We’ve Moved!!

Posted by on Apr 29, 2013

Entertaining for Busy People has been consolidated with the other blogs in the Smart Solutions for Busy People family. No new posts will appear on this blog! Please continue to follow Entertaining for Busy People at its new home!


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Easy Easter Menu

Posted by on Mar 13, 2013

Any time I want to make something easy and hands-off, I think of my slow cooker. For an easy Easter main dish, I adapted a classic French slow-roasted leg of lamb recipe for the slow cooker, while the two side dishes roast side by side in the oven. Easily served on one platter or on a buffet, this meal is full of spring flavor and lets you enjoy the day!


Hands-Off Lamb Roast

Prep Time: 15 mins.
Cook Time: 5 to 6 hrs.
Serves: 4

(Note: The roast may be bone-in or boneless. Be sure it will fit in your slow cooker; you may need the butcher to remove the shank portion.)

4 to 5 lb. leg of lamb
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
2 c. white wine
1 c. water
1 yellow onion, quartered
1 small bunch fresh thyme (about 7 or 8 sprigs)
1 small bunch fresh rosemary (about 7 sprigs)
2 cloves garlic. minced
4 bay leaves

Rub the roast generously with olive oil, then season with salt and pepper, gently massaging the seasonings into the meat. Heat a large, nonstick Dutch oven over medium high heat. Brown all sides of the roast well, to render off excess fat.

Place the onion quarters in the bottom of a slow cooker (4 qt. or larger). Place the roast on top.

Deglaze the Dutch over by pouring about a cup of the wine into the pan (make sure the heat is off!). Scrape up any brown bits and pour the wine and drippings around the roast.

Add the remaining wine and water to the slow cooker, pouring it around the roast. Add the garlic and bay leaves to the slow cooker. Bundle the fresh herbs together with kitchen twine and snuggle it down next to the roast. Cook on high 5 to 6 hours, basting occasionally.

When the roast is fully cooked, remove it to a platter and cover with foil. Strain the liquid into a saucepan and bring to boil over medium high heat, then lower to a simmer and allow the sauce to reduce, about 15 minutes. If a thicker sauce is desired, make a slurry by removing a ladle of liquid to a small bowl and whisk in 1 T. of cornstarch. Return to the pan and whisk until the mixture thickens.

Serve the roast with the sauce and/or a nice fruit chutney.


Roasted Potatoes

1 ½ pounds new red potatoes (or red creamer potatoes)
2 cloves of garlic, cut in half
Juice of 1 lemon
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Scrub the potatoes and remove any spots or eyes and cut in half (or quarters if necessary for a roughly uniform size). Place the potatoes in a medium mixing bowl, add the garlic and lemon juice. Drizzle well with olive oil and season to taste with salt and pepper. Toss well. Pour the potatoes in a single layer on a baking sheet sprayed with nonstick cooking spray. Roast in oven, 25 to 40 minutes until fork tender and brown. Stir/turn the potatoes every 10 minutes to ensure browning on all sides.

Serves 4.


Roasted Spring Asparagus

Pencil-thin asparagus roast right next to the potatoes and take only minute to prepare.

1 bunch asparagus
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Rinse and trim the asparagus; pat dry. (To trim the asparagus, hold each end of a spear and bend until it snaps at the naturally perfect spot.) Place the asparagus in a shallow baking dish. Drizzle with olive oil (enough to coat) and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Bake in a 400 degree about 8 to 10 minutes, shaking the pan halfway during the cooking time to cook the asparagus evenly. Serves 4.

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Entertaining Outside the Home

Posted by on Jan 11, 2013

I love to throw a good party, especially at home. But sometimes entertaining outside of the home is the best solution for a celebration. In addition to offering convenience for you (no clean up!) and your guests it can be an economical choice, too.

My past “out of house” party venues have included a pumpkin patch, an IMAX theatre and of course, local eateries.

Recently two coworkers and I hosted a baby shower for a fellow coworker. We knew we wanted an “Alice in Wonderland” theme, so a tea party seemed ideal. We were able to find a local English gastro pub that featured daily high tea. Because high tea is a prix fixe (fixed price) menu, we were able to work out a group rate that was about what we would have paid for food and beverage anyway.

