open homes and fromage blanc

Dinner parties are our favorite.

The unfortunate truth, however, is that they seem to be a dying art form. Happy hours and lunches out certainly take the prize for “getting to know you” settings, and even home gatherings seem to veer toward the potluck route. [We gather that potlucks will be around as long as there are people to feed and 20-somethings running the show…]

Who knows what the hesitations surrounding the dinner party is: the intimacy of inviting someone into your home, the pressure of cooking an entire meal for more than one or two people, or the fear of needing to entertain, which occupies a stratosphere well beyond simply putting meals on plates.

It’s true, there really is an art to entertaining. To not only be a gracious and attentive host, but also to engage in conversation while simultaneously creating something wholly memorable for dinner, drink, and dessert.

We, of course, love hosting dinner parties. They are our go-to pick for any socialization, despite my tendency to get a tad [okay, out of control] frantic about making sure everything appears clean before our guests’ arrival.

We love feeding people and allowing “opening our home” to serve as a metaphor for “opening our hearts”. But as much as we prefer hosting our own dinner parties, there is something infinitely more special about being invited to one. To kick back and simply arrive with whatever bottle of wine or can’t-refuse appetizer we can conjure up on a dime.

Which is exactly what happened this week. It had been ages since we had visited Nate and Lyndsay on their homestead [probably since their wedding back in September], so we were more than thrilled when they invited us to their home for a little President’s Day dinner. Our friend, Beth, would also be joining, bringing us to a lively dinner group of 5 [and 2 dogs].

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: these are the people you want at your dinner party. Their knowledge of the earth and its bounty is unparalleled, and every time we visit, I swear I end up vying for a new kitchen gadget or learning something new to apply to our less-than-extraordinary gardening endeavors. [This time, it was the Kitchen Aid pasta roller attachments. You better believe that we Amazon’d that amazingness the very next morning.]

homemade pasta

They are foodies through and through, and dinner parties at their homestead in Golden are events to warm the heart.

The scene looks something like this: Chris Thile’s mandolin ringing through the speakers, two ginger dogs rolling around on the rug, chickens undoubtedly plucking away in their coup outside, glasses of wine and French 75 cocktails poured in abundance, and Lyndsay in her apron, assembling the many pieces of our meal in the kitchen while we share silly anecdotes about cat antics and hilarious pieces of cooking advice.

dogs playing

It’s a merry-go-round of intelligence with a group of people—I will admit—I often feel out of place among simply because their knowledge of the world surpasses my knowledge of anything [except perhaps travel logistics and nonprofit arts administration…].

It’s also a chance for us to be wow’d by yet another Lyndsay specialty. This time, it was homemade pasta served with a brown butter, beet, and poppy seed sauce. With this beautiful blood red pasta was also a healthy serving of goat cheese, a spattering of parsley, a helping of cooked spinach, and a solitary, “cherry on top” fried egg. The result was something that I described as “rustic yet sophisticated” and that Jason simply called “homemade and tasty.” [Basically, it was so good that there was simply no time for pictures...]

This is what you might call a high-stakes dinner party. What you bring to it is obviously welcome, but let’s be serious: you are expected to bring your A-game. Which is what Jason, Beth, and I definitely tried to do.

Beth knocked it out of the park with her mango pudding topped with fresh raspberries – a surprisingly refreshing complement to Lyndsay’s flourless chocolate torte.

Our contribution put Jason’s most recent forays in the kitchen to the test: homemade cheese. He took a cheese course eons ago [while I was learning about pastries] and has been talking about mastering the art of it ever since. This year, he finally committed to it and the product has been indulgent to say the least.

cheesemaking kit

The process of making Jason’s Fresh Fromage Blanc may take 25-or-so hours start to finish, but it is wonderfully hands-off and incredibly difficult to ruin, not to mention altogether impressive when brought to a dinner party! Here’s how we did it:

Fresh Fromage Blanc

Ingredients

  • 1 gallon of milk [As high quality as you can get, raw if you can get it. Nothing ultra-heat treated or ultra-pasteurized… the cheaper the milk, the cheaper the cheese.]
  • 1 packet of C101 [aka cheese bacteria]
  • 1 pill of dry rennet or 1/4 tsp of liquid rennet
  • Cheesecloth
  • Fresh basil and parsley or herbs of your choice
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil

Instructions

  1. Heat up the milk to about 80-degrees on the stovetop.
  2. Stir in the rennet and sprinkle the bacteria on top. Let set for about 5 minutes before fully stirring in the bacteria. Set aside covered on the counter for about 12 hours.
  3. After 12 hours, spoon the curds into a cheesecloth lined strainer situated over a bowl.
  4. Tie the cheesecloth off and let it drip drain [into a pot or into the sink] for 8 to 12 hours. 12 hours will yield a more goat cheese-like consistency, while 8 hours will be more spreadable.
  5. Remove from cheesecloth. If more solid, roll the cheese into a ball and roll it in salt, pepper, and fresh herbs, such as basil and/or parsley. If it is more spreadable, place in a bowl and mix with salt and pepper your choice of herbs. Drizzle olive oil on top for even more flair.

Serve with fresh bread and any accoutrement of your choosing, such as dried meat, fresh berries, and balsamic vinegar.

homemade cheese homemade cheese


For an easier cheese that doesn’t require you to obtain cheese bacteria, try making Ricotta instead. It’s incredibly simple and will sure to be a showstopper at any dinner party, no matter how hight the stakes are!

Ricotta

Ingredients

  • 1 gallon milk
  • 1 c. lemon juice
  • Cheesecloth

Instructions

  1. Bring the milk to 175-degrees on the stovetop.
  2. Turn the heat to low, add the lemon juice, and stir.
  3. Curds will form quickly on the surface. As they do, scoop them out with a slotted spoon or small strainer and place into a cheesecloth lined strainer situated over a bowl.
  4. Allow to drain until it is the desired consistency, from 1 to 3 hours.

And there you have it… your next “wow-them” appetizer [or entrée, if we’re completely honest about our eating habits] for your next dinner party or gathering.

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