Spring is upon us heralding the approaching social season of summer and after months of social distancing, most of us are anxious to gather with family and friends and being prepared will not only make entertaining seem effortless but have your guest raving!
In the past, I’ve posted articles on how to be a proper house guest as well as how to be a wonderful hostess. Today, i’ll be discussing entertaining. Whether your hosting a large dinner party, an intimate dinner with a friends or a romantic dinner date, entertaining doesn’t have to break the bank.
The secret to impressive entertaining on a budget is creating atmosphere, the small touches and of course, a great meal. The first step is planning your meal. Choose your menu well in advance and purchase the necessary supplies. Next, housekeeping. The first priority for creating a warm, welcoming atmosphere is a perfectly tidy home. Put away all clutter, vaccume, dust and scrub the bathroom.
One of the best things you can do for yourself is to pre-prep. Chop, dice and peel ingredients ahead of time, chill wines, brew teas and bake desserts. Anything you can do ahead of time will make your evening go smoother and reduce time spent in the kitchen, allowing you to be more social with your guests.
The small touches: Lighting can certainly set the mood for the type of gathering you’re holding. If you are having several guests, you may expect a social environment therefore you’ll want to make sure the living and dining areas are bright and cheerful. If you’re hosting a more intimate affair with another couple or a romantic dinner, lowering the lights and perhaps adding candles will create a cozier mood. In either circumstance , avoid the awkward silence by playing music, softly as to not overwhelm conversation.
Putting it together: A proper dinner service doesn’t require fancy, expensive dishes. Cheap, mismatched dishes from a thrift store can set a truly lovely table, in fact, it can be quite aesthetically pleasing.
Add a centerpiece to your table. It can be as simple as greenery and candles or get creative. Empty wine bottles can be acquired freely from local restaurants and with a bit of metallic spray paint and some glitter, can make a festive centerpiece. A simple eloquent idea is to paint the inside of mason jars then fill with florals.
When guests arrive, greet them with refreshments. Dropping a couple of frozen grapes, black berries, raspberries in champagne flutes or mango and peach slices into wine glasses adds a refreshing chill to your summer party. Another favorite at our home is a small scoop of sorbet in a flute, topped with champagne or white wine.0
Cocktails & charcuterie
If you’re hosting a large gathering, consider serving appetizers and/or a charcuterie with cocktails instead of a formal dinner.
Meals elegant yet affordable
If preparing a richly flavored, savory main course, it is important to temper this richness with a light salad and dessert. Begin with a salad of spring greens, thinly sliced pear, toasted walnuts and fried goat cheese with a light orange vinaigrette. A simple bag of greens, a single pear and pkg of goat cheese transforms into artful dining that’ll wow guests.
- 1/4 cup orange juice
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 1 tablespoon Dijon-style prepared mustard
- 2 teaspoons honey
- 1/8 teaspoon cracked black pepper
- In a small jar with a tight-fitting cover, combine the orange juice, vinegar, mustard, honey and pepper. Cover and shake well until combined. To store, refrigerate for up to 1 week. Shake well before serving.
French red wine stew with Garlic mashed Potatoes. At a paupers price, this savory dish not only wows but leaves guests sinfully spoiled! They’ll think you spent a fortune! Serve with hot crusty bread.
3 lb stew beef, cut into 1 inch cubes
1 cheap bottle Dry Red Wine.
salt and pepper
5 lg carrots, peeled and rough chop into large chunks
1 large onion cut into wedges
2 cloves garlic minced
1 6-oz can tomato paste
Season meat with salt and pepper. Place meat in a large bowl with wine, thyme, bay leaves, carrots, orange zest and juice, onion, and garlic. Cover and marinate in the fridge for at least 12 hours.
Heat some olive oil over medium high heat in a large stockpot. Remove the meat from the marinade (but reserve the liquid) and brown the pieces in the oil on all sides. Pour the marinade liquid into the pot and bring to a boil. Boil for 5 minutes, skimming any foam from the surface. Lower the heat to a simmer, stir in the tomato paste, and add 4 – 5 c. water. Cover, and let stew on low heat for 2-3 hours, stirring occasionally. Uncover and allow to simmer at medium heat until thickened, about 15 min.