Luckily, the mother-to-be favors a pink and brown color scheme, and the restaurant had brown and white linens. Adding touches of pink was a cinch with balloon bouquets for each table, pink butter mints sprinkled on the table and pink and brown gift bags at each place setting.

Although the bags look extravagant, they were relatively inexpensive to put together. We found tea infusers online for a couple dollars each, then added a custom blended tea that we called “Lavender Lullaby” from a local tea shop. I printed bag tags with my color printer in just a fe minutes. Filling individual tea bags took the most time and patience! Then it was just a matter of setting up an assembly line of bags (from www.nashvillewraps.com) and dropping in tea bags, the infuser and a brochure about tea (free from the tea store), then topping them off with some pink tissue from my local Party City store.

Because high tea is served in courses, it kept the afternoon on track and we could skip the shower games. Instead, we opted for “new mom advice cards” that every guest filled out. This also encouraged conversation at the tables. Later we organized all the cards into a photo album.

Guests stayed briefly to chat and wrap up the party after the gifts were opened. We paid the bill and were free to go. The guests appreciated the central location of the restaurant and the abundance of parking, which can sometimes be an issue at a private residence.

It was a very satisfying hostess experience!

Besides leaving the clean up for the restaurant, entertaining in a restaurant provides a certain finality to the festivities—no guests lingering on your sofa until the wee hours. And you can always leave, even when the last guest refuses to go. (Anyone who’s had the person who just won’t leave when all you can think about is going to sleep because it was a really long day/party knows what I mean.)

Here are some tips for entertaining in a restaurant:

Pick a theme and a color scheme; it simplifies decisions about decorations.

  • Coordinate with the venue’s colors where possible.
  • Keep the favors simple and easy to transport.
  • Use ice breakers or other devices to encourage table conversation.
  • Keep the menu simple; work with the venue for a prix fixe menu.
  • Split the cost and the responsibilities with other hostesses.
  • Confirm what time you may arrive to decorate and set up, and see if restaurant staff is available to assist.
  • Confirm the number of tables you will need, including a gift table, and any special requests.
  • Many restaurants have private dining rooms for parties at no extra cost.

The next time you’d love to have a get together or a celebration, consider saving yourself a lot of time and effort and look to entertain outside the home.

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Entertaining Essential: Utensils

Posted by on Jan 7, 2013

Contractors and handymen are famous for saying, “use the right tool for the job.” And so it is in the kitchen as well: having the right utensils to prepare and serve your favorite recipes helps reduce stress and oftentimes makes the difference between a recipe turning out well or not so well.

I have to say, I got extremely lucky and had a mom who was in the housewares business for a while. She put away a set of commercial quality stainless steel kitchen tools and bowls for me even though I was in the fifth grade at the time. I still have—and use!—these utensils, plus some that I inherited from her, some three decades later. The point is, buy the highest quality you can find. Stainless steel is the most durable, but wood and silicon also have their place in the modern kitchen.

Here’s a handy of list of essential kitchen items that every home entertainer should have. Check off what you already own and add what you don’t have to your wish list. Acquire these items over time as you need them and as your budget allows, remembering to buy the highest quality.

  • Wooden spoons
  • Stainless steel spoons
  • Measuring spoons
  • Silicon spatula
  • Slotted spoon
  • Whisk
  • Colander
  • Strainer (with a long handle)
  • Cutting boards (assign one board for vegetables
  • and another for meats)
  • Vegetable peeler
  • Stainless steel ladle
  • Cookie/pancake spatula
  • Offset spatula
  • Can opener
  • Citrus reamer
  • Microplane® grater(s)
  • Box grater
  • Potato masher
  • Locking tongs (long and short)
  • Kitchen shears
  • Dry measuring cups (stainless)
  • Liquid measuring cups (glass; at least one 2 cup measure to start)
  • Rimmed baking sheets, non-stick or stainless
  • Parchment paper
  • Small, medium and large mixing bowls, tempered glass and/or stainless steel (Tip: Cream whips best in a chilled glass bowl; neither cream nor egg whites will stiffen when beaten in a plastic bowl.)

Keep cooking utensils in a stoneware crock within easy reach of the stovetop, so you’ll have exactly the right tool when you need it.

