Why Set a Spring Table…..Unless You Serve a Beautiful Meal…RECIPES!!

There are so many elements that go in to being a lovely and gracious hostess. One, of course, is the style in which your home greets your guests. The only thing a guest hopes to experience is a warm and welcoming feeling. As the More is More Mom®, I am crazy for over the top, but that’s my interpretation. Simple and straight forward is beautiful too. The only true requirement is that as a host your efforts are genuine.

One way for your guests to feel comfortable is for you, as their hostess, to be relaxed and ready to enjoy their company. If you have a pulse, the only way to be relaxed is to be prepared. I am a complicated kind of gal, and I like to make everything as difficult as humanly possible, but the only way to achieve that sort of near perfection, and pull it off with ease, is to streamline your efforts on the day of your event. You need to do as much in advance as possible.

I get heart palpitations when I entertain because I want everything to be perfect! I get totally stressed if I am racing around at the last minute shopping, chopping, cooking or cleaning. I like to be so prepared that the day of my event is spent nearly in leisure, addressing the last minute details at the very last minute; putting ice in the water glasses, turning on the music and lighting the candles. Organization and preparation is the only option!

Take for instance Amanda’s Confirmation this past week. We were on a super time crunch. Our family came at 4:30PM, we ate at 5:00PM (when Amanda got home from gym….a little extra preparation for her Regional Gymnastics Meet), Amanda and her sponsor (my cousin Terri, who is the go to gal in our family. She is my brothers Godmother, my Confirmation Sponsor, my Matron of Honor, Amanda’s Godmother and now Amanda’s Confirmation Sponsor. It’s a wonder that she doesn’t tire of us) needed to scoot out the door by 5:45PM (don’t be late for God). That gave the rest of us a window of thirty minutes to get the kitchen squared away (lest there be a feast left out for Wrigley. He would be the world’s happiest dog, but what a mess that would be!). Time constraints should certainly play a role in your menu selection.

I decided to prepare some of our personal family favorites. I made Roasted Chicken with Pancetta and Olives, Twice Baked Potatoes and Green Beans with Balsamic-Shallot Butter. If that doesn’t make you hungry, I have no idea what will.

Roast Chicken with Pancetta and Olives:

(I can’t remember if this recipe is from Gourmet or Bon Appetit, but there is a note that mentions that the contributor frequently prepares this dish for his family with rabbit. Ewwwww. Clearly I am not a connoisseur, but that sounds rather disgusting. I like my rabbit in the form of the Easter Bunny, or Bugs Bunny, or even the Energizer Bunny, but never on a dinner platter.)

2 chickens (about 3 ½ lbs each) backbones cut out and each chicken cut into 12 pieces

I, however, don’t love all of the various chicken parts, and cutting up a chicken sounds gross (Julia Child, please forgive my savage ways), so I figure that 7 lbs of chicken breasts and drumsticks are a perfect substitute. I find that is typically 3-4 breasts and 5-6 drumsticks, that way everyone in my house is happy.

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil (I’m more of an eye-baller, so I combine the other ingredients first, then I add what looks like a good amount to cover all of the chicken)

1-2 Tbsp chopped thyme (I prefer fresh)

1 -2 Tbsp chopped rosemary (the rosemary that they carry at my local markets comes in a plastic container. I typically will use a whole container for every 7 lbs of chicken, which is more than 1-2 Tbsp. Rosemary is so fresh and lovely and tasty.)

1 Tbsp fine sea salt (I’m a salt-aholic and this is plenty, especially once you add the olives)

½ – 1 tsp hot red pepper flakes (or a little more….some like it hot!)

10 garlic cloves, peeled (I’m telling you that the huge container from Cost Co is awesome. You just grab a huge heaping handful and toss it in.)

2 (1/4 inch thick) slices pancetta, cut in to 1” pieces (they have got to be completely kidding. The pancetta part is one of the very many best parts. I put at least three whole slices of pancetta on each breast, and then one for sure per drumstick, and what ever is left over I just toss on top. I mean really now, who can bear to have only a teensy weensy taste of bacon? That would be quite a teaser, and besides, who doesn’t like to dine on swine?)

1 cup dry white wine (Now who’s kidding who? Everything NEEDS MORE WINE. And anyway, the chicken stays really moist as it roasts in the shallow wine bath. Sounds like Heaven!)

24 oil-cured black olives (24? Really? Do they think we are just going to count out 24 olives? No way. Drain a jar of pitted Kalamata Olives and toss ‘em on top.)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees, with the rack in the middle.

In a bowl combine the oil, thyme, rosemary, sea salt, red pepper flakes and for good measure some pepper. You know I always love the cracked black pepper. Mix well.

