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October 3, 2010 in project food blog32 comments

Project Food Blog Challenge #3: Winter is Coming — A Literary Dinner Party

Thanks to all of you who voted for Shiny Cooking in round 2 of Foodbuzz’s Project Food Blog challenge. I made it to round 3, whose theme was a “luxury dinner party.” Project Food Blog is now over, but still: wrap something warm about you while you continue reading, because winter is coming.

currant sorbet, served in tiny flutes as a palate cleanser

When the third challenge came up — and they all come up suddenly, by the way, the way everything we know about for ages does — to host a luxury dinner party, I was still undecided as to a theme. As I researched fancy-schmancy vegetarian main courses suitable for autumn that might use vegetables still growing in my garden, I came across a showstopper from the now-defunct Gourmet magazine: Pumpkin Stuffed with Vegetable Stew.

Wow. This I could work with. The stew fit perfectly with my itch to host a party consisting entirely of foods described in George R. R. Martin’s book series A Song of Ice and Fire (ASOIAF). Here’s how the party all worked out, along with some totally serious and not snarky tips for throwing a successful dinner party. Yeah. Enjoy the snark-free ride while you can.

Tip #1: Have a Theme

vegetable stew served in pumpkin, how the characters would probably eat it

Most often, you’ll be lucky enough to have a theme built into your party planning. I mean, nobody has ever felt the need to throw a Super Bowl party with a Rocky Horror theme. I totally would never, ever, do that. Normally, the party will be in response to a specific occasion: a birthday, a holiday, a landmark event. However, every once in a while you’ll find yourself the competitor in a blogging contest, just for a crazy example, or maybe you just get the itch to have a bunch of people over and get the cloth napkins out. It’s at those times that you need to sit down and pick out a theme. Having a theme helps focus your efforts, even if it’s just a cuisine or a color.

Unlimited possibilities are stifling. Limited possibilities with well-defined boundaries are freeing — you have your parameters, and whatever you choose within them will by definition be successful, because it meets your criteria for entering your sphere of consideration.

Tip #2: Love Your Lists

song of ice and fire "winter is coming" dinner party menu

I love my lists and I cannot lie. Once I stumbled across that vegetable stew recipe, I knew that “Winter is coming” would be my dinner party theme, and that, by hook or by crook, I was damn well going to faithfully represent dishes served at meals and feasts in the books of the Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin. It’s a swords-and-horsies medieval sort of tale set in a world just like ours, it just happens to not be ours. In other words, it’s the sort of story I usually run far away from. Except. This one has characters. Martin takes every stereotype of the genre, every trope imaginable, introduces them, and then turns them on their head. Plus, intrigue and politics. And a badass 11-year old girl with a sword called Needle. In other words, these books are irresistible. And, while fantasy writers tend to become used to the sound of their own voice and begin to drone on boringly the longer their series get, Martin himself does not. I get bored in a lot of books, but not these. It’s good stuff.

And the series has lots of food in it. Sure, sometimes the food is at disastrous nuptials that go down in history as “The Red Wedding” but pshaw. A meal is a meal, even if you get accidentally disemboweled after.

The first list you need is your menu. You may find the angel of insanity tempting you, as it did me, with 3-day vegetable stew recipes served up in a whole roast pumpkin.

You may indulge this insanity. I give you permission to select one insane dish for your dinner party. However, you must also listen to the middle manager of sensibility and make sure the other dishes you select fall in the realm of probability with a decent p value.

angie and bill

Make lists for other things too. The guest list. The grocery list. The time list: What dishes can be made ahead of time? And how much — an hour, a day, a week ahead? Make sure not everything in your menu requires last-minute attention, unless you’ve gotten your hands on one of those handy new cloning machines, in which case you’ve probably already got several mini-mes running around and you certainly don’t need to be reading this.

You can see that I got a bit ahead of myself in these pictures: the table isn’t perfectly set how I’d like, and the kitchen counters are a mess. I made the error having two things to prepare at the last minute, in addition to the salad, and the decor suffered for it!

