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Jun 27, 2007 12:20 PM

Please help me with my small dinner party menu

Sigh. I used to entertain all the time, but life has gotten more hectic and I'm out of practice. We're having a colleague of my husband's over for dinner on Friday and I find I'm slightly intimidated and can't seem to think of a menu that "matches". I have always been a casual hostess -- my goal is tasty non-pretentious food, which is mostly prepared ahead of time so I can enjoy the guests. Add to this the fact that I have a toddler and a baby and so don't have time to be doing anything too fancy.

I am thinking of doing a pasta, maybe penne amatriciana, then very thin chicken cutlets (battered in parm cheese/parsley/breadcrumps and lightly fried) with maybe a side salad with truffle oil (sidenote: if you happen to have the Balthazar Cookbook and would be willing to share the vinaigrette recipe for the Balthazar Salad, I would be very happy.)

Anyway, my question is, what to serve as an appetizer? We usually do appetizers in the living room before dinner with a glass of wine or aperitivo. Should I do small bruschetta? Or do you think olives, cheese and hard sausage would work? Any other ideas?

How about dessert? I may just buy a pound cake and serve it with lemon curd and raspberries, but would love to hear suggestions.

Thanks in advance for any direction or advice you may have for this rusty entertainer!

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  1. Having a toddler of my own I would suggest going with the olive, cheese, and sausage route---it's simple.

    You could also purchase some nice chocolates---even simpler than the pound cake--no dirty dishes.

    1. Your ideas sound great. As for appetizers, bruschetta is good -- cool and refreshing this time of year. Also good now (in season and all that) is some fresh basil, mozzarella, tomato. You could do some pesto for dipping or olive oil and a good bread for dipping (my friend always puts lemon slices at the bottom of a thin bit of olive oil so when you press in you get some of the acidity of the lemon along with the goodness of the oil). I think you want to keep it light so as not to spoil your dinner menu.

      1. my first thought is -- my GOSH is it summer, where I live it is HOT, I would hate to have that much food and fill up my kitchen with a big steaming pasta pot AND a skillet for the bacon & sauce AND fry the cutlets...

        Maybe something lighter/cooler? Wouldn't it be much easier to do some cooked and chilled eggplant or zuchinni? Caprese? Insalata di riso? Bring on the campari and kick back...

        2 Replies
        1. re: renov8r

          Here is what I do that is very simple and tasty and can be ut on a platter ahead of
          time and then just put on your cocktail table. I slice up summere sausage, get small
          pepperoni slices, slice cheese or keep cheese whole with a knife to cut your own
          and crackers - usually Triscuit or Wheat Thins. I also add a nice bunch of grapes on their stems in the center. That way your company can help themselves and nibble
          along with good conversation and it's not too filling that it would spoil their dinner. Good luck.

          1. re: renov8r

            Second the idea of veggies... I'd marinate, grill and cool veggie slices... Eggplant, zucchini, mushrooms, etc. Or, sprinkle veggies with garlic salt and olive oil, then roast a nice mix (cauli, broc, eggplant, mushrooms, zucchini, squash, tomatoes). I'd serve this with some parmesan fricos (so easy to make, just sprinkle tablespoons of parmesan in circles on a greased pan and bake at 400 or broil til golden and crisp), or make them into little cups and fill with dollops of tapenade or chopped veggies...

          2. The other night I made "zucchini carpaccio" - it was so interesting! And a fabulous presentation.

            Slice a couple zucchini with a mandoline -paper- thin. Arrange nicely on a plate. Before serving, top with:
            lemon vinaigrette (ie lemon whisked w/ good olive oil)
            s&p (don't skimp)
            pine nuts
            mint chiffonade
            shaved cheese (I used a hard aged cheese similar to parm-reg)

            Pretty, cool during the summer, healthy, etc etc. Unusual too!

            2 Replies
            1. re: laurendlewis

              Sounds great!! Did you cook the zucchini at all!

              1. re: sweetnspicy

                Nope, just thinly sliced. It was really different than the normal fare, I thought it was a perfect summer first course.
                Could've used a touch more lemon & salt which I then added to the 2nd plate.

            2. I'd steer clear of bruschetta, just because you already have pasta coming. I like to turn grape or cheery tomatoes stem side down, so they don't roll. On top, place a chiffonade of basil and a piece of fresh mozzarella, then secure with a skewer. Salt on here is very important, and oil and balsamic can be drizzled if you so desire - though if the tomatoes are good and sweet, I don't find anything more necessary. They can be prepared ahead of time and are very easy finger foods.