You're Invited

Two simple words. You’re invited. They make you feel special, and it doesn’t matter if you are the guest or the host. It is always a joy to receive an invitation, but it is just as exciting to give one, don’t you agree? Whether you…

You're Invited

Two simple words. You’re invited. They make you feel special, and it doesn’t matter if you are the guest or the host. It is always a joy to receive an invitation, but it is just as exciting to give one, don’t you agree? Whether you are a pre-schooler inviting friends to a birthday party or planning a wedding, there is something significant about playing host to friends.

When I saw that Challenge 3 of Project Food Blog was a Luxury Dinner Party, I was so excited. We love to entertain!

For quite a while, I have wanted to host a gathering for fellow Bay Area bloggers. In the relatively short time that I have been writing Kitchen Confidante, I have had the pleasure of “meeting” such a fantastic group of food enthusiasts from all over the world. In the Bay Area alone, there is such a wonderful group of talented and diverse food bloggers, many of whom I have never met in person. This challenge was the perfect excuse to make this gathering a reality!

I’m sure you will recognize some familiar names; if you follow my blog, chances are you’ve run across or follow theirs, too. Some of them are also fellow contestants in Project Food Blog!

Theme and Menu

So, what do you prepare for seven sophisticated Bay Area foodies? Good question!  The challenge specifically called for hosting a luxurious dinner party where your guests will discover new tastes and exotic flavors.”

I decided to create a Filipiniana Theme – to introduce my interpretation of Philippine classics. Despite the growing appreciation for Philippine cuisine in the Bay Area, it is still not easily understood. Those who have experienced Filipino food have typically tasted it from a friend’s kitchen, as street food, from a food truck, or from a casual restaurant. Sadly, diners don’t associate Philippine cuisine with luxury.

There are, however, a few restaurants in the United States that elevate Philippine cuisine to a level that discriminant eaters can appreciate. I think of the now-closed Cendrillon that was located in New York’s SOHO and is now reincarnated as the Purple Yam Restaurant in Brooklyn.

The restaurant’s highly acclaimed owners, Amy Besa and Romy Dorotan, wrote a beautiful cookbook, Memories of Philippine Kitchens, which has been my bedside reading this past summer. I decided to bring the book back down to my kitchen, where it rightfully belongs. I was really looking forward to introducing Filipino cooking to my guests who would be tasting it for the first time.

The menu I created is a fusion of old family recipes, my own rendition on classics, and recipes from Besa and Dorotan’s book. It represents the Philippines’ complex culinary history, combining indigenous dishes with those influenced by the Spanish, Chinese, and their Southeast Asian neighbors.

Planning

The key to any successful dinner party is in the planning and the amount of work you can do in advance. There is nothing worse than hosting a party and not being able to enjoy the company of your guests!

For this party, I had to make critical decisions, particularly with the menu, to ensure that I wouldn’t have to do too much work during the party. Besides the fact that Filipino cooking can be very labor intensive with a lot of fine chopping and prep work, I also did not want to have to rely on my husband’s help with entertaining. We usually have a nice system between the two of us for throwing a party, but for this evening, my intent was to host solo. While he planned to do something special with the kids, I would have a serene, kid-free environment so I could concentrate on my guests.

Make It Easy Tips

• Select dishes that can be prepped and cooked in advance. Dishes that taste better with time (like the Baby Back Ribs) work well.

• Map out your plan of attack and create a countdown (like the one on the left).

• Let your guests take care of a dish or a course. While I told my guests that they did not have to bring anything, for those that insisted, I asked them to bring an appetizer (it’s my least favorite course to plan…shh…don’t tell anyone).

• Involve your guests! Give them a task, such as serving or plating.

• Making individual dessert servings is a lovely touch, but not necessary. Save time by making one.

Ambiance and Tablescape

This is one of my favorite parts of planning a party, and one of the first things I think about, often even before settling on the menu. I think about music, color scheme, and special touches. I wanted my table to be elegant and calm, while calling to mind the warmth of the tropics. Since I was planning the dinner party on relatively short notice, I sent out Evites to my guests, and I was particularly inspired by the colors of this one:

I coordinated some beautiful light blue linens I already own with fuschia fabric scraps purchased at the craft store as accent pieces. Basic, crisp white linens tied it all together, while the rented chairs added to the plantation feel.

A bowl of rosy-green mangos made for a simple but very suitable centerpiece, and silk flowers tucked into the napkins added an extra special touch to each setting.

