Dinner parties are my favorite form of entertaining. The anticipation, the decisions about what to serve, how to set the table, gathering flowers that will brighten the table without making dinner guests peek through the foliage to see each other, and taking the time to make everything look beautiful. I enjoy it all.
How much do I enjoy the preparation when there’s five hours instead of several days to do it all? Well, let’s just say it’s a challenge.
Everybody has her (or his) go-to recipes and things to buy last-minute from grocery stores to make a quick, but elegant meal on short notice. If there’s absolutely no time to cook, I like to run to the grocery store and pick up the ever-popular rotisserie chicken. Cut it into pieces, arrange it on a platter. Garnish with little boiled new potatoes, and serve at room temperature with a gravy or sauce; pasta (from the same grocer) Alfredo; a big composed salad drizzled with a balsamic vinegar reduction (easy, and thankfully homemade), rolls or garlic bread, and a yummy, simple dessert. It’s dinner!
If you have just an hour to cook — especially if it’s a special occasion — then my go-to entrée is a whole beef tenderloin, spiked with slivers of garlic and covered with a dry rub. Prep and preheating the oven takes 15 minutes. The roasting takes only 40-45 minutes. Let it rest and cool down for 20 minutes and you have perfect medium-rare tenderloin.
This time of year, especially when it’s been hot and humid for a few days, it’s easy to find fresh vegetables for a composed salad. Use as big a platter as you can find. Go for color and different shapes, like small bright red tomatoes, yellow sweet peppers sliced in strips, the fresh green of snow peas, pale Belgian endive sliced in half the long way, and small fresh Mozzarella balls.
Be sure to count your pieces of each veggie and the Mozzarella balls to allow enough for all of your guests to have several pieces. Summer’s here so use your imagination for this wonderful salad.
8 medium-size vine ripened tomatoes
8 small heads Belgian endive
1-2 yellow sweet peppers, cut in strips
Handful of snow pea pods
8 small fresh mozzarella balls
Mascarpone or cream cheese
Fresh dill sprigs, flat-leaf parsley sprigs, and/or shredded basil leaves
Balsamic reduction (or salad dressing of your choice)
Rinse all vegetables and dry completely. Cut tomatoes in half; scoop out the seeds and discard; add a teaspoon of either mozzarella or mascarpone cheese; top with a mozzarella ball. Cut and remove seeds from pepper. Remove strings from snow peas. Slice endive in half, end to end.
Using a large platter, arrange the vegetables in a design that pleases your eye. Add fresh herbs. Chill in the refrigerator until time to serve. Drizzle balsamic reduction (or dressing of your choice) over the vegetables and serve right away with tongs for guests to “grab” whatever they want. Pass a bottle of the balsamic reduction or dressing for those who like more.
You can add whatever you please to make it yours: pitted black, Kalamata or stuffed green olives; sliced “ribbons” of summer squash; little French green beans; green onions, etc., from the farmer’s market, grocery store or your own backyard. Bon appetite. Here’s to summer!
Linda Conway Eriksson can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.