Weeknight Entertaining - Presentation Packets|
by Linda Larsen
Linda Larsen shares a few of her favorite sumptious recipes for weeknight entertaining this week in her regular column. Discover how easy cooking in packets is and how delicious the results are.
With summer finally here, it's time to dust off the grill and eat outside. In the north, where I live, summer has been cold and rainy so far, but now the weather is improving and we're grilling for the first time this weekend! I've never really thought that grilling is easier than using your kitchen, but it's fun because it's a change of pace and location. It can be a spectacular presentation, and of course the food has flavor and aroma you just can't get from cooking inside. Offer some simple appetizers and cold drinks to your guests while the food is grilling, and you're off to a wonderful evening.
Many French restaurants offer food en papillote, or wrapped in a package, usually of parchment paper, that has been baked in a hot oven until puffy and the paper begins to brown. This special presentation keeps the aroma and flavor of the food sealed until just before eating. I call them 'presentation packets'. Your guests will enjoy cutting the packages to release the wonderful smell and sizzle. Sealing meal packages in foil and then cooking them on the grill is also a great way to save time and cleanup. And the flavors of the foods mingle beautifully.
You can prepare the packets the morning of your party and refrigerate them until it's time to cook. This method has the added bonus of adding marinating time to tenderize meat and add great flavor. Or you can make a "presentation packet assembly line", with your guests choosing from a buffet of meats, veggies, sauces and flavorings to create their own special meal. Prepared meats and chopped and cleaned produce from the market are fantastic timesavers, so feel free to use them.
Double fold heