I spend a ridiculous amount of time on food. Between searching recipes, reading food magazines, planning menus, shopping, cooking, and cleaning it all up, food is certainly a central element in my life. (My husband and I keep joking about all the things I could accomplish if I gave up cooking for just one week… Stay tuned to see if that ever actually happens!)
It occurred to me today that I might be able to save time for some of you by posting the menus I’ve put together for dinner parties at my house. I try to plan things that go together nicely and that will allow me to do as much work as possible before my guests arrive. (We usually have cocktails and apps around my kitchen island, so the last thing I want my guests to see is me frantically trying to put a meal on the table.) Saving time and lessening stress is always a good thing, right?
Last night, Dr. O and I hosted a typical fall dinner party with one exception: we had a vegetarian guest. Now, vegetarians certainly aren’t unusual and I’ve worked with more challenging diets, but I came to realize that I didn’t have many recipes in my entertaining arsenal that didn’t include meat. I first experimented with Hearty Root Vegetable and Mushroom Stew from my copy of The Best of America’s Test Kitchen 2010. While it certainly wasn’t bad, it wasn’t dinner party food; my friend Christopher suggested that I was expecting a miracle out of a vegetable stew. After some discussion, we came up with the menu below for six guests.
Spinach dip and lemon artichoke dip from Whole Foods (I’ll take help where I can get it!)
Cucumber slices (as a dipping alternative)
Roasted, salted almonds (from Whole Foods bulk section – fantastic!)
Perfect Macaroni and Cheese
Green Beans with Caramelized Shallots
Simple Roasted Tomatoes (Just toss any quantity of cherry tomatoes in a roasting pan with olive oil, salt, and pepper; roast for 15 to 20 minutes towards the end of the macaroni and cheese baking time.)
Pear and Berry Crisp
Here’s the preparation schedule I followed for a 7 p.m. dinner party. (Yes, I am one of those people. Having a schedule totally reduces stress and the likelihood that I’ll forget something, though.)
Wash and iron napkins
Make and store crisp topping
Saturday morning or afternoon (work takes approximately 1 hour):
Slice and store shallots for green beans (refrigerator)
Rinse, trim, and store green beans (refrigerator)
Wash and dry cherry tomatoes, place them in roasting pan, and store (counter)
Wash, slice, and store cucumbers (refrigerator)
Thaw berries for crisp
Wash and slice pears for crisp
Assemble fruit portion of crisp and store (refrigerator)
5:45 p.m.: Make macaroni and cheese (hold at room temperature until baking time)
Put out appetizers
Put pot of water for green beans on stove (no heat yet)
Put pot for cooking shallots on stove with shallot butter inside (no heat yet)
Preheat oven for macaroni and cheese
7:00 p.m.: Guests arrive!
Put macaroni and cheese in oven
Start boiling bean water
Put tomatoes in oven (beneath macaroni)
Start cooking shallots
Remove macaroni from oven
Add green beans to boiling water
Remove tomatoes from oven
Drain green beans and toss with butter, salt, and pepper
Combine green beans with caramelized shallots
Change oven temperature to 400°F for crisp
8:30 p.m.: Put crisp in oven
9:15 p.m.: Remove crisp from oven
9:35 p.m.: Serve warm crisp with vanilla ice cream
It seems like a lot of steps, but since I did things like put the bean water and shallot butter on the stove ahead of time, I’d say the actual amount of hands-on work that needs to be done while guests are standing around takes fewer than 10 minutes. Consequently, I can actually interact with and enjoy my guests (the point) instead of working myself into a frenzy (so not the point!).
The food turned out really well. I’ve made Perfect Macaroni and Cheese (here’s a link to my post) and Pear and Berry Crisp (my post) before; both are absolutely to die for. The tomatoes and the green beans were perfect complements to the macaroni. I would normally serve a buttery chardonnay (like La Crema Sonoma Coast Chardonnay) with this dinner, but my friend brought a red (2005 La Baronne Alaric) with the dish in mind; it paired beautifully.
So that’s my dinner party… What do you think? Do you consider this type of post helpful, or not so much? I’d love to hear from you!