Posts Tagged ‘Dinner Party’

About a month ago, I finally made my way through a back issue of Food and Wine that arrived around the same time my baby did…and was sitting gathering dust for a few months. I was hesitant to throw it away because it looked very interesting – an anniversary issue with years worth of ‘best of’ recipes. They did their top 20 recipes for the past (30? I think?) years. Though I don’t often make chicken, I was intrigued by the dish labeled the “Best Chicken Dish” – Roast Chicken with Bread Salad. Considering how many chicken dishes must have been showcased in the magazine over the years, it seemed worth trying.

I made this last weekend when we had friends for dinner. It was amazing. Simply salting (I didn’t have time to add the garlic or thyme under the skin) the chicken overnight produced an extremely crispy and golden brown skin and insanely moist meat. We put the chicken in a cast iron pan on the grill to 500, instead of the oven, since our oven tends to smoke above 425. You pour the pan juices over the bread salad recipe, which is essentially just super delicious croutons. I found them a bit too crispy, and that the chicken didn’t make quite as much pan juice as I wanted. Next time I would add some chicken stock and white wine to the pan juices, simmer a bit, then pour over the croutons so that they are a bit more moist. The flavor, though, was out of this world. If you’re making it for company, be more efficient than I was and follow the ‘make ahead’ directions on the bread salad so that you have very little to do once guests have arrived.

I served it with this Kale and Brussels Sprout Salad which is very flavorful, healthy and can also be made in advance. We had a nice Sauvignon Blanc alongside which was perfect. And a pumpkin pie for dessert, to keep it very fall-ish feeling. All around a really delicious and fun meal to serve for a special occasion!

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This is the best new recipe I’ve made in months! Just in time for summer barbeques, but equally great for cold weather months since it’s made in the slow cooker, this one is a real keeper!

The brisket is simply thrown in the slow cooker with a few spices and a bottle of Dr. Pepper. However…I couldn’t find Dr. Pepper the day I wanted to make this (Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods are our usual rotation of grocery stores because they are the ones we can walk to) so I used a root beer instead. I am sure the Dr. Pepper is really good but the root beer made such a deeply flavorful, sweet sauce that I will probably do it that way every time!

The mango salsa takes a bit of time to make because of the chopping and various steps. But even according to my husband, it’s totally worth it. As he said, it made the meal. The good news is that you could absolutely do it up to several days in advance and that will take almost all of the time-consuming preparation out of this meal, if you’re serving for company. I would double the sauce next time, as we had a lot of leftover brisket and not as much sauce.

Making the individual quesadillas with the brie took a little bit of time but as long as you don’t have too big a party it should be ok. I used a light brie to spare a few calories and you’d never know the difference.

Serve this alongside a great margarita and some chips and guacamole and you’ll be a very popular hostess this summer!

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I loved this idea for a fun dinner party in the latest issue of Bon Appetit – DIY pizzas and prosecco!  They include a recipe for your own dough, but as you faithful readers know, I prefer to use the Trader Joe’s 99 cent dough in a bag.  I also learned a little tip yesterday from my friend Grace that you can buy dough from Domino’s Pizza for 2 bucks, enough to make 6 mini-pizzas!  And then we figured that you could probably go to any local pizza restaurant and buy a little bit of dough from them.  I would totally advocate for that shortcut.

The topping ideas are great, though.  I’d add my own new favorite, the carmelized portobello mushrooms.  But it’s a great selection of toppings and both the sauces, the arugula-pistachio pesto and the roasted tomato sauce, look great!

I’m also a big fan of prosecco, Italian ‘champagne’, as well as it’s sister in cheap bubblies, cava from Spain.  I’ve come to embrace a life-view that sparkling wines should NOT be saved for special occasions, but should be enjoyed as often as possible to add some ‘special’ to regular days.  Also, I found out that champagne has less calories than most other drinks, so in that case, why in the world would you NOT order a glass next time you’re out at a bar?!?  I found a great $5.99 bottle of prosecco at Trader Joe’s that’s neither too sweet nor bitter, and I love to have it around for any occasion. 

Pizza nights are common dinners chez Skena, but the idea of a dinner party around homemade pizzas and prosecco is a new spin on our favorite that we’ll have to schedule soon.  And so should you!

Slideshow at: http://www.bonappetit.com/tipstools/slideshows/2009/04/a_pizza_and_prosecco_party_slideshow

PDF of recipes at: http://www.bonappetit.com/pdfs/CLUBAPR09.pdf

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Michael and I headed down to beautiful Beaufort, SC last weeked to visit our good friends Lauren and Andrew.  Saturday was Andrew’s birthday and Lauren and I made dinner for a party of ten to help him celebrate.  It was so much fun to be with them, and to toast Andrew for his birthday!


A dinner party for ten really has to be carefully planned.  I have lots of favorite recipes I love to make for dinner parties, but when you’re talking about ten people, you’re really talking about doubling recipes, and not all recipes double well.  We wanted to pick a menu that was fancy, do-able for a large group and wouldn’t require us to be in the kitchen the entire day, since, after all, we needed lots of girl time to catch up (she’s having a little girl in April!).  What we came up with ended up being the perfect wintery celebration meal.  As usual, I borrow heavily from the Barefoot Contessa.  🙂  Some things never change.  Neither Lauren nor I had made a big piece of meat like the standing rib roast before – we were both a bit nervous, but it seemed to come out pretty well!  Often the block we have about cooking something is all in our head, and it just takes diving in to a recipe to give you the confidence to do it again.  When it comes right down to it, you just put it in the oven and follow the recipe regarding temperature – not too hard!  The recipe for Sweet Potato Muffins is a long-time favorite in my family; my parents picked it up on a weekend in Colonial Williamsburg a long, long time ago.  Do not be alarmed when they come out somewhat flat and dense – that’s the way they’re supposed to be.  Just heat those puppies up and smear them with butter! 


