But to those who doubt me, I say NAY! For I spent the first fifteen years of my career working long days offsite just like you, and yet, I found that weeknight fun with guests actually perked me up, instead of being a drag. It feels a little bit decadent to have people over mid-week, like a tiny little piece of weekend. I promise, with a few little tips and tricks, you won’t hesitate to call your gang and invite them over some random Tuesday or Wednesday.
Staples: Having some basic supplies that you always keep on hand can take a lot of pressure off of having guests on a weeknight. This is especially important in the area of pre-dinner nibbles. At an after-work gathering, there should be less time spent over cocktails and snacks, in favor of sitting down to dinner. It may be a social event, but people are less likely to overindulge in booze (more on that in a minute), and less likely to stay longer than you would prefer if you get to the main event sooner rather than later. Towards that end, I keep things like pretzels, chips, mixed nuts and olives in my arsenal for quick snacks. Want to go even more basic? Try popcorn. Freshly popped popcorn, tossed with salt or parmesan cheese, drizzled with truffle oil or given a shake of an herb mixture can take as little as 6 minutes and is an ideal snack, not overly filling and not expensive! My favorite recipe is below.
(thanks to Mama Says for the pic)
Paper or Plastic?: The company is the most important thing, so don’t be afraid to serve good food on disposable dinnerware, especially if you don’t have a dishwasher. No one wants to say goodnight to guests at ten, and still be up at midnight washing dishes, or worse, facing them in the morning before your coffee. Want some awesome stuff to keep on hand? Try Mozaik. They have very cool plastic plates, flatware, and serving stuff…disposable never looked like this! But they are sturdy enough to reuse if you decide to give them a second life, you can even put the plates in the top rack of the dishwasher. The flatware is tough and stands up to almost anything you are likely to serve, the plates are solid, and the servingware is contemporary and stylish.
Check out the Plates:
And the flatware:
I love this appetizer set!:
And which is best, you can get it in bulk, making it very affordable.
Mangia! When in doubt, think pasta. Nothing is easier or quicker to get on the table than pasta, and nothing is more satisfying at the end of a long day than a bowlful of steaming strands. If you buy the fresh stuff, it cooks in less than 2 minutes, but keep a box or two of angel hair in the pantry which is 3 or 4 minutes from pot to plate. Sauce can be as simple as a jar of decent marinara…the one I use is Rao’s, but Lidia’s, Fanny’s and Bertucci are all good options, buy a few and do a taste test. Feeling guilty about sauce from a jar? Be sure to perk it up with really top quality parmagiano reggiano, freshly grated, and some fresh basil leaves torn roughly on top. You can mix in some chunks of fresh mozzarella or crumbled goat cheese for a richer dish. Want a heartier sauce? Saute some mild Italian sausage meat out of the casing, drain the extra fat and stir it in. Not a red sauce fan? Splurge on a small package of truffle butter or a bottle of truffle oil, and stir that in with some chopped chives and shredded meat from a rotisserie chicken. Can’t find truffle butter or oil, or it falls outside the budget? Use a fruity olive oil and lemon zest instead. Have slightly more time to cook? Check out this post on or pasta with chicken and zucchini, light and delicious.
(thanks to My Veggie Kitchen for the pic)
All pasta needs to round itself out is a loaf of good bread and a simple salad, and one of my personal go-to dinner party classic salads is below, an unexpected mix of celery, green apple and parmesan, it is fresh and crunchy and very easy to make. But feel free to buy a bag of pre-washed greens of your choice, and a good quality bottled dressing, the Newman’s Own are always a crowd pleaser.
School night sweets: If my family had a crest, the motto would be “Dulcis usquequaque!” which is “There is always room in the dessert compartment!”. And no, I am not remotely suggesting you bake on a Tuesday, unless you love to do it and the party is on Wednesday. You can always let one of your guests bring dessert to take the burden off you, or you can go with a classic stand-by, a freezer full of ice cream or sorbet! Basic, classic vanilla is easily topped with some fresh berries or a drizzle of a sweet liqueur to gussy it up…Kahlua, Chambord, Frangelico and bourbon are all great toppers. Want more of a show stopper? Try the recipe for Red Wine Caramel sauce below, it is a fantastic way of using up an open bottle.
