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May 8, 2007 10:36 PM

What's your favorite "impressive but easy" recipe?

I'm faced with several mid-week entertaining situations in the next month or so, starting this Thursday. I was hoping to get some ideas and/or recipes regarding somewhat impressive bot not time-demanding menus or dishes. The recipes don't necessarily have to be easy, just not too time consuming (which might be an oxymoron but I'm throwing it out there anyway). Thanks in advance, 'Hounds!

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  1. A crowd favorite has been roast salmon on mushroom polenta.

    The polenta is quaker quick grits (not the instant kind, but the kind that cook in 7 minutes) though it works jut fine with regular polenta or grits, it just takes closer to an hour to cook. I like this version because it takes all of about 15 minutes start to finish.

    Start with shallots, onions, garlic (in whatever ratios you prefer or ommiting any or all of then if you like) and some fresh thyme, saute that in some oil or butter (i think olive oil works best) for a few minutes and then add some chopped up mushrooms (the more varied, the better) and saute them until they get some color and give up some liquid, then splash in some white wine and enough chicken stock to cook whatever amount of grits/polenta you want to cook. Stir in the grits and, if you're using the quick grits, slap on the lid and leave it on the lowest heat pretty much until you're ready, though it'll be ready in 6 or 7 minutes. While that's working, put the salmon on a broiling pan (I use a whole side of salmon which usually comes in at about 2.5 to 3 pounds) and squeeze fresh lemon juice over it, salt and pepper and fresh thyme and slide it under the broiler for about 8 or 10 minutes, longer if you like medium-rare or medium salmon.

    It ends up being a pretty elegant looking, very tasty main course. Add some salad or maybe haricort vert with sliced almonds and some bread and you'd have a fairly decent meal in short order. Good luck!

    8 Replies
    1. re: ccbweb

      Thanks for the recipe, sounds really good. Rock on! So do you think a mixture of crimini, chanterelle, and oyster would work well? That's my basic go-to shroom mixture...

      1. re: adroit_minx

        Definetly, that's more or less what I use, too when I can get them all. Good luck!

      2. re: ccbweb

        This is my take on "Bistro Steak Frites," and it couldn't be easier!

        Take a few baking potatoes and slice them (skin on) into fries (I like a medium thickness). Lay them in a single layer on an oiled baking sheet. Top with a ton of fresh rosemary, kosher salt, and garlic powder. Put in 425 degree oven for about 30 minutes. Make sure you toss them about halfway through. When they are tender, turn the broiler on and finish them off until golden brown for a minute or two.

        Take a sirloin and rub with garlic, olive oil, fresh chopped rosemary, salt and pepper. Broil, grill, whatever you feel like until desired doneness. Slice thin against the grain.

        In a saucepan on medium high, put a few tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, whisk in about a tablespoon of dijon mustard, 1/4 cup chicken broth, 1/4 cup maple syrup. Let thicken for a few minutes. Add a handful of fresh, chopped rosemary to finish. Pour over beef and toss to coat.

        The fries are SO good dipped in the sauce, too. I serve with a salad......

        1. re: ccbweb

          Polenta or mush made with finer corn meal can be cooked easily in the microwave, without the need to get the instant product. Mix the meal and water (or broth). I like to let it set for a while to wet the meal out, but that isn't absolutely necessary. Microwave on high for four minutes. Stir it. Repeat microwaving and stirring for a total of sixteen minutes, and it should be done. Sometimes I then add grated cheese and zap it again for a shorter period on lower power just to make sure the cheese is melted and then I stir it to integrate it. Patricia Wells' bay-scented semolina (cream of wheat, but cook it with broth and bay leaf) is another starch that is great.
          However, I do think that roasted chicken is always a winner. Cooking time can be a little longer than something broiled but preparation time isn't. Two winners are the "Chicken with Two Lemons "in Marcella Hazan's classic Italian cookbook or Teresa Lust's recipe in "Pass the Polenta." For the latter, you rinse the bird and pat dry, rub with olive oil, salt and pepper, squeeze the juice of a small lemon over and put the lemon pieces, a few cloves of garlic and some fresh herbs like rosemary and marjoram in the cavity, truss lightly, and roast on a rack at 400 for about an hour or until the juices run clear. For a large bird, allow plenty of time and cook it at 350. Put some water in the pan so the drippings don't burn, and use them for sauce or gravy.

