Weeknight Entertaining - Summer Salad Buffet|
by Linda Larsen
Linda Larsen launches her Weeknight Entertaining column with a spectacular article about cool summer salads that are divine to serve on these steamy summer nights.
Weeknight Entertaining is a topic dear to my heart. Everyone is so busy these days, yet we all want to see family and friends. Spending time relaxing and having fun is important for your emotional and physical well-being too! This column will give you fresh ideas each week about new, fun and easy ways to host gatherings. Each column will feature several recipes so you can pick and choose your favorites to make a fabulous meal.
Long ago, parties were planned weeks in advance, with invitations sent and elaborate menus planned. Shopping and cooking and cleaning took days; it was tons of work for the hostess. Except for very special occasions like weddings or surprise birthday parties, those days are long gone. Entertaining during the week is surprisingly easy and a lot of fun. Your guests will love coming to your home after work, relaxing, eating wonderful food and drinking great wine, listening to music, and talking and laughing.
These gatherings just take a little thought and planning. Your main goal is comfort: for your guests and for yourself. Consider your comfort level when thinking about the menu and the food you will prepare, where you want to gather, how many guests you'll invite, and the type of gathering. It's important to have everything well thought out, for a relaxed host or hostess means relaxed and happy guests!
With summer finally here, it's time to enjoy eating outside again. One of the best things about dining al fresco is you don't have to clean your entire house. (My husband calls my need to have everything perfect "clean cave syndrome" - records of this 'disease' apparently date back to the Stone Age.) Just close lots of doors and clear the way to your bathroom (which should be spotless). Light candles on your deck, porch or patio, have music playing softly in the background and set your table with dishes, flatware and glassware that you love. Flowers on the table are a nice touch but not necessary. If your garden is blooming beautifully, by all means use your favorites in a pretty low vase or container.
I rely on cold salads during the hot months. They taste wonderful, are better if made ahead, and last for several days. They are also a wonderful way to highlight fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs from your garden or the farmer's market. Keep in mind that the following recipes are totally versatile. Add or subtract meats, fruits or veggies to your taste, change the dressing or seasoning, add or subtract cheeses and herbs. Substitute shrimp, use pork instead of chicken, use different types of pasta, or add asparagus or peppers. You can also leave the meat out entirely for vegetarian versions. The salads are so flavorful I promise you no one will miss the meat!
One trick for cooking pasta is to salt the water well. It makes a huge difference in the pasta flavor, and doesn't really increase the sodium content of the finished dish. Lots of pasta salad recipes tell you to rinse the pasta with cold water so it's cool before adding the dressing. I rinse very briefly, for only a few seconds, then add the dressing. The warm pasta absorbs the dressing this way and the finished result is much more flavorful. Stir the salad after about 30 minutes in the refrigerator, and let it meld and blend until it's time to eat. I also always thin mayonnaise with milk for the dressings. It blends much more smoothly with the pasta or potatoes and the end result is creamy and silky. And with everyone watching fat grams, try blending low fat or no fat mayo with the real thing. No one will be able to taste the difference, and you save quite a few calories. Finally, remember to be creative and enjoy yourself!
All you need to add to this buffet is some wonderful chewy bakery bread, and try one of my ice cream pies as dessert. Mix and match the following recipes and you're well on your way to an easy and elegant weeknight dinner party!
NEXT WEEK...Presentation Packets
The RecipesPesto Pasta Salad
I adapted this recipe from Ina Garten's wonderful book "The Barefoot Contessa Parties".
1 16-ounce package farfalle pasta (I really prefer Barilla brand)
1 16-ounce package rotelle pasta
1 16-ounce container prepared pesto
1-1/2 cups frozen spinach, thawed and well drained
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup low-fat mayonnaise
1/2 cup milk
1 cup cashew halves, rinsed if salted
1 16-ounce package frozen tiny baby peas, unthawed
1 pound cooked chicken, cut into bite sized pieces, or shrimp
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Cook pasta according to package directions. While pasta is cooking, combine pesto, thawed spinach and lemon juice in food processor or blender. Process until thoroughly mixed. Stir together mayonnaise and milk with wire whisk. Add pesto mixture and mix well. Add cashews, frozen peas and cooked chicken and mix well. Drain pasta, rinse briefly with cold water, drain again and add to salad. Stir in the Parmesan cheese and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
Chicken 'N Corn Tostada Salad
This wonderful salad was a winner in the 35th Pillsbury Bake-Off in 1992. I've adapted it a bit.
1/4 cup cider vinegar
3 tablespoons honey
1-1/2 teaspoons cumin
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
Mix well and set aside.
