Get your party started

Cynthia Stone
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A couple of weeks ago, one of the gals at the office invited a few of us over to her place on a Friday afternoon. First, we were planning to offer best wishes to a coworker getting married soon, and second, it felt like time to shed the cold-weather cloak.
Within 48 hours, it turned into a bash of mythic proportions, and by that Friday 50 women gathered for an around-the-world tour of food and beverages, and we all seemed to be aching for some frivolity.
I've already shared many of the recipes we tried out that day, but the amount of office talk about this event tells me we are far from finished with the festivities this spring and I'm guessing many of you feel the same way.
So, if you are planning a dinner party soon, here's just one suggestion for a great menu. You can easily scale these up, and they complement each other perfectly on your table.
All of today's recipes serve six people.

Roasted Garlic and Tomato Soup
It's still cold enough to enjoy a steaming bowl of soup before the main event. You can do nearly everything for this light and delicious dish up to three days ahead, then add the broth and simmer together for a few minutes just before serving.
2 bulbs garlic - not cloves
6 large tomatoes
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. paprika (preferably smoked)
1 tsp. minced fresh thyme leaves
1 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. each salt and pepper
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 tbsp. butter
4 cups vegetable or chicken broth
grated Parmesan cheese
Cut the tops off the garlic bulbs to expose the cloves inside and place on a baking sheet. Cut tomatoes in half cross-wise and place next to the garlic. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with paprika, thyme, coriander, oregano, salt, pepper and cayenne. Roast at 400 F until garlic is golden and tomatoes are collapsed and taking on colour.
Remove from oven and cool so you can handle everything. Fry onion in butter in a heavy-bottomed pot until soft but not brown; cool. Put onion in a blender. Squeeze the soft garlic on top of the onion and discard the papery peel. Remove as much of the tomato skin as you can and add pulp to the blender. Scrape all the juice and herbs on the baking sheet into the blender as well; puree. You can refrigerate this mixture until you are ready to finish and serve the soup. Put garlic and tomato puree into a heavy-bottomed pot and add broth. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, cover and simmer together a few minutes. Top with Parmesan cheese and croutons.

Poached Salmon in Herb Cream Sauce
Nothing impresses and delights dinner guests like salmon. The sauce mirrors the flavours in the poaching liquid and adds a touch of elegance. There's no question salmon poached on the bone is superior in flavour and texture, but when you're already stressed, fillets are a good alternative, especially if you spend a little time ahead preparing the poaching liquid - that's what makes the real difference here. As a matter of fact, I would prepare the poaching liquid a day ahead, have the flour and butter measured and ready to go, and the herbs chopped in advance - then there's no fussing at all.
2 carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 medium onion, diced
1 lemon, quartered
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. whole black peppercorns
3 each sprigs of fresh thyme and tarragon
3 bay leaves
large handful fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley
2 tbsp. white vinegar
4 cups cold water
3 salmon fillets, about 8 oz. each
2 tbsp. butter
2 tbsp. flour
1 cup whipping cream
1 tbsp. each chopped fresh parsley and tarragon
Place carrots, celery, onion, lemon, salt, peppercorns, thyme, tarragon, bay leaves, parsley and white vinegar in a Dutch oven. Add water, cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes. Cool until you can put your finger in the liquid then place salmon fillets in pot. Add enough water just to cover. Cover and bring back to a simmer - be careful not to boil vigorously. Poach about 10 minutes per inch of thickness. Remove fish and drain well. Dip out one cup of the poaching liquid and pour through a sieve. To make the sauce, melt butter and flour together - you can do that ahead of time, as well. Whisk in reserved poaching liquid and cream. Simmer until smooth and thickened then stir in herbs. Pour over fish and serve with lemon wedges on the side. With a spectacular main event you don't have to fuss at all with the sides. I would go for steamed green beans and tiny red potatoes tossed at the last minute with a little melted butter, or maybe the next super-simple side.

Pan-Fried Potatoes, Brussels Sprouts and Carrots
Here's another almost completely make-ahead dish that is really three sides in one. Use only fresh sprouts in this dish. If you can't find any substitute green beans, but don't cook them as long.
6 medium potatoes, well scrubbed
3 large carrots
1 lb. fresh Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. butter (preferably unsalted)
1/2 tsp. each salt and pepper
Quarter potatoes and carrots and boil in salted water until nearly tender but not cooked through. Add Brussels sprouts for the last 4 minutes. Drain well. You can make ahead to this point and refrigerate until ready to fry. Heat oil and butter together in a large frying pan and add vegetables. Sprinkle on salt and pepper and fry over medium-high until mixture is golden brown - just a few minutes.

Chocolate Almond Sticky Pudding
The beauty of a stovetop main dish is a free oven to accommodate a hot dessert. This is gooey and darkly delicious and demands to be served in small dishes with a scoop of the very best vanilla ice cream on top and a few toasted sliced almonds as garnish.
1 2/3 cups icing sugar
1 1/4 cups flour
1/4 cup cocoa
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup ground almonds
3 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 tbsp. melted butter or margarine
3/4 cup milk
1 egg
2 tsp. vanilla
1 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
1 1/2 cups cocoa
2 cups boiling water
Sift together icing sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt. Whisk in ground almonds then stir in chocolate chips. Whisk together butter, milk, egg and vanilla. Stir into dry ingredients, mixing only until well combined. Spoon into a well greased baking dish. Combine brown sugar and cocoa and sprinkle on top. Pour boiling water evenly over top of dish and bake at 350 F for 45 minutes. If your baking dish is shallow, check at 35 minutes by pressing the top lightly and if it springs back, it's done.

Cynthia Stone is a writer, editor and teacher in St. John's. Questions may be sent to her c/o The Telegram, P.O. Box 86, St. John's, NL, A1E 4N1.

Organizations: The Telegram

Geographic location: Brussels, St. John's

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