The Meal

As guests trickled in, it was a great time to make introductions over wine and casual appetizers. I had set out some simple hors D’oeuvres, which were nicely enhanced by the gifts of tapenade, balsamic fig jam, and wine from my fellow foodie bloggers. For most of us, it was the first time we were meeting one another! Everyone dug in to help and it was fun to have the extra hands to serve soup and plate the dishes. Then, it was finally time to begin the meal.

Sinigang na Hipon is a tamarind based soup with prawns that also gets its rich flavor from pork belly. It can be served as a soup, as shown here, or over rice for a hearty meal. Kai-lan greens and spinach make the soup so nutritious, but it’s the Daikon radish that is my favorite part. This complex soup is tangy and vibrant, yet very satisfying. Sinigang could also be made with fish or just pork, and I consider it to be one of the truest native Filipino dishes, for its use of the indigenous sour tamarind.

 

 

Also in keeping with the very distinct sour flavor palate of many Filipino dishes, I served Baby Back Pork Ribs Adobo and Achara. This version of Adobo is from Besa and Dorotan’s cookbook, and not too different from the Chicken Adobo that I make for my family. This adobo sauce has a classic base of apple cider vinegar, soy sauce and garlic, but it has a fantastic hit of heat from jalapeno peppers. I especially loved that most of the dish could be prepared in advance, from the marinade to the braising, resulting in a succulently flavored rack of ribs.

Achara is a traditional condiment of pickled green papaya, carrots and peppers. Since I wanted the flavors to be on the lighter side, with a touch of acidity more akin to a salad, I very lightly dressed the Achara rather than allowing it to pickle into a relish. I also added jicama for a little extra crunch.

Pancit Bihon is a classic rice noodle dish that represents the Chinese influence on Philippine cuisine. In my family, it is my Tita (Aunt) Leah who has the best Pancit Bihon, and she credits the flavor to her homemade stock of pork pata (leg). I definitely take my shortcuts, including using chicken broth, but I agree, homemade stock is best. I still love hers, but I think mine is pretty darned close.

A dinner party is not complete without some wine! This 2007 Martin Alfaro Pinot Noir from Lester Family Vineyard in the Santa Cruz Mountains is beautiful and incredibly well-balanced. With rich berry notes and a smooth, smokey finish, this Pinot Noir pairs well with a variety of foods, including the Baby Back Ribs Adobo.

For dessert, there were individual servings of classic Leche Flan, otherwise known as Creme Caramel or Caramel Custard, which most likely has its origins from the Philippine’s history as a Spanish colony. Indulgent and perfect for special occasions.

The Guests

{from left} Stephanie, Lisa, Trish | Jun, Jean

I think most people would agree that the best part of any dinner party is the company.

Even mediocre food can be forgiven if your guests are having a wonderful time. I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people with whom to share this dinner! I will confess, I did experience some jitters when I realized that I would be hosting fellow food bloggers – there was that momentary feeling of panic when I thought, what if they don’t like my food?

I put those silly thoughts past me. After all, these are people I consider friends in this blogosphere. I have learned that food bloggers are extremely supportive and caring people. And after meeting them in person, I know it to be true.

Besides, I loved that I wasn’t the only person who had a camera at the meal!

Chandara

It was such a memorable night for me:

To be able to talk about blog life with people who understand. To be encouraged to take more photos of my food. To know that they really enjoyed their first taste of Sinigang. To know that my fellow Filipino foodies approved. To know that we were developing new friendships.

I can’t wait to do this again soon.

My heartfelt thanks to all who voted for my second entry to Project Food Blog!! This post is my submission for Challenge 3: Luxury Dinner Party. Contestants were asked to host a luxurious dinner party where guests will discover new tastes and exotic flavors, and to share hosting secrets with readers. Voting for this challenge takes place from 6AM Pacific Time (9AM Eastern) October 4th through 6PM Pacific Time (9PM Eastern) October 7th. Please click here to vote!

Recipe

Though this is a lengthy post, I couldn’t leave you without a recipe! I will post more soon, but to hold you over, something sweet.

Leche Flan

Caramel

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup water

Custard

  • 8 egg yolks
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1 can condensed milk
  • 1 cup evaporated milk (or water)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • grated lemon rind
  • ¼ teaspoon vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350° F.

For the caramel:

Heat a clean, heavy duty small sauce pan over medium-high heat. Add sugar and water, stir briefly just until sugar is dissolved, then allow to simmer (no more stirring!) until the sugar begins to caramelize and change color to amber. Pour into mold, tilting so all sides get coated.

For the custard:

Beat egg yolks and egg whites at high speed for about 1 minute. Add condensed milk, evaporated milk, sugar, lemon rind, and vanilla. Beat for another 2 minutes. Strain, using a cheesecloth if necessary, and pour into mold. Lightly cover with foil.

