Easy and Elegant Dinner Party (shorties welcome!)

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!

The grilled radicchio was amazing – grilling it takes out a little bit of the bitterness but paired with an orange zest dressing, it was sweet and bitter at the same time – gorgeous!

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!

One of our more adventurous shorties enjoyed that dish:

(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.

I never make pancakes because we don’t have any really great non-stick pans. Well we didn’t until now! 🙂

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!

(images courtesy the Calphalon website)

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 🙂

62 Responses to Easy and Elegant Dinner Party (shorties welcome!)

  1. Shea M. June 7, 2010 at 05:50 #

    Favorite Kitchen Utensil… has to be my small soup pot. OK, I know it’s not a utensil, but in my teeny teeny kitchen, that’s the one thing that gets used every single day: boil water for coffee (hm.. maybe the coffee press is my favorite…), boil water for pasta, make soup, make tomato sauce. It often gets used twice in one meal!

  2. HeatherFeather June 7, 2010 at 06:31 #

    Wow – I would have loved to be able to do this. I am glad you went ahead with it anyway. While some bloggers might have felt very strongly about the demo>blog concept, I really don’t see sort of this as a problem at all. I love the photos of all of your dishes – the radicchio sounds really good.

    One of my favorite kitchen utensils is a long spatula/pancake flipper that i have had for years. It really needs to be replaced(it is all faded from the dishwasher), but I have still never found one in its exact shape to replace it – it has a long base with an angle on it, narrowing towards the front some, making it very easy to stick it into a corner to flip something. Its length lets me pick up an entire omelette with ease, or a longer piece of fish without letting is fall to pieces.

  3. Casey Angelova June 7, 2010 at 06:36 #

    I have to say my favorite utensil is the Crate & Barrel Silicone Spatula ($6.95). Before leaving the US, I had about 3 silicone spatulas from various companies. Of the spatulas I had, this one that I bought about about 5 years ago is still ticking. I sliced off some of the silicone with my food processor and blender and the wooden handle is starting to fray, but it is awesome. You can see it in some of my photos because it is lime green. I think I am going to go and make something with it right now!

  4. Jenn June 7, 2010 at 06:53 #

    Wow that sounds like an awesome dinner you had! I had also read Dianne’s post – and I can definitely see both sides of interpreting things, but I think you went in with the right attitude and it looks like you had a great time!

    As far as kitchen utensils, I have so few at the moment – I guess my most used one is a plain old table fork, haha. It becomes spatula, mixer, tongs, masher, just about everything. Oh man could I really use a slotted spoon at the moment…..Currently my favorite utensil is my whisk. Nothing out of the ordinary about it, but it’s relatively easy to clean and does the job. I even can use it to make meringue by hand!

  5. RJ Flamingo June 7, 2010 at 07:04 #

    That sounds like a great deal of fun, Mardi and a super opportunity for you! My favorite utensil(s) would probably be my silicone spoonulas – The most practical ever!

    I’m doing a giveaway over at my site, too – please stop by! I just bought a new set of Calphalon non-stick and am really impressed with it, so far. Wouldn’t mind having some new utensils to match!

  6. penny aka jeroxie June 7, 2010 at 07:30 #

    That is whole lot of fun and I love reading all your adventures.

    Going through my utensils, I think I need the slotted spoon please.

  7. bunkycooks June 7, 2010 at 07:52 #

    Slotted spoons or Spatula…that’s a toss up!

    It appears that your dinner party was a success. Everything looked delicious.

  8. Belinda @zomppa June 7, 2010 at 07:53 #

    What an amazing party! Miss Sophia looks way too happy. =) Wish I could have enjoyed THAT party! Utensil? The cleaver! Can do EVERYTHING with it…and the wok! Steam, deep fry, omelet-making. =)

  9. Simply Life June 7, 2010 at 08:29 #

    wow what a great event and review! The food looks great!

  10. Roberta Boyle June 7, 2010 at 08:53 #

    I’m impressed at what you made with 4 children hovering. Amazing.

    My favorite utensil in the kitchen is a dough/flour scraper. Small, very inexpensive and the best thing I own. Cleans up the dough and flour from the countertop effortlessly. I love it.

  11. Cat June 7, 2010 at 09:04 #

    yay for easy and elegant! (and cooking with friends, and trying new recipes, and wichcraft tomato spread, and pancetta, and free calphalon loot – i could go on . . . ) it was a great meal, mardi – thank you so much for sharing your w-s prize with us over the weekend! loved being able to finally try grilled radicchio – will be trying that again this summer on the grill.

  12. Cat June 7, 2010 at 09:08 #

    oops – forgot to share my favorite utensil . . . lots to choose from . . . i guess right now it’s a wusthof santoku knife – it’s super sharp, cuts through anything, has a nice heft to it, and is in heavy rotation this time of year with all the fresh fruits and veggies crossing my cutting board.
    ps – if i can’t be included in the drawing since i did actually already get two spoons as part of our dinner party prize, feel free to knock me out of the running for someone else! 🙂

  13. Lori Lynn June 7, 2010 at 10:25 #

    Great post Mardi, I enjoyed reading every bit of it. Gotta love cookin’ with kids around. The menu sounds terrific, I really like that radicchio dish.

    I’m interested to go read what bothered other bloggers about receiving merchandise in exchange for writing about the products. Sounds like a fair voluntary exchange to me. Quid pro quo.

    I’ll pass on the utensils, I have enough already, and let another reader have chance.

    • Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite June 9, 2010 at 07:13 #

      Well if you read the comments on Dianne’s blog you will see many think they should be paid instead of receiving free stuff.

  14. Andrea@High/Low June 7, 2010 at 11:04 #

    Great job Mardi! Your party meal looks great – I love grilled radicchio! Sorry to hear that the cooking demo wasn’t the greatest – it was probably meant for less experienced cooks. Anyway, my favorite utensils are tongs as we use them for pasta, grilling meat, etc. Can’t wait to see you in a week!! =)

  15. Elisa @ Globetrotting in Heels June 7, 2010 at 11:23 #

    Wow! The dessert looks especially good, I have to say – irresistible! And those crostini… yum, I am a total sucker for anything bready and crunchy 😉 (I blame that on my Italian genes)

    Now, my favorite utensil… can I say a blender? “cause that is my absolute favorite thing in the kitchen. I love creamy soups and hummus and smoothies and such, so a good blender is a must for me, especially in summer!

  16. Megan June 7, 2010 at 12:20 #

    Not entering the contest (I have kitchen utensils coming out my ears!) but I wanted to say I appreciate your honesty in covering the entire event. I’m glad we got your REAL thoughts and not a post about how great Williams-Sonoma is – which is what I think the bloggers complaining about the offer were assuming they needed to do. IMO there’s nothing wrong with receiving free product if you can blog about it with integrity.

    • Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite June 9, 2010 at 07:12 #

      Thanks Megan. Had I not liked the products, I would not have blogged about them – doesn’t help either party. I knew it was a pretty sure bet when I saw the sponsors so that’s why I thought I might blog and ended up feeling ok about the whole thing.

  17. Amber June 7, 2010 at 12:51 #

    All of your food looks wonderful!

    I have many favorites, but I think my big chef’s knife would have to be the very favorite. It’s nice and sharp and cuts every vegetable (and fruit) perfectly, plus it’s great for crushing garlic!

  18. Martha June 7, 2010 at 13:23 #

    Thanks again Mardi, for sharing the loot and for cooking. We had the leftover tomato salad the next day for lunch and it was delicious once again!

  19. Luna June 7, 2010 at 13:40 #

    I thougt this was a very thougtful post and you made a point that I mmyself have said many times: schwag doesn’t make me lie.

    You were very candid about what they could done better, not glossing anything over and I think that you are one lucky consumer, so we’ll just leave it at that eh?

    glad you had a great time and shared it.

  20. Ivana Janjic (AvaDJ) June 7, 2010 at 17:23 #

    My favourite utensil is my Jamie Oliver Professional NonStick Pan by T-FAL. I use it everyday, many times a day. And these lovely utensils you are giving away would compliment it so wonderfully. Thanks for the generous giveaway Mardi, and good luck to all!

  21. Lauren @ Healthy Delicious June 7, 2010 at 18:56 #

    I’ve been looking forward to your post about this! It looks like a great menu. And I’m gladt o hear that the technique classes were very sales-pitchy. I get emails for them all the time and have been tempted to go, but was nervous that it would be more like sitting through an infomercial than anything else. Seems I was right. I’ll pass. 🙂

  22. Lori @ RecipeGirl June 7, 2010 at 18:57 #

    Good for you for having the party while everyone else just complained about being invited. I wasn’t invited. I feel left out lol!

