by Nancy Sweet, director, LLCC culinary program and operations
It seems I do most of my entertaining for friends during the winter. Yes, a good summer BBQ with friends is great, but it feels like almost every weekend in the summer gets booked up with plans and before you know it, you are heading into the holidays and the final stretch of the year. And, with the long dreariness of central Illinois winters, having a nice night in with good friends, delicious food and special wine can be just what you need.
I don’t necessarily subscribe at all times to the idea that less is more, but when planning a get together with friends, I don’t want to stress myself out too much. Creating a beautiful dining table with just the right plates, glasses and flowers is quite rewarding, but I also don’t want to work myself to a frazzle when the entire point of the evening is connecting with friends. If your china is mismatched, don’t sweat it; a simple vase with some fresh flowers can sometimes be all you need.
Making a few items in advance, getting your friends into the kitchen to help, and cooking things that can be a little forgiving if it needs to sit for just a bit before being served are key. Of course you want to serve good food, but I think the most important thing is time spent with friends, talking and laughing – versus overworking yourself alone in the kitchen.
Below are several recipes that parts can either be done in advance and lend themselves well to preparing for a group; all the recipes are based on cooking for a group of six people. There are no recipes listed for desserts here. I usually keep them simple. Buy or make in advance a nice pound cake. The toppings for it are limitless: strawberries and whip cream, vanilla bean ice cream with peach jam, or maybe just some raspberry liquor macerated berries. Or better yet, buy a variety of your favorite desserts from your local bakery and mix and match with friends!
Whiskey and Maple Syrup Sours
1/4 cup maple syrup
3/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 cup whiskey
Several dashes bitters
In a bowl or pitcher, whisk together the maple syrup, lemon juice, whiskey and bitters. Fill a rocks glass to the top with ice and pour the whiskey mixture into it. Top with the seltzer and stir. Serve.
Green Goddess Feta Dip
Can be made one day in advance.
8 ounces feta
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup cilantro
1 cup parsley
1/2 cup tarragon leaves
4 anchovy fillets
2 TBS finely grated lemon zest
2 TBS fresh lemon juice
Salt and pepper
assorted crudité such as radishes, small carrots, baby fennel, red peppers, patty pan squash and baguettes
Process feta and buttermilk in a food processor until smooth. Add cilantro, parsley, tarragon, anchovies, and lemon zest. Continue to process, adding more buttermilk if needed, until mixture is smooth and pale green with small flecks of herbs still visible. Add lemon juice, season with salt and pepper to taste. Add more seasoning or olive oil if needed.
Transfer to a serving bowl. Drizzle with a little olive oil and/or parsley. Serve on a platter with crudité or bread.
Bibb Lettuce Salad
Make walnuts up to two weeks in advance; freeze.
Clean and trim lettuce the day of before guests arrive.
For vinaigrette, pre-mix together the vinegar, mustard and honey. Add oil right before serving.
6 small heads Bibb lettuce
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
2 TBS Dijon mustard
1 TBS honey
1 – 1 ¼ cups salad oil
Salt and pepper
4 TBS butter, melted
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
2 cups walnuts
1 apple, such as granny smith or gala, sliced thinly
10 ounces blue cheese, such as Maytag or Cashel, large crumbles
2 TBS minced chives
For walnuts, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix butter, cayenne and sugar in a bowl until smooth. Toss in the walnuts and stir until they are coated. Spread the walnut out on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper (if you have it) and roast in the oven until brown, about 10 minutes (start to check at 5 minutes). Remove from oven and let cool.
In meantime, make vinaigrette. In a bowl, whisk together vinegar, mustard and honey. Slowly whisk in oil. Season with salt and pepper. Taste for balance.
For salad, remove any tough pieces of lettuce from the head. Separate leaves but keep somewhat organized “in order.” In a medium bowl, toss together apples, walnuts and blue cheese with a couple of tablespoons vinaigrette. In another large bowl, add a couple head of lettuce but keep “in order.” Toss with some vinaigrette.
On plates, arrange a stack of lettuce on each plate, starting with larger leaves on bottom, working your way to medium and finishing with small leaves on top. Sprinkle with the cheese/apple/walnut mixture. Finish with chives.
Cut shallots, garlic and thyme before guests arrive. Have all ingredients measured out in advance.
