A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away Hubby and I were known in our circle as the King and Queen of fabulous dinner parties. We threw elaborate cocktail parties with a wide array of scrupulous morsels served up on glistening platters that floated about the room. Six-course intimate suppers were not uncommon. Each event was a personal challenge to outdo the last. That was a very long time ago. Life and circumstances changed.
We relocated from our desert abode to a small home in a small town. Our circle of friends changed, as did our style of entertaining. We went from lavish parties by the pool to simple family gatherings. The family dynamics had also changed over the years. When Mom was still with us, she really put on the Ritz – especially during the Holidays. Her New Year’s Eve parties were legendary. I’ve always been my mother’s daughter when it came to entertaining at home. Dad went along with Mom’s style, but left on his own and the Okie in him came through. Simple gatherings with down-home food. These days, when the family gathers for a party, it’s your basic three-course event. Appetizers, main entrée (including the salad) and dessert. Even then, the three-course parties are few and far between, generally reserved for Thanksgiving or Easter. Most of the time, it’s a very casual barbecue with everything from “snacks” to “sweets” served at the same time. I’ve learned to accept this laid-back style of entertaining. Still, how I longed for the by-gone days.
The beauty of life and circumstances are that they constantly evolving. We’ve moved again, settling into a larger home with a beautiful yard, spacious patio and a real dining room. There is a mural on one wall of a bird in the tropics somewhere. It was there when we moved in, and we left it because it gives the room character. We don’t call our dining room the dining room – it’s the bird room. The room is large – with space enough for a bar, a hutch and a solid wood table that seats ten guests. This house screams “let me entertain you!”
A few months ago, once we had finally unpacked and settled in, we did just that. My younger sister and her husband drove down to join us for wonderful Italian supper. My younger sister, is like me, has a keen eye for entertaining, presentations and the finer things in life. (She is the one that got me hooked on Afternoon Teas). Hubby, Kiddo and I set about creating a memorable evening of good food, good wines and great conversation. My sister baked a wonderful bread that went perfectly with the theme of the evening. Her husband made a soup that was delicious and delightful. Perfect for the second course of the evening.
Six Course Italian Supper
1st Course – Appetizers
Classic Shrimp Cocktail with Cocktail Sauce
Baked Crab Cakes with Meyer Lemon Aioli
2nd Course – Soup & Bread
Italian Sausage, Bean and Kale Soup
3rd Course – Main Entrée
Creamy Herb Risotto
Tuscan Asparagus and Tomato Bake
4th Course – Salad
Caesar Salad with Shaved Parmesan
5th Course – Sorbet
Lemon Sorbet with a splash of Lemonchello
6th Course – Dessert
Oreo Chocolate Delight
1st Course – Appetizers
Wine Recommendation – Reisling, well chilled
Classic Shrimp Cocktail
½ cup ketchup
½ cup chili sauce
2-3 teaspoons prepared horseradish
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 lb medium shrimp, cooked with tails, well chilled
In small bowl, combine ketchup, chili sauce, horseradish and Worcestershire sauce. Mix well; chill until ready to serve.
Rinse shrimp under cold water briefly. Place cocktail sauce in champagne coupes (not flutes, bowled glasses) or Martini glasses. Arrange shrimp around rim of glasses, tails draped over edge. Place glasses on dessert plates, garnish with lemon wedges and serve.
Baked Crab Cakes with Meyer Lemon Aioli
1/4 Cup Celery, finely chopped
1/4 Cup Scallion, finely chopped
2 Tablespoons Fresh Parsley, chopped
1 Tablespoon Fresh Basil, chopped
3 Tablespoons Mayonnaise
1/4 Teaspoon Dijon Mustard
Zest of 1 small Lemon
Dash of Old Bay Season or to taste
1/8 Cup Red Pepper Flakes or to taste
1/4 Cup Panko Breadcrumbs
1/2 lb Jumbo Lump Crab Meat, cooked
Preheat oven to 475 degrees. Spray a baking sheet with non-stick cooking spray. Set aside until ready to use.
