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Help Me Punch Up My Foolproof Dinner Party Menu

Having a few friends over for dinner this weekend and am pretty pressed for time, so I want to rely on familiar dishes I can turn out in my sleep. Problem is that I'm so bored of these, they might put me to sleep instead.

Can any of you offer up some easy ways to spice up this menu?

With Drinks:

fresh ricotta and bread
roasted red peppers
roasted broccoli

Dinner:

Chicken braised with tomatoes and olives
Braised swiss chard
Polenta

Perhaps someone can suggest some equally easy, but more exciting starters? I was actually hoping to do something with salt cod, but couldn't find anything simple enough.

Suggestions for the polenta and veg appreciated too. And fyi -- everything is pretty simply spiced -- olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper, so if you have exciting flavoring ideas, bring them on.

Thanks!

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  1. You could try a brandade recipe for the salt cod, it is delicious made with some riced potato and lots of good olive oil. It's pretty simple to do, and you have plenty of time for the soaking required. Cook the potatoes in milk with bay, thyme, garlic and salt before ricing. So good!
    For the braised chicken I would add some preserved lemon and chilies.

    1. Instead of the ricotta on bread, try Marcella's "quick mostarda"-- mascarpone mixed with fruit preserves and mustard.

      1. The roasted broccoli could use a spicy dip.
        I serve this one a lot with cut up veggies. It's one of my "keepers"

        Creamy Curried Dip
        1 cup sour cream
        1/3 cup mango chutney (hot), finely chopped, including sauce. Recommend Major Greys
        2 Tblsp minced fresh cilantro
        1 tsp. curry powder, madras
        ½ tsp. salt
        1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper

        Stir together all ingredients. Chill, covered, until ready to serve. Makes little over 1 cup.

        1. I'd be inclined to make a more toothsome veggie OR starch- something to break up the textural "softness" of the dinner menu....

          Maybe green beans almondine? Sauteed spinach with raisins and pinenuts?

          Orzo with fresh parsley and walnuts?

          For the starter, you might want to consider taramosalata (whipped Greek dip made with fish roe) as an option if working with salt cod seems labor-intensive.

          Or, you could add a salad into the mix.

          1. As a simple appetizer this past weekend, I peeled and deveined shrimp, put a sliver of jalapeno pepper where I deveined the shrimp, wrapped in bacon (prosciutto would be good, too), secured w/ toothpick, then sprinkled brown sugar over it. Broil 4-5 minutes per side. They disappeared quickly (though anything with bacon tends to). If I were to do anything differently, I would have left a little jalapeno seed to give it more heat.