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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

6 servings

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.

Ingredients

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
Gorgonzola cheese
1/2 cup pistachio nuts
¼ cup dried raspberries
Italian vinaigrette

Directions

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

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.)

Ingredients

3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons butter
16 ounces fresh sliced mushrooms
1 large onion, sliced thin
1 clove garlic, minced
All-purpose flour
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)

Directions

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.

6 servings

Ingredients

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

Directions

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.

6 servings

Ingredients

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

Directions

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.

Ingredients

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
Egg white

Directions

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.

 

 


I enjoy inviting friends over and usually prepare a meal for them. It can be brunch, or a casual meal by the pool, a BBQ or a more formal meal. The menu below was for a special occasion with some special friends. I wanted to make something different for the main course and came up with Chicken “Wellington”. This turned out to be a delicious meal that my friends loved.

First Course

Italian Onion Soup

Ingredient

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced
2 pounds of Tropea onions or red sweet onions – halved or quartered and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon sea salt
6 cups beef broth
1/2 cup dry red wine
Croutons
Shaved Parmesan cheese for the topping

Directions

In a large heavy-bottomed pot, add the olive oil and set on the pan over medium heat.

When the oil is hot, add the garlic and let sizzle for about 1 minute. Be careful not to burn.

Add the onion slices and sprinkle with the salt. Stir into the olive oil with a wooden spoon.

Reduce the heat to low and slowly cook the onions for about 15 minutes – stirring frequently.

The onions will reduce in size and begin to develop a light browned color.

Add the wine to the pot and cook until the liquid reduces. Add the beef broth and bring the liquid to a boil.

Cover with a lid, reduce the heat to low and cook for 45 minutes.

Uncover and cook for another 15 minutes, letting the soup thicken a bit.

When ready to serve, pour soup into individual soup bowls, top with croutons and shaved cheese.

Second Course

Stuffed Chicken Breasts In Pastry

Ingredients

One 17.3-ounce package Puff Pastry Sheets, thawed
1 egg
1 tablespoon water
6 skinless, boneless chicken breasts halves
6 heaping tablespoons chive/onion cream cheese, divided
3/4 cup spinach pesto, divided, Recipe Link

Directions

Pound the chicken breasts to an even thickness between sheets of plastic wrap.

Place one heaping tablespoon of cream cheese on one end of each breast and flatten the cheese to make an even layer.

Fold the opposite end of the breast over the cheese and press down. Do the same with the rest of the chicken.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Unfold one pastry sheet on a lightly floured work surface. Roll the pastry sheet into a 16-inch square.

Cut into 4 squares. Do the same with the second sheet of pastry and set 2 squares aside.

Spoon about 2 tablespoons of spinach pesto on each square.

Top each with a folded chicken breast. Brush the edges of the pastry with the egg mixture.

Fold the corners of the pastries up over the chicken and press to seal. Place the pastries on an oiled baking sheet.

Use a small decorative cookie cutter to cut out 6 flowers or other shapes.

Place a cutout on top of each pastry.Brush with the egg mixture.

Bake for 30 minutes. Pastry should be golden brown and flaky and the chicken should register 165 on an instant read meat thermometer.

While the chicken is baking make the wine sauce.

Mushroom Wine Sauce

Ingredients

2 tablespoons butter
2 cloves minced garlic
1 shallot, minced
Salt and black pepper to taste
2 cups mushrooms, sliced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup heavy cream

Directions

In a medium skillet heat the butter over medium heat. Saute the mushrooms, shallot and garlic for 5 minutes.

Add the freshly chopped parsley, salt and pepper and continue to saute for about 8-10 minutes.

Add the wine, bring to a boil and reduce by about 1/2 over medium heat.

Turn the heat down to a simmer and add the cream. Heat over low and serve with the cooked chicken breasts.

Rapini with Garlic and Oregano

4 Servings

Ingredients

1 bunch broccoli rabe (rapini), ends trimmed and rinsed
1 tablespoon olive oil
2-3 large garlic cloves minced
1/2 dried oregano, crushed
1/4 teaspoon red pepper, crushed
Salt to taste

Directions

Cook broccoli in boiling, salted water in a large saucepan 2 to 3 minutes or until just tender; drain.

Rinse with cold water; coarsely chop and drain again.

Heat oil in the same saucepan. Add broccoli, garlic, crushed red pepper and oregano; cook stirring 3 to 4 minutes.

Season with salt, to taste.

Corn Custard

Ingredients

4 tablespoons butter
5 cups fresh yellow corn kernels cut off the cob (6 to 8 ears)
1 cup chopped yellow onion (1 onion)
4 eggs
2 cups prepared Bechamel sauce, see recipe below
1/2 cup finely ground yellow cornmeal flour (Masa Harina)
1 cup ricotta cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh chives
1 tablespoon honey or agave syrup
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Grease the inside of a 2 quart baking dish.

Melt the butter in a large saute pan and saute the corn and onion over medium-high heat for 4 minutes. Cool slightly.

Whisk together the eggs and Bechamel sauce in a large bowl. Slowly whisk in the cornmeal and then the ricotta.

Add the honey, salt, pepper and the cooked corn mixture. Process until smooth with a stick blender.

Stir in the chopped chives and the grated cheddar cheese. Pour into the baking dish.

Place the dish in a larger pan and fill the pan 1/2 way up the sides of the dish with hot tap water.

Bake the pudding for 40 to 45 minutes until the top begins to brown and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Serve warm.

This dish can be prepared one day ahead and refrigerated. Remove from the refrigerator one hour before baking.

Béchamel Sauce

Ingredients

3 cups whole milk
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
Pinch of salt

To make the béchamel:

Melt the butter over medium heat. When foaming, add the flour and stir briskly with a whisk.

Cook for about 2 minutes, then slowly add the milk, whisking continuously.

Cook for about 3-4 minutes more, until it is of medium-thick consistency, similar to a runny pudding or yogurt.

Remove from the heat and set aside. Makes about 3 cups.

Dessert Course

Vanilla Ice Cream with Berry Sauce and Shortbread Cookies

Slice-and-Bake Shortbread Cookies

Makes about 4 dozen

Ingredients

1 cup salted butter, softened
3/4 cup powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder

Directions

Beat 1 cup softened butter at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy.

Gradually add the powdered sugar, beating until smooth. Stir in vanilla extract and almond extract until blended.

Stir together the flour, baking powder and salt.

Gradually add flour mixture to the butter mixture, beating at low-speed until blended.

Shape the shortbread dough into 2 (7-inch) logs.

Wrap each log in plastic wrap and chill 4 hours, or freeze logs in zip-top plastic freezer bags up to 1 month.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

If frozen, let logs stand at room temperature 10 minutes.

Cut each log into 1/4 inch t slices. Place shortbread slices 1 inch apart on lightly greased or parchment paper-lined baking sheets.

Bake the shortbread slices for 10 to 12 minutes or until the edges of slices are golden.

Remove shortbread from the baking sheets and place on wire racks; let cool completely (about 20 minutes).

Store in airtight containers or in the freezer.



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