Saturday night we enjoyed the company of friends at our home for dinner. I met the women through the Wellington Art Society of which I am enjoying my second term as President. Lynn and Barbara are now on the Board of Directors so I have gotten to know them pretty well, but I really did not know their husbands, Tom and Jerry and I wanted to. To make guests feel comfortable when I entertain I like to keep the mood relaxed and definitely not formal. This is a 180 from when I was younger but over the years I learned that my guests are much more at ease with a casual setting. Part of helping your guests feel relaxed is the right ambiance so I always dim my lights, light candles in strategic places and play background music. Music is very important because there is nothing worse than a lull in conversation that is filled with dead silence. For me, smooth Jazz does the trick. It is not too loud, not too fast but also not so slow that it puts your guests to sleep. Jazz has the perfect rhythm.
After the usual “dollar tour” of our home we all had drinks and hors d’oeuvre in the living room along with light conversation. For our starters I like to keep it simple and not too heavy. I want everyone to be able to enjoy the entire meal so they need to still be a little hungry when we sit down at the table. So I made Roasted Parmesan Chickpeas; a cheese board with blueberry coated goat cheese, brie topped with bacon jam and black, red and green seedless grapes and a basket of crackers; plus totally unintimidating pigs in the blanket which I served with Creole Mustard. And after about an hour of nibbling and sipping we all moved to the dining room table for our meal.
I must admit that I am a bit of a control freak when it comes to my menus, so when anyone asks what they can bring the answer is always wine, and this was no exception. Before planning a dinner menu I always make sure of my guests’ dietary needs and restrictions. I want everyone to be able to enjoy the entire meal. So after checking that, I needed to have a menu that suited my guests which meant no organ meats, lobster, crab, pork (but bacon was okay!), mayonnaise or white flour. And since I am on a very high protein/low carb diet I needed to plan carefully. I decided to serve Caesar Salad, Lemon Pepper Chicken with a pasta-free vegetable lasagna plus a decadent dessert. I have always agreed with Julia Child who said that “a party without cake is really just a meeting”!
I did make a lower fat version of my very popular Caesar dressing that is in my cookbook by replacing one third of the olive oil with chicken broth. The dressing tastes exactly the same but is ever so slightly thinner. For the chicken, after pounding my chicken breasts to within an inch of their lives, I marinated them in fresh lemon juice for about a half hour and then set up my breading station. Instead of regular all-purpose flour I used almond flour which is low carb and seasoned it well with kosher salt, lots of freshly ground black pepper, granulated garlic and Italian herb seasoning. Then I fried it in a large sauté pan over medium high heat until golden on both sides but not cooked through. I transferred the chicken to a parchment lined baking sheet so I could finish it in the oven just before dinner. About a half hour before I was ready to serve the main course I put the chicken in a pre-heated 350◦ F oven to finish cooking. And to round out the meal I made a noodle-less vegetable lasagna that was layered with grilled eggplant and zucchini; sautéd red onion, mushrooms and red and yellow bell peppers; and lots of cheeses.
But the best was saved for last which is how dessert should be. And no, it was most definitely not low carb! I made a Grasshopper Ice Cream Pie. What could be better on a sultry August evening than an ice cream dessert. This pie had an Oreo cookie crust which was filled with Mint Chip Ice Cream that I added a little green food coloring to, along with big pieces of Oreo cookies and Andes Creme de Menthe chocolate mint candies all topped with fudgy bittersweet chocolate ganache.
Our conversation became livelier as the evening wore on and lasted till the wee hours of the morning. The meal was a huge success. But more importantly I know that lastly friendships were formed!