Finely chop the celery and onion, set aside until ready to use. Chop parsley and basil. Set aside until ready to use. (Small cups works well).
In a mixing bowl, blend mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, lemon zest, and Old Bay seasoning. Mix well.
Fold the celery, onion, parsley, basil, red pepper flakes and panko bread crumbs. Stir to combine.
Break up lump crab meat and gently fold into the mixture to combine everything. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.
Chill well in the freezer for no more than 10 minutes or the refrigerator for no more than 20 minutes. (Longer may damage crab meat). The chill time is necessary to allow the bread crumbs to set and hold everything together.
Using a 3″ ring mold, form cakes onto the prepared baking sheet, pressing down on the mixture to create a firmly packed crab cake.
Place baking sheet into the preheated oven and bake undisturbed for 8 to 10 minutes. (Check after 8 minutes. Cakes should be warmed through, with the bottom nicely browned).
Remove from oven and allow cakes to remain on the baking sheet for a minute or so.
Place a small dollop or smear of Aioli on each serving plate or serving platter. (Note: if serving on a platter, smear or dollop for each cake served).
Using a Fish Spatula, gently life the crab cake from the baking pan, then quickly flip over so that the bottom of the cake is now the top. This will allow a more dramatic presentation as the deeper golden side is now up. If necessary, flip the cake in your hand. Place each cake on top of the dollop of Aioli.
Just before serving, garnish with more Aioli, chopped parsley and a dusting of Old Bay Seasoning.
If desired, serve with lemon wedges.
1 cup of good quality mayo
Fresh Lemon Juice to taste
Kosher Salt to taste
Fresh ground pepper to taste
Mix ingredients well to achieve a nice consistency. Season with salt and pepper. Chill until ready to serve.
2nd Course – Soup with Warm Bread
Wine Recommendation: Lighter styles of Rosé
Italian Sausage-Kale-White Bean Soup
1 1/2 lb Sweet Italian Sausage in casing
1 Medium Onion, chopped
3 Garlic Cloves, minced
8 cups Fresh Kale, chopped
1/8 Teaspoon Red Pepper Flakes or to taste
1/2 Cup White Wine
3 1/4 Cups Chicken Stock (from a carton)
1 Can (15 oz) Cannellini Beans, drained and rinsed
1 Can (14 1/2 oz) Diced Italian Tomatoes
1/2 Cup Sun-Dried Tomatoes, chopped (see note)
Fresh Ground Pepper to taste
Coin cut sausage into bite-size pieces. Set aside until ready to use.
Chop onion, set aside until ready to use.
Peel and mince garlic cloves, set aside until ready to use.
Chop Kale and set aside until ready to use.
In a Dutch oven or stock pot over medium heat, brown sausage until no longer pink and just cooked through. Add onions and continue to cook, stirring often, until onions are tender and translucent. Using a slotted spoon, remove sausage-onion mixture from pot and set aside.
Drain pot of excess fat, reserving 1/4 cup of the drippings. Saute Kale in the reserved drippings until wilted.
Add garlic and sprinkle with Red Pepper Flakes. Cook for 1 minute.
Add wine, continue to cook for 2 minutes longer.
Add chicken stock, beans, diced tomatoes, dried tomatoes and sausage mixture. Bring to a gentle boil.
Reduce heat; cover and simmer for about 20 minutes or until Kale is tender. Season with fresh ground pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed.
Ladle into soup bowls and serve with warm bread.
Rosemary Bread Rounds
1 tablespoon yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup warm water
2 Tablespoons Fresh Rosemary, finely chopped
2 tablespoons Olive Oil
1 teaspoon Salt
2 Cups All Purpose Flour
1 Tablespoon Butter
In a large mixing bowl combine yeast, sugar and water; set aside for 5 minutes.
