Hi there. Hope you are having a great week, busy busy one over here. But its been very productive and as we have one eye on moving to a larger warehouse space, there is no grass growing under our feet. It’s a huge undertaking but will be well worth it when done. So I started the Entertaining Diaries as I noticed it was a subject so many wanted to hear more about and even though I have done my fair share of entertaining, I still love learning of new ideas, great recipes and tips. I was brought up with the notion that there is always room for improvement! Today’s post is kind of a walk through of how I approach entertaining (on a small scale). We were to meet two couples in a restaurant (first time)but I chickened out even though it was outdoor dining, with the seriousness of what is swirling around us, I decided to invite them over instead. What turned out to be a casual easy dinner of course tuned into a lot more. I wish I knew how to keep it light and easy but before I knew it I was puling out a white dry cleaned tablecloth, crystal glasses and just continued from there. So normally these are things I would do a day or two before just to get it out of the way but in this case, it was all done that day. ___________________________________________________ I always lay all my dishes and utensils out on my island the day before or early morning of. Makes me feel like its one thing checked off my list and gets me moving forward Ditto utensils, and I will often set a table the day before as well Prep work starts early (whatever can be done first thing) cutting up any vegetables, herbs, making my fruit platter (always have a fruit platter). Some things are made the night before (if the recipe allows it). The more you can do ahead of time, the better! I cut up things like limes for drinks and anything else we will need and put aside for later (my husband is fully in charge of the bar and drinks) Here is what was on the menu that day- I made my cheese board about 2 hours before they arrived but kept it inside until they got there (it was a very hot summer day). I start placing the cheese, fill in with crackers then add fresh fruit, nuts, dates, figs whatever I may have on hand. Always like a few hard cheeses and include a soft cheese with a nice variety of crackers/bread sticks and some kind of fruit Fruit platters are a part of our daily routine, so I always have one when I have guests over too. Granted our daily fruit platters do not look like this:) Brushetta I made early in the day and kept refrigerated, I found it refrigerates well for at least up to 4-5 hours so it’s convenient to make ahead of time and oh so good! For the bread- I cut up a large baguette drizzle with olive oil, bake at 350 for about 7 minutes until crisp. Don’t worry if they overbake as once the brushetta is placed on top, it gets a little softer and has just the right “bite” aka crunch vs. soft center..yum! I have also found you can make these well in advance and store in a ziploc, one less thing to do last minute! Pasta being mixed together, so yummy (recipe below) In this case I have already made my pasta, chicken and salad ahead of time. I always wait to add whatever sauce I am using for the pasta to mix together at the very last minute. And always cook your pasta very al dente, realizing when the hot sauce hits it, it will continue to cook. Nothing worse than mushy pasta!! This meal has become my default meal when having guests over, everyone loves it! Wish i had taken better pictures but by this time of the night I am always busy playing hostess I set up everything outside, hydrangeas cut from my yard! Here is the recipe for Chicken Scarpiello 3 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs and breasts, breasts cut crosswise in half (I have a local butcher cup up small pieces, thighs and beasts on and off bone) Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste 2 tablespoons olive oil 4 links Italian sausage (2 hot and 2 sweet), about 1 pound (we use less) 2 large bell peppers (red, yellow or green), seeded and cut into thin strips 2 jalapeño peppers, halved lengthwise, seeded and cut into thin slices 1 large sweet onion, cut in half lengthwise and sliced 1 teaspoon minced garlic 4 to 8 hot vinegared cherry peppers (or peppadew or pepperoncini), left whole 2 to 3 small red potatoes, peeled, sliced and boiled until tender, but not mushy (optional) 1/2 cup chicken broth 1/2 cup dry white wine ¼ to ½ cup red wine vinegar, to taste 1 tablespoon dried oregano leaves 1/2 cup homemade marinara sauce or 2 tomatoes sauteed first in olive oil and garlic (I added this onto the original recipe) Preparation Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Season chicken pieces with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. In batches, brown the chicken, skin side