The Plague of Three Courses

Three Course Sunday Dinner Made Easy (But Doesn’t Sound Easy ;)):

Roasted Chicken with Thyme, Garlic, and Lemon, Crab Meat Gnocchi with Melted Havarti and Gruyere, and a Spinach Pear Salad with Honey Dijon Dressing

Sunday Dinner: Oven Roasted Chicken with Thyme, Lemon, and Garlic, Gnocchi with Melted Havarti and Gruyere with Crab Meat, and a Spinach and Pear Salad with Dried Cranberries and Shaved Almonds

HOW TO BE CREATIVE WITH MEAL PLANNING FOR A PARTY…

I usually don’t post three different menu items at once…but I realize that you all may have encountered many times before…

Have you ever been plagued with indecision when it comes to entertaining your guests? Which appetizers and entrees should you prepare that will blow them away without blowing your money? If you’re preparing a three course meal, you need to coordinate all your meals and make sure it doesn’t feel like a sloppy hodgepodge. Oh yeah, and the dreaded “wine pairing…”

Honestly, for someone like me, it takes me a solid hour to decide (usually) what I want to prepare. I always want to go all out for guests, as if it were a holiday.

I will read food blogs and scroll through Food Network like many of you. Pinterest always makes me feel like I am lacking creativity, and I never want to fall short–ever.

So what is my advice to you? Feel free to galavant via the internet for inspiration, and whatever you do, stick to these cardinal rules…

1.) Create dishes that are familiar classics…

2.) But figure out a twist.

Use your mind to think about traditional meals you personally have enjoyed in your life. Stick to what is comfortable for you. For me, pasta is always my safe haven. So I knew yesterday that I wanted to incorporate pasta.

So then I thought of using gnocchi (Italian dumplings.) When Cassandra and I went to Europe, we had the most delectable homemade gnocchi that it truly brings me back to Venice. It’s the best of the carbohydrate world: potato and pasta. Finding the balance between the two is tough when creating your own, so if you’re not feeling particularly rebellious, you can use Giovanni Rana’s–it’s a great pre-packaged substitute.

Once I decided on gnocchi, I knew I had to incorporate two cheeses that would complement the outrageously expensive crab meat.  When I thought about my adoration for cheese–yes–I thought of Kraft Mac and Cheese (God forbid), I knew I wanted to present comfort food but in a way that would be distinguishable. I thought about the rarity of a blend that could be the most joyous union: Havarti and Gruyere. Both cheeses that are relatively affordable, but they are not as common as say Sharp Cheddar and Swiss.

To up the ante, I decided to make it a seafood delight by adding succulent crab meat. Why crab meat, you may ask? It’s one of the best seafoods out there, and I know of only few people who say they “distaste crab.” Usually, it’s getting the crab out that makes it a deterrent for people to eat it. Again, realizing it’s not too cost effective to pick the meat myself, I purchased the jumbo lump crab in a  container. No judging–I picked good quality, and you know what? When my guests came over, I could actually socialize. This side dish came together swimmingly like a casserole.

In my mind, I thought to go with what everyone loves: macaroni and cheese, but add a twist by adding crab and better cheeses. I’m sure some adult won’t admit they love macaroni and cheese, but to me, this is the upscale version of a classic dish that is unarguably perfect.

This same process went for the Spinach Salad with Pears and the Roasted Chicken with Lemon, Garlic, and Thyme. Stick to what you love, and make it uniquely your own.

And if you’re too scared to go out and venture in your world, follow the following recipes to a T. I literally prepared all of these meals in under an hour:

Appetizer: Spinach Pear Salad with Dried Cranberries, Shaved Almonds, and Honey Dijon Dressing

Cast of Characters:

Salad

4 cups of Baby Spinach

1 cup of Dried Cranberries

1 Bosc or Anjou Pear (sliced thinly)

1/2 cup of Shaved Almonds

Dressing

  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar or red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons of dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons of honey
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt

Stage Directions: Wash your spinach greens and make sure they’re dry. Pour the cups of dried cranberries and almonds on top. Slice the pear thinly along the edge of the core and mix lightly in the salad. Next, make your dressing by whisking the above ingredients all together. Serve the dressing on the side, and make sure you adjust the dressing to your taste (i.e: more vinegar, more honey, etc.)

