guests here:

Cooking:

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The apartment:

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The final products:

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Notes on the menu below! To skip the novel, you can also see most of the recipes and menu inspo on this Pinterest board.

*Fresh rosemary, chives, and basil sprinkled throughout almost everything…

Appetizers:

  • A quickly thrown-together platter of Parmesan cheese, walnuts, crackers (I love these “Everything Flatbread” crackers), strawberries, celery sticks, and rolled lemon wafers on the side. Our friends brought another nice cheese too.
  • White bean dip with fresh herbs, made from dried beans I cooked, with a little homemade walnut-basil pesto in the middle, following a suggestion in the recipe comments.
    • I almost didn’t put this in the processor and thought I’d just serve it extra chunky, but I’m glad I did because the texture had a really nice whipped feel to it and tasted better to me afterward.

Dinner:

  • Chilled soup served in 6-ounce Ball jars; I referred to it as gazpacho but I don’t think that’s technically accurate.
    • I didn’t follow a recipe but this one is similar. I roasted a head of cauliflower, a sweet onion, some whole garlic cloves, a couple of tomatoes and radishes, and a red pepper drizzled with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, dried herbs, and nutritional yeast. Then I cooked the roasted veggies in 4 cups of water, a spoonful of vegetable Better than Bouillon, a can of coconut milk, a box (26 ounce?) of Pomi chopped tomatoes and more herbs and spices–heavy on red pepper flakes–and finished up with the immersion blender. I appreciate that this is made with coconut milk since I served a lot of dairy elsewhere.
    • I served the soup in jars because I originally thought we might have more than 8 people and that we’d be spread out eating around the living room, so jars would make for a portable soup (inspired by images like these). I’d ordered them on Amazon and decided to stick with them even though we’d all be at the table together. They kind of complemented the Mason jar flower arrangements. That said, I swear I’m not one of those huge Mason jar lovers!
  • Carrot orzo
    • I used this recipe (subbing in vegetable broth), in part because the colorful carrots looked sort of spring-like and cheerful, but it was good. I’m glad I have a little bit leftover.
  • Radish and shaved Parmesan salad
    • Similar to this recipe, with my own thrown-together vinaigrette. I was drawn to the pretty pink color of the radishes, but also genuinely liked the salad.
  • Three savory tarts/galettes
    • Tomato and goat cheese tart
    • Rustic potato and Gruyère galette (with celery and onion)
      • David Leibovitz’ dough recipe from above, but similar to this overall (using a blend of red, white, and purple potatoes…again for some color!)
    • Rustic kale and Asiago galette
      • David Leibovitz’ dough recipe from above, but similar to this overall
      • This was my least favorite dish of the night; I’m not sure if other people agreed. I think maybe I don’t really love Asiago cheese, and the kale became chewy in the oven. I almost feel like it would be good to just bake a crust, and pile sautéed kale on top. I did mix some herbs and cheese into the crust of this one, which was good.

Dessert

  • Flourless chocolate cake with a glaze, topped with strawberries and freshly whipped cream
    • I liked the idea of doing this dessert because it still had the celebratory feel of cake, but since it was flourless, it was a change from the bread-y entrees
    • I looked at a lot of flourless chocolate cake desserts and this one from King Arthur Flour called out to me in both its simplicity and decadence. I even ordered their fancy espresso powder online, along with some Dutch processed cocoa powder.
    • I made this in my other tart pan, and it worked perfectly! Anytime I bake and the final product stays in one piece after I take it out of the pan, that’s a success in itself. I knew this would be incredibly rich, so I felt that strawberries were a really important addition (inspired by images like these) to add some refreshing relief to the dense chocolate. And of course, they’re pretty, adding more visual interest to a thin, pie-like cake.
    • Each slice got a dollop of homemade whipped cream. I’d added some vanilla and only a tiny pinch of powdered sugar to the whipped cream, so it almost had no sweetness; again a nice balance to a very rich, fudgy dessert.

I really don’t drink much, so I can’t comment much on the alcohol. I usually just have 1-2 glasses of whatever wine other people are having in social situations. We had some beer and rosé, but our friends brought other wines we opened instead of the rosé, and a few people brought liquor and we all tried some nice bourbon.

And that’s it! I really enjoyed the evening and I think the others did too, including my husband, who was initially a reluctant guest-(host?)-of-honor. Our friends brought games and after dinner, we played Exploding Kittens and then several rounds of Resistance. We gave ridiculous orders to Google Home, with about a 50 percent success rate. My dog was loved on constantly. All in all, a wonderful night!

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