down to start, about 5 minutes on each side. Remove the chicken to a plate. Add the sausage and sauté until brown, about 3 to 4 minutes. (They will not be cooked all the way through at this point.) Remove with a slotted spoon, cut into 1-inch slices and set aside. Remove all but 2 tablespoons oil from the pot and sauté the bell peppers, jalapeños, onion and garlic until soft and beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Add the marinara sauce or tomatoes with olive and garlic at this point. Return the sausage to pot, add the cherry peppers, potatoes (if using), chicken broth, wine, vinegar, oregano and season with salt and pepper. Gently mix together, then transfer everything in the pot to a roasting pan. Nestle the chicken in the vegetables and sausage and roast in the oven until chicken is cooked through and sauce has reduced slightly, about 30 minutes. Can be cooked ahead of time, refrigerated and heated up. As good the next day!! And the recipe for the heavenly summer pasta- INGREDIENTS Your favorite fresh or boxed pasta About 1.5 cups of fresh peas (fresh is ideal) 2 good sized zucchinis sliced and then halved Generous cluster of fresh basil finely chopped Olive oil 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (I have used more at times depends how lemon-y you like it) Lemon rind Garlic 3 TBSP half and half Fresh parmigiana Sea salt and pepper DIRECTIONS Boil pasta in salted water until al dente (should have a slight bite) Drain and put in large mixing bowl Meanwhile in sautee pan, heat olive oil, cook garlic and then add all lemon juice, and then half and half, stir gently and add a handful of the chopped basil. In another pan use a little olive oil, saute zucchini and peas for about 6 minutes. Gently fold peas and zucchini into the pasta that has sat at room temp. Then add olive oil/lemon mixture into the pasta, gently stirring. Add finely chopped basil and sea salt and pepper to taste. Last add freshly grated parmigiana and lemon vest, mix on last time. Garnish with a little basil and enjoy! And the brushetta recipe again for old times sake- (key is very ripe tomatoes and fresh basil, only fresh)! 4-6 large ripe beefsteak tomatoes (I like to add yellow tomatoes as well for color) Very generous cluster of fresh basil rinsed and chopped into small ribbons Nice quality olive oil 1/2 red onion finely diced Sea salt and fresh ground pepper Shaved fresh parmigiano (optional) works nicely as a garnish and is delicious too Key is simple- super ripe tomatoes and fresh basil. A kid could make this if the ingredients are super ripe. Dice tomatoes very small, finely chop the basil and onion. Gently mix together, add sea salt and pepper to taste then a few tbsp of olive oil. I refrigerate it and keep it cold until the bread is ready. For the crostini part of this- I cut up a fresh baguette, drizzle olive oil over it, put it in 350 preheated oven (laid out on baking sheet) Bake until almost crispy. The olive oil will soften the bread even if you cook it too long (which I have certainly done many times). Spoon bruschetta liberally over each crostini. I will often sprinkle freshly cut basil over the entire plate and shave parmigiano is a nice touch too. Bon appetite! _____________________________________________ OK now I am starving:) This is seriously one of my favorite , sooo good! I do not entertain the way I used to, since I now work full time…..it requires more planning and advance prepping. The key to me, is being organized and not starting things too late. Get everything done the day before that you can (setting a table, laying out your serving pieces, cooking anything that can be refrigerated over night). I always give myself a “finish time”. I normally say I want to be totally done by 1pm so that I can put my feet up, maybe take a hot bath and relax a bit before the night gets underway. Do you have a “go to” meal you enjoy serving when entertaining? I like things I am well versed in, less room for error. If I want to try something new, I will typically try it out with a test run on my family and then use for the future if successful. Most important thing is not stressing as it then takes away all the fun. Go with simple meals if that makes you less stressed. Remember people are coming over to connect, laugh and enjoy your company….food is secondary! I do not entertain nearly as often as I used to but when I am prepared and organized, I really do enjoy the entire experience. I need to keep my wheels oiled in preparation for the holiday season:) Thank you for stopping by, would love to hear your tried and true tips! Wishing everyone a great day, until next time….. PS If you missed the previous “chapters” click on blog by clicking here and in search bar on the right type in Entertaining Diaries, it will pull up all the previous chapters.