Hostess with the Leastess: Simple Recipes for Entertaining Needed
I am a lover of food- but not necessarily a great cooker of it. I often have friends over around dinner time- and I would love to be able to effortlessly whip up creations in my kitchen for them.
Are there any easy, no fail recipes that are perfect for company yet still casual?
In the same vein- are there any no-fail drinks I can serve? I love wine- but it would be wonderfully festive to have a mixed drink associated with coming over to my house.
Haven't used any of RR's recipes, but her schtick is quick cooking w/ minimum fuss. She covers some entertaining, but personally I think Barefoot Contessa (Ina Garten) of Food TV makes better food and is more focused on casual yet elegant entertaining. Also, she often includes recipes for fun cocktails and beverages.
Giada De Laurentiis (Everyday Italian) and Michael Chiarello also may have fairly doable recipes w/ an Italian slant. Just stay away from that Sandra Lee...
If you and your friends are more spontaneous about hanging out, then my best advice is to have a well-stocked pantry so you can throw something together. My staple foods: eggs, bacon, milk, pasta, canned tomatoes, olives, cheese, good bread, onions, garlic, chicken broth, bag of salad greens, nuts. Those are just the basics, but you can still make a number of dishes. For more impressive meals, you'll def. have to plan and shop ahead.
Here's my fave no-fail, effortless entree, pasta with clam sauce. Add a salad and you're good to go. The best part is that you can make this from stuff in the pantry.
I'll tell you how to make enough pasta for two. You can increase it ad infinitum to serve more. Round up if you have an odd number of people. It's good and people eat lots . . .
Start the water for pasta. Salt it generously. Sautee a couple cloves of garlic gently in a tablespoon or two of olive oil for a few minutes until they get soft and start to get translucent. Add the liquid from a can of chopped clams. Add a handful of parsley -- fresh is best but dried is OK. Keep sauce at a low simmer while you cook 6-8oz. of pasta. I like to use a small shape (shells or even elbow macaroni). When the pasta is done, toss the pasta, the sauce and the clams in a serving bowl and chow down.
By not cooking the clams (just tossing them with the sauce and the pasta) you prevent them from getting tough. Serve this in bowls with soup spoons so you can savor the broth/sauce.
To the Original Poster: To go with Dorothy's excellent suggestion, you might start off w/ an appetizer that consists of slicing good, ripe tomatoes in thick slices, stacked w/ a thin slice of mozzarella cheese, and a whole basil leaf on top. Place on a pretty platter and drizzle w/ a basic olive oil/vinegar dressing (or bottled Italian). Looks very pretty and tastes very nice.
How about Diners-Do-It-Themselves, as in: fondue (Yesss, it's back), Mongolian hot pots (same basic idea of fondue, except that broth or water is used as the simmering agent. At the end, the broth is brought to a boil and noodles are added to the communal pot and everyone finishes w/ that.), make it yourself tacos (have an assortment of garnishes and ingredients), table top grilling (have an assortment of thinly sliced meats and veggies). Desserts can always be fresh fruits, nuts, little fancy truffles, or straight up purchased cakes and pies.
Sangria is always a safe drink, and a great way to use up any wine that you might not like.
One bottle of wine
One orange, sliced into 1/4 inch thick cylinders
1 sweet apple (not granny smith!), cubed or sliced
Any other fruits you might like. Crunchy fruits work well: watermelon, pears, even cantaloupe. Nothing squishy, like bananas
Put wine in a pitcher with the fruit several hours before your dinner, chill in the fridge, and add some soda water before serving. I like to put some simple syrup in the sangria, but that's considered sacreligious to some.
Simple dinners for me involve pasta. One easy pasta I learned from this board is leeks pasta. I'll include the link below. It's a cheap alternative to clam pasta, it's even easier than alfredo, and most people won't have tasted anything exactly like it. I think it would be really tough to mess up this pasta.
I'm interpreting your post as a request for both easy-yet-impressive dishes, and a gosh-dinner-at-Amy's-is-always-so-much-FUN experience.
Easy yet impressive:
For some reason, a whole side of fish looks immensely impressive, and everyone tends to love salmon. Buy a whole side of salmon, filleted with skin on. Mix 2 TBS fresh chopped ginger, 1/4C lime juice, 2 TBS soy sauce, black pepper and some softened butter. Spread mixture onto fish, and broil for 8-10 min. Serve with vegetables on the side.
Impressive with friends sitting round the table, chatting whilst you cook: Risotto. Make it once for just yourself, and you'll see how easy this is.
Impressive at the dinner table:
Learn how to master a simple fruit tart, and buy a brulee torch. Toasting sugar on top of a tart to make a crispy sugar top is the sort of thing that keeps both children and adult guests fascinated for AGES. WE pass it round the table, and everyone gets a go. It's a great way to brulee an entire tart without having to do it yourself, and guests love it.
With regard to the clam pasta below, I'd only do that for a less formal, friendly dinner, as I've found the only way to eat Spaghetti al Vongole (clam pasta in Italian) is with a fork for the pasta, but fingers for the clams. It doesn't feel right, picking at them with a fork when you should be picking up that shell and slurping out that plump little clam with your lips.