    My fave kitchen utensil has to be the rubber spatula… and I’m just guessing that’s the one since I have (literally) 13 of them. It seems I can’t get enough of them- in all shapes and sizes- with all of the baking that I do!

    • Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite June 9, 2010 at 07:10 #

      Well you know you can sign up to House Party and receive invites too with no obligation to blog!!

  23. Megan Gordon June 7, 2010 at 19:08 #

    This looks awesome, Mardi! What fun and what an exciting opportunity. I always tell myself that if it feels authentic and genuine to you (as you said, something you’d do anyway), then it’s all good. Why not? On another note: I recently made roasted raddichio on my blog and love, love, love it. Very different but incredibly delicious. Thanks for the fun post!

    • Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite June 9, 2010 at 07:09 #

      Thanks Megan – at the end of the day I felt good about it and it didn’t feel forced or fake (well apart from the amount of times we all might have uttered the words “so easy and elegant” over the course of the party!!!).

  24. Chez Us June 7, 2010 at 21:09 #

    Mardi, I am so glad you went ahead and had the party. It sounded like a great opportunity to try out some new few items and to make some delicious food for friends!! Great dishes by the way ….. I love pork with cumin!

  25. Michelle Smiles June 7, 2010 at 23:44 #

    I do product reviews on my blog from time to time. And I did my first House Party this past weekend (might blog about it…haven’t decided). I don’t feel bad about doing those things because I give my honest thoughts. I only do product reviews for things I use and like or try things and give my honest reaction. I think it is fun and I like sharing my thoughts on items. My opinion can’t be bought.

    As for my favorite kitchen utensil, my garlic press. I adore it. It makes life so much easier as I detest mincing garlic.

  26. Barbara Bakes June 8, 2010 at 00:22 #

    It all looks delicious. Please send Miss Sophia to my house – she’s a doll. I’d love to cook for her. Right now I’m loving my Granny Fork. La Fuji Mama sent it to me and I’m constantly finding new uses for it.

  27. The Duo Dishes June 8, 2010 at 02:53 #

    This looks fun! We went to a party hosted by Ravenous Couple over the weekend, and it was a lot of fun. Your menu looks perfect! One of the fave kitchen tools…spatula. It gets a lot of use!

  28. Celeste @ Berrytravels June 8, 2010 at 07:58 #

    I recently got a new toy in the kitchen and it’s very quickly became my new favourite.

    The saladmaster machine! I’m not going to link it because I’m not trying to promote them, but a quick google should bring it up. It’s like a massive glorified grater but with the different blades and such to do different cuts.

    It’s sped up my cooking prep time so much! Not something I -can’t- live without, but I do love it so and it’s currently my favourite kitchen toy.

    Other than this, I think I can’t live without a wok. No matter where I go, my wok must follow.

  29. Barbara @ VinoLuciStyle June 8, 2010 at 09:10 #

    Nice post Mardi; food looks great and I appreciate your authentic reporting!

    I love my garlic press the most; no make it my microplane grater..on third thought, I couldn’t live without a dough scraper (which for me translates to an onion/celery picker upper). All that being said…I have two nice sets of kitchen utensils too and no more room at the inn for one single anything; no matter how cool or useful!

  30. Cinda Eltzroth June 8, 2010 at 09:31 #

    My favorite utensil (one that my husband has been encouraging me to use) is our Mandolin! It has so many uses — and is so easy to use! I love cutting potatoes, onions, and many vegetables with it. I’m glad that I finally found the courage to use it.

    • Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite June 9, 2010 at 07:03 #

      I need to work up the courage and the $ to get myself a mandolin. I am very scared of them!

      • Casey Angelova June 9, 2010 at 07:52 #

        I have an OXO mandolin and I almost waffle cut my palm. I have photos of the damage on my FB pg. Invent in a good one.

  31. k a b l o o e y June 8, 2010 at 11:38 #

    Since you were clearly so honest with your review of the event, I wouldn’t feel conflicted if I were you, and it definitely sounds like something you’d have blogged about without the freebies. What’s my favorite kitchen tool? The wine bottle opener!

    • Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite June 9, 2010 at 07:03 #

      LOL at the bottle opener – that might just be mine too!!! And I don’t feel conflicted so much as wary that people might think I am being a sellout. But hey – someone wants to give me free pans, and I love them? The least I can do is write about them…

  32. chocolate coated runner June 8, 2010 at 15:24 #

    My fav utensil is a stapula =)

  33. Julie M. June 8, 2010 at 16:22 #

    It’s got to be a toss up between my garlic press and my juicer. I couldn’t live without either of them! I’m with you, I would have blogged about it as well.

  34. Jason Phelps June 8, 2010 at 18:17 #

    Somehow I thought my answer of a silicone spatula wasn’t going to be to familiar, but alas it is. I have used this utensil for so many purposes, even cooking in foil when there were no pans available! A good one will last nearly forever and they cleanup real easy!

    Awesome post. Your disclosure about what you were doing and your concerns is very open which promotes honesty and authenticity to me, so forget any nasty feedback that comes your way. You pulled it off and we all stand in celebration!


    • Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite June 9, 2010 at 06:56 #

      Thanks for your support – I always find myself a bit conflicted when it comes to things like this!

  35. Daydreamer Desserts June 8, 2010 at 23:18 #

    What a lovely dinner, I’m sure the “shorties” involved had a great time! My favorite kitchen gadget I have to say by far is the beater blade for my kitchen aid stand mixer. I does all the scraping for you! LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, IT!

  36. edite sammons June 9, 2010 at 07:04 #

    I love reading this and have tried several amazingly good recipes posted here. Even my hubbie is inspired! And that’s saying a lot! My favourite gadget: something simple: my mini whisk that I found in a specialty store….I know, I’m a newbie, but previously I always used the BIG one and always ended up with an absolute mess.

  37. Larry June 9, 2010 at 12:26 #

    My favorite utensil is my lemon juicer. I use it almost every day. To just hand squeeze lemons I loose so much juice. I have a SS juicer that fits perfectly on my OXO measuring cup which means I am able to squeeze and measure at the same time. My second favorite is my Benriner mandoline.

  38. Jen @ My Kitchen Addiction June 9, 2010 at 22:17 #

    Looks like a great demonstration and fun dinner! I know some people get offended when they are asked to attend events/test products simply for the purpose of blogging about them. I usually go by the rule that I will review products/events if it is something that I would have used/attended regardless of the offer. Since I think I am single-handedly keeping my local Williams-Sonoma in business, I’d definitely jump at that chance. 🙂

    PS – My favorite kitchen “utensils” are my frivolous and over-the-top All-Clad measuring cups that look like mini stainless-steel pots. I love them… And I love that I bought them with a gift card and didn’t really spend any $$ even more 🙂 I’ll show them to you later this month!

  39. Jennifer Muir June 10, 2010 at 09:31 #

    My favourite utensil is the spatula. I use it for everything! 🙂

  40. JessicaO June 10, 2010 at 12:07 #

    Microplane zester. I use it all the time, surprisingly enough – I do love cheese, though!

  41. Fuji Mama June 10, 2010 at 14:03 #

    I see no problem with you doing the party! I actually didn’t really understand the hullabaloo over this one, even after having read Dianne Jacobs post. What a FUN party!!! My favorite kitchen utensil is a wooden spoon–with love and care if will last forever, and I use it for everything! Plus, it doesn’t get to hot in my hands if I’m sitting and stirring a pot full of hot something or other.

  42. Vicki June 10, 2010 at 17:34 #

    I love my wooden tongs. They ensure that I don’t scratch my non-stick Calphalon pans!

  43. Jessica June 10, 2010 at 22:22 #

    For some reason I love whisks!

  44. habanerogal June 11, 2010 at 06:23 #

    Lately I would have to say that after knives my favourite kitchen implement would be my silicone spatulas they get all of the sauce out of a pot and make sure that non-stick surfaces are not damaged.

  45. Bonnie June 11, 2010 at 20:33 #

    I love my metal and balloon whisk. It is the one utensil I can’t do without. I also love my set of Calphalon pans.

  46. deeba June 12, 2010 at 05:22 #

    You sure had fun there Mardi. Beautifully shared & photographed. My fave kitchen utensil is my grill pan…. love it!

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