Monday, July 28, 2008

Adventures in entertaining - feeding the family Sunday lunch

The boyfriend is typically the sole recipient of my new-found cooking prowess. Up until now, my family has only sample the occasional side dish or dessert. So this weekend I decided to tackle my biggest culinary challenge yet - I invited the family over to my new place for Sunday lunch.

Entertaining is probably not the best time to test out new recipes, so I decided to stick with dishes I'd prepared with success before.

The menu:

Fruit salad with honey, lime and mint

Warm spinach salad with cannellini beans and shrimp
Mascarpone stuffed dates

My table has seating for 6, so I made the executive decision to only invite my sister and her husband and my parents, figuring my brother wouldn't mind missing out. Alas, little sister spilled the beans that morning to my brother, and he was none-too-pleased to be excluded. So instead of lunch for 6, I ended up entertaining 7 at the last second. So with mismatched flatware, and our desk chair pulled up to the table, we were able to squeeze in one more, and the portions although smaller than intended, turned out to be fine. Not exactly the kind of mish-mash event Martha Stewart would condone, but I thought the setting looked pretty good considering I only have matching service for 4.

Fruit salad isn't very exciting but I thought one significant recipe was enough to tackle. I went shopping without a plan in mind, so I ended up with strawberries and blueberries, both of which are in season and on sale. I found a recipe for a fruit salad using honey, mint and lime syrup on epicurious, and since I had those ingredients on hand, I threw that in with my fruit. The original recipe called for melon, kiwi, and grapes in addition to strawberries, but I though this simple syrup recipe would work great with nearly any mix of fruits. I was able to prepare this an hour in advance, which is perfect for entertaining.

Fresh fruit salad with honey, mint and lime syrup
Adapted from Bon Appetit Magazine/

A refreshing dessert on its own or spooned over vanilla ice cream.The original recipe called for kiwi, grapes, and cantaloupe.


Juice of 1 small lime
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
1 and 1/2 12-ounce basket strawberries, hulled, halved
1 12 oz container blueberries


Whisk lime juice, honey and mint in large bowl to blend. Add all fruit to syrup in bowl; toss to combine. Let stand 15 minutes to allow flavors to blend. (Can be made 3 hours ahead. Cover and chill.)

The main attraction was the warm spinach salad, which I've made to rave reviews several times for the boyfriend. Not only are shrimp, bacon, and mustard shallot dressing simply delicious tog ether, but it's also a very straightforward recipe to prepare and makes very little mess, which is a major plus when you're open kitchen will be on display. I finished making this dish about 15 minutes early, so I left the burner on low for the dressing and put the shrimp and bacon mix in the oven to keep it from losing too much heat. It turned out perfectly, and everyone got plenty of food despite having an extra person at the table. Of course little brother did complain that he only had 5 shrimp on his dish and my brother-in-law had 8. Short of hand-counting the number of shrimp on each plate, it's impossible to distribute perfectly evenly, so little brother got slighted again. Oops! The photo is from Food and Wine, and no, mine didn't look this pretty. It was damn tasty, though, so who cares?

Warm Spinach salad with cannellini beans and shrimp
From Food and Wine Magazine
25 MIN
The combination of sweet shrimp and meaty little cannellini beans here transforms a simple warm spinach salad.
  • 1/2 pound baby spinach (7 cups)
  • 3 slices of bacon, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch strips
  • 1 pound shelled and deveined large shrimp
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • One 15-ounce can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small shallot, minced
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  1. Spread the spinach on a large platter. In a large skillet, cook the bacon over moderate heat until crisp, about 4 minutes. Drain off all but 2 tablespoons of the bacon fat. Season the shrimp with salt and pepper and cook it with the bacon over moderately high heat until just white throughout, about 4 minutes. Add the beans, season with salt and pepper and toss until heated through, about 1 minute. Scrape the shrimp and beans onto the bed of spinach.
  2. In the same skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Add the shallot and cook over moderately low heat until softened, about 1 minute. Add the mustard to the skillet and whisk in the red wine vinegar, then whisk in the remaining 1/4 cup of olive oil. Season the dressing with salt and pepper, pour it over the salad and serve.
I've been on a date kick lately (the fruit not the man kind!). Although the boyfriend is in fact Italian, he's Middle Eastern at heart, and can't get enough of these super sweet little fruits. To great effect, I've stuffed them with lemon flavored cream cheese and wrapped them with prosciutto or in this case stuffed with mascarpone and dusted with unsweetened chocolate. These are as simple as it gets, and most people eat dates so rarely that the taste combination is exciting. The creamy inside is decadent and unexpected, and the bitter chocolate offers a great contrast. Even better, every time I make these I end up with leftover mascarpone/sugar mixture, and how can I let that go to waste? I'm forced to simply eat it out of the bowl. Yum! The photo is again from Food and Wine, and I assure you, mine did not look nearly so neat and lovely.

Mascarpone stuffed dates
From Food and Wine Magazine
  • 16 Medjool dates
  • 1/2 cup mascarpone
  • 2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
  • Unsweetened cocoa, for dusting
  1. Make a lengthwise slit in each date and remove the pits (without halving the dates). In a bowl, whisk the mascarpone with the sugar. Spoon the mascarpone into the dates, close them loosely and arrange on a plate, split side up. Sift the cocoa over the dates and serve.
A great meal isn't complete without libations. I had enough on my hands, so the boyfriend was in charge of that part of the menu. I bought pear nectar back in NY at least 6 months ago, and like the pack-rat I am, I moved it down south with me because it had yet to be opened. The boyfriend mixed it with prosecco and made a delicious morning-appropriate cocktail. Little sister also brought along a white lambrusco from Trader Joe's. We recently tried a similar lightly sweet, sparkly wine at Fritti and fell in love with it. It goes down easy, and at a lowly $5-something a bottle, it's an unbelievable bargain.

By all accounts, my first bid at entertaining was a success. Everyone raved about the food, and we had an all-round lovely time. Even better the boyfriend started the cleaning while we were all still talking, so there was very little post-even clean-up.
I considered this event a test-run for entertaining, so now I'm feeling better prepared to invite non-relatives over for dinner. Daunting and exciting at the same time! I also have new respect for mothers who prepare dinner for the entire family all the time. It's tough to time things right and please a table-full of people!



Related Posts with Thumbnails