While yeast is blooming, finely chop Rosemary. Divide, 1 tablespoon to be used in the bread dough, the remaining tablespoon to be used over the top of the bread. Set Rosemary aside until ready to use.
Using a wooden spoon stir olive oil, salt and 2 cups flour into the yeast mixture. Mix in 1 tablespoon of the chopped rosemary. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured board or work surface.
Knead by hand for about 5 minutes until smooth and elastic, adding more flour if necessary.
Place in a lightly greased bowl, turning once to grease all surfaces of the dough. Cover; let rise in a warm place until double in size, about 1 hour.
Punch dough down and divide dough in half. Let dough rest for 5 minutes. Spray baking sheet with cooking spray. Shape into 2 small loaves. Sprinkle remaining tablespoon of rosemary over the loaves. Lightly press Rosemary into the dough. Cover, let rise in a warm place until nearly double (35-45 minutes).
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until light browned. Immediately remove from baking sheets to wire rack and brush with butter. Sprinkle with kosher salt.
An alternative to serving with butter would be to offer olive oil with fresh minced garlic as a dipping oil.
3rd Course – Main Entrée
Wine Recommendation: Pinot Noir
Pork Loin Piccata Cutlets
1 1 and 1/2-pound pork tenderloin, trimmed
6 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 cups seasoned bread crumbs
6 tablespoons olive oil, divided in batches
½ cup chicken broth
½ cup white wine
2 to 3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon white pepper
2 to 3 tablespoons capers, drained
2 shallots, sliced into rings
1 large lemon, cut into 6 thin slices
¼ cup Butter
Cut pork against grain into twelve thin slices; press each to flatten slightly.
Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.
Whisk Dijon mustard and eggs in a glass pie pan. Place bread crumbs in another pie pan. Dip cutlets into mustard mixture, then into bread crumbs. Add cutlets to skillet and cook for 5 minutes per side or until browned and cooked through.
Remove the cutlets to a baking dish large enough to hold all the pork and Piccata sauce. Keep warm in a 300 degree oven. Add remaining olive oil to skillet. Repeat with remaining pork cutlets – dip; bread and brown. Place in oven to keep warm.
To the now empty skillet; add chicken broth, wine, lemon juice, capers, butter, salt, pepper and red onions to skillet. Bring to a boil, scraping up browned bits. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes or until onions are tender. Pour over cutlets. Place lemon slices on top of pork.
Cover cutlets with foil, leave in oven until ready to serve. It’s best to allow cutlets to sit in liquid for at least 15 minutes to soak in flavors before serving.
Creamy Herb Risotto
5 cups Chicken Broth, warmed
¼ Cup Olive Oil
½ cup Yellow Onion, Finely Chopped
1 ½ cup Arborio Rice
½ Cup White Wine
2 Tablespoons Butter
½ Cup Parmesan Cheese
Salt & Pepper to Taste
1 Tablespoon Fresh Chopped Parsley (1 teaspoon dried)
1 Tablespoon Fresh Chopped Oregano (1 teaspoon dried)
1 Tablespoon Fresh Chopped Basil (1 teaspoon dried)
Fresh Parsley, chopped for garnish
Hold broth warm in a sauce pan or electric kettle.
In another sauce pan, heat olive oil. While oil heats, chop onions. Add onions and rice to the warm pan, cook over medium heat until rice becomes slightly translucent, about 3 minutes.
Add white wine to rice, stirring constantly until wine has evaporated. Slowly add warm chicken broth, about 1/2 cup at a time, to rice, stirring constantly and allowing broth to evaporate between additions.
Continue to cook, adding broth until all the broth has been absorbed and the rice is cooked to desired doneness (cooked through but not mushy). Rice will begin to swell and become creamy as it cook. Do not rush the risotto. In all, it takes about 25-30 minutes to cook tender and creamy.
