Winter Dinner Party

My friend JJ McKay is known for his fantastic, even legendary, dinner parties, and practices what I call easy elegant entertaining. Just in time for your holiday parties, I’m going to share JJ’s tips with you.


  1. Don’t go overboard with what you serve. Don’t make things that are too complicated or too unfamiliar.
  2. Do things that can be prepared mostly in advance then finished off at the last minute. It will allow you time to mingle with your guests and not spend the whole party in the kitchen.
  3. Invite a high-spirited, diverse and eclectic group of people who don’t all know each other.
  4. Have everyone introduce themselves before sitting down to dinner and say two sentences about what is new with them.
  5. Have seats assigned so couples are mixed up. This gets the ball rolling for lively conversations and gives lots of energy to the party.
  6. Give everyone at the table a “job”: opening wine; lighting candles; serving the first course; pouring water. This gets people moving about instead of making awkward small talk.

Here’s my menu for a Northwest winter dinner party, complete with blushing pears, hearty root veggies, and toasty nuts. We start with Creamy Roasted Parsnip Soup with Chevre and Walnut Crostini. The soup can be made ahead and then just finished off. Then we move on to an entrée of oven-roasted Spiced Chicken with Pears and Port—full of autumn flavors—accompanied by effortless Herbed Lemon Orzo. The meal is topped off with Chocolate Espresso Martinis—shaken up, served in small martini glasses, and topped with a dollop of chocolate whipped cream—for just a little something sweet at the end. These are also great served with little butter cookies or your favorite chocolate cookie baked in mini size.


So, I’ve supplied the menu, now all you have to do is invite a delightful group of friends!



Creamy Roasted Parsnip Soup with Chevre & Walnut Crostini

Makes 6 servings

4 cups 1/2-inch-sliced peeled parsnips (about 1 1/2 pounds)

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 tablespoons butter

1/4 cup thinly sliced shallots

1 stalk celery, chopped (about 1/2 cup)

3 cloves garlic, finely minced

1/2 cup dry white wine

4 cups chicken broth (I used packaged organic broth)

1 cup heavy cream

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper


6 1/4-inch-thick slices baguette or French bread

Olive oil

3 ounces chevre (goat cheese)

3 tablespoons chopped walnuts, lightly toasted

Garnish: thinly sliced fresh chives and/or celery leaves


Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.


First, toast the bread for the croutons: Lay the bread on a baking sheet, brush slices lightly with oil, and toast in the preheated oven for about 3 – 5 minutes, or until just lightly golden. Remove and let cool. (You can do this the day before and keep croutons in a tightly closed container after they cool.)


Toss parsnips and olive oil together in a bowl to coat evenly. Spread out on a baking sheet (you can reuse the one used for the bread), and roast till golden and totally tender, about 30 minutes.


Heat butter in a large pot over medium-high heat. Sauté shallots and celery until very tender, about 3 minutes; do not brown. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for about 30 seconds more. Add wine and bring to a boil. Add chicken broth, cream and roasted parsnips and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium or low, to maintain a slow simmer. Cook for about 5 minutes and then add salt and cayenne. In small batches, puree mixture in a blender. (Be careful; it’s hot!)


Return soup to pan and adjust seasoning if needed. Cool and refrigerate for up to 3 days before serving.


To serve the soup and finish the crostini: Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Spread the cheese on the croutons, then top each one with a half-tablespoon of nuts. Press in slightly and bake for about 4 minutes or until cheese is warmed.


Meanwhile, heat the soup, stirring often, over medium heat till hot, making sure it does not stick on the bottom. Serve the hot soup in warm bowls. Top with chives or celery leaf and serve a warm goat cheese crouton on the side.


© Kathy Casey Food Studios® 2008


Spiced Chicken with Pears and Port

This is a great entrée for a dinner party. I also love it sprinkled with blue cheese right before serving for a delicious twist.

