Inviting friends over for dinner does not have to be a scary experience. With a little planning and the right kinds of recipes, it can be very manageable. On a recent evening, I entertained six of my friends for dinner and a relaxing evening. Here is my game plan.
Choose recipes that you can cook or do most of the preparation for in advance.
The main dish I served can be done the day before, refrigerated overnight and reheated while you and your guests enjoy an easy appetizer and cocktails. I have included my make ahead tips in the recipes below.
Mixed Olives, Sliced Havarti Cheese and Breadsticks. Chilled Prosecco
Italian Mixed Green Salad with Pistachios, Dried Raspberries and Gorgonzola Cheese
Make Ahead Tip: The greens can be washed a day ahead or early in the morning, dried in a spinner and placed in a salad serving bowl. Place a paper towel on top of the greens, cover the dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Slice the tomatoes and onions, place in a storage container, drizzle a little dressing over them, cover and refrigerate.
1 heart of romaine lettuce
1 head red/green leaf lettuce
10 radicchio leaves, torn into small pieces
¼ of a red onion, diced
1 pint sliced miniature colored tomatoes
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup pistachio nuts
¼ cup dried raspberries
To the washed greens in the salad bowl, add the nuts and raspberries. Pour some dressing over the ingredients and mix well.
Place some of the greens on 6 individual salad dishes, top with some of the marinated tomatoes and onions and top the tomatoes with a one inch square of cheese. Serve immediately.
Swiss steak is meat, usually beef, prepared by braising in a cooking pot of stewed tomatoes, mushroom sauce, or some other sauce, either on a stove or in an oven. In England and in some parts of the United States, especially the South, it is also called smothered steak. The dish does not come from Switzerland, as the name suggests, but from the technique of tenderizing by pounding called “swissing”.
6 or more servings
Make Ahead Tip: This dish benefits from being prepared a day or two in advance. Once it has finished cooking, pour into a shallow, ovenproof casserole dish. Cover tightly with foil and refrigerate. Take the casserole out of the refrigerator two hours before you want to serve it. Let the casserole come to room temperature for one hour. Then, reheat in a 325 degree oven for one hour. (The dish can reheat while you and your guests are enjoying appetizers and cocktails.)
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons butter
16 ounces fresh sliced mushrooms
1 large onion, sliced thin
1 clove garlic, minced
3 pounds boneless round steak, 3/4-1/2 inch thick
4 cups beef broth
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon Kitchen Bouquet (brown gravy coloring)
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
Cut the round steak into serving size pieces and place between pieces of plastic wrap. Pound lightly to about 1/4 inch thick.
Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Dredge in flour.
In a Dutch oven, heat 1 tablespoon of oil and 1 tablespoon of butter. Add some of the meat and brown on both sides. Remove to a plate.
Repeat with remaining oil, butter and meat.
Add the garlic, onions and mushrooms to the pan and cook until the onion is softened and the mushrooms have released their liquid.
Add the Worcestershire sauce and Kitchen Bouquet. Stir in ¼ cup all-purpose flour and mix until the flour dissolves. Add the beef broth.
If the broth doesn’t cover the meat, add a little water. Stir until all the ingredients are mixed into the broth and bring to a boil.
Add the browned meat back to the pot,
Cover the pot and bake for 3 hours or until tender. Remove the meat to a shallow ovenproof casserole. Cover tightly with foil and refrigerate.
Take the casserole out of the refrigerator two hours before you want to serve it. Let the casserole come to room temperature for one hour.
Then, reheat, covered, in a 325 degree F oven for one hour.
Twice Baked Potatoes
Make Ahead Tip: The potatoes can be baked a day before or early in the morning of the day of your dinner party. They can be filled, covered and refrigerated until close to serving time. Take them out of the refrigerator two hours before you want to serve them. Let the stuffed potatoes come to room temperature for one hour. Then reheat in the oven with the casserole, uncovered, for one hour.
2 large russet potatoes about 14 -16 oz each, scrubbed
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons sour cream
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon kosher sea salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 cup sharp cheddar cheese
Paprika and chopped chives for garnish
Heat oven to 375°F. Gently scrub potatoes, but do not peel. Pierce potatoes several times with a fork to allow steam to escape while the potatoes bake. Wrap in heavy-duty foil.
Bake 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes or until the potatoes are tender when lightly squeezed.
When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, cut lengthwise in half; scoop out the inside, leaving a thin shell.
In a mixing bowl, mash the potatoes. Add the butter, salt and pepper; mix until the potatoes are light and fluffy.
Stir in the cream and cheddar cheese. Fill the potato shells and place them in a baking dish.
Sprinkle with paprika and chives. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.
Take them out of the refrigerator two hours before you want to serve them. Let the stuffed potatoes come to room temperature for one hour.
Then reheat in the oven, along with the Swiss Steak casserole, uncovered, for one hour.
To serve: cut each potato boat in half (to make 8 pieces). Serve one half to each guest. There will be 2 second helpings.
These are very filling. I have found that half of a large potato is sufficient for most guests.
Green Beans with Ginger and Lemon Zest
Make Ahead Tip: Blanch the beans in boiling water the day before or early in the morning on the day you are serving them. Place them in a storage container and drizzle with a little olive oil. Cover and refrigerate.
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 clove garlic, grated
1 tablespoon fresh ginger root, grated
2 teaspoons lemon zest, finely grated
3 cups fresh green beans, trimmed and cut in half
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
Blanch the green beans in boiling water for two minutes. Drain.
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and ginger and cook, stirring, 1 minute.
Add the beans and cook, stirring occasionally, about 2 minutes.
Add the lemon zest, cover the pan and steam the beans until they are crisp-tender, about 2 minutes.
Add the salt and pepper and pour into a serving dish.
Pear Frangipane Tart
This pastry should be made early in the day of your dinner party. It cannot be made a day ahead because it will lose its crispness.
1/2 cup sugar, divided
3/4 cup almond flour (finely ground blanched almonds)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon almond extract
1 sheet frozen Puff Pastry
3 firm-ripe Bosc or Anjou pears
Thaw the puff pastry according to package directions. On a lightly floured surface, roll out pastry to a 12×12 inch rectangle.
Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. (I use an attractive baking pan that can also be used for serving.) Prick pastry with a fork.
Build up the sides slightly by folding in about 1/2 inch of the pastry on the edges. Brush edges with egg white.
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Combine 1/4 cup sugar with the almond flour and all-purpose flour. Set aside.
Beat together the butter and the remaining 1/4 cup sugar with an electric mixer at moderately high-speed until pale and fluffy.
Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, then beat in the flavored extracts.
Reduce the speed to low and mix in the flour mixture just until combined.
Spread frangipane filling evenly over the tart shell.
Peel, halve and core pears, then cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Arrange pears decoratively on filling.
Brush the pears with the egg white.
Bake until the pears are golden and frangipane is puffed up around the pears and golden brown, about 45 minutes.
Cool tart completely in the baking pan on a rack, then slide parchment out from under the tart. Leave at room temperature until serving time.
Garnish with frozen yogurt or whipped cream, if desired.