One of the biggest challenges in entertaining at home is timing everything. First, one must assume that the guests will arrive on time, and then as host, you need to create a time-line of when the meal must go in and out of the oven so that everything’s ready and hot at the same time. Yeah, right!
As I get away from professional cooking, and focus more on recreational cooking, my style of entertaining has evolved. After all these years of being in the kitchen for the party, I want to spend time with the guests. While the food is still important, I value other aspects of a dinner party – a relaxed and convivial atmosphere that encourages lively conversation. The food becomes the backdrop for the evening.
Part of my success, or so my friends tell me, is that I’m a calm hostess (I think it’s that I serve copious amounts of wine). I’m not anxious about the meal, nor am I racing around when the guests arrive trying to put the finishing touches on a recipe. Much of this is my professional training. But a lot has to do with the menu. I opt for resilient recipes – These could be dishes that don’t suffer from pre-cooking and last minute reheating. Or recipes that have a large window of “doneness” – think chicken thighs instead of chicken breasts. Better yet, during the winter, I make stews that actually get better the longer they cook.
Such is the recommendation I offered my friend R who just got engaged. She’s hosting her parents and future in-laws for dinner – the first meeting for the two sets of parents. One can never predict how the evening will go… will the conversation be lively during the hors d’oeuvres and delay dinner? Will the silence be deafening and encourage an earlier start to the meal? For sure, let’s hope for the former. And with a stew gently staying warm in the oven, she can enjoy the company and know that the meal will be even better.
(serves 4-6 guests)
2 pounds cubed beef stew meat
1/4 cup flour
3 slices smoked bacon
1 large carrot, peeled and sliced
1 onion, peeled and diced
1 large shallot, peeled and chopped.
1 celery rib, chopped
1/4 lb. mushrooms, quartered
1 cup chicken broth
1 - 10 oz. can tomatoes
1/2 bottle red wine
1/2 cup brandy
2 sprigs thyme
1/2 tsp. cumin seeds
1 tbs. plain oil.
salt and pepper to taste
1. Season beef with salt and pepper. Dust with flour. Dice bacon, and put in a large skillet with high sides. Brown bacon over high heat. Remove bacon and set aside
2. Add oil and beef, and brown beef (on high heat) for about 4 minutes on each side. Add onions, shallots, carrot, celery, and cook for about 5 minutes more.
3. Turn heat off, and deglaze pan with brandy and red wine. Scrap all of the browned bits off the bottom, this is good stuff. Add chicken stock, thyme and cumin. Turn heat back to high, and bring liquid to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer, cover pot. Put in 325 oven. After about 1 1/2 hour, add mushrooms. Cook covered for another hour or until meat is tender.
4. Serve stew over egg noodles or with grilled bread.
If you have celiac disease or gluten intolerance, you can omit the flour. Potatoes would make a great side dish as well.
Here are some other resilient recipes from Grow. Cook. Eat.
Vietnamese Crepes with Salmon and Radish Salad
End of the Season Cannellonis
Moroccan Style Chicken Stew