Want a sure fire way to fail at entertaining? C'mon over to my house for a lesson. First, you don't bother to dress for the occasion. Flannel shirts are okay. Maybe, you don't even have time to shower. No problem.
Don't set the table. When you do, use mixed and matched plates from three different sets. Call it eclectic.
When you ask your guests if they would like something to drink, list the options available. When they choose, give them instructions on where they can help themselves to it.
Drink lots of wine. Ignore silly low carb diets.
Ready for the best part?
MAKE THEM HELP COOK.
SERVE BRUSSELS SPROUTS TO THEIR KIDS. AND LOTS OF VEGETABLES.
If they come back again, then you know they are friends you want to keep.
Actually, our guests did enjoy helping with an annual ravioli fest. It's a lot of work, home made ravioli, so we usually do this as an "interactive dinner." Yep, hands on for the guests, too. The kids actually loved this, especially using the pasta roller and the ravioli mold.
A few tips if you plan on hosting a similar, uh, event.
- Have the pasta dough ready, it needs to rest a half hour before rolling.
- Have the fillings ready and the tools and a clean work surface prepared.
- Put out easy snacks so guests can take a break and have a quick bite until dinner.
- Serve alcohol to the adults.
- Don't worry about the mess, or if things aren't perfect.
- It's about preparing a meal together and having fun.
- Have a one-pot dinner course in the oven and soup for a first course ready. This helps keep all the activity centered on just the one dish to prepare together and a quick sauce for it.
- If you serve any other sides, keep them simple to prepare, or prepared in advance.
Crispy Brussels Sprouts
1 lb. Brussels Sprouts, quartered
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1/4 lb. bacon, diced
1 large shallot, minced
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. red wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
3 oz. Pecorino Romano shavings
1/4 cup pine nuts
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, roast setting, if you have convection oven, or 400 degrees for a regular oven.
Toss the sprouts with olive oil and balsamic. Place in a single layer on a baking sheet. Roast for about 15-20 minutes until they start to show some golden brown (the balsamic will make it harder to tell what's roasted and what's vinegar). Go for lots of golden brown, you may have to stir once during roasting. When the sprouts are about two minutes away from done, add the pine nuts to toast them. Remove from oven and place on a platter when done.
While the sprouts are getting crispy, cook the bacon in a skillet until almost done. Pour off all but one tbsp. of the grease. Add the shallot and finish cooking the bacon and shallot until browned and done. Remove from stove, whisk in olive oil and red wine vinegar. Salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle the dressing over the sprouts. Top with the shavings of Pecorino. Sit back and watch perceptions of Brussels Sprouts (including my own) shift.
Chestnut Apple Ravioli
6 oz. Roasted and Peeled Chestnuts
8 oz. Marscapone
1 apple, peeled and diced
1 small onion, diced
1/2 lb. bacon, diced
1/8 tsp. grated nutmeg
2 tbsp. chopped sage
salt and pepper to taste
1 recipe pasta dough (I use the recipe in Lidia Bastianich's cookbooks), or you can use wonton wrappers if you don't want to make the dough.
egg wash for sealing ravioli (egg whites, whisked)
If you are roasting the chestnuts yourself, cut a large "x" in each one, place on a baking sheet. Cover with foil and roast at 375 for about 40 minutes. Peel the chestnuts while still warm. Or, best of all, have your spouse do this part!
Saute 1/4 of the bacon in a skillet until halfway cooked, pour off all but a tablespoon of grease. Add half the diced apple and the onion and cook until bacon is crisp and the apple and onion are golden. Transfer to the work bowl of a food processor. Add the chestnuts, nutmeg and the marscapone. Salt and pepper to taste (pinch). Pulse until it forms a paste and is well combined.
Fill the ravioli (we used a ravioli mold, this is great), using the egg wash to seal the dough. About 1-2 tsp. filling for each. Set the ravioli on a baking sheet with floured parchment.
Make the sauce, heat a skillet, cook the remaining bacon until half done, pour off all but one tablespoon of grease, add the other half of the diced apple and sage. Salt and pepper to taste.
Cook the ravioli in boiling salted water for about three minutes, or until each ravioli floats up to the top. Sprinkle the "sauce" on the ravioli and serve. Goes great with prosecco.
Ignore the kitchen full of dishes until after dinner. Don't make guests help clean up. You have to be somewhat of a hostess, after all.