Once all the liquid has been added and rice is cooked, remove from heat. Stir in butter, Parmesan Cheese and all the herbs. Fluff, cover and let sit about 5 minutes. Fluff again, transfer to bowl and garnish with additional parsley, if desired.
Tuscan Roasted Asparagus with Tomatoes
2 tablespoons of butter
1 pound asparagus, cleaned and trimmed
2 tablespoons finely chopped onion
2 tablespoons finely chopped celery
2 medium tomatoes, sliced
½ teaspoon basil leaves
½ teaspoon thyme leaves
¼ teaspoon pepper
3 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese (more if desired)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Wash and trim the asparagus. The best way to remove the “woody” ends is to break them off. The asparagus will naturally “snap” at the point where the woody ends begin. Lay trimmed asparagus on some paper towels and pat dry.
Slice tomatoes into equal semi-thin rounds. Not so thin as to shrivel while baking, but not so thick that they shield the asparagus from roasting.
Cut butter into small pieces and place in a 13×9 glass baking dish. Place the baking dish into the oven while it is preheating to melt the butter. When butter is melted and bubbling, remove from oven and asparagus in bottom of dish with melted butter.
Sprinkle with onion and celery. Arrange tomato slices on top. Sprinkle with basil, thyme, pepper and cheese. Roast for 30 minutes or until asparagus is fork tender.
Remove from oven and serve.
4th Course – Sorbet
No Wine necessary
1 Pint Lemon Sorbet
Mint Leaves for Garnish
Splash of Lemonchello (optional)
Place one or two small rounds of Lemon Sorbet into a liqueur glass or cordial glass. Garnish with a mint leaf. Just before serving, add a splash of Lemonchello, if desired. Demi-spoons work best when serving from a small glass.
5th Course – Salad
Wine Recommendation: Pinot Grigio
1 Head Romaine Lettuce
Caesar Garlic Croutons
Parmesan Cheese, Shaved
Caesar Salad Dressing – Favorite
Tear lettuce leaves into large pieces. Pour a small amount of Caesar Dressing on lettuce leaves, just enough to lightly coat leaves, toss to blend.
Plate on small salad plates, top with a sprinkle of Parmesan Cheese and croutons. Serve immediately.
6th Course – Dessert
Wine Recommendation: No wine – offer coffee, espresso or Cappuccino
Oreo Chocolate Delight
1 Package Regular Oreos
8 oz cream cheese, softened
1 large (5.9-ounce) package instant chocolate pudding
6 tablespoons melted butter
16 oz cool whips
1 cup confectioners/powdered sugar
2 3/4 cups cold milk
Crush the entire package of cookies in a food processor fitted with a blade. If you do not have a food processor, empty cookies into a gallon-size zip-lock bag and crush with a rolling-pin.
Reserve about 1 cup of the crushed cookies and set aside as a garnish to the top of the Delight.
In a microwave safe bowl or measuring cup, melt butter 20 seconds at a time until melted through.
In a small bowl mix remaining crumbs with melted butter. Mix well.
Press Oreo-butter mixture into the bottom of a 9″ spring form pan. Press gently up the sides to create an even crust with a slight rise. Set aside until ready to use.
Make chocolate pudding according to package directions. Place in the refrigerator and allow pudding to fully set, about an hour.
Using electric mixer, mix half of Cool Whip, softened cream cheese, and confectioners sugar in a large bowl. Spread the Cool Whip mixture on top of the Oreo crust. With an angled spatula, smooth mixture evenly.
Spread the pudding over the previous layer, and again smooth evenly.
Top Delight with remaining half of Cool Whip. Sprinkle top with reserved crushed cookies.
Refrigerate for several hours before serving.
To serve, remove from the refrigerator about 15 minutes before slicing. Dip spring form pan into warm water to help loosen bottom crust. Remove outer ring, place on pretty serving dish such as a cake platter.
Slice and serve.