Place mold in a large baking pan. Add hot water to come up to half way up the mold. Bake for about 1 hour, 20 minutes, or until the flan is set in the center.

Alternative method: In a large pot, boil about 1 inch of water. Place mold in pot. Simmer for 40 minutes or until firm. Let cool, then place in refrigerator. When completely cold, remove leche flan from mold.

Release from mold:

Run a sharp knife along the perimeter of the mold. Dip mold in a bowl of hot water to help loosen. Place a serving platter over the mold and flip. Remove mold.

 

 

 

Comments

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  1. Priscilla - She's Cookin'

    What an A-List of food bloggers! It’s so great that you all have become such close friends. Everything about your dinner – the tips, the table settings and, of course, your gourmet take on classic Philippine cuisine, is gorgeous. I’ll continue to vote for you, Liren!

    Reply
  2. Kashia

    I love how similar Filipino and Latin American food is, and your dinner looks awesome! Good luck, you’ve got my vote :)

    Reply
  3. Megan

    How much fun to have such a stellar cast at your dinner! I love it! Best of luck – Megan

    Reply
  4. Crystal's Cozy Kitchen

    I love your planning countdown! Your table setting looks so elegant and your food looks absolutely delicious!
    I voted for you again and wish you luck for Challenge 4!

    Reply
  5. riceandwheat

    What a party, Liren! You have such an impeccable sense for style – I wouldn’t even know where to begin on such gorgeous table settings and invites. And of course, the food looks absolutely wonderful – by the way, you just added another cookbook to my wish list. :) I love that you invited fellow food bloggers to the party (gutsy move!) – they looked like they had a blast.

    Reply
    • Liren

      Thank you!! Oh, you will love this cookbook – love the photography, the history, the personal stories. Definitely one to add to your collection.

      Reply
  6. Evan @swEEts

    Some of my favorite bloggers all around one dinner table eating delicious Filipino food!? I am more than jealous!! Being Filipino I am a huuge fan of all the yummies they have to offer :) On Restaurant Wars last night one of the contestants was opening and “Pinoy” place!!

    Reply
    • Liren

      Evan, I didn’t realize you are Filipina, too? Hurray! I’m glad you recognized my wonderful guests – this is what I love about the blog world – it just makes the world of foodies a little bit smaller! Oh, I had no idea about Restaurant Wars – I’ll have to try to find it on Hulu…very neat!

      Reply
  7. Jacob's Kitchen

    Jaw dropping, as always. I mean it. Everything looks really, really lovely. And lucky you getting to spend so much time with such great inspirational bloggers. And lucky them for getting the invite! Great ideas. Perfect execution. If I wasn’t also competing I’d say that you had this competition in the bag. =) I voted for you (of course). Good luck (not that you need it) !

    Reply
  8. Sues

    I love your invitation and table setting! Everything looks so pretty… Also, awesome idea to introduce all your guests :) Definitely looks like you had a fabulous party!

    Reply
  9. A Little Yumminess

    Stacie and I are bummed to have missed this!! :( Looks so good…it’s the kind of food I love. You may have to cook for us at some point so I can stop feeling regretful.

    Reply
    • Liren

      Aw, you guys were missed! There will be a next time, I’m sure!!!

      Reply
  10. Lindsey @ Hot Polka Dot

    Beautiful Liren! Your tablescape is breathtaking and I love those layered runners. Your food looks delicious and it seems like such a great party! Do I even have to say it? Of course I’m voting for you!

    Reply
  11. Mhel B

    by the way, I linked your entry on my blog. Hope that’s ok. Goodluck again and Im hoping to see you to the next challenge….

    Reply
    • Liren

      Mhel, but of course it’s okay! I’m quite honored, thank you!!!

      Reply
  12. Lindsey @ Gingerbread Bagels

    OH MY GOODNESS after reading your entry and looking at all of the beautiful food and decor, I’m just speechless. I am beyond impressed with the party that you gave. It’s elegant but at the same time inviting. I love that you invited food bloggers and made Filippino dishes but with your own twist. Fantastic job and best of luck! Amazing, oh my word! :)

    Reply
  13. LimeCake

    what a beautiful dinner party! homey, comforting and inviting, and that’s just the food. your home is beautiful too

    Reply
  14. Julie @ Willow Bird Baking

    So wonderful!! I love recognizing the names of your guests — by the looks of it, they must have had an amazing time. I love your countdown, too, and what an amazing menu!