          1. re: Father Kitchen

            That sounds like a good technique. Could just stir/fold in sauteed mushrooms or what have you afterwards. I'm not picking at the method with this next though, just wondering whether the texture of the microwaved polenta would be all that different from the quick cooking grits (the instant grits are rather gummy most of the time).

            And good suggestion on the roast chicken, it _always_ looks impressive and tastes great.

            1. re: ccbweb

              I've never cooked instant grits, but I generally avoid instant versions of products. If the preparation is anything like what they do to potatoes, it involves altering the starch structure, which may explain the gummy quality. The polenta I've had has always been good. A Croatian friend told me he steams it after soaking it, rather like rice, and never stirs it. His was almost custard-like in quality, but I never actually got to see him do it. He went home during the Bosnian war and I never saw him again.
              The next entry mentions souffles. The souffle cookbook that Dover puts out is easy to follow, and a souffle is always a hit. And if it falls, you just tell folks you are serving a savory pudding. And to combine the polenta idea with the souffle, there is always that wonderful southern dish, spoon bread.

              1. re: Father Kitchen

                I agree about avoiding instant. But the quick cooking grits are ground smaller so that they cook more quickly, not altered so that they need not be cooked (which is what is done to instant grits and the like).

          2. re: ccbweb

            One of my favorite easy recipes is BBQ Shrimp. It's really good, and it's quick and easy. Use medium to large shrimp. Don't peel it, leave the heads on. Put it in a baking dish, deep enough to collect the juice. Drizzle the shrimp with olive oil. Sprinkle Tabasco and worsteshire. Squeeze lemons over. After squeezing the lemons, slice them and lay over the shrimp. Cover the whole dish with pats of butter. Sprinkle with kosher salt and lots of fresh ground black pepper, one recipe I have says that if you think you've put enough black pepper, double it! Put under the broiler until the shrimp are cooked. Usually about 15 or so minutes. Use french bread to soak up the juice/oil. This is so good! Enjoy.

            GG in NO, LA

          3. i've said it before, and i'll say it again. souffle. cheap, easy, very impressive. round out with bread and salad. nibble on some nuts, meats, and whathaveyou while the thing is baking, and it's a perfect easy light midweek meal. especially if you have a lemon pound cake defrosted with some yogurt and blueberries.....

            10 Replies
            1. re: eLizard

              I'll second this. The cheese souffle recipe out of Craig Claiborne's NYT's cookbook is a crowd pleaser every time. And everyone is always in awe that I can make a souffle. Doesn't matter how much I protest that it's easy, they always feel like I've made a *very* special meal.

              1. re: Pistou

                Like this idea. Would you mind sharing the recipe?

                1. re: bite bite

                  Julia Child has a great recipe. I use hers with a pinch of cream of tarter in the egg whites. It's very very similar to Alton Brown's recipe on the Food Network.... I'd be interested to hear a paraphrase of Claiborne's, too.

                  1. re: eLizard

                    Aha -- just found it. (JC's The Way To Cook). Her recipes are always so tasty. Thanks for the heads up.

                    1. re: bite bite

                      actually mine is from Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I wonder if the recipe is any different!

                  2. re: bite bite

                    I'm pretty sure we're not allowed to do that here (or am I wrong about that? If so, I'd be happy to share when I'm home and have the book.)

                    The thing Claiborne does that may differ from other recipes is he has you add Worchesteshire sauce and cayenned to the souffle base, which deepens the flavor and anchors the sharpness of the cheese.

                    1. re: Pistou

                      Sure you can share. You can't copy verbatim, but you can link to a webpage with the recipe (if there is one), or you can paraphrase the instructions.

                      1. re: QueenB

                        Okay then.

                        Cheese Souffle
                        Serves 4

                        4 Tbsp. butter
                        1/4 c. flour
                        1 1/2 c. milk
                        salt, worchestire sauce and cayenne to taste
                        1/2 lb. grated sharp cheddar (don't get all crazy fancy with the cheese. We put some really, really delicious English cheddar in once, and it was just lost. Tillamook or the likes is fine)
                        4 eggs, separated
                        2 egg whites

                        Preheat oven to 375F. Put milk in a small saucepan and heat over m. heat. In a medium saucepan melt the butter, then add flour. Whisk until blended. Add the milk to the butter and flour, stirring to incorporate. Season with salt, Worchestershire sauce and cayenne to taste.