Tip #3: Make Use of Slave Guest Labor

greens dressed with apples and pine nuts, from a song of ice and fire book a clash of kings

Your guests want your dinner party to be successful as much as you do. If they don’t, see about getting them a part as a villain on a soap opera and get them out of your hair. True, some of the guests you might want to pamper, but certainly at least a few you are inviting are close friends…and what are close friends for?

Working, that’s what. Put your helpful friends to work. Ask one to come early if they seem amenable. Have them do last-minute prep, like assembling salads, as Angie did with the salad of greens with apples and pine nuts. “Let” helpful guests set the table or fill serving dishes.

angie cleans up real good!

Here’s a special tip, straight from my vault: do try to have your dinner table in the kitchen, not in a dining room. Being so close to all the dishes, and the sink, will inspire your guests to hop to it and help straightaway with cleanup. Works for me!

the party: winter is coming

the pumpkin

The main dish was a vegetable stew cooked inside a roasted pumpkin.

that roasted whole pumpkin has kickass vegetable stew in it

It should have been a stellar presentation.

pumpkin before and after

But the pumpkin I chose was a bit lopsided.

serving stew from a gutted pumpkin

And we had to put it back in the roaster before it chose to have stew babies all over the table. It held together after all, in the end, but I just know if I’d left it all naked on the table it would have burst open just to vex me.

cheers from becky and bill and angie's hand

So the table wasn’t quite as lovely as I’d hoped it would be, but that was made up for by the gushing over the stew. They really, really liked it. We had corn fritters too, but those went…kinda fast, too fast for photos.

making hippocras

That wine we’re drinking, by the way, is hippocras, an old-timey spiced wine called a digestive or digestif if you’re being fancy. I made it. I also roasted the vegetables for the homemade broth for the stew, and we made seitan from scratch — twice. I’m scared of it, but don’t tell anyone.

lemon cakes frosted in sugar

After the hummus with pita chips and kalamata olives as an appetizer (all specialties of the region of Dorne in the ASOIAF books) and salad, we had the one dish completely unrelated to anything in Martin’s Westeros: currant sorbet as a palate cleanser. I just couldn’t resist the idea of putting tiny bits of pretty pink sorbet in those teeny tiny flutes (see the first pic, up top). And then after the main course of vegetable stew and corn fritters, it was time to break out a classic Westeros dessert: lemon cakes frosted in sugar. I thought of following it to the letter with a glazed lemon pound cake, but decided to combine the books’ love of lemons and oats and make lemon-oat bars from King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking.

yum, vegetable stew brimming with seitan

Let’s have one last look at that luscious stew, shall we?

tip #4: Have Something for Guests to Do After Dinner

the moat card, essential in attack card games

Angie and Bill had to book, but Becky stuck around and the three of us played Dominion. I won both games, because that’s the way I roll.

becky plays dominion, yes she does

Dinner parties are great for one reason: they bring us together — for food and socialization. Even though they’re a lot of work — this is only the second “serious” dinner party I’ve thrown — I always seem to like them in the end. People love being fed and really, they’re easy to please. Although this one was stressful because so much is on the line (competition! ack!), I had a great time seeing my friends, making delicious food for them, and playing games with them. I hope my experience helps give you the confidence to throw a dinner party too!

If you enjoyed this post, please give me a vote in Project Food Blog and help me advance to round 4! Thank you and remember, valar morghulis.

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your comments

  1. Runeatrepeat says:

    Love the reminder to have something for guests to do after dinner. My friend is great about that and I always have the best time at her dinner parties!

    • Amy says:

      My gamer friends Julianne and Bob set this standard. Now I can’t imagine a dinner party or dinner with friends without games after at some point. Thanks for coming by! :)

  2. What a fun evening! I love stuffed pumpkins. =)

  3. Joan Nova says:

    I liked the lopsided pumpkin – gives you an easy peek inside. Nice entry. Good luck.

  4. Niki says:

    My husband is a huge George R.R. Martin fan, and we would have loved this party! Good luck in round 3:-).

