The decision about a theme each year comes to us in different ways. When we first began, we tended to stick to country or region themes, Greece, Spain, France, Southern, Chicago, etc. One year we decided that our themes should center around our favorite cookbook or chef.
That year, a couple of months before our Gr8 Dinner Vince and I went to Seattle to visit our daughter and ate at one of our favorite restaurants, Lark. As it happened, Chef John Sundstrom had just released a new cookbook, LARK - Cooking Against the Grain.
Chef John was at the restaurant that night and he was happy to sign four cookbooks. Those cookbooks became the invitations. Each one was handwritten on the book's paper bag (remember, we only have to do 3!). And the invitations were delivered with one of the tools that each cook would need to complete her assigned recipe. (Granted, I spent a little more on these invitations than I normally do, but I considered them gifts to my friends. And everything was useful!)
Chef John creates recipes for his restaurant based upon the regional and seasonal foods available. And all of the dishes are fresh, fresh, fresh. This fresh and local theme made the planning simple. All the recipes were from the Lark Cookbook. And for the decor we used a natural linen tablecloth and the centerpiece was created with foliage from our yard. Pick up a natural colored linen tablecloth the next time you see a sale, it is a versatile color and easy to launder. The color and texture will take you from very casual through to a little more fancy; and you can pair any color napkins with the tablecloth!
It's great that our farmer's market in town is on Saturdays. The morning of the Lark dinner we walked to the outdoor market and were able to get locally sourced vegetables and seafood to follow the spirit of Chef John's cooking and complete the evening's meal.
We like to add an activity so Vince came up with the idea of renting bikes and taking a tour of our small town. There is an electric bike rental store just around the corner from our house. We made arrangements ahead of time with the store, but kept it a secret from the rest of the Great 8. We just told them to dress comfortably for an activity.
What fun we had! As soon as our friends arrived, we told them the plan and took our ride, when we got back to the house everyone was ready for a drink and some appetizers! It was a Gr8 way to start the evening.
It's a Lark
◊ EVENING MENU ◊
- Appetizers -
Debbie brought Yellow Tomato Soup
Salumi Coppa (Lark Cookbook)
- Salad -
Unstructured Salad with Green Goddess Dressing (Lark Cookbook)
- Entrée -
Lamb Chops with Honey-Glazed Carrots (Lark Cookbook)
Wild Sockeye Salmon with Corn and Lobster Mushroom Ragout (Lark Cookbook)
Pommes de Terre Robuchon - made and brought by Kyle
- Dessert -
Grown-Up Strawberry Floats by Jurga
This seems like a complicated menu, but if you are organized, it comes together nicely. Two weeks before the dinner sit down with a cup of coffee (or a glass of wine!) and a pad of paper. Read all the recipes and make a time-line. Much of this menu could be made ahead of time. This eliminated a lot of the same-day prep. Plus, don't forget, three of the dishes were being brought by the guests!
Suggested Timeline for the Lark Gr8 Dinner:
- Up to 2 weeks -
- Prepare the invitations and deliver.
- Ensure that you have all the pantry items required for the menu. Shop for those that you don't have. (I ordered a couple of the ingredients on Amazon to be truly authentic to the recipes.)
- Make the spread that accompanies the Salumi Coppa, and store covered in the refrigerator.
- Make the Lavender Salt for the Lamb Chop entrée and keep in a sealed container.
- One week -
- Choose the linens, dishes and silverware for the dining table.
- Decide where you will serve the appetizers and drinks and plan the linens and decor for that space.
- Plan the centerpiece and place cards, if using.
- Decide which serving dishes to use and mark with slips of paper inside each one.
- Shop for the groceries for the Corn Broth and Dressing.
- Three days -
- Make the Corn Broth for the Salmon Entrée
- Set the table, if you will be dining inside and can spare a table. If not, at least get all the dishes, silverware and decor items together in one place to make setting the table quick on the day of the dinner.
- Two days -
- Make the Green Goddess Dressing and keep refrigerated.
- Clean out your refrigerator so you have room for everything!
- The day before -
- Shop for the fresh groceries: meats, olives, bread, etc. (You can buy the bread the day before because it will be toasted.)
- Wash the lettuce and refrigerate.
- Put the olives in the designated serving dish, cover and refrigerate.
- Marinate the lamb chops.
- Run your dishwasher and empty it.
- The morning of -
- Buy the clams and salmon and fresh produce and fresh herbs.
- For the Manila Clams with Chorizo:
- Clean the clams and store in the refrigerator.
- Chop and cut the ingredients and store in bowls covered with plastic wrap.
- For the Salumi Coppa:
- Arrange the Coppacolla on the serving tray, cover and refrigerate.
- Slice and toast the bread.
- For the Lamb Chops with Carrots
- Par-boil the carrots, rub the skin off, cool and refrigerate.
- If the table is not yet set, set it now.
- Make sure your dishwasher is empty.
- Chop up all the herbs needed and measure out for each recipe.
- Measure out the ingredients for the final prep of each dish.
- One to two hours before guests arrive begin final preparations on each of the dishes.
- Arrange the appetizer table and bar. (It's helpful if you give someone else the bar responsibility; that falls to Vince in our house.)
- Make the Corn and Lobster Mushroom Ragout.
- Just before it's time for guests to arrive:
- Lay out the appetizers on the table.
- When guests arrive:
- Serve drinks
- Cook the clams, this will take only a few minutes if you've already got everything chopped and waiting. I served the clams in the same pan where they cooked.
As the evening progresses and it is time to sit for dinner, you will be in the kitchen prepping the salads and cooking the main dishes, etc. If your friends are like ours, we generally all gather in the kitchen and pitch in where we can to help with the last minute stuff. That is half the fun of the party!
Please let us know if you orchestrate this Gr8 Dinner, we would love to hear your feedback!