Here is the menu:

Standing Rib Roast with Mustard Horseradish Sauce: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/sunday-rib-roast-recipe/index.html


Parmesan Mashed Potatoes (these are gradually becoming my favorite mashed potatoes as I cook through other recipes): http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/parmesan-smashed-potatoes-recipe/index.html


Roasted Brussel Sprouts (http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/roasted-brussels-sprouts-recipe/index.html)


Sweet Potato Muffins

½ c butter

1 ¼ c sugar

2 eggs

1 ¼ c canned sweet potatoes, mashed (can substitute yams)

1 ½ c flour

2 tsp baking powder

¼ tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon

¼ tsp nutmeg

1 c milk

¼ c pecans or walnuts, toasted and chopped

½ c raisins, chopped

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and grease 2 muffin tins.


Cream the butter and sugar.  Add the eggs and mix well.  Blend in the sweet potatoes.


Sift flour with baking powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg.  Add alternatively with milk.  Do not overmix!  Fold in nuts and raisins.


Fill muffin tins 2/3 full and bake for 25 minutes.


Lauren, thanks for being so much fun to cook with, and Andrew, happy birthday!!! 🙂  We love you both and can’t wait to meet your little girl this spring!


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We did a lot of running around over Christmas, seeing family and friends, and New Years Eve sort of snuck up on us.  Our dear friends Brad and Sarah were planning to come and spend the evening with us and an elegant dinner on our rarely-used china with our newly-completed (thanks Mom and Gramma!) crystal glasses seemed in order.  The only difficulty was that for once I had not had the time to plan out a precise menu, grocery list and cooking schedule.  The thing really was thrown together in a day, which is not a lot of time for me.

And wouldn’t you know, it turned out just great! 🙂  Having less time than I’m used to for menu-planning forced me to choose recipes that I have made several times already and would not be complicated, and that eliminated any cooking stress.  I also choose recipes for which I had many ingredients already on hand, so the last-minute trip to the grocery store for Michael was only moderately horrible with his short list, rather than being I-want-to-shoot-myself-in-the-face wretched with a long and complicated list.  We still ate late, since I hadn’t had my usual amount of time to prep ingredients, but we were planning to be up late anyway so it really didn’t matter.  When it comes right down to it, the MOST important ingredient for a successful dinner party is the guests on the chairs, and Brad and Sarah are loving and generous friends so it was bound to be a fun, fun night no matter how the food turned out.

So let me share the menu with you, as it’s interesting to see what the go-to recipes that I turn to in a pinch for a fancy dinner look like.  And since they are some of my favorites, I’ll put the recipes in there, too.  I loved this menu for the way it felt fancy enough for a special occasion, while still being simple to pull together, and filling us up without groaning in agony afterwards.  As we all recover from the blissful gorging and gulping of the past few weeks, you may not have occasion to cook this all together, but the dishes are equally good on their own.  Bon Appetit, and Happy New Year!!!

Cranberry Bruschetta: This is a wonderful wintery appetizer from my Wine Club book.  I’d made this for Thanksgiving but we hadn’t used it, so it was conveniently waiting for me in the freezer for an occasion just like this!


1 long baguette-style loaf of French bread

2 Tbs butter, melted

2/3 cup diced red onion

½ cup rice wine vinegar

1/3 cup sugar

1 Tbs grated fresh ginger

½ tsp crushed red pepper flakes

1 cup cranberry sauce (leftover or purchased)

½ tsp minced fresh rosemary

8 oz cream cheese


Preheat oven to 375.  Slice baguette into ½ inch thick slices.  Arrange in one layer on a large sheetpan and lightly brush 1 side of each slice with melted butter.  Bake about 10 min or until toasted and cool.

In a heavy saucepan, combine onion, vinegar, sugar, ginger, and red pepper flakes.  Simmer over medium heat til the vinegar is reduced by more than half and the sugar begins to caramelize (the red onion will become pink and translucent).  Reduce heat; stir in cranberry sauce and minced rosemary.  Bring to a boil.  Remove from heat and cool completely.

To serve, smear each toasted baguette slice with about 1 tablespoon of cream cheese and top with 1 heaping tablespoon of the cranberry mixture.


Butternut Squash Risotto with Cornmeal Fried Shrimp: I had leftover roasted and pureed butternut squash in the freezer from another meal, which saved me the whole first part of this recipe.  The shrimp are fantastic and are an essential part of this dish as their crunchy, salty bite contrasts beautifully with the rich risotto.  You have to have patient guests as these should be cooked at the end – and you’ll really want a good pair of tongs for this – although you could probably keep them warm in the oven or toaster oven for ½ hour or so on LOW heat…



Arugula with Parmesan:  A perfectly light but flavorful salad to balance rich dishes like risotto.



Garlic Ciabatta Bread: OMG this is the BEST garlic bread recipe ever!  This was a new recipe from the newest Barefoot Contessa cookbook.  You could ease up on the garlic a bit if you don’t want to offend your kissing partner, but it’s still really flavorful and buttery.  Make this before you start cooking and put to the side to heat up at the last minute.



Choco Hoto Pots: I first saw this recipe years ago on Oprah in my grad-school days…it could not be easier or more delicious!  I skip the white chocolate chips if I don’t have any around – otherwise you usually have the ingredients in cabinet.  You can prepare it before your guests come and put it to the side, then bake it off after you finish dinner.  It’s also delicious with a dollop of fresh whipped cream on the side!



Butternut Squash Risotto with Cornmeal Fried Shrimp


Brad and Sarah – thanks for being the best company we could have asked for to ring in the New Year.  We love you guys!!!

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