Saturday, January 24, 2009

Foodie Films: Big Night Italian Luncheon

This month, I started a new get together theme with friends called Foodie Films. It's a spin off of the previous 'Read, Watch & Eat' event where we watch a food related film and enjoy a potluck lunch of dishes inspired by the movie. To kick off our first Foodie Film event I chose the movie, Big Night. This film is about a failing Italian restaurant run by two brothers... and they try to save the business by hosting a special night at their restaurant.


Here's our Italian luncheon menu (with clickable recipes) which we enjoyed before watching the movie...

Bruschetta with Tomato & Basil
Bruschetta with Tomato & Mozzarella
Pesto Pinwheels
Orange & Beet Layered Salad
Risotto
Spring Mix Salad

Cheese platter

Roast Chicken Breasts with Garlic & Herbs
Spaghetti w/Homemade Pasta Sauce

Timpano (aka baked lasagna en croute)
Tiramisu Ice Cream


For wines, I served the following:
(descriptions are taken from Alcohol Reviews.com)
Montepulciano d'Abruzzo: Generally medium-bodied and flavorful with red fruits and a slightly vegetal note. Lighter examples are smooth and easy to drink; the best wines are concentrated and denser in texture.

Sangiovese: This works well with any Italian or Mediterranean cuisine, especially pastas. It is the perfect choice of wine to serve at a barbeque or even with different types of cheese. They do not work well when paired with fish dishes because they overpower the taste of the fish.

Chianti: Very dry, medium-bodied, moderately tannic wine with lovely tart-cherry flavor, mainly from Sangiovese grapes grown in the Chianti area of Tuscany.

Pinot Grigio: Generally light-bodied, dry and crisp, with subdued aromas and flavors and no oakiness. Made from Pinot Gris grapes, usually in Northeastern Italy. Wines from Collio or Alto-Adige DOCs are usually the best.


A suggestion of some of my readers was to include how I manage to do my dinner events. With the events I host, I'll be including how I prepare for them, which may be helpful for those who would like to host a similar event with friends and family. You'll notice that a lot of the things I do to prepare for my events are the same for each event I host.

Although I may not have appreciated it before, but having to grow up as a child to two caterers was hard work! It's from my parents who I learned a lot of my entertaining and party planning from since they were always catering and entertaining every single weekend as long as I can remember. I definitely owe it to my mom for teaching me how to effectively organize and plan parties and events... then again, I had no choice. So how I execute my events for my group are just part of my routine that come naturally after hosting and entertaining for years. My many friends and What's Cookin Chicago group members can attest to how particular I am for all the events I've hosted reflected in my blog and those I've done prior to blogging!


Preparing a day before:
  • For my Italian luncheon, I didn't get a chance to pick up a traditional red & white checked linen. So instead, I opted for a simple white tablecloth, a neutral runner to provide some color and silver chargers for my dinner plates to rest on.

  • I normally don't use any centerpieces because the focus on my tables are usually the food and wines. But if you wanted to have a centerpiece, I would suggest something simple and low so that you and your guests are able to see each other across the table. Nothing is more annoying at a table than a centerpiece you have to dodge around to see and speak comfortably with guests! For my lunch I just put out a few tealights in clear votives.

  • To save time, I set the table the night before with all the serving ware & utensils, dinnerware, appropriate flatware, glassware, chargers/placemats and linens. I also take some time to fold napkins to add some flair to the table.

  • Since this luncheon is a potluck, I have various serving ware (bowls & platters) and serving utensils ready for friends to transfer their potluck dishes into. This allows a more streamlined presentation at the table and ensures all dishes can be passed easily. When having a family style meal, it's important to note that your serving pieces should not be too heavy and are easy to pass. Avoid large, heavy serving pieces or ones that are an awkward shape for your guests to handle at the table.

  • For every 3 people attending, I have a water carafe and a bottle of wine set on the table which prevents having folks to get up for drinks.

