Holiday Hangover Entertaining to Ring in the New Year

Foods & DrinksCooking Tips & Recipes

  • Author Michael Mettler
  • Published March 27, 2024
  • Word count 895

“Let’s toast to a beautiful, prosperous and fun-filled year ahead. Cheers!” exclaims Shannon Block, raising her wine glass. Our guests had just arrived at Bryant Barn for a Sunday night dinner party and everyone was getting settled in for an evening of riveting conversation, spectacular food and local wine.

Growing up, a big Sunday dinner was always a staple in my household, and was a tradition I worked to sustain throughout my college years and to this day. While at times I shrug off tradition and host my weekly dinner party in the form of a brunch, a gourmet barbecue next to the swimming pool, or grilled pizzas around the fire pit, the simple act of gathering friends together for a memorable meal has always been of utmost importance (and more importantly, enjoyment) for me.

Understanding that we have just gotten through yet another busy holiday season, and you may have swore that you never want to cook for another big dinner party again; as we move into the dark months of Winter and that exhaustion is fading into pine-scented memories, it is the perfect time to begin entertaining again on a more intimate scale.

While it can be a more challenging to enjoy locally-sourced products in the Winter months than at other times of the year, it certainly can be done. The menu for the evening’s soiree features pasture raised chicken from Blue Valley Meats, hearty root vegetables, kale, herbs and squash from my backyard garden, Fuji apples from LeFore Orchards, cheese from the Monteilliet Fromagerie, olive oil from Balboa Winery’s new olive grove in Tuscany, Leonida, and a variety of wines that reflect the unique qualities of the soils here in the Walla Walla Valley.

Although the dishes at my Winter dinner parties change from week to week, there is always a similar flow to the meal. After noshing on a well-appointed cheese plate featuring a variety of cow, goat and sheep cheeses of differing textures and flavor profiles, toasted nuts, dried fruit, preserves, and some simple French crudité, guests move from the living room to the dinner table. I served the first course, an aromatic Curried Butternut Squash Soup alongside a glass of Balboa Winery Merlot. When it comes to a holiday meal (or any multi-course meal for that matter) I don’t serve the soup in a dinner sized portion, but instead in a small appetizer sized portion to allow guests to warm their bellies with something delicious before the main event.

The setting for the evening’s meal, Bryant Barn, is a spectacular recent renovation of an old storage shed into a contemporary and bright vacation rental home. Owner Janet Byerley, a pioneer of the Walla Walla Valley wine scene having founded Waterbrook Winery back in 1984, tied in a rustic, yet tasteful, viticultural theme throughout the property. The stained concrete floors harken to the production spaces of wineries, the fire pit is crafted from the staves of well-loved wine barrels, and one of the bedrooms is actually a massive old oak barrel that sleeps two.

Moving onto the second course of the night, Linguini with Portabella Mushrooms, Kale and Pine Nuts with a Brown Butter sauce, the conversation at the table turns warmer, as several of my guests who had not met one another before today begin to get more acquainted. I always love to have a person or two in attendance that either I, or my other guests do not know very well. Glancing at his bowl of pasta flecked with bright colors from the wilted kale, pomegranate seeds, and fresh chévre, David Brauhn, comments on how beautiful and delicious the dish is.

As Melanie Jaques opens a bottle of Roussane and refills our glasses for the main course, I plate up our gorgeous heritage roasted chicken, alongside roasted carrots, parsnips and rutabagas and drizzle each plate with a plum-white wine jus. The chicken is moist and succulent, with delicate herbal qualities transferred to the flesh from the brining process. The wine is a perfect match, it’s rich body and flavors of pears and honey mingle beautifully with the chicken.

After some debate about brining versus rubs for poultry, our main course winds down and guests enjoy a small digestif of warmed Grand Marnier as I plate dessert. Winter is citrus season, and as such I love to feature beautiful citrus fruits whenever possible in my meals. Meyer Lemon, being a particular favorite of mine was the inspiration behind the night’s finale. This Meyer Lemon Olive Oil cake is bright, light, and heart-healthy as the butter typically associated with bundt cakes is replaced with extra virgin olive oil. I dusted each slice with some confectioners sugar, drizzled them with a hibiscus flower syrup and liberally tossed slices of kumquat across each plate. Everyone agrees that this simple, yet elegant dessert was a perfect capstone to the hearty dinner.

After dinner, I set out a platter of clementines, apples and walnuts, opened a bottle of bubbles, and gathered around the fireplace with my guests to share stories of our holiday ski trips, awkward family gatherings, and our hopes and plans for the year ahead. As the logs on the fire began to wane, yet another night of sharing and discovery, making new friends and celebrating the bounty of the Walla Walla Valley was complete.

Michael Mettler is a brand manager and web developer in Washington State. 509-956-9045.

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