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Brussels Sprouts With Pancetta, Garlic, Pine Nuts And Blue Cheese + The Perfect Dinner Party

09/26/2012 08:56 am ET | Updated Nov 26, 2012
Authentic Suburban Gourmet

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There is a certain art or finesse to throwing the perfect dinner party. Let me stop for one moment since I use the term "perfect" with caution. Every person defines "perfect" differently. Perfect could mean all of the china, crystal and silver are utilized. Perfect could mean handmade baked lasagna served with a fresh salad and crunchy bread. Perfect could mean Chinese take out simply placed in large white bowls and served family style. Whatever is perfect for you is YOUR perfect.

My definition of the perfect dinner party is bringing people together for an evening of comfort, conversation and cohesiveness. A dinner party is a reason to be creative and give your guests a gift of yourself. The gift is bringing together old and new friends to share great food, wine and conversation around the dining table. A good dinner party means clean plates, numerous wine glasses, and empty bottles of wine, laughter and lovely music. It is the kind of evening where everyone wants to linger and no one wants to say goodbye.

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Over the years I have learned the art of throwing my perfect dinner party. The key is to make your guests feel comfortable the moment they arrive through the front door until the last goodbye. Planning and working backwards will aide tremendously in the success of your soirée. My trusty list that I create on 5x7 index cards is my savior. First comes the menu, then the shopping list along with the basic entertaining checklist (cleaning, setting the table, choosing the music) and the final checklist the day of the dinner party.

Work backwards to set your personal timeline that will weave in between career, family and daily errands then add to the list with dates and times to complete. Utilize your index cards and keep them in the kitchen area for ease of use. Planning will reduce stress and increase the wonderful time you will have with your guests.

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Preparing a menu that is both easy and flavorful takes a bit of skill, but something you can master quite quickly. Think about dishes you can prepare as many of the ingredients ahead of time. For example, have everything for a flavorful salad done ahead from cutting vegetables to having the dressing made and you then simply toss together and serve. Braised dishes are one of my favorites -- simply dump ingredients into a dish and bake for hours while the flavors develop those rich aromatics and your guests think you slaved over the stove for hours. The more you practice putting together menus, the easier and more adventurous you will become.

The one rule of thumb I always practice is being 100% ready a minimum of 30 minutes prior to my guests arriving. It gives me the chance to sip a bit of chilled wine along with walking through the evening in my head and checking for last minute touches. Drinks and appetizers are always ready for the guest's arrival with a customized cocktail playlist in the background. Often it is fun to have a signature drink for each event along with the usual suspects -- wine, sparkling water, beer and spirits. A signature drink can set the tone and add some whimsy to the event.

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Keep a timeline in mind when moving through the evening from the cocktail/appetizer hour to dinner to dessert to after dinner drinks and conversation. No need to rush your guests, but they will appreciate a flow to the evening. As the hostess you are the conversation starter, contributor and listener. Try adding some dinner conversation by introducing "Dinner Party Table Topics" to spice up the chatter. Ensure your guests have enough to drink, eat and are comfortable. If your guests are lingering and having a wonderful time, enjoy these special moments and cherish them.

It brings me joy to open my home, create a special menu and share great conversation with friends. Recently I threw a perfect dinner party for our wonderful friends and I am dedicating this post to you both. Mark and Dean you are simply the best!

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Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta, Garlic, Pine Nuts and Blue Cheese

1 Pound Brussels Sprouts, trim bottom and cut in half
2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
4 to 6 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced
salt and pepper
4 oz. Pancetta, small dice
1/2 cup pine nuts
1/3 cup blue cheese, crumbled

In a large pan, add a tablespoon of olive oil and then add the pancetta. Cook on medium until the pancetta is crisp. Remove from the pan. Add the Brussels and a couple more tablespoons of olive oil. Season with the salt and pepper. Cook for 5 to 9 minutes on medium until golden brown and just turning tender. Add the garlic and cook for one more minute.

Remove from the heat and toss into a large bowl. Sprinkle with the pancetta, pinenuts and blue cheese. Serve immediately.

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