To me, fall conjures up images of cold beaches, the smell of fireplaces, and crisp sunlit air that turns wet and heavy as the evening wears on. This is fall in Los Angeles. When Anthropologie reached out to me to create a dinner inspired by fall, these textures immediately came to mind. For me, fall isn’t about pumpkins and apples and cinnamon, it’s about short days, cable knit sweaters, and icy gray sea water. We chose “salt and smoke” as the theme, and I was immediately inspired.
Chambray napkins, gold flatware (swoon!), blush pink glassware, and textured and patterned plates made up my canvas. I loved the mix of cool toned blues, greys, and pinks, with a pop of gold, and followed that for my flowers as well. Pink peppercorn branches, protea, and white pumpkins with tiny votives filled out the table. It was homey and warm, just like a fall dinner party should be, but without being too on the nose about it.
If you want to check out the lovely items I used in the dinner party (including my awesome Jumpsuit!) check out the details on Anthropologie’s blog.
The menu was pretty easy to come up with once I had the theme of “salt and smoke” in mind. Every dish would play on one or both of them.
Chilled Raw Fennel with lemon infused olive oil and smoked sea salt
Idiazabal with Red Pears, Arugula, and Speck
Salt Roasted Branzino with Smoky Orange Salsa
Salted Caramel Pot au Creme with Rum Whipped Cream and Vanilla Salt
Funny enough, the first thing I zeroed in on was the cocktail. It’s a riff on my favorite cocktail from my favorite bar in New York, the Daahoud from Angel’s Share. The cocktail is such a showstopper, with the smoke wafting in the glass and into your nose with every sip. I created a drink that’s a modified manhattan, adding a little amaro for sweet depth and benedictine for a little yeasty herbaceousness, that stands up perfectly to the spiced smoke. You feel like a Bond villain when you drink this cocktail, it’s so fun yet sexy.
The fennel appetizer is a classic Italian antipasto: simple raw vegetables with flavored olive oil, but with the addition of smoked sea salt. It’s fresh and bright – the perfect way to snap your tastebuds into action. I LOVED it with the gorgeous orange wine my friend Whitney brought.
The salad is all about smoke: smoked cheese with smoked prosciutto with a little bit of sweet pear and bitter arugula to add some levity to the whole thing. I totally fell for the cheese after hearing it was smoked in the chimneys of Spanish homes, and built everything else in the dish around it.
Salt roasted fish is one of those things that looks super fancy/impressive, but is actually super easy to prepare. You basically build a little oven out of salt and egg whites, and then let the fish do its thing. It always comes out moist and flavorful. The orange salsa gets its smokiness from the chipotle, which adds a nice bit of heat. I just love how fresh and light the main is – pretty unexpected for a fall dinner party.
The dessert is a bit decadent, but when it’s served family style you can have as much or as little as you like. The salt balances out the caramel sweetness perfectly while the rum whipped cream adds a little bit of depth. This is definitely the perfect way to end an evening.
The event was so fun and low key, the perfect way to spend a fall evening with friends. We spilled out onto the balcony to enjoy our cocktails, and just chatted until people had to leave one by one. I love when evenings unwind slowly, you end up having the best conversations that way.
1 lemon, peeled with a vegetable peeler and halved
3 heads fennel, trimmed and layers removed and halved
1/2 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon smoked sea salt
Squeeze the lemon juice into a bowl of ice water and add the fennel. While the fennel chills, combine the olive oil and lemon peel over medium heat, bring to a simmer, and turn off the heat and let the oil steep for at least 30 minutes. Strain, and set aside.
To serve, strain the fennel and dry off on paper towels. Drizzle with infused oil, and sprinkle with smoked salt. Enjoy!
SMOKED CHEESE AND PEAR SALAD
1/2 pound idiazabal (lightly smoked sheep milk cheese), cut into wedges
2 pears, cored and cut into wedges
12 slices speck (smoked prosciutto)
5 ounces arugula
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons saba di modena (it’s like balsamic vinegar, but cooked down further, so it’s sweeter and more syrupy)
salt and pepper to taste
This is meant to be a modified cheese plate. Arrange everything on a plate, drizzle the arugula with olive oil, and drizzle the saba all over the plate. Sprinkle the arugula with salt and pepper. Enjoy!