Place your chicken, skin side up in a pan. Please note this entertaining helpful hint: My preference is to never serve a guest out of a disposable anything, however, chicken can be a juicy mess, and for the sake of a quick clean up prior to flying out the door, I used two disposable roasting pans. It was perfect. After we ate, I tossed the pans in to a garbage bag and took them out to the trash and……voila a quick, clean kitchen!

Once your chicken is in the pan, pour your oil mixture generously all over the chicken.

I then place the slices of pancetta over the tops of the chicken.

Scatter the garlic cloves on top, all over. Be generous.

Roast chicken for about 20 minutes until it begins to brown.

Drizzle wine all over the chicken, and roast for another 8-10 minutes.

Scatter olives over chicken, and roast for an additional 15-20 minutes. Let stand for 10 minutes. This chicken is mouth watering goodness!

Twice Baked Potatoes:
If once is good, twice must be better!

Butter (1 ½ – 2 sticks, room temperature)

Cream Cheese (1 brick, room temperature)

Shredded Cheddar Cheese

Scallions or Chives, chopped

We were 11 people for dinner, so I started out with 8 baking potatoes (figuring that once cut in half that would be 16 potatoes, and then there are always a few casualties in the scooping process, so I really ended up with 14 halves. We like leftovers, so I wanted a few extra. That was a perfect amount.)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl place the butter and the cream cheese.

Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil.

Cut additional pieces of foil to wrap the potatoes in for baking (enough sheets for each potato).

Scrub your potatoes. With a fork, poke several holes in the potato.

Pour oil in a small bowl. Brush oil on to each potato and then wrap each potato in a piece of foil. When all of the potatoes are wrapped and ready, place them on the cookie sheet, and put them in the oven. Here’s the thing, I like a really creamy potato, so I think that it helps to use very soft potatoes. I cook them until they are pretty mushy, for at least 1 ½ hours, maybe even a little longer.

After the baked potatoes have cooled, I cut them in half, and remove the centers. I find it works well to score each potato. Using a knife I cut all the way around the potato, using the edge as a guide, I leave a border of about ¼ of an inch. You want to leave a wall thick enough to maintain its shape. After I cut an oval shape around the perimeter, I then make a slice down the center, and another one across leaving four quarters cut. A teaspoon is the perfect size to remove the pulp without compromising the structure of the potato. This makes it much simpler, less messy, and more likely to leave the base of the potato in tact.

One by one, I scoop out all of the pulp and put it in to the bowl with the softened butter and cream cheese. With a hand mixer I start to whip the potatoes, adding splashes of milk until it achieves a beautiful, creamy consistency. Once you are completely satisfied, add a generous amount of shredded cheddar, and mix well. I realized that I had forgotten to pick up scallions or chives once I got to this point, but if I had them, I would have mixed them in now. Scoop the potato mixture back in to potato boats. After the fact I scattered chopped chives over the top of the twice baked potatoes, which worked out just as well.

I prepared the potatoes a day in advance, placing them on a foil lined baking sheet. I simply covered them tightly with foil and put them in the fridge until the following day. If I am preparing a number of dishes in advance, I will take a handy dandy Sharpie, and directly on the foil, I will record what temperature the dish requires, the duration it needs to cook and the time of day I need to put it in the oven. Simple and streamlined! After about 30 minutes in the oven they should be perfect! Clean up couldn’t be easier; throw the foil lining away, and put away the cookie sheet.

Green Beans with Balsamic-Shallot Butter:
These make the very best leftovers. My family thinks the balsamic is a little stinky while it simmers in the saucepan, but I don’t mind it at all. This is an oldie from the 2001 Bon Appetit magazine.

½ cup balsamic vinegar

2 large shallots, finely chopped

1 stick (or two) of butter, room temperature

2 lbs of green beans, trimmed

Again, the beauty of this baby is that it can be prepared a day in advance of your event.

Combine the vinegar and shallots in a heavy saucepan. Boil over medium heat until most of the vinegar is absorbed. Stir frequently for about 6 minutes. Transfer mixture to a small bowl and cool completely. Add the softened butter and mix with a fork until well blended. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

Cook beans in a large pot of boiling salted water until crisp tender, about 6 minutes. Drain. Dunk beans in an ice bath and drain again. Because I like to do this all in advance, I line a 2 gallon Zip-loc baggie with paper towel (again, Bounty is my favorite brand), add the green beans, and top with more paper towel to absorb the moisture. Refrigerate until ready to use.

When you are ready to serve, take a large skillet and melt the balsamic and shallot butter. Add the green beans and toss until well mixed.

So there you have it; a gorgeous and delicious meal! Spend less time cleaning and more time with your family and friends!


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