  • Because I planned to have lunch first and then watch the movie, I set my buffet in advance with cups, saucers, teaspoons, coffee & tea accompaniments. About an hour before my guests arrived, I made some freshly brewed tea and coffee which I placed in carafes that kept it hot until we were ready to enjoy it after the movie.

  • I also placed my dessert serving ware on a tray on top my buffet so it would be ready for me to assemble after the movie.

Preparing the day of:
  • In the living room, I positioned our seating to accomodate the number of guests around our tv. The movie is ready in the DVD player and is set so I all I have to do is press play.

  • We won't be enjoying dessert immediately after our meal so I placed a few small bowls of mints in the living room. To keep with the theme, I chose red, white and green mints (Italian colors).

Preparing 1 hour before guests arrive:
  • Regardless of whenever my event is scheduled, I finish preparing the dishes I'm serving about 1 hour before my guests arrive. To keep them warm until then, I set my oven to 200-250 and store my prepared dishes there, with the serving pieces/utensils I plan to use nearby. I don't like fussing over things I need to do when guests are over so I make sure I set my deadline to 1 hour before they come... that way when they are here, I can give them 100% of my attention.

  • Brew coffee and tea then place in carafes to stay warm on the buffet table.

  • When folks are bringing dishes to a potluck, it can be a little challenging as the hostess, especially if I'm not ready for them. One big distraction is a cluttered and messy kitchen. An hour before guests arrive, aside from having my prepared dishes ready, I also clean my kitchen and workspace:
    -- No dirty dishes, pots, and pans are allowed in my sink when they arrive - friends can wash up and do some last minute prep without having obstacles in the way in the sink. I also make sure soap and paper towels are refilled if needed.
    -- My stove, oven and microwave are clear of any pots, pans, bakingware and are wiped down clean - friends can use my stove and ovens to warm up or finish cooking their dishes.
    -- The garbage has been taken out and a fresh empty garbage can is nearby - so folks can discard foil, plastic wrap, packaging, etc without asking where the garbage can is and from having the garbage can getting too full.
    -- Counterspace is all wiped down and is ready for friends to use.

Preparing 15 minutes before guests arrive:
  • About 15 minutes before my guests arrived, I filled my water carafes with ice and water, opened up my wine so they could breathe a bit and lit my tealights to set the mood. Soft jazz is playing, however if you wanted more of an Italian mood, play some Italian music!

  • I also check the bathroom to ensure there is enough toilet paper available, the hand soap is refilled and clean hand towels are ready.

  • Lastly, I do one more walk through of the places where my guests will be going through to check for cleanliness - living room, second bedroom, bathroom, dining room & table and kitchen.

Event start time/as guests arrive:
  • As guests arrive and settle in, I have them place their coats/jackets/belongings.

  • I also have drinks and appetizers ready for folks to nosh on while we await for all my guests to arrive.

  • I then welcome them into the kitchen to plate the dish they've brought to the potluck. If they need to do any last minute prep, my kitchen is available for their disposal. If they need to transfer their dish to something smaller or more appropriate, my serving ware and serving dishes are ready for their use.

  • If folks need to use the oven, I remove any dishes being warmed, plate and set on the table.

  • Once their dishes are plated, I take them to get photographed (for blog and our group website purposes) before we place them on the table.

  • For my parties, I generally allow a 30 minute cushion to allow for traffic, parking, and public transportation timing. I tend to start our meal 30 minutes after the set time I indicate in my invitations. This is communicated to my guests and I also welcome them to arrive early if needed.

About 30 minutes after our event time/as guests arrive:
  • We all gather at the table and do a round of introductions along with a little explanation or information of what we brought to share at the table.

  • Then we dig in! It's such a great time to be able to enjoy various dishes and learn about the recipes and each other.

After lunch:
  • We moved into the living room and settle in with our food coma to watch the movie.

After the movie:
  • We enjoyed dessert, coffee, tea & more wine, which was easy to do seamlessly since everything was ready and waiting for us in the dining room.

  • To add to the fun, we also played a board game (Scattergories).

  • We was definitely a fun time enjoying a fabulous meal and a great movie with friends!