Menu: Herbed Goat Cheese, Crostini with Olive Tapenade, Beef Bourguignon and Chicken a la King with green salad, rice and biscuits. Dessert: lemon squares and peanut butter cookies.
I love to entertain. The good news is, I am becoming more adventurous with the food I serve when friends and family come to call. In the old days, the gang ordered out pizza. It was simple, universally enjoyed, and frankly it is still an option. But recently, after a long time of quiet, a bunch of good friends came over and I wanted to do something special. I wanted to cook for them. Since I had a few weeks to think about it., I considered carefully all the cookbooks and food tv shows that featured "good for a crowd" recipes.
Normally the appetizers would have consisted of potato chips, dip, and maybe cut veggies. The New Me decided to go for something more interesting. Hence: Herbed Goat Cheese balls, and Crostini with Olive Tapenade.
I got the goat cheese recipe from Giada de Laurentiis on Everyday Italian. The word "recipe" sounds a bit grandiose for something so simple: Take small pieces of semi-soft goat cheese, roll them into balls, then roll them again in a mixture of lemon zest and finely chopped herbs such as Italian parsley, thyme and rosemary. Add salt and pepper to taste.
To make the crostini, I sliced up a baguette of French bread, drizzled it in a little olive oil, and toasted it lightly under the broiler. I confess that the olive tapenade was store-bought, although my next post will feature a home-made version for another party. I offered two spreads for the crostini: a green or black olive tapenade; I like the chunky ones from Trader Joe's.
I was curious how the tapenade and goat cheese would be received by the teenagers coming to the gathering. Some were a little cautious, and I was glad my friend John (who instigated this gathering), brought chips as an alternative. I learned that goat cheese is wonderful but strong flavored, and the measely eleven ounces of cheese was only half consumed by the thirteen people there. Note to self: Serve mild cheeses along with the heaadier fare next time. The crostini were good but shatteringly crisp, so maybe a bit over toasted. Olive tapenade is also a bit strong for some tastes, so I learned that hor douvres require as much balance as the rest of the menu for optimum enjoyment.
I thought long and hard over the main course. Should I offer beef at all, given the modern preferences for lighter fare? After all it is much simpler to offer one main dish, and even my husband does not eat beef. I thought lovingly of my literary food hero, Laurie Colwin, and her discussion of this issue in her chapter "The Once and Future Dinner Party", in More Home Cooking; A Writer Returns to the Kitchen (her sequel to Home Cooking).
I finally decided to offer a choice of chicken or beef for several reasons: It would feed more people, I could cook one in the oven and one on the stove top, and most importantly, I wanted to share both of these favorites with my friends. In addition, both of these dishes could be prepared largely in advance, leaving me free to enjoy my company.
Both the beef and the chicken were a big hit. I poached the chicken in broth adn wine the day before, making it a simple matter to finish off the mushroom sauce with peas just before serving, and the beef was browned and stewing in the oven hours in advance. The (store bought) biscuits and salad were also made in advance, and the rice put on as the chicken came together. Simple and delicous.
Dessert was easy: Lemon bars and peanut butter cookies. What's not to like about a cookie?
I admit I was a little nervous about what felt like my first "real" dinner party. I was able to calm myself and realize that what I really wanted to do was serve this meal and take pleasure in the whole process. By the time the event was upon me, I had a blast. I can hardly wait to do it again. I feel like the timid inner hostess in me has finally had a chance to come out and play, and what she has lost in timidity she has gained in delighted enthusiasm. This rookie is raring to go at it again.