I had a dinner party a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, my broken foot is not fully healed and I can't spend long periods on my feet, so although I prepared and served dinner for eight, I did a lot of cheating...and nobody figured it out! So, if you don't think you are up to all the "from scratch" preparation of a dinner party for eight or more, take a peek at how I cheated my way through a great meal and had a happy, satisfied bunch of guests.
First, the menu:
Appetizers: Corn chips and Salsa Fresca (recipe on this blog)
Entree: roast leg of lamb and roasted whole chicken
Veg: baked potatoes, corn on the cob, stir fry
Sides: Fresh specialty bread
Dessert: Pound cake (madiera cake) and fruit salad
Actually, it looks like a lot more work than it is!
Let's begin at the beginning: the appetizers
You do not want to put out a lot of appetizers because if people fill up on them, they won't want dinner. And then you'll feel bad watching the lamb roast congeal while everybody moans about having no appetite. Figure one bag of corn (or tortilla) chips for every eight guests. Make the salsa a day early and make it a bit spicy. Drain the excess liquid before serving.
A Super...and super simple!...salad
The best time to make the salad is after the meat and potatoes go in the oven. At the market, buy a bag of baby salad greens and a "salad kit" with at least 3 ingredients in it: my preference is baby tomatoes, chopped green onion, and chunks of cheese,
For the salad, make sure you have the following:
1 carrot (you will grate it)
6 Fresh brown button (or Portobellini) mushrooms, (you will thinly slice them)
1 Avocado (you will peel and slice it)
2 cold boiled eggs, peeled (you will slice them)
Grated Romano cheese (preferably hand grated from a hard cheese)
Dressing of choice, poured out of dressing container and into a pretty decanter or pitcher
Make sure the greens are clean, then tear them into smaller pieces. Add greens from the salad kit and toss together with 1/2 of a grated carrot. Add the other ingredients in the order listed above, adding the remainder of the salad kit before grating Romano cheese over the top. Do not add salad dressing...it will make the salad limp! Place a paper towel directly on top of the salad, cover loosely and refrigerate until time to serve.
Meats: tricks and shortcuts
Roasted chicken: buy a pre-roasted chicken from the deli or rotisserie of your market. For 8 people, make sure you have about 2 lbs (1 kg) of chicken (buy two smaller chickens if necessary).
Peel and coarsely chop a medium sized onion. Slice 1/2 cup celery including leaves and tops. Mix lightly with 4 cloves roasted garlic and some sea salt. Place mixture inside chicken. Microwave until chicken is hot and onion is soft.
Make a mixture of honey, whole grain German mustard and lemon juice. Heat in a ovenproof measuring cup in microwave. Stir until honey is dissolved. Pour over chicken just before serving
Leg of Lamb
Preheat your oven to 180C (350F).
Buy a 2 lb (1 kg) lamb roast that has already been deboned and seasoned. Place the roast, fat side up, on a small roasting rack (if you don't have one, see the recipe for Roast Turkey and the instructions for making a simple alternative out of foil) and insert an oven-safe meat thermometer into the centre of the roast. You will need to cook it for 20 minutes per pound (500g) plus 20 minutes. Allow roast to stand for 10 minutes before carving. Serve with cold mint jelly (this cuts the greasiness of the lamb)
Allow one potato per person. Wash and clean potatoes of eyes, blemishes. Insert a potato nail through the length of the potato. Rub all over with olive oil. Prick each potato several times with a fork. place on baking sheet and put into oven with the lamb roast.
Do not wrap in foil!! This steams the potato rather than bakes it.
Caution: use smallish potatoes or they won't get done.
Tip: if they don't get done enough, removed nails and finish in the microwave
Corn on the cob: Corn should be fresh. Clean, removed silk and green husks, break into halves. Put a large pot of salted water on to boil. Once boiling, add corn, cover, and turn off the heat. Allow to stand for 20-30 minutes. This will cook the corn without toughening it. If possible, use white corn or bi-colour corn as they are sweeter than yellow corn. Serve with butter, salt and pepper.
Stir fry: you can make this with any vegetable combination you like. This is one I like a lot:
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh shallots
1/2 cup finely sliced brown or Portobellini mushrooms
1/2 grated carrot
1 packet snow peas, fresh or frozen (but thawed)
3/4 cup fresh asparagus tips (snap off tough stalks)
3/4 cup fresh baby corn, cut into bite sized pieces
4 to 6 cloves roasted garlic
butter and olive oil
Heat butter and oil together in large skillet or wok. When sizzling add shallots, mushrooms, garlic, salt and herbs. Stir vigorously for about 1 minute or until fragrant. Add remaining vegetables and stir for about a minute, then add up to 1/2 cup red wine, cover, and reduce heat. Allow to cook until corn can easily be pierced with a fork. Uncover and cook off wine until just a bit of syrupy liquid remains.
Buy small sour dough rounds, the ones intended to be used as sandwich rolls. Allow one for each adult. Slice like a loaf of bread, creating multiple slices per roll, but do not slice all the way through the bottom. Butter between the slices. Place on a baking sheet, cover the whole sheet with foil. When the roast and potatoes come out of the oven, turn off the oven, pop these into the oven and shut the door and allow the residual heat to warm them. They can be removed from the oven as soon as the lamb is sliced and ready to serve.
Buy a pound cake or a madiera cake. If the cake is frozen, make sure it is fully thawed before dessert time.
Use the recipe on this blog for Fruit Salad. Dress the fruit salad with a tub of artificially sweetened lemon or vanilla yoghurt. If you have a dieter or diabetic among your guests, this will be an acceptable dessert. For everyone else, put a slice of pound cake in the bottom of a shallow bowl (like a soup bowl) and pile on a ladle of the fruit. Top with a squirt of whipped cream if desired.
Don't forget to put out the salad dressing, the mint jelly, the bread rolls and some butter (you can give them a choice of plain butter or garlic butter (use the roasted garlic) or even herbed labneh--recipes on this blog).
Now, if you really look at this, the only thing that actually requires honest-to-goodness cooking is the stir fry. Everything else is pre-prepared and you are basically heating it up or dressing it up.
This was pretty much our menu the other night and it was a HUGE hit!