Oh goodness!

I can’t even begin to tell you how super excited I am to have made it to Round 3 of Project Food Blog! The best, most exciting way I could think to celebrate was  to  PAAAR-TAAAY,  so it’s a good thing that’s exactly what the challenge called for!

A “luxury dinner party” to be precise. Lucky for me, Foodbuzz was kind enough to clarify that  “luxury” could be interpreted however it works for me, my schedule and budget! “No need to break the bank…luxury can be different things to different people and we just ask that you be creative, personal and have fun with it!” This was a spectacular discovery for me because my schedule is super busy and my budget, heh, we won’t get into that. I know I’m not the only person out there with both of these dilemmas, and I can say with confidence that regardless of a busy schedule and minimal budget that it’s not just possible to have an outstanding dinner party, with the right combination of ingredients, it’s pretty simple, too!

When faced with the decision as to what to make for this party my brain went in a dozen different directions. My thought process went a little something like this…

I could try to do something fancy that I’d never done before… but what if it doesn’t work??? That would ruin the whole night!!  At the same time, though, I don’t want to make something I’ve made a million times before because …well…that’d make for a lame party, wouldn’t it?? Hmmmm…I really do love cheese. And wine. Mmmmmm…wine and cheese party? No. Too easy. I love bread, too. Cheesyyyyyyyyyyy …. sandwiches? PANINIS!!!!! Who doesn’t love a good panini every now and then? How about a three course meal with a panini in every course? A PANINI PARTY!!!!!”

By george, I think she’s got it! Let’s take a look at the menu…

For the first course, I decided to make a crowd pleasing caesar salad with a twist.

Fontina Caesar

2 hearts of romaine lettuce, chopped
1 bottle of YOUR FAVORITE caesar salad dressing
4 hearty slices of garlic bread
6 ounces fontina cheese

For Croutons:
Take two slices of bread and top each with half the cheese. Top each slice with another slice of bread. Put both sandwiches on your preheated panini press and close. Let cook until cheese is melted and the bread is a nice, light brown.(If you don’t have a panini press, don’t you fret! Just use a big, buttered skillet on medium-high heat. Weigh down your sandwiches with a smaller skillet, weighted with a can of soup or something heavy. Flip after 4-5 minutes and repeat on the other side.) Remove from panini press and let cool for a minute or two. Slice into cubes.

For Salad:
Toss together the lettuce and your desired amount of dressing in a large bowl. Add croutons. Toss and serve.

I decided to make the croutons for this salad to go with my panini theme, so I didn’t feel bad getting some help with the store-bought dressing. If you’re having a dinner party, don’t be afraid to get help from the store when you can! Just think logically. It’s significantly less expensive to buy a bottle of salad dressing you know you’re going to enjoy than it is to buy all of the ingredients for a homemade caesar dressing.

Fontina, by the way, is my new favorite cheese. It’s reminiscent of mozzarella in that it  melted perfectly but it has a certain subtle sharpness that was absolutely phenomenal in the caesar salad. Because the salad was a light start to the meal, I served it with  a clean, crisp Sauvignon Blanc.

In most situations, the main course is USUALLY the most time consuming dish to make. For these particular festivities, I knew that I wanted to be able to relax (being that I had a full day of work beforehand) and spend time at the dinner table with my guests. The solution? My trusty crock pot. These smoky barbeque pulled chicken sandwiches were a cinch to put together early in the morning and are perfect for a party where you know you may be short on time!

Smoky BBQ Pulled
Chicken Sandwiches

1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 bottle of YOUR FAVORITE barbeque sauce
½ cup water
2 tablespoons granulated garlic
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon oregano
Salt and pepper to taste
5 seeded kaiser rolls
1 cup extra sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup pickled jalapeños (optional)

Place the chicken, water, half of the barbeque sauce, and seasoning into a crock pot. Cook on low heat for 8 hours. After 8 hours, remove chicken from crock pot and shred with two forks. Return to crock pot, add remaining barbeque sauce and keep on warm setting until ready to serve.

To serve: Split rolls in half. Top with chicken, cheese and jalapeños. Devour!

I served the sandwiches with Shriaz, to bring out the smokiness of the barbeque chicken even more! And because a sandwich is not a sandwich without a tasty side dish, I decided to try my hand at some homemade potato chips! For some fun color, I used purple potatoes AND sweet potatoes.

They were so fun to make that Johnny decided to lend a hand!

Never be afraid to let your dinner guests become a part of the dinner making experience! They’ll love what you serve even more when they’ve  put effort into preparing it!

Finally, it’s time for dessert! Earlier in the evening, I prepared all of the dessert ingredients so that when it was time to serve it, all I had to do was put everything together. It’s a great rule of thumb when you’re having dinner guests to prepare dessert first, even though you eat it last. If you have dessert ready to go, you get to spend that much more time having fun with your friends and family!