Makes 6 servings

3 firm ripe fresh pears

2 teaspoons ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground cardamom

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 tablespoon kosher salt

6 skin-on, bone-in chicken breast halves

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 shallots, thinly sliced

6 cloves fresh garlic, sliced

1 unpeeled lemon, sliced (about 9 slices)

1 cup port wine

1 teaspoon cornstarch (optional)

1/4 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves for garnishing


Preheat an oven to 375 degrees F.


Cut pears in half and core. Cut each half in half and then in half again—to make large chunks. Reserve.


In a small bowl, mix the spices and salt. Lay the chicken on a baking sheet or piece of waxed paper or plastic wrap, and sprinkle each piece liberally on both sides with the spice mixture.


In a large nonstick skillet or sauté pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat until hot. Sauté half of the chicken for about 3 minutes on each side, or until the skin is deep golden brown and crispy. As the pieces are browned, place them, skin side up, in a 10-by-15-inch baking pan or small roasting pan. Repeat with the remaining chicken.

Pour off any excess oil, then sauté the pears, shallots, garlic, and lemon for about 1 minute. Add the port and stir to scrape up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Bring just to a boil, and then add the hot mixture, with all the goodies, to the roasting pan, pouring it around, not over, the chicken to keep the browned crust intact.

Roast for about 40 to 45 minutes, or until the chicken is opaque throughout and nicely browned on the outside, with an internal temperature of 160 degrees F (chicken will gain another 5 degrees on standing).


Transfer the chicken to a platter or individual plates and keep warm. Using a slotted spoon, retrieve the pears, shallots, garlic, and lemon slices from the sauce and distribute them over the chicken. Place the roasting pan on a burner on high heat and cook to reduce the sauce to about 3/4 cup. (If you like your sauce to have a bit more body, mix 1 teaspoon of cornstarch with 2 teaspoons of water until smooth and whisk into the reducing sauce. Cook till lightly thickened.) Taste the sauce for seasoning, adjust if needed, then drizzle the sauce over the chicken and goodies. Scatter with parsley leaves for garnish.


Adapted from Kathy Casey’s Northwest Table cookbook, Chronicle Books –

© Kathy Casey Food Studios® 2008


Herbed Lemon Orzo

Makes 6 servings

12 ounces dry orzo pasta (2 cups)

2 tablespoons butter, salted

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon very finely minced shallots

1/2 cup very coarsely chopped Italian parsley leaves

1/4 cup thinly sliced chives

1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon finely minced lemon zest

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

fresh-ground black pepper

1/3 cup finely grated mizithra cheese, or substitute parmesan


Bring 3 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Stir in orzo and cook for approximately 6 – 7 minutes, stirring often, until just al dente or per package instructions. Immediately drain well, then place orzo in a heat-proof bowl. Stir in butter, olive oil, shallots and herbs to coat well. Then stir in lemon juice, zest, seasonings and cheese. Serve immediately.


© Kathy Casey Food Studios® 2008


Chocolate Espresso Martinis

Makes 6 servings

Cocktail Pre-mix

1/2 cup Starbucks coffee liqueur

1/2 cup Amarula Cream or Baileys Irish Cream liqueur

3 tablespoons high-quality chocolate sauce, such as Fran’s or Scharffen Berger

1/2 cup vanilla vodka

Chocolate Cream

1/3 cup whipping cream

2 tablespoons chocolate sauce

Garnish: coffee beans, chocolate-covered espresso beans or chocolate shavings


In a small container, combine the cocktail pre-mix ingredients. Then transfer to a pretty bottle with a pour spout. The pre-mix can be made up to 1 week in advance and kept refrigerated.


To make the cream: In a small bowl, combine the whipping cream and chocolate sauce and whip until very, very softly peaked.


For each cocktail, fill a cocktail shaker with ice and then measure in 2 ounces (1/4 cup) of the pre-mix. Shake vigorously for 10 seconds, then strain into a small martin glass. Top each cocktail with a dollop of the whipped cream and garnish with coffee beans and/or chocolate.


© Kathy Casey Food Studios® 2008

Posted by Kathy on December 18th, 2008  |  Comments Off on Winter Dinner Party |  Posted in Cocktails, Dishing with Kathy Casey Blog, KOMO Radio, poultry, sides, soups

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