    Reply
  15. Monique

    What an amazing post and dinner party! Your dishes and tablescape were so beautiful. I love that you chose Filipino food, a cuisine that’s normally identified by great street food, and made it so refined. I hope to try that Sinigang myself!

    Reply
    • Liren

      I will be posting the Sinigang recipe for sure – I hope you do get to try it soon! I’m so glad you liked the post, thank you!

      Reply
  16. norma

    My daughter-in-law is half Filipino and I am sending her your post. What a spread…everything was set so beutifully. Very impressive, indeed.

    I am sad because I did not make #3 – but I have so much to learn from you and so many other incredible bloggers.

    Can’t wait to meet you in November and of course I am voting for you….

    Reply
    • Liren

      Norma, I’m so sad that you are not in this challenge, but know that my votes were with you! I look forward to meeting you soon – hope your daughter in law enjoys this!

      Reply
  17. The Cilantropist

    Wow Liren, you really outdid yourself, this is a truly stunning setting, and all your dishes look beautiful and delicious! Um, I would like to be invited next time please. ;) Also, renting chairs seems like a great idea and I would have never thought of it; is it pricey?

    Wonderful job, and definitely a perfect entry for PFB. :)

    Reply
    • Liren

      Hi Amanda, thank you SO much! I would love to have another of these gathering – if only my house were big enough for everyone! But yes, I would love to have you over one day! About the chairs, it all depends on where you go. They’re not too terribly expensive for a small party like this, but the costs can add up of course, depending on the type of chair. I definitely needed it because I wanted everyone to fit at one table rather than splitting up the group, and my dining set only had six chairs. I figured it would be easier to just rent these!

      Reply
  18. Trish

    Liren, you are a rare creature. You’re so talented, and after meeting you in person I see how authentic and kind you are. You’ve captured your dinner party beautifully. Thank you for hosting a wonderful evening.

    Reply
    • Liren

      Trish, I am so flattered – thank you so much! I can’t tell you how fun it was to finally meet you, and to find out that we have the East Coast in common! If you ever need anything, don’t hesitate to let me know :) Look forward to seeing you again soon!

      Reply
  19. Lisa

    Liren, this is amazing! I’m half Filipino and so used to eating Filipino food with just family on a regular night or at a casual mom-and-pop Filipino cafe. A lot of my Filipino friends and I have debated about whether Filipino cuisine could ever be considered gourmet and dinner parties like yours certainly bring it closer to that status! Everything looks so elegant and delicious.

    Reply
    • Liren

      Hi Lisa, oh I hope that one day, Filipino food will be appreciated as much as its other Asian counterparts. I think it’s about time, and perhaps people are ready to expand their palates a little more!

      Reply
  20. Cheryl

    What an elegant post! I always enjoy everything you do! I was especially excited about this one, after you told me about it, and of course I was not disappointed…..good luck!

    Reply
    • Liren

      I’m so glad you liked it, Cheryl! You are an entertaining queen, that means so much to me!

      Reply
  21. Jean

    Seeing as I was there, I can attest to what a beautiful evening it was. I was very happy to receive your invitation, to finally meet you in person and your preparation for the party was flawless. You’ve recounted the evening through a very nice post and I appreciate your sweet words. Kinship? I do know what you mean. :-)

    Reply
    • Liren

      Jean, thank you again for everything. It was wonderful to finally meet you in person and I never got to properly thank you for the lovely food, wine and help that night! You guys were just awesome, cleaning dishes, too! We really need to do another one of these gatherings again soon!

      Reply
  22. Winnie

    WOW! So gorgeous and inspiring! The food looks amazing and you did such a fantastic job with this post. Great job ;)

    Reply
  23. Ben

    Nice work! Looks like a great time had by all.

    P.S. I suspected this was taking place based on your guests’ tweets, and admittedly found myself wondering if I could disguise myself as one of the other bloggers. :-p

    Reply
    • Liren

      Ah Ben, you are clever figuring out tweets! We’ll have to have another Bay Area gathering – but in the meantime, will you be attending Foodbuzz Festival? At least there’s a large venue where we can all fit!! Look forward to meeting you in the near future!

      Reply
  24. Monet

    Can I just say that I am beyond impressed? I just finished my dinner party, and it is no where near yours (in any way!). This is just stunning, and it could easily be the feature of a magazine. I love how you focused on Filipino food too…it is a cuisine that I no very little about, but after seeing this post, I’m eager to explore it more. Thank you so much. You will have my vote!

    Reply
    • Liren

      Monet, a magazine? Wow, I am floored. That is the ultimate compliment :) Thank you!

      Reply
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