Butter Croissant and Mascarpone Panini

Serves 6

3 large croissants
1 small container mascarpone cheese
(if you can’t find mascarpone, you can substitute cream cheese)

3 tablespoons confectioners sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large or 2 small bananas, sliced
¼ cup walnuts, toasted

In a large bowl, combine the mascarpone, sugar and vanilla.
Set aside or chill for later use.
When ready to prepare, preheat your panini press.
Slice the croissants in half horizontally. Spread one half with the sweetened mascarpone. Top with bananas and walnuts. Top with other half of croissant. Repeat with remaining croissants.
Place in your panini press and let cook for about 5 minutes, until the cheese begins to melt and the croissants toast.
Remove from press.
Cut each croissant in half and serve with fresh coffee or tea!!!

After all was said and done . . .

My Budget: Intact.
This dinner party, wine and all, served five people for just over $10 per person!
My Time: Well Spent.
Thanks to some early prep work and my super helpful dinner guests.

So CHEERS, to you and yours!


  1. caitlin

    mike just got so excited at the look of that sandwich and chips. he’s a sweet potato addict. we will be making this soon.

    although tonight i’m making your pesto stuffed chicken since i had lots of basil in my yard and needed to make some pesto anyway!

  2. Melinda

    as one of your dinner guest, i can personally vouch for how TRULY AMAZING this meal was!!! just voted bud, good luck!!

  3. Joi

    This as always looks like a crowd pleaser, all I can say is yummy !!! Votes in YOU MUST WIN !!!

  4. LauraD

    I am a 20-something too, so I also struggled with this challenge, lol. I know where you’re coming from. The sandwiches and paninis look amazing though! Good job!

  5. Brie

    alright – purple potatoes! i used them, too, and love cooking with them during the fall. your party looked like fun & you’ve got my vote. good luck!

  6. Crystal's Cozy Kitchen

    Looks like you had a great dinner party – I was also glad they interpreted Luxury! I live in a place where you don’t have to dress up to go into any restaurant – they are all come as you are. So considering that, Luxury to my neighbors is a lot different than to someone who lives in a city.
    Good luck! Hope we both make it to challenge 4!

  7. Baking Barrister

    Being able to eat a dinner like this and know what’s going into it is definitely a luxury. I LOVE BBQ sandwiches & chips but am always afraid to eat it out b/c of all the sugar and fat thrown in. This is an awesome alternative.

    And I struggled with the budget as well, being a twenty-something and unemployed. I think I spent about $25 total bc a lot of the ingredients were just staples I usually have on hand anyway. Totally glad to see others were budget conscientious as well.

  8. Shannon

    You’re making me crave paninis!!! I love them. I’ll find my way of veganizing your recipes and maybe have a panini party of my own. VOTED!!! =D

  9. Jacob's Kitchen

    Great post! The food looks and sounds really great. Who would want anything more? I like the little twist you put on all the recipes, with mixing up the cheese, and the chicken over the more traditional pork. Nicely done. I voted for you!

    Good luck! Fingers crossed for us both to make it through to the next round. =)

  10. gloria

    Wow, everything looks SO appetizing. Wish we had been there. Luxury is what you make it, good food, good wine and family. We wish you the best, hope our vote put you over the top.

  11. Margot

    What a great take on a dinner party! Love that you talk about not having shame for using store bought ingredients. Sometimes it can save a money and time. After all at least part of a party is about enjoying your time with your guests. Wonderful spin on the challenge.

  12. sophia

    Okay, paninis are one of my favorite things to eat in the world. Seriously, what is more comforting AND luxurious than a hot, crusty panini stuffed with goodness? You sound like me…I needed to be under budget with time constraints, too. But I think you pulled through stellar!

  13. Chris

    Hey Jen, Chris in Texas here. Looks fantastic. I’ll be trying this menu out soon. I know Taylor and Frank will love it! 🙂

  14. Natty

    Yum! Your sandwiches look delicious and the chips made from scratch are seriously impressive. Makes me want to get over my fear of deep frying!

  15. Sues

    Yum, this is seriously my ideal dinner party! LOVE everything, especially the purple sweet potatoes 🙂 Good luck!! 🙂

  16. Jennifer

    I wish I could thank all of you individually!! I’m so thrilled you all like the idea. We’ve all been broke once, I’m sure. Lol. That doesn’t mean we can’t eat well! And eat cheese. Much love to everyone. 🙂

  17. Amy (Shiny Cooking)

    Now THIS is the kind of post I like for this challenge! You can tell there was a party and a good time was had! Sorry for the exclamation points. 🙂 Glad to find you, and you got me vote. :p

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