It all began with an email invitation to apply to host an “Easy and Elegant Dinner Party” sponsored by Calphalon and Williams Sonoma and the House Party website. Both Neil and I received an invite, as we are on the Calphalon mailing list and I jumped at the chance because if you were picked, you would receive a whole host of goodies, including Calphalon Unison non-stick cookware and utensils, a Michael Symon cookbook, condiments from Witchcraft, linen and a free “technique” demo class at Williams Sonoma, a gift card from American Express to help pay for the food and access to the House Party party planning website.
I was quite excited and applied. Then I read this post over on Dianne Jacob’s fabulous blog about how outraged some bloggers were at having been invited to participate in return for blogging about it, suggesting they can’t be bought with free products. And I felt conflicted. Because I had applied for the party, not because I was invited as a blogger but because I was invited as a consumer, but in my application, I had said that if I were selected, I would blog about it. Why? Not because I felt obligated but because it looked like the type of thing I would like to participate in and blog about anyway. The free products were just gravy. I have to admit that the brand names Calphalon and Williams Sonoma were influential in my decision to apply to host a party – they are two names I trust and whose products I buy anyway. So I stand by my decision. This looked like a fun event and I was thrilled when my application was successful.
I received my goody box and chose my menu (you can find the recipe cards here), invited our dear friends from London, Ontario and Rockford, Michigan, who we met in Tunisia in 2001 and who we go to London to meet up with every year to join in the fun. As they have four children between them, I declared “Shorties Welcome”. We weren’t sure if they would participate in the cooking or prep, or simply eat some of the food (or none of the above!) but I figured if I could pull off an Easy and Elegant Dinner in someone else’s kitchen with four little ones milling about, it was most certainly “easy”!
On Sunday May 30th, I attended the “Memorial Day with Michael Symon” technique demonstration class at Williams Sonoma. Having never been to one of these before, I wasn’t really sure what to expert. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that it was quite a hard sell for products and gadgets. As well as the Calphalon pans, at every step of the way it seemed there was some indispensable tool you might need in order to make the dishes, like the lemon juicer below:
This, for me, was kind of not the point. I loved that the recipes were very easy and did not require many special tools or utensils and that you could pretty much cook a three course meal just using two pans. We watched the demonstrators make the main course pork tenderloin, the grilled radicchio and the watercress salad and to be honest, I didn’t learn much in terms of cooking techniques.
I was very disappointed to see we were not observing the dessert – lemon ricotta blinis – being made, the reason being, according to one of the demonstrators, “the recipe calls for a blender the Williams Sonoma Canadian stores do not carry” which was totally not true. There was no blender involved at all- it was pretty standard pancake batter. Instead they demonstrated the Ebilskiver Pan and batter mix which I was not impressed with because that really is a recipe that you do need the special pan for. It must be said that they did not do a good job of making that recipe look easy to make, their first attempts were disastrous overcooked little brown lumps of cake.
(I must note here that I am pretty sure I was the only person at this demo who was hosting one of the Easy and Elegant parties – it was not mentioned by the staff or participants once. So I guess for everyone else, the Ebilskiver demo might have been a once-off chance to observe that pan in action).
The finished meal was pretty delicious though and I was excited afterwards to go away and try the recipes myself.
So this past Saturday, with four shorties (ages 2-8, 2 girls, 2 boys) underfoot at what I like to call “kid witching hour” (you know – when they’ve been playing outside all day and are exhausted and dirty and need a bath but insist that they don’t need one and then proceed to hang around whilst you are trying to cook dinner…), I got to work on the menu in a kitchen that is not my own with two other people whose kitchen it is not either! Challenging!
Have to say that I really did enjoy the Calphalon pans. They were a joy to cook with (truly non-stick) and so easy to wash (of vital importance to those of us who do not own a dishwasher!).
The crostini were amazingly tasty – the ‘witchcraft tomato spread was slightly sweet, pairing well with goat cheese on the crispy rounds of baguette:
The main course was pork marinaded in olive oil, shallots, cumin and coriander and once the pork was seared in the pan, the leftover crunchy crispy bits of marinade were used to make a dressing for the watercress and heirloom tomato salad with fresh lemon mint from Martha’s garden!
I actually don’t have any pictures of the pork cooking – was trying to juggle way too much on a small stovetop and even then I over cooked the pork slightly. As Steve said “Oh well, at least noone will get sick!” LOL!
Neil made Bucatini all’amatriciana – basically thick spaghetti noodles (with a hole in the middle) with an onion, garlic and pancetta sauce. We got to use the wonderful Capphalon pasta serving spoon that came in our party pack too!
(this is Miss Sophia, aged 2. Sister of the food blogger in the making, Charlotte who wrote me a post about Puerto Rican fruits)
The food was really good. Simple flavours but they all married beautifully and it was a perfect warm summer evening’s dinner:
After dinner, we set about making the lemon-ricotta blinis. I halved the recipe (supposedly for 12-18 people) but it actually made enough for about 40 larger than they should have been blinis, many of which we ate for breakfast the next morning – the batter was fine in the fridge overnight. You have been warned. There was like a bucket of batter! Again, the pan was awesome for making them – they didn’t stick at all.
Was it easy? Yes. And elegant? Yes. The dishes were so simple but so flavourful and tasty and easy to present nicely (therefore making it easy to look like you had spent ages in the kitchen when you hadn’t! My kinda dinner!).
So sorry you couldn’t join in the fun but I do have a little surprise – in our party pack we received so many of the Calphalon utensils that even keeping a few for ourselves and giving some to our guests, we have a few leftover – the slotted spoon, the solid spoon, the pasta fork, the slotted turner and the large solid turner – and I am happy to give them away to one lucky reader!
How to enter? Simply leave me a comment on this post telling me what your favourite kitchen utensil is and why.
Giveaway open until midnight EST Sunday June 13th. Winner chosen by Random.org and announced Monday June 14th.
Good news: This is open to anyone, regardless of your location; however, as I am paying for postage on this myself, I will chose the most economical way of sending it