Above all, make sure that the utensil is appropriate for the cookware you are using. Stainless steel cookware can handle nearly any utensil, but surfaces such as non-stick coatings, anodized aluminum and enamel-coated cast iron generally require wooden or silicon utensils for optimal wear.

 Basic knives:

  •  3 inch paring knife
  • 8 inch chef’s knife
  • 8 inch serrated bread knife
  • Sharpening hone

Thanks to my mom I also received quite an education in cutlery at a young age. Here again, go for quality knives. As you can see, the list of essentials is quite short, and nearly every chopping, slicing and dicing task can be done with just three knives. Yes, there are many specialty knives, like one just to filet fish. If you do a lot of that sort of thing, by all means purchase the specialty knife. But for starting out or replacing an aging knife collection, begin with the basics.

A stainless steel blade is a must. The handle material can vary; I prefer wooden handles personally, but some of the newer comfort handles are also very popular. Look for knives with a full tang—meaning, the metal part of the blade should run the length of the handle—and three rivets attaching the blade to the handle. The knife should feel balanced in your hand. When cutting with the chef’s knife, hold the knife with your thumb and index finger grasping the blade just above the handle. (Watch how the chefs on TV hold their knives.) This provides more stability and is easier on the wrist.

Learn how to use the hone to sharpen the blades (straight edges only; serrated blades need professional sharpening). A sharp knife is actually a safer knife as it requires less effort and force to cut the food. If you feel afraid around sharp knives, take a knife skills class at a local cooking school or university enrichment program. It will change the way you dice an onion or seed a tomato, and give you more confidence in the kitchen.

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Entertaining Essential: The Bar

Posted by on Jan 3, 2013

Of all the dictionary definitions of “essential,” the one I like the best is “indispensable.” For home entertainers, there are a number essential items — those indispensable items that every hostess should have in her collection to make entertaining effortless. The great thing is, essentials can be collected over time; these aren’t things you have to dash out and get before your next party!

In this series of posts, I’ll break down the world of entertaining into its components: the bar, the pantry, utensils, tableware and glassware, serveware, the powder room and the guest room.

First up: the bar.

All parties need liquid refreshments. Whether your party includes spirituous liquor is up to you, but the essentials of setting up a good beverage station equally apply to all kinds of parties, from a baby shower punch to pre-theatre martinis.

First decide what type of beverages you will serve. Will it be a full bar? Will you feature one or two cocktails or punch? How about a wine tasting featuring one or two whites and reds? The trend in home entertaining is to plan one or two beverages—such as themed cocktails to set the mood for the party or a nice wine—plus water and a couple of soft drink choices. Limiting the beverage choices reduces the variety of glassware and bar equipment required. Punch is a perennial favorite for easily and continuously serving large groups of people for similar reasons. As a bonus, the grown-ups may add a shot of rum or brandy to a non-alcoholic punch if desired. Simply place a bottle of the liquor along with a shot glass on a pretty tray next to the punch bowl.

Next, decide how much fluid refreshments you’ll need. For pre-dinner cocktails, plan on one to two drinks per person. For a full-on party, figure three to four drinks per person.

Basic bar equipment

  • Ice bucket and tongs
  • Small cutting board and paring knife
  • Cocktail shaker
  • Bottle opener
  • Corkscrew
  • Shot glass (jigger)
  • Long handled mixing spoon
  • Absorbent towel (I swear by Williams-Sonoma’s bar mops)
  • Cocktail napkins
  • Glassware appropriate for planned beverages

Basic liquor supplies

For a full bar offering, start with these basics:

  • 1 bottle dark rum
  • 1 bottle whiskey
  • 1 bottle gin
  • 1 bottle vodka
  • Club soda
  • Tonic water
  • Soft drink mixers
  • Cranberry juice
  • Lemons
  • Limes
  • Olives

Setting up a beverage station

One great piece of advice from my mom is to make sure the bar is set up before guests arrive; even if you’re running behind on dinner, guests will enjoy a drink and a nibble while you get caught up. Set up the beverage station as far away from the food preparation and service area as possible to avoid traffic jams and guests getting underfoot in the kitchen.