    • Amy says:

      Thanks! I was really surprised at how much I enjoyed the books. Your husband should read/subscribe (I subscribe by RSS) to GRRM’s blog, in which GRRM talks about football and fan cons and the HBO series and occasionally about Dance With Dragons. ;-)

  5. sippitysup says:

    Terrific event! I also adore the lopsided pumpkin. GREG

    • Amy says:

      Laf! Solidarity with all the lopsided pumpkin lovers. :) It didn’t seem so bad when I was picking the pumpkin out from Jennifer’s (my sister’s) garden, but like the leaning tower of Pisa, it only got worse as time wore on!

      It’s the Leaning Tower of Pumpkin, I suppose.

  6. girlichef says:

    I think the smiling guests and full bellies says it all! I love the lopsided pumpkin, too…it’s got character! Love your entry…I’ll be back to vote tomorrow- good luck!! :)

  7. Maya @ Foodiva's Kitchen says:

    That pumpkin stew really had my stomach grumbling! Well done with the dinner party, these are actually the kind of meals I enjoy sitting down to. And no, I wasn’t fishing for an invitation, btw! Good luck on this PFB round.

  8. shaz says:

    Awesome party, and stew babies is my new favourite turn of phrase :) Good luck!

  9. Wow, that looks like a fab party. I love the look of the veggie stew :)
    *kisses* HH

  10. Camille says:

    I used to love the feast scenes in Brian Jacques’ Redwall books as a kid (and as a teenager…) – love that you used books as one of your themes! You’re getting one of my votes.

  11. Leilani says:

    Sorbet is a fun food, but there is an actual palate cleansing beverage out on the market called SanTasti ( It’s a beverage that you drink, tastes like a sparkling water, but has other ingredients to actually make it work. You can get a sample to try from their website. All other “palate cleansers” leave flavors/residues.

  12. jen cheung says:

    VOTEDDDDDDD! Good luck! Wish you all the best!

    jen @

  13. I love the concept of stew served in the pumpkin! :) great job!


  14. rebecca says:

    The food was fabulous, and so was the company. Great time indeed & I was delighted to be included. Thanks again!

  15. Liz says:

    Love the literary theme. What fun!

  16. Jessica says:

    This looks fabulous! Love your entry! Hope we both make it to the next round! :-) You have my vote!

  17. Jun Belen says:

    Loved your post! What a wonderful menu and photos. I loved all your tips too! And I agree — dinner parties celebrate food and friendships! Well done!

  18. Marisa says:

    Love your writing style! And you’ve given your readers some great tips here. *vote*

  19. Allison says:

    Everything looks yummy!

  20. Amy says:

    Wow! Thank you all so much for stopping by and your thoughtful comments.

    Don’t be shy about posting your own PFB voting links. It makes it easier for me to visit you back.

  21. @lickmyspoon says:

    Did you make a 20 sided die “that’s how I roll” joke in this post? If so, you’ve got my vote. If not, I’m voting for you for putting on what looks like the greatest book club meeting of all time. Good luck this week!

    Lick My Spoon

  22. Amy K. says:

    Looks like a fun party! I like your sense of humor!

    PS – I have a Canon P&S also! You can work wonders with it, don’t you agree?

  23. Reeni says:

    I love that your theme was based on a book! And from my favorite genre! Your stew looks hearty and comforting – and how neat to serve it in a pumpkin. Good luck!

  24. James says:

    OMG who are you? You know ASIOAF and you play Dominion?! You rock! (I was linked to this by a friend in an ASOIAF comm, btw.) I do have to say that this dinner was a bit vegetarian for my taste, but it’s still a fantastic idea and I commend you for doing it!

  25. Dana says:

    What a cool presentation… serving your main dish in a pumpkin is sure to impress your guests! Great job with this…. good luck!

  26. Jenni says:

    Love! I love that your guests had to work for their supper, and that stew in the pumpkin looks Amazing! You have one of my votes!

  27. Sue says:

    That’s a great looking dinner – got my vote. Good luck :-)

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