                        Turn off the heat and let the mixture cool for a few minutes. Add the cheese and stir. Beat in the egg yolks one at a time.

                        Beat the 6 egg whites until they stand in peaks. Cut and fold the egg whites into the cheese mixture. Turn into a buttered 2-quart souffle dish and bake 30 to 45 minutes. (Shorter time will give you some sauce at the bottom, longer will give you firm souffle throughout).

                        Note: be sure your guests are at the table, the wine is poured and the salad is tossed when the souffle is ready to come out of the oven. It merits an entrance, and it will fall quite quickly once it's out of the oven.

                        1. re: Pistou

                          Thanks. Going to make this week!

                          1. re: Pistou

                            This is a great recipe! And definitely use Tillamook cheese. They don't use added enzymes like all the other branded cheeses do. No rbst either. Yes, I'm from Oregon. LOL!

                            Here's a great recipe for mac and cheese. No boiling required! from the NYT.

                            Creamy Macaroni and Cheese
                            Time: 1 hour 15 minutes

                            2 tablespoons butter
                            1 cup cottage cheese (not lowfat)
                            2 cups milk (not skim)
                            1 teaspoon dry mustard
                            Pinch cayenne
                            Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
                            1/2 teaspoon salt
                            1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
                            1 pound sharp or extra-sharp cheddar cheese, grated
                            1/2 pound elbow pasta, uncooked.

                            1. Heat oven to 375 degrees and position an oven rack in upper third of oven. Use 1 tablespoon butter to butter a 9-inch round or square baking pan.

                            2. In a blender, purée cottage cheese, milk, mustard, cayenne, nutmeg and salt and pepper together. Reserve 1/4 cup grated cheese for topping. In a large bowl, combine remaining grated cheese, milk mixture and uncooked pasta. Pour into prepared pan, cover tightly with foil and bake 30 minutes.

                            3. Uncover pan, stir gently, sprinkle with reserved cheese and dot with remaining tablespoon butter. Bake, uncovered, 30 minutes more, until browned. Let cool at least 15 minutes before serving.

                            Yield: 6 to 8 servings.

                2. Buttermilk Panecotta!
                  you just have to remember to make it in the am, or at least 3 hours beforehand to it has time to jell.

                  1. Not sure whether or not you will be serving any finger food or apps, but this is my current favorite.
                    Endive Boats

                    2 heads Belgian Endive (the yellow, pointy kind)
                    2-3 Roma Tomatoes , seeded and chopped
                    1/4-1/2 red onion, minced
                    1 avocado, pit removed, peeled and diced
                    1/4-1/2 cup good blue cheese, crumbled
                    Olive oil
                    Freshly Ground Black Pepper
                    Balsamic Vinegar

                    Arrange endive leaves on platter to make boats. Sprinkle tomatoes, onion, avocado and blue cheese amongst each leaf. Drizzle with olive oil, black pepper and a bit of balsamic vinegar. Makes a nice light salad course as well.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: FeedingFive

                      my go to impress recipe would definetly have to be pasta carbonara. i cut up pancetta and render out the fat and crisp it slightly, add some butter if i don't think there's enough fat to cover the noodles and just for some more richness (its definetly not low fat!!) and then, while the spaghetti is boiling, i grate my parmiggiano, set a few egg yolks aside (i usually reserve 1 yolk for every 2 ppl) and then near the end of the cooking process i reserve some pasta water. then i combine everything and voila! a really mouthwatering dish in my opinion, and i find it soooo comforting. p.s. giada delaurentis adds cinnamon to hers....but any spice that is used in the making of salumi can work like cloves, nutmeg, etc.

                    2. Anything on the grill. Fresh fish with a little salt and pepper, served with a lemon wedge. Veggies kabobs drizzled with olive oil, s&p and grilled. The flavors impress and it takes almost no time. Pick ingredients accoring to what's freshest at the store that day.