Set up the bar like you would a buffet: in logical order. Place the glasses on one end, followed by the beverages or liquor bottles and mixing equipment, then garnishes such as a small bowl of lemons and limes, and finally napkins and a couple bowls of nuts and party mix or a relish tray. I like to place the glasses on a serving tray to keep them corralled on the bar top. I place individual bottles of water  in a cooler or party tub filled with ice, either on the floor under the bar area or on the bar itself if space allows.

Serving drinks

Typically, the host or hostess mixes and serves drinks, or you may appoint a friend to tend to the beverages. After greeting a guest, the host or hostess should offer the guest a drink. In small or informal gatherings, the guests should serve themselves to subsequent beverages. For large parties, it is helpful to have someone making the drinks; your liquor will go further!

So, whether your celebration, dinner or party is for four or 40, assess the essentials you have on hand and plan your beverage choices in advance to get a jump start on your planning.

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Halloween Cocktails Made Easy

Posted by on Oct 20, 2012

If you’re having a Halloween bash this year, streamline your beverage menu to one alcoholic and one non-alcoholic option. For example, you could mix up an easy punch with equal parts pineapple juice and sparkling apple cider with a splash of a flavored syrup. Raspberry syrup would impart a nice blood-red quality! I used to be a fan of punch bowls (I own 3!), but I now prefer beverage dispensers with easy-pour spouts. They are so inexpensive and widely available – and less messy than ladling out of a punch bowl.

For the alcoholic beverage, look a pre-mixed mimosa. I found the Mionetto Il Spritz at World Market (about $14). It’s a semi-sparkling white wine with natural citrus flavors. Other brands have their own varieties; have fun taste testing before your party and pick the winner for you and your family and friends.

Once you’ve picked your poison, serve it chilled in custom stemless glasses. (Glasses, $1.99 each at World Market; decals $10 for 12 at www.dalidecals.com)

Another tricked I’ve picked up over the years is to line the serving trays with a bar towel or napkins to avoid stains or chemical reactions with the tray. For Halloween, simply line your trays with black cardstock. Write the name of the drink directly on the cardstock with a white pencil. This idea would also work with appetizers!

Happy Halloween!

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Tequila Lime Shrimp

Posted by on May 5, 2012

Just in time for Cinco de Mayo celebrations (not to mention casual parties all summer long!) this easy but tasty recipe uses the spirit of the season  – tequila! – to rev up quick-cooking shrimp. I serve the shrimp on a bed of Sweet and Spicy Cole Slaw. All in all, this dish takes about 5 minutes to prepare, 1 hour to marinate, and 3 or 4 minutes to grill.

Plus, you can prepare them the day before your event and store them covered in the fridge. Simply plate and serve when your party begins.

Tequila-Lime Shrimp

1/2 pound medium shrimp, deveined and tails removed (about 16-18 pieces)
1/4 c. tequila (silver or gold)
2 T. olive oil
Juice and zest of 1 lime
Pinch of red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper to taste.

Rinse the shrimp and pat dry. Place in a zipper top plastic bag. Combine the remaining ingredients in a small bowl. Pour over shrimp; seal bag and mix to combine. Let rest in the refrigerator at least 30 minutes and up to 1 hour. Place a grill pan over medium high heat; spray with non-stick cooking spray. Grill the shrimp 3 to 4 minutes until pink and opaque, turning once. This can be made ahead and stored in the fridge overnight. Serve on a tuft of Sweet and Spicy Cole Slaw, if desired. Serves 8 as an appetizer. Substitute large shrimp for a main course.

Sweet and Spicy Cole Slaw

In the bottom of large mixing bowl, whisk together: 4 T. apricot jam or orange marmalade; juice of 1 orange; zest of 1 orange (omit if using marmalade); 3 T. white wine vinegar; 2 T. adobo sauce (reserve the remaining chipotle peppers and sauce or freeze in a zipper top bag); salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle in 1/4 to 1/3 c. of canola oil, whisking to combine. Add 1 bag of cole slaw cabbage mix from the produce department. (Note: If using as a bed for Tequila Lime Shrimp, chop the cole slaw into smaller pieces before adding to the dressing.) Toss to combine; taste and adjust seasonings. Chill at least 30 minutes to allow flavors to blend.

(Note: If you don’t have adobo, try adding 1/2 t. or so of your favorite hot sauce.)

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