First Sign of Spring



It's officially spring! I love winter, but come March, I'm always ready for the warmer days ahead. Today I'm sharing a spring-inspired dinner party plan. Warm weather gives you a perfect excuse to invite some friends over for an outdoor dinner party. This menu plan will impress your guests without you having to spend hours in the kitchen.




 

Schedule:


Two Days Before...

  1. Grocery shop.

  2. Bake chocolate cake. Cool completely in pan. Remove from pan, cover tightly in plastic wrap, and refrigerate.

Day Before...

  1. Bake chicken with morels. Refrigerate.

  2. Buy and arrange flowers.

  3. Set table.

Day Of...

  1. Slice the cake horizontally. Fill with whipped cream and berries. Cover in buttercream. Refrigerate until 20 minutes before serving.

  2. Chill wine.

  3. Reheat chicken slowly on stove top.

  4. Roast haricots verts.

  5. Steam potatoes.

 


I love green beans and they're incredibly easy to prepare. You could steam them or roast them, which is what I chose to do. Toss the green beans in a little bit of olive oil, salt, and pepper, then roast for 10-20 minutes fora hands-off recipe that is delicious with the chicken and potatoes. When I last made this recipe, they needed an extra 5 minutes.


Get the Recipe: Barefoot Contessa Roasted Haricots Verts



Herbed potatoes - they taste like spring. This is another hands-off dish. Toss the scrubbed but unpeeled potatoes in melted butter, then cook for 30 minutes with the lid on. Keeping the lid on, occasionally toss the potatoes to make sure the bottom ones aren't burning. Once tender, toss in fresh herbs. I used a mixture of parsley and dill.


Get the Recipe: Barefoot Contessa Herbed New Potatoes



Ina Garten's chicken with morels is perfect for a dinner party. It's elegant and filling, and the best part is that you can make it ahead. I followed the recipe as written, but if I were pressed for time, I would skip making clarified butter and instead brown the chicken in regular butter. Madeira wine adds a richer depth of flavor to the sauce. Along with the heavy cream, the sauce is seriously decadent. (I added some to my potatoes as well.)


Three ingredients that may be hard to find: crème fraîche, Madeira wine, and morels. If you're unable to find crème fraîche, use sour cream instead. I had a hard time tracking down Madiera due to a supply chain disruption. If you can't find it, use Marsala wine. Morel season begins in early April, but if you're unable to find fresh morels, you can reconstitute dried ones. I wish that I didn't love morels, as they are a pricey ingredient. (I joke that they cost more per ounce than cocaine.) The most reasonably-priced dried mushrooms I've found so far are available at Sprouts Farmers Market.


I began rewarming the chicken over low heat at the same time I started the potatoes. Toss the haricots verts in the oven for the last 10 minutes and you'll have everything ready at the same time.


Get the Recipe: Barefoot Contessa Chicken with Morels



I have so many thoughts on this cake. Layer cakes are intimidating, especially if, like me, you don't make them very often. I usually opt to buy cakes from a local bakery, Piece of Cake. My perfectionist tendencies become painfully apparent when baking cakes (uncooperative caramel icing has sent me into a pit of despair... but that's a story for another time). I'm working on getting less caught-up in the aesthetics of food, instead attempting to embrace the imperfections. I went into making this cake with low expectations but was pleasantly surprised by the result. What's most important, of course, is how it tastes and this cake is spectacular.


Delicate chocolate cake, filled with framboise whipped cream and fresh berries, covered in fluffy Grand Marnier buttercream. I used a mixture of butter and vegetable shortening in my frosting. If vegetable shortening is not your thing, you can simply omit it and double the amount of butter. This buttercream recipe makes a generous amount of frosting, giving you the option of piping some decorative elements. I opted for a simpler look, choosing to leave my cake undecorated.


This cake recipe is easiest to work with if you bake it a day or two in advance. You can also make the buttercream frosting in advance. (If you choose to do this, remove from the refrigerator 1-2 hours before use so that the buttercream softens enough to spread easily.)



 

Chocolate Cake with Grand Marnier Buttercream

Makes a 10-inch layer cake | serves 16


This recipe first appeared in Neil Connolly’s In the Kennedy Kitchen Cookbook. This is a paired down version of the cake he made for Kara Kennedy’s wedding to Michael Allen in 1990.


One-Bowl Chocolate Butter Cake


2 sticks butter plus a little extra to grease the pans, at room temperature

2 cups granulated sugar

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

4 ounces unsweetened chocolate

5 extra-large eggs, at room temperature

2 cups sifted cake flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup whole milk


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 10-inch round baking pan, line the bottom with a round of parchment paper, butter and flour the pans, and tap out the excess flour. Set aside.


Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water. Stir occasionally, just until the chocolate melts.


With an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the butter, sugar, vanilla, and melted chocolate. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. (I crack the eggs into a separate bowl to prevent any shell from getting in the batter.) With the mixer on low, gradually add the flour. Next, add the baking soda and salt. Finally, slowly add the milk and mix until just combined. Turn the batter into the prepared pan.


Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until a pick inserted in the center comes out clean and the cake is just beginning to pull away from the sides of the pan. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely. Gently remove the cake from the pan, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate until ready to decorate.


To Assemble the Cake:


3 tablespoons framboise, divided

1 cup cold heavy cream

1 teaspoon confectioners’ sugar

1 1/2 cups fresh berries: raspberries, sliced strawberries, and/or blackberries

Grand Marnier buttercream frosting (recipe follows)


To fill the cake, use a long serrated knife to carefully split the cake in half horizontally to make two layers. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of framboise over the cut side of the rounded half; this will be your bottom layer.


In a chilled bowl, whip the cream with the confectioners’ sugar and remaining 1 tablespoon of framboise until stiff. Spread two-thirds of the cream over the cut side of the rounded half of the cake (that was sprinkled with framboise). Arrange the berries on top of the whipped cream, distributing them evenly and reserving a few for garnish. Smooth the rest of the cream over the berries. Set the other half of the cake in place, uncut side up.


Cover the top and sides of the cake with the Grand Marnier buttercream. Garnish with the reserved berries.



Grand Marnier Buttercream Frosting

Makes about 3 cups


2 1/2 sticks butter, at room temperature

1 1/4 cups solid white vegetable shortening

1 pound confectioners’ sugar (16 ounces)

Pinch of salt

1/4 cup Grand Marnier

6 extra-large egg whites

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 tablespoon vanilla extract


With an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter, shortening, confectioners’ sugar, and salt. Blend well, occasionally scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.


Add the Grand Marnier, egg whites, lemon juice, and vanilla. Beat on high speed until the buttercream comes together and is light and fluffy.


Cook’s Note: if not using the buttercream right away, cover and refrigerate. Remove from the refrigerator 1-2 hours before using so that the buttercream softens enough to spread easily.


Printable Version


 


Get the Look:


As usual, I kept the table simple, wanting the focus to be on the food. I used a linen tablecloth and napkins, added daffodils and yellow tulips to my silver julep cups, lit some tea lights, and used my everyday white dishes. Cute, spring-inspired, and I didn't have to fool with anything fussy in addition to attempting to ice a cake.


 

Thanks for reading!


- Sam

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