SALT ROASTED BRANZINO WITH SMOKEY ORANGE SALSA
For 4 to 6 (depending on the size of the fish)
6 egg whites
3 cups kosher salt
2 sprigs rosemary
1/2 bunch fresh basil
2 whole 1-to-2-pound branzino, cleaned and gutted
Preheat the oven to 450F. Whisk the egg whites until they form soft peaks, then fold in salt. Place the rosemary and basil in body cavity of fish, and set the fish aside for the moment. Spread a quarter of egg-white mixture on a large oven-safe dish. Set the fish on top, and cover with the rest of the salt mixture, patting it around the fish to enclose it completely.
Place the dish in the oven, and bake for 30 to 35 (about 40 to 45 for 2 pound fish), until the crust is nicely browned and completely hard. Remove from oven and allow it to rest for 10 minutes. Push the needle of a meat thermometer through the crust into the fish. If the temperature measures 120 to 125 degrees, it’s ready. If not, let it cook for five more minutes and check it again.
Using a wooden spoon, strike crust to crack. Carefully remove pieces of salt crust from top of fish and divide meat among six plates. The fish skin and bones should lift right out. Serve with tons of spicy orange salsa.
INGREDIENTS (SPICY ORANGE SALSA)
3 cups orange, cut into supremes
3/4 cup cilantro, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon ground chipotle
6 tablespoons fresh orange juice
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 cup olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
3 garlic cloves, minced
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl, lightly stirring to combine. Set aside in the fridge for 30 minutes to let the flavors mingle.
SALTED CARAMEL POT AU CREME WITH RUM WHIPPED CREAM
6 cups whole milk
1 vanilla bean, split open and seeds scraped out
3 eggs plus 3 egg yolk
3 tablespoons white sugar
1 1/2 cups salted caramel sauce
In a pot, pour the milk and add the vanilla bean and seeds. Barely bring to a boil and then stop the heat, cover and let infuse for 30 minutes. Strain.
Preheat your oven to 300 F. In a bowl, beat the eggs and egg yolk with the sugar, then add the hot milk slowly while beating. Pour in a ¼ cup of the caramel and stir until dissolved.
Pour the remaining caramel into the bottom of the small ramekins or jars, and then pour the crème mixture on top — make sure to remove the foam that might have formed on top — and place them in a baking dish filled with hot water, so that they are half immersed.
Place in the oven and cook for about 60 to 70 minutes. Check regularly after 30 minutes. The middle of the creme should still be moving a little — the creme will settle once they cool down. Take the ramekin out and let it cool down. Place a plastic wrap on top and place it in the fridge to rest for a few hours before eating.
INGREDIENTS (SALTED CARAMEL SAUCE)
Makes 2 cups
1 cup white sugar
4 ounces unsalted butter
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
Heat the sugar in a saucepan over medium heat, until the sugar turns golden. Stir until all of the sugar is dissolved and just starting to turn a lovely amber color.
Turn heat to low, add the butter, and stir to combine. Careful, it’ll foam up. Then add the heavy cream, vanilla extract, and salt stirring to combine. You’ll cook the sauce for about 5-10 minutes, until it comes together. It’ll take quite a bit of stirring!
Pour the caramel into a glass jar, let it come to room temperature, and store in the fridge for up to two weeks. Pour over everything and anything!
INGREDIENTS (RUM WHIPPED CREAM)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon rum
1 teaspoon vanilla sea salt, for garnish
vanilla sea salt can be bought or made (combine the scrapings of 1 vanilla pod with 1/2 cup of sea salt, mix with your hands and keep in a jar).
Whip the cream until slightly thickened, then add the sugar. Whip until just before the soft peaks form, and add the rum. Dollop on top to serve. Garnish with vanilla salt.
matches or a fireplace lighter
1 cinnamon stick
1 ounce laphroig (or another very smokey whiskey)
1 ounce rye
1/2 ounce amaro
1/2 ounce benedictine
3 dashes orange bitters
Light a match and scorch the orange peel, cinnamon stick, and cloves until smoldering (do this on a metal or scorch-free surface). Pop the cocktail glass on top, gathering the smoke. Combine the laphroig, rye, amaro, benedictine and bitters in a large glass. Fill with ice and stir for 15 seconds. Lift the cocktail glass and quickly strain the drink into the glass. Toss in the peel for garnish.