Serve over garlic mashed potatoes.
Garlic Mashed Potatoes
6 russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
8 cloves garlic, cut in quarters
1/2 c. heavy cream
1/4 c. Butter
salt & pepper
Place cubed potatoes in a large saucepan. Cover with cold salted water and bring to a boil. Boil for 10-15 minutes until potatoes are easily pierced with a fork. Drain and place in a covered bowl.
Return saucepan to heat, lower heat to low, and add garlic, cream, and butter. Heat until garlic is fragrant and cream begins to simmer, then add to potatoes. Mash potatoes until preferred consistency.
A light yet top shelf dessert that is sure to impress is Creme Brulee and it’s easier than you think! Your guests will think you spent hours preparing this gourmet dessert.
1 pint whipping or heavy cream (2 cups)
4 egg yolks from large eggs
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
pinch salt, optional and to taste
about 3 to 4 cups water, for water bath
1 to 2 teaspoons superfine sugar per each ramekin, for caramelizing (granulated may be substituted but superfine melts more smoothly and evenly)
Preheat oven to 300F. Place 6 ramekins in a 9×13 pan or large baking pan that will be used for a water bath. Spray ramekins with non-stick cooking spray; set aside.
Add the cream to a 2-cup glass measuring cup or microwave-safe bowl. Heat on high power until cream begins to bubble just a bit, but don’t let it come to a full boil; it took 3 1/2 minutes in my micro (or heat cream over medium heat on the stove, about 10 minutes). Remove cream from micro; set aside to cool.
Separate eggs, placing yolks in a large bowl. I find picking out the yolks (Use the whites for another recipe or discard.) To the large bowl with the yolks, add 1/4 cup granulated sugar, and whisk vigorously for 3 to 4 minutes until the mixture is lighter and paler in color, and has fluffed in volume. set aside.
With a spoon, remove any skin that’s formed on the cream. It will be quite warm, but not scalding. (it should read 165F max on a thermometer.)
Very slowly pour about 1/4 cup of cream into the eggs, whisking the whole time. This is tempering the eggs (getting them used to the warm cream) so you don’t scramble them.
Continue pouring the cream into the eggs very slowly, whisking the whole time. Add the vanilla, optional salt, and whisk to combine.
Evenly pour mixture into prepared ramekins; set aside.
Add 2 cups water to 2-cup glass measuring cup and microwave on high power until boiling, about 4 minutes.
Slowly and carefully pour the hot water into the 9×13 pan. The water creates a water bath so the crème brûlée bakes more evenly. Make sure the water isn’t being poured onto or splashing into the ramekins. Top off with more very hot tap water until the water level in the pan is about as high as the level of crème brûlée inside the cups.
Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until set with some jiggle. The crème brûlée will set up more as it cools. If you open the oven and gently move the baking pan and the crème brûlée makes a wave-like motion, more than just slight jiggling, they’re not done. They should not be browned and won’t rise.
Remove pan from the oven and very carefully with an oven mitt, remove ramekins from water bath and place them on a wire rack to cool completely, about 1 hour.
Cover them with lids or plastic wrap, and transfer to fridge to chill for at least 3 hours, or up to 3 days in advance.
Prior to serving, evenly sprinkle each ramekin with 1 to 2 teaspoons superfine sugar. I prefer 2 teaspoons each to achieve an appropriately thick caramelized top layer.
Using a torch held about 6 inches away from the surface, heat the sugar, making sure to keep the torch moving evenly to prevent burning. When sugar is sufficiently caramelized to your liking, serve immediately.
French press coffee
The final touch to your evening should be the richest most decadent cup of coffee. If you don’t have a French press, run as fast as you can to get one! You’ll be glad you did! Splurge here with real cream and offer with flavored sugars or my personal favorite, rough cut demerara cubes.
Entertaining doesn’t have to cost a fortune to look as though you have. It’s presentation, attention to details and the small touches that makes it feel special. Enjoy this social season with those you care about and get together often. Enjoy!💕