Table Setting

My blogger friends Maryann of Finding La Dolce Vita and Marie of Proud Italian Cook suggested that I enter this table setting competition sponsored by Barilla Pasta.

For many years, my friend Lauren and I would enter the Los Angeles County Fair Table Setting Competition in September. We would arrive early in the morning. We had one hour to set our tables, then spent the rest of the day at the Fair. The LA County Fair is one of the largest in the country. Some of our fair highlights include: sampling the Gold Medal wines, the garden and flower exhibits, betting on the horse races at Fairplex, barbecued corn on the cob, falafels, the livestock and my favorite – the piglets! The LA County Fair is fantastic, if you are in LA in September, definitely go! And make sure to visit the Table Setting Competition in the Creative Living Building.

The neat thing about this online competition is that I don’t have to schlep the entire table setting to Pomona California, or anywhere else for that matter. Set it up in the dining room, take some photos, then upload!

And let me tell you, schlepping your table setting is a process. Because you are using all your nice china and glass, you have to wrap everything just so carefully.

Now the inspiration for this table came from another blogger friend, Simona of Briciole. A while back she wrote a post about pears and Italian expressions. The theme for our Romantic Italian table is:

Cascare Come Una Pera Cotta
To Fall Head Over Heels In Love

No Italian dinner is complete without wine, tonight’s choice is a 1990 Barolo. That is a 750ml bottle – it is dwarfed by the over sized wine glasses and over sized candles, and humongous basket. It is neat to spend time setting a table when you don’t plan to cook. The creative energy is spent on the table itself. But if we were to cook, our pasta course would be a fettuccine with pears, gorgonzola, and candied walnuts.

Last weekend, my dear friend Peggy from Denver, was visiting me. We spent hours collecting objects from all over the house (and under the house; the “placemats” are terra cotta floor tiles) arranging our final setting. These are the photographs we submitted to Barilla. Win or not, we had a blast!
A special thanks to Peggy, Lauren, Maryann, Marie, and Simona.

Stuffed Chicken Breast, Mushroom Cognac Cream

Stuffed Chicken Breast
With Spinach, Mushroom, Leek, and Goat Cheese
Mushroom Cognac Cream Sauce

The Stuffing

  • Spinach
  • Mushroom
  • Leek
  • Goat Cheese
Chopped spinach, sautéed with butter, seasoned with fresh ground nutmeg, salt and pepper. Chopped crimini mushrooms sautéed until the water is evaporated, with salt, pepper and thyme. Chopped leeks are sautéed until soft. The stuffing is a mixture of two parts spinach, two parts mushroom, one part leek and one part fresh goat cheese. The vegetables are cooked separately, cooled to room temperature, then combined with the goat cheese. The chicken breast is stuffed, secured with a skewer, and baked at 350 for about one hour.

Mushroom Cognac Cream

Add butter and minced shallots to the chicken pan juices and sauté until the shallots are soft. Add about 1/4 c. cognac, flambé to burn off the alcohol. Add about 1/2 c. rich chicken stock, sautéed sliced mushrooms and fresh thyme. Finish by whisking in crème fraîche , adjust seasoning.

Le Menu

  • Mixed Lettuces with a Warm Goat Cheese Crouton, Toasted Walnuts, Thin Sliced Red Onion, Tarragon/Walnut Oil Vinaigrette
  • Stuffed Chicken Breast, Mushroom Cognac Cream
  • Rice Pilaf with Fresh Herbs
  • Chocolate Soufflé

    A sincere thanks to some special Alpha Phis for helping make this a fabulous evening.
  • Hungarian Goulash

    “Look for paprika imported from Hungary and buy a new container from the market, throwing out that musty tin that’s been sitting for years in your pantry.” Wolfgang Puck

    A Wolfgang Puck/Austrian Inspired Dinner Party

    Hungarian Goulash and Homemade Spaetzle – it was delicious thanks to Wolfgang’s inspiration and Merisi’s input all the way from Vienna!

    Ingredient Still Life.

    Start by caramelizing the onions in olive oil, then add garlic.

    Toast the caraway seeds then grind them in a spice grinder and add to the onions.

    Smokey! Add the two paprikas…sweet and hot.
    I took Merisi’s advice not to make a “California Goulash” as she says there are no fresh herbs in her experience…so I added only dried marjoram.

    Andrew, the butcher at Bristol Farms cut the beef shanks into cubes and advised me to put the bones in the stew for more flavor.

    Deglaze the pot with balsamic vinegar then add the chicken stock, bay leaves and tomato paste, and the meat and bones.

    This Le Creuset French Oven is perfect for this dish. Merisi’s advice was to put it in the oven at 195 degrees not to let it boil and cook even longer than the original recipe for a very tender meat.

    Later that day:
    Side Bar – The cook’s treat. Remove the bones from the stew. Marrow anyone?

    At the Dinner Party:
    The goulash is served in Pat’s beautiful China “Evesham” made in England.

    Sally kicked off the dinner party with a pizzette appetizer, her interpretation of Wolfgang’s famous pizza from Spago with smoked salmon and caviar.

    Pat’s scallop dish: Scallops, Cauliflower Cream, Balsamic Reduction. See 10/09 post for details.

    One course, two salads: Lauren made Wolfgang’s couscous salad while Gail prepared sliced roasted beets and mache in a butter lettuce cup with Wolfgang’s mustard dressing.

    Salzburger Nockerln: Patrick made his with cherries, Wolfgang’s recipe calls for raspberries. “Salzburg is a wonderful town on the Bavarian Border famous for its small hills called ‘Nockerln’. This dish celebrates the hills of Salzburg with its hills of heaped Meringue. It’s rich, indulgent and utterly delicious. This is a true Austrian dessert that brings back memories of good times and loved ones. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. ” WP

    Elegant dinner party with friends who love to cook!

    The Hungarian Goulash with Spaetzle.

    Detailed recipe at

    Why a blog is so neat:
    We are having an Austrian inspired dinner party in Southern California and I get excellent authentic advice and support from a woman in Vienna whom I have never met. Isn’t that something? Thanks Merisi!

    Lori Lynn

    P.S. That said, you may want to visit the Foodie Blogroll, of which I am a proud new member.


    For our “Wolfgang Puck” themed dinner party I made his goulash with spaetzle.

    The “scoop” of spaetzle on top of the tender and delicious goulash is my artistic interpretation:)

    Eggs are always so photogenic. Eggs are mixed with milk.

    Flour is mixed with salt and pepper. Freshly grated nutmeg is added.

    Wet and dry ingredients are combined. The dough is refrigerated for at least an hour.

    This nifty gadget, a sliding spaetzle maker, is really handy and makes this a fun recipe. The dough is ladled into the feeder then slid back and forth over the holes. (It gets a little messy). This was a good investment of only $12.99, as I will surely make spaetzle again, especially for my nephews.

    The dough drips into the boiling water.

    After boiling for about 4 or 5 minutes the spaetzle is shocked in ice water. Then drained and coated very lightly with peanut oil.

    Butter is melted in a pan, then the cold spaetzle is heated in the butter and finished with chopped parsley, sea salt, and freshly ground pepper.

    A big thank you to my blogger friend, Merisi in Vienna, Austria for her recipe guidance and authentic input. Please visit her beautiful blog “Merisi’s Vienna For Beginners – Virtual Postcards from Vienna”

    The goulash recipe is next!

    2019 UPDATE: COMPLETE RECIPE NOW POSTED HERE! Come read about my hearty Chicken Spätzle Soup too!