1 tablespoon olive oil
1-1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 2x1/2-inch strips
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 16-ounce package frozen sweet corn, or fresh corn from 4 ears, cut off cobs
1 red pepper, chopped
1 15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 bunch green onions, thinly sliced
2 chopped tomatoes
2 Haas avocados, peeled and chopped
1 head butterhead lettuce, torn into pieces
2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese
3 cups blue corn tortilla chips, slightly crushed
Salsa and sour cream
Heat oil in large skillet. Add chicken and garlic and cook until chicken is no longer pink. Transfer chicken to very large bowl. Prepare corn according to package directions, or sauté fresh corn 2 minutes in pan used to cook chicken. Add corn, red pepper, black beans and green onions to chicken. Stir in the Cumin Dressing and refrigerate. Just before serving, add tomatoes, avocados, and lettuce; toss to combine. Serve with cheese, tortilla chips, salsa and sour cream, letting each guest dress their salad to taste.
Roasted Potato and Green Bean Salad
After reading a tip that potato salads are wonderful made with roasted potatoes instead of boiled, I invented this recipe. I often add an entire head of garlic, but you can adjust the amount to your taste. The potatoes are crisp on the outside and soft inside. The onion becomes very sweet, and the garlic is savory and nutty. This is one of my favorite salads!
5 pounds Yukon gold potatoes, unpeeled, cut into chunks
1/4 cup olive oil
5 cloves garlic, chopped
1 onion, peeled and chopped
2 pounds fresh green beans, trimmed, cut into 2" pieces
1 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup low-fat mayonnaise
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 6-ounce can tuna, well drained, if desired
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
In large pan, combine potatoes, olive oil, garlic and onion. Roast at 400 degrees for 30 minutes, turning vegetables with spatula once so they cook evenly. Meanwhile, cook the beans for 5 minutes in rapidly boiling water. Drain and add to the potatoes after the 30 minutes of roasting. Roast for 30 additional minutes, turning ingredients with spatula once. In large bowl, combine mayonnaise, milk, mustard, salt and pepper, and beat well with wire whisk. Add tuna and Parmesan cheese. Stir hot roasted vegetables into mayonnaise mixture and refrigerate. Stir again after 1 hour of cooling.
Turkey Salad with Raspberry Mint Dressing
I adapted this recipe from one of Pillsbury's Classic cookbooks.
1-1/2 cups vanilla yogurt
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons raspberry vinegar
Combine all dressing ingredients and refrigerate.
16 ounces farfalle pasta
2 cups asparagus, cleaned and cut into 2" pieces
1 pound cooked smoked turkey, or plain cooked turkey or chicken, cubed
4 cups strawberries, halved
baby spinach leaves
In large stockpot, cook farfalle pasta according to package directions. In last 5 minutes of cooking time, add asparagus and cook until pasta is tender and asparagus is crisp-tender. Drain well and stir in the mint dressing. Add turkey and strawberries and toss gently. Refrigerate. When ready to serve, place a handful of baby spinach on each plate, and spoon salad onto spinach leaves. Garnish with fresh raspberries.
For the ice cream pie, here are several ideas. Make a crumb crust by crushing 20 chocolate sandwich cookies and mixing with 1/4 cup melted butter. Press into 9" pie plate and fill with your favorite ice cream flavor or flavors, layering with fudge sauce. Frozen yogurt, gelato or sherbet will also work beautifully. Freeze until serving time. Take out of refrigerator 10 minutes before cutting. You can use gingersnap cookies and layer orange sherbet and vanilla ice cream. Or vanilla wafer cookies, chocolate ice cream and marshmallow sauce. The possibilities are endless! Serve with more sauce, whipped cream, cherries, and nuts. Or try:
Lemon Ribbon Ice Cream Pie
1-1/2 cups finely crushed pretzels
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter, melted
Mix and press into 9" pie pan. Refrigerate.
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoon lemon peel
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter
1/3 cup lemon juice
Combine in medium saucepan and cook over medium heat 5-7 minutes or until thick, stirring constantly with a wire whisk. Transfer to small bowl and place plastic wrap over hot filling. Refrigerate 2 hours or until thoroughly chilled.
1 quart vanilla ice cream, slightly softened
Layer lemon sauce with the ice cream in the pretzel crust. Freeze until firm, about 4 hours.
Linda Larsen is a freelance Home Economist with a degree in Food Science from the University of Minnesota and a degree from St. Olaf College. She has been on the Pillsbury Bake-Off staff since 1987, and was in charge of Internet Recipe Search in 2000. Linda has developed recipes for Pillsbury and Malt-O-Meal, presented food to taste panels, held cooking seminars, and owned her own catering business "The Perfect Occasion". She loves to cook and entertain, write about food, talk about it, plan parties, read cookbooks and develop recipes. She has a cookbook collection of at least 1000 books and reads them as though they were novels.
Linda's first meal was a Mother's Day dinner from the Betty Crocker Children's cookbook, prepared when she was 11. Since then she has hosted wedding and baby showers, birthday parties, business dinners and cocktail parties, and wonderful simple meals for friends. Join her and learn simple and elegant ways to entertain your family and friends during the week.
Linda can be reached at email@example.com.