I know I have said this many times, but I will say it again, I am no chef, but I enjoy cooking and love entertaining. This post is dedicated to a dinner party I co-hosted with my dear friend Natalia who is the founder of Fork It and a food contributor to We Love DC. Natalia is food and pork obsessed and an incredible entertainer. So I enlisted Natalia to put together a delicious yet doable menu and she did not disappoint! I always find myself getting intimidated by the fancy titles of dishes and the mouthwatering pictures, but Natalia assured me that a dish does not have to be hard to make to be delicious.
Please enjoy the recipes, pictures, and hard hitting interview with Natalia, foodie entertainer extraordinaire.
Salt & Pepper
Preheat oven to 350. Cut tomatoes in half and cover with salt, pepper & olive oil to taste. Mix in garlic cloves with the halved tomatoes. Put tomato mixture into the oven for about 20 minutes or until roasted (keep an eye on them). Mix ricotta with olive oil, salt & pepper to taste. Generously slice bread and toast in the oven. I used my toaster oven for this since the large oven was occupied. Make sure to get a quality loaf of bread—we used ciabatta. Once the tomatoes are roasted, pile the ricotta cheese and tomatoes (remove the garlic) onto the toasted bread. Then enjoy!
Sautéed Kale with Roasted Sweet Potatoes
Salt & Pepper
Cut sweet potato into small cubes and place in the 350 degree oven. For this dinner the tomatoes and sweet potatoes had to share the oven. Let sweet potatoes roast for about 30 minutes or until soft. As the sweet potatoes start to soften sauté the kale with olive oil, salt & pepper, and garlic. Once everything is cooked, top the sautéed kale with the roasted sweet potatoes.
Bacon and Mustard Crusted Scallops served over Caramelized Onions
Maple Peppercorn Mustard
Red Wine Vinegar
Salt & Pepper
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Slice onion. Sauté onions in olive oil on low heat until onions are clear. Mix mustard, a dash of red wine vinegar and a drop of honey. Generously salt and pepper the scallops. Lightly cook (really only half cook) the bacon. Then chop bacon into teeny tiny pieces. Sear scallops in vegetable oil on high heat for a minute on each side. Coat one side of the scallops with the mustard mixture. Sprinkle bacons bits on top of the mustard glazed side of the scallop and then place in the oven for 5-7 minutes. Once scallops are fully white remove from oven and serve over caramelized onions.
Open faced Apple Tart
Apples (pink ladies or delicious equivalent)
Make sure dough has fully defrosted. Preheat oven to 415 degrees. Thinly slice apples. Spread dough onto a baking sheet. Line dough with apple slices and glaze with honey. Bake for about 15-20 minutes. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve with vanilla ice cream.
And now the interview….
What are the most important ingredients to hosting a successful dinner party?
Simplicity. I always try and stick to recipes that impress but are simple to execute, whether through advance prep or basic, wholesome ingredients that pack a lot of flavor but don’t require much “dressing up”. Getting as much done before hand is key, so that when your guests arrive you can actually be there to host and converse. A good group and a constant flow of wine is a guarantee of a good time, so make sure to pick your dining mates right, and your wine, plenty. I find 8-10 the best number of people to have over at once, and always when seating, mix it up – separate couples, separate roommates , etc.
What tips do you have for hosting on a budget?
Go vegetarian. Protein is always what makes that grocery cost go up, and for a while I cooked only vegetarian – during college mostly. My go-to dishes to feed a lot of people actually always tend to be meat-free, like bruschetta, blue cheese stuffed dates (but even better when wrapped in bacon), crostini with ricotta and figs drizzled with honey, kale salad with roasted sweet potato, avocado slices with crushed pistachios and truffle oil, etc. Main dishes to feed a group and stay low-budget can be vegetarian as well, like a mushroom lasagna, any kind of meat-free pasta or risotto, cous cous with harrissa spiced vegetables, pumpkin curry, tofu curry, etc.
You can make your table look amazing at low-cost too, keeping the décor simple – mason jars with candles and empty bottles of wine (or funky bourbon bottles) filled with water, are easy fixes.
What is your specialty?
I really am not sure I have a specialty per se. I am always trying new recipes and improvising. Even when doing an older recipe, undoubtedly something will change. Since I spend half my free time reading new recipes, the list for must-try’s just keeps growing. But if I have to feed a big group on the fly, ill either do lamb burgers with tzatiki and a big kale salad, or a vegetarian pasta.
When baking, since I am a bit newer to that game and it is more of a science, I lean towards a flourless chocolate cake or apple pie. I used to make ice cream a lot as well, a bourbon honey ice cream was probably the best that came out of that phase.
What inspired you to start Fork It?
I had a lot of time on my hands right after college and wanted to get busy, doing something that I cared about but didn’t feel like work. I spent all of my free time reading about restaurants, sifting through magazines and blogs. My friends called me “urban spoon” and always asked for recommendations of where to go, so I figured why not create a visual platform to document my food happenings, both recipes and stories. Honestly, I did it for myself and never expected it to go anywhere. Then I started tweeting, only about food, and it just organically grew into something more. I didn’t expect Fork It to open any doors, but alas, now I write for We Love DC.
How did you become involved with We Love DC and what piece are you most proud of?
Marissa (We Love DC’s food editor) was introduced to me by one of my best friends, and I received a message from her one day just asking if I’d be interested in writing for them. Obviously, no brainer. It’s been an amazing experience because its forced me to practice my writing, explore the city, and meet new and interesting people. The pieces I am most proud of I guess are all my “firsts” – the first post I ever wrote was about Toki Underground, and my first Capital Chefs piece, on Anthony Lombardo of 1789. I also enjoyed writing the ‘Why I Love DC piece’
What are your top 3 favorite restaurants in DC and favorite dishes at each?
This is a hard one….
Toki Underground – the Toki Monster and Hakata Classic. Simply, the best combination ever.
Thai X-ing – Pumpkin curry. Just straight up thai food orgasm.
Obelisk- Burratta. The whole meal at Obelisk is amazing, but the burratta they serve as appetizer to begin truly has the power to transport you to Italy.
Palena- On Sunday’s they have a special, limited menu, and the gnocchi is to die for. And I don’t ever order gnocchi.
I also just went to Suna’s soft opening and wow, there were some seriously good dishes there. Johnny Spero’s interpretation of “fowl” dish (which I rarely eat) really impressed me, as did his Pork.
What is your ultimate comfort food?
A hearty bowl of pasta and glass of red wine can cure, if only for a short while, any bad moment. And cheese, and pork belly (not necessarily together but I am sure that would be comforting).
If you could cook a meal with any chef who would it be and what would you cook?
So, I actually have been lucky enough to cook a little bit with Jose Andres and that was a seriously amazing experience, and one I would want to repeat on a full scale, go to the store with him, choose the menu (probably paella), cook together. He’s a pretty fantastic guy, and goes beyond the kitchen and into the world of philanthropy, which I respect. So undoubtedly, lots of great conversations and inspiration to come from a shared cooking and eating experience with him. I’d also have to say Gaston Acurio, a Peruvian chef who has really changed the way we approach food in Latin America. He has pioneered the idea that food can be a vehicle for social change. I would want to make an array of ceviches and piscos with him.