When Guests Surprise You

Photo: Roy Zipstein

If everybody ends up at your place, tired and hungry after a holiday outing, there’s no need to call out for pizza. It’s easy to pull together a simple feast from ingredients you have on hand, says Robert Irvine, host of the Food Network’s Dinner: Impossible and author of the new cookbook Mission: Cook!

“When people come into your home, they want to spend time with you,” he says. “So make something quick. As long as you have a jar of sauce, pasta, cheese and a bottle of wine, you’ve got a last-minute dinner party.” If your kitchen is slightly better stocked, you can get creative.

First, find something to nibble on – sausage and cheese, for example. Then take a quick kitchen inventory. Try a Google search for recipes with your ingredients. Or improvise. “If you have chicken breasts,” says Irvine, “slit them and stuff them with chopped onions, olives and cream cheese. Your guests will say, ‘Wow, you just did that!'”

Then, he says, look for a side dish – rice, potatoes or pasta. For an impressive presentation, center the starch on the bottom of the plate, topped with the main course. For dessert, crumble cookies over ice cream and add chocolate sauce.

Irvine offers one last bit of advice. “You don’t want to stress,” he says. “Food is supposed to be fun.”

Welsh Rarebit

Serves 8

1 loaf French bread (or any white bread, cut into points and toasted)
4 oz. (1 stick) butter, approximately
½ cup Parmesan cheese
1 pint (2 cups) heavy cream (You can substitute 2 cups of 2% milk)
3 tbsp. dry mustard
½ tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. cayenne pepper
1½ lbs. sharp cheddar cheese, grated

1. Preheat oven to 325ºF.
2. Slice bread into ½-in. thick slices, butter each slice, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and place on a baking sheet. Bake until golden brown, about 10 minutes.
3. Whisk cream, dry mustard, Worcestershire sauce and cayenne pepper together in a saucepan. Heat over medium-low heat, stirring constantly. Gradually add cheddar cheese. Warm until flavors are integrated, cheese is melted, and mixture is thickened.
4. Serve as a fondue in which to dip bread crisps.

Herb & Lemon Chicken with Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes >

Herb and Lemon Chicken Paillards with White Wine Sauce over Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes

Six 6-oz. boneless chicken breasts
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup of white or rice flour seasoned with salt and pepper to taste
¼ tsp. garlic powder
¼ cup canola oil
3 tsp. Italian seasoning (or dried thyme or basil)
4 tbsp. butter
1 tsp. onion, minced
Zest of 2 lemons
½ cup white wine

1. Lay a long piece of plastic wrap over your cutting board and tuck it underneath the sides of the board. Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper. Then put another length of plastic wrap over the seasoned chicken breasts and flatten with meat mallet to integrate the seasoning into the chicken. Pound chicken thin and neatly trim the edges.
2. Add oil and 1 tablespoon butter to large sauté pan over medium high heat until butter begins to foam. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon dried herbs into pan (Italian seasoning, dried thyme or basil). Lightly dredge chicken in seasoned flour and place in pan. Sprinkle chicken with 1 teaspoon dried herbs. Sauté the chicken on both sides until golden brown, about 3 to 4 minutes each side. Remove finished chicken to a sheet pan, sprinkle with 1 tsp. lemon zest and cover. Pour off the extra fat from the pan and set the pan off of the heat.
3. Return the pan to medium heat and add minced onion, cook about two minutes. Deglaze the pan with white wine and reduce by half. Sprinkle in 1 teaspoon dried herbs and 1 teaspoon lemon. Pour over chicken and serve.

Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes

4 medium to large potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
½ cup milk or ¼ cup heavy cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 whole head garlic
1 tbsp. olive oil
½ stick (4 tbsp.) unsalted butter
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Pre-heat oven to 350ºF.
2. To roast garlic: Slice root end off entire head of garlic and turn it upside down. Wrap in aluminum foil and mold the foil so that it supports the garlic to allow the cut end to stand upright. Pour olive oil on the garlic so that it slips between the skin and the cloves. Close the foil. Roast for about one hour and set aside until garlic is cool enough to handle.
3. Boil the potatoes until tender, about 25 minutes. Drain and return to the pot.
3. Add butter, milk or cream, salt and pepper and the peeled, roasted garlic cloves. Beat until smooth.

Gingered Carrots Vichy >

Gingered Carrots Vichy

Serves 4

4 tbsp. butter
2 tbsp finely chopped parsley
1 lb. “baby cut” carrots, or carrots sliced on a bias
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 12-oz. can ginger ale (or similar sweetened, lemon-lime or sparkling clear soda)

1. In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium heat and cook parsley for a few minutes. Add carrots and stir to coat. Season with salt and pepper and add soda.
2. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat. Simmer until the soda is reduced by half. Serve.

All recipes courtesy Robert Irvine, All Rights Reserved

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