In Vino Veritas: Speaking of wine, it is a weeknight, so no one is looking to party till the wee hours or have to head into the office hungover the next day. Stick with wine or beer, and be sure to offer sparkling water or other non-alcoholic beverages. I find that if there are bottles of cold water on the table in easy reach, my guests will help themselves and drink less. I killed two birds with one stone by buying a case of French Sparkling Lemonade in glass bottles with the cool flip tops. That way I could offer it as a non-alcoholic option, and also save the bottles which I cleaned, removed the labels, and use and re-use for cold water. I just fill up about 4-6 and stash them in the bottom of the fridge and then pop them on the table, about one for every two people.
I keep mine in a lovely old wooden wine crate that was a gift from Charming Suitor.
No luck like potluck! Want to have your gang over, but afraid that their elevated tastes will be let down by jarred sauce pasta and store bought ice cream? Toss the challenge back at them. Assign dishes to guests, those who can cook, will, those who can’t can buy the same bakery breads and desserts you would, but taking one more errand off your plate.
No day like today: Weeknights are great for socializing with that couple who keeps trying to make weekend plans, but your calendar is always booked. Weeknights are perfect for meeting your significant other’s friends for the first time, less pressure and shorter time to have to be on your most impressive behavior! Or a perfect night to get the girls (or guys) together without losing date night.
Go on. I dare you.
And for a special treat, the best tip or recipe for weeknight entertaining posted in the comments section will receive this set of Mozaik serving bowls:
3 T peanut oil
¾ c popcorn kernels
3 T nutritional yeast (this will be with the dietary supplements at your local Whole Foods or health food store, and while it sounds like a strange addition, it has a nutty flavor that is reminiscent of parmesan cheese and pairs great with popcorn…if you can’t find it, you can substitute grated parmesan)
1 t ground mustard powder
1 ½ t salt (and more to taste)
1 t dried thyme leaves (or Herbes de Provence or Italian herb mix)
½ t garlic powder
¼ t cayenne pepper (optional)
Mix all of the spices and herbs with the nutritional yeast in a small bowl.
Put oil and popcorn in a large pot, shake to be sure all the kernels are coated, cover pot with tight fitting lid and turn the stove burner on high. Leave the pot alone until you hear the popping slow down, and then give it a shake or two just to be sure that you are getting all the kernels popped. When the popping slows to three seconds between pops, turn off the heat, remove the lid, and pour the popcorn in a bowl large enough for you to mix it around easily. Sprinkle hot popcorn with about 1/3 of the yeast/spice mix and toss popcorn thoroughly. Taste. Add more yeast mix and salt until you get the flavor you want. Once you have the right balance, let the popcorn sit uncovered at room temperature until completely cool. Store in Ziploc bags or Tupperware containers for up to 36 hours. You can toast on sheet pans in a 400 degree oven for 3-4 minutes to recrisp or if you want to serve warm.
Celery Green Apple Salad
2 heads celery with hearts, cleaned and sliced on the diagonal about ¼ inch thick, but long pieces
2 granny smith apples, sliced into thin slices
½ lb parmagiano reggiano shavings (you can also use manchego, cheddar, or gouda)
Juice of one lemon
¼- 1/3 c extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Toss celery and apple with lemon juice and olive oil and season to taste with salt and pepper. Arrange cheese on top.
Red Wine Caramel Sauce
3/4 c sugar
3/4 c red wine
2 T water
In a medium saucepan, bring the sugar and water to a boil over medium high heat. Cook without stirring until a pale-amber caramel forms, about 5-6 minutes. Remove from the heat and carefully add the red wine. Place back over heat and cook, stirring to dissolve the hardened caramel, until it is slightly reduced, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a serving bowl or pitcher and serve warm.
The red wine caramel can be refrigerated for up to 1 month. Bring it to room temperature or heat slightly before serving
Yours in Good Taste,
Don't forget to make a comment to win!