Entree #1: Crab Meat Gnocchi with Melted Havarti and Gruyere

Cast of Characters:

2 pounds of gnocchi (I like Giovanni Rana’s)

1 pound of crab claw meat (It’s cheaper and still good quality than a $40.00 can of lump jumbo crab meat)

3 cups of half and half

8 ounces of Havarti (shred on your own, if possible)

8 ounces of Gruyere (shred on your own, if possible)

1/4 cup of all-purpose flour

1 1/2 cups of Panko bread crumbs

3 Cloves of Garlic (mince on your own–don’t use minced!)

7-8 Tablespoons of Butter

Zest of Half of a Lemon

1 Teaspoon of Salt

1/2 Teaspoon of Pepper

1/2 Teaspoon of Nutmeg (I put a little more!)

(Optional: Grated Parmigana Cheese–if you add this to the bread crumbs and a bit to the mixture, it takes it to new levels!)

Stage Directions: Pre-heat your oven 350 degrees. Fill a medium pot with water and kosher salt. Boil the water; when the water is ready, put in the gnocchi (one package at a time–it only takes 2-3 minutes to cook!). In 2-3 minutes, the gnocchi should float which means they are done. Drain in a coriander and once drained, pour gnocchi in a 13 X 9 pan. Repeat this process for the other bag. Once both pounds of gnocchi are poured, open the pound of claw meat and spread throughout (without shredding) with a fork. Meanwhile, melt five tablespoons of butter and once melted, pour in minced garlic (that is minced yourself), and lemon zest. Slowly incorporate flour and whisk throughly. Then pour in (slowly) three cups of half and half. Throw in the cheeses and stir occasionally until fully melted. You should have a medium heat, and then bring it down to thicken the cheese mixture. Once smooth, pour over the gnocchi and crab. In a small sauté pan, melt three tablespoons of butter and mix lightly with panko bread crumbs. Once lightly brown (not burnt), pour on top of mixture. Bake 20-25 minutes or until the panko is browned.

Entree #2: Roasted Chicken with Thyme, Garlic, and Lemon

Cast of Characters:

1 (5 to 6 pound) roasting chicken
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 large bunch fresh thyme, plus 20 sprigs
1 lemon, halved
1 head garlic, cut in half crosswise
Half a stick of butter melted
1/2 large yellow onion, thickly sliced
4 carrots cut into 2-inch chunks
1 bunch of green beans (optional!)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Directions: Pre-heat your oven to 425 degrees. In a roasting pan, coat with olive oil. Wash your chicken (if you just bought it, try to let it rest/thaw for an hour before using) and pat it dry with a paper towel. Open the cavity and take out the giblets (which could be in a bag or out in the open–either way, man up and remove them!)  (Side note: if you can, leave your chicken out overnight uncovered so the skin becomes crispy). Apply liberally kosher salt and pepper to the outside of the chicken and the inside the cavity. Cut a lemon into four and shove it in the cavity.  Cut garlic crosswise and shove it in the cavity whole (no need to peel the layers.) Next, place a bunch of thyme sprigs (save some for the veggies) inside. Melt half a cup of butter and once melted, brush the butter all over the outside of the chicken. Again, liberally salt and pepper the chicken. Cut up the carrots and half an onion into long, thick slices, and once cut, place around the chicken. If you have green beans, cook those in the microwave (usually can be microwaved with a forked bag), and put the cooked green beans all throughout the pan. Pour a little bit of olive oil all over the vegetables, and mix the assorted vegetables with hands. Put the chicken in the oven for an hour and a half. To make sure the vegetable don’t burn, use tongs to mix the vegetables while the chicken is cook. There is no need to baste this chicken. It just works.

Bon appetit!