3 pounds mussels, cleaned
3 TBS olive oil
2 shallots, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup white wine
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 TBS fresh thyme, minced
1 pound Roma or plum tomatoes, peeled and chopped, or 1, 14-oz can diced tomatoes
Salt and pepper
In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add shallots and let cook about 1 minute. Add garlic and cook another 30 seconds. Add mussels, white wine, broth and herbs. Cover with a lid and let cook about 4 – 6 minutes, stirring once in a while. When all mussels are all almost opened (cooked), add tomatoes and let heat up while mussels finish. Season with salt and pepper. Discard any mussels that did not open. Serve with bread.
Herb Stuffed Pork Tenderloin with Roasted Red Cabbage Pilaf
Herb Stuffed Pork Tenderloin
Before guests arrive, make herb mixture and stuff and tie pork tenderloins.
2 garlic cloves
1 cup fresh parsley
1/4 cup fresh basil
1 TBS fresh thyme
3 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
Salt and pepper
2, 1-1.5 pound pork tenderloins
2 TBS olive oil
1/4 cup white wine, chicken stock, or water
Preheat oven to 400. In a food processor, add the garlic, parsley, basil and thyme until finely chopped. Add cream cheese, 1 tsp. salt and pepper and pulse until everything is well combined.
Put the pork tenderloin on your work surface and with a sharp chef’s knife, cut longwise through the pork about halfway through it, spreading it out like a book as you go. Do this the whole length of the tenderloin, going back to cut into it more as necessary. Then, cover with plastic wrap and use a meat mallet or small heavy pot to pound the meat until it is an even 1 inch thick everywhere. (Do this to both tenderloins).
Season the newly exposed side of the pork with salt. Spread the cream cheese mixture over the pork. Starting from the short side, roll the pork up tightly so that is resembles its old self with the herb mixture spiraled throughout it. Lay 4 – 5, 10 inch pieces of kitchen string about 1 inch apart on your work surface and lift the pork and put it on top of the string, seam side down. Tie the pieces of string tightly around the pork so that it is even and compact. Trim off the excess string.
Transfer pork to a large baking dish and drizzle the olive oil over it. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Pour the wine around the pork. Roast until it is brown, firm to the touch, and a meat thermometer reads 145, about 30 – 45 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board and cover loosely with aluminum foil. Let rest for 10 minutes and cut and discard the string. Slice the pork and serve.
Rice Pilaf with Roasted Red Cabbage
Roast cabbage before guests arrive. Keep warm on back of stove.
4 cups finely shredded red cabbage
3 TBS olive oil
Salt and pepper
2 TBS butter
1 ½ cups long grain white rice
2 – 2 ½ cups water or chicken stock
Pinch of saffron (optional)
Heat oven to 425. Place cabbage in a medium bowl. Drizzle with 2 TBS of olive oil, sprinkle with 1 tsp. of salt, and use your hands to toss together. Spread the cabbage out on a baking sheet. Roast the cabbage, stirring it every 8 – 10 minutes, for about 30 minutes. It will become quite shriveled and crispy and almost look burnt.
In a large saucepan over medium high heat, warm the remaining 1 TBS olive oil and butter. Add the rice and cook, stirring, until the rice turns opaque, about 5 minutes. Add 1 tsp salt, 2 cups water/stock, and the saffron (if using). Bring to a boil, then turn to low, cover the pan, and simmer until the rice is cooked and liquid has evaporated, 10-15 minutes. Check rice every so often and stir in a little more stock/water if too much has evaporated before rice is cooked.
Once cooked, turn off heat and let sit about 5 minutes. Then, fluff the rice and add the roasted cabbage to the pilaf, stir all together, and taste for any more seasoning. Serve.
Can be made up to 3 days in advance. Bring to room temperature before serving.
1 bottle port
1/2 cup honey
Heat pork and honey in a medium sized sauce pan over medium heat. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and let port cook down to about 1 cup. Cool a bit and serve with pork.
To serve everything, place cabbage rice pilaf on plate. Top with 2-3 slices of pork and drizzle with port wine reduction. Serve.
Want to know more?
Lincoln Land Community College offers associate degree programs in Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management and academic credit certificates in Culinary Arts and Baking/Pastry. For more information call 217-786-4613 or visit www.llcc.edu/hospitality-culinary-arts.