I tried to plan my menu carefully as to not overwhelm both my amateur cooking and hosting skills. Here are some tips:
- Pick an entree that can pretty much cook itself (minimal prep time and long cook time without supervision)
- Use Crowd Pleasers foods or as I like to call them, food with cheese and/or chocolate
- Distract everyone with tons of alcohol
I employed all these tactics and chose the following menu from my favorite food magazine Food and Wine:
LEEK MACARONI AND CHEESE
1 bunch leek greens (from 1 1/2 lb leeks) - thinly sliced
4 tablespoon unsalted butter
4 tablespoon unsalted butter
Salt and Fresh Ground Pepper
3 tablespoon all-purpose flour
3 cups half and half or whole milk (I used non-fat half and half which tasted great)
10 ounces Manchego Cheese (shredded, about 2 1/2 cups)
1 lb elbow macaroni
- Preheat the oven to 350°. Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet. Add the leeks and cook over high heat, stirring just until slightly wilted, 5 minutes; season with salt and pepper. Cook over low heat until very tender, about 20 minutes.
- Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter. Add the flour and cook over moderately high heat, whisking, for 2 minutes. Add the half-and-half and bring to a boil, whisking until thickened, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat. Add 2 cups of the cheese, season with salt and pepper and whisk the cheese sauce until melted.
- In a large saucepan of salted boiling water, cook the macaroni until nearly al dente. Drain well. Add the macaroni and the cheese sauce to the leek greens and stir until combined.
- Transfer the macaroni to an 8-by-11-inch baking dish and sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup of cheese. Bake for about 40 minutes, until bubbling. Turn the broiler on and broil the mac and cheese until golden brown on top, about 3 minutes. Let stand for 15 minutes before serving.
SPINACH AND AVOCADO SALAD
3/4 lb Thick Cut Bacon
3 tablespoons honey mustard
Kosher Salt and freshly ground Pepper
1/3 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 5-ounce bags pre-washed baby spinach
1 pint Grape Tomatoes, halved
3 large Scallions. white and tender parts, thinly sliced
2 large Haas Avocados, peeled and sliced into wedges
- Preheat the oven to 500°. Arrange the bacon slices on a large, heavy, rimmed baking sheet. Roast for 15 minutes or until golden brown, turning the slices halfway through. Drain the bacon on paper towels and let cool, then cut the strips crosswise into 1-inch pieces.
- In a small bowl, whisk the sherry vinegar with the honey mustard and season with salt and pepper. Whisk in the olive oil until emulsified.
- In a bowl, toss the spinach, tomatoes and scallions with the vinaigrette. Arrange the salad on plates, top with the sliced avocados and bacon and serve.
From the "yummies" I got around the table (table = coffee table and floor), it seemed like everyone liked it. People were inquiring what was in the dressing even though it was super simple ingredients, so this salad is a lot fancier than it seems. I added a little bit more crunch and texture by topping the salad with some crispy shallots.
The mac and cheese was great and made about 8 servings overall - I brought it to work the next day to share and it heated up in the microwave, no problemo. On a difficulty rating, this duo was probably a 5... not a lot of prep work, I just stuck the mac and cheese in the oven and worked on the salad.
Onto dessert which I feel like was a real home-run with both the guests and myself ... mostly cause it was the easiest thing ever to make...
Banana-Chocolate Spring Rolls
2 medium Bananas
Eight 7 1/2 inch square spring roll wrappers
1 egg white, lightly beaten
32 semi-sweet chocolate chips (I used dark chocolate...mmm....)
8 teaspoons shredded and sweetened coconut
Vegatable Oil (for frying)
Confectioners ' sugar and cocoa, for dusting (I skipped this part and plated using fresh raspberries and a chocolate smear)
- Cut each banana in half lengthwise and halve each piece crosswise. Work with 1 wrapper at a time; cover the rest with a damp paper towel. Lay 1 wrapper on a work surface and lightly brush the edge with beaten egg white. Place a banana quarter 2 inches from the bottom of the wrapper and top it with 4 chocolate chips and 1 teaspoon of coconut. Fold the bottom edge over the filling and roll up 1 complete turn. Fold in the sides and continue rolling to form a tight cylinder. Repeat with the remaining ingredients.
- In a medium saucepan, heat 2 inches of vegetable oil to 350°. Add 2 spring rolls at a time and fry until golden brown, about 1 minute per side. Drain on paper towels. Dust the spring rolls with the sugar and cocoa and serve.
As I mentioned, this was super popular and it made me happy cause it was cinchy. I served it with coconut sorbet (one of my favorite desserts solo). The really awesome thing about this dessert was it didn't feel too heavy or too sweet. It was the perfect way to end the meal.
All in all, the hardest part about the whole dinner party was timing. Timing out when the guests would show up, getting all the prep work done, etc - that was my biggest challenge. I still haven't mastered it, so I have no hints but I'll keep you posted on what I learn in the future.
Big THANK YOU to all my culinary guinea pigs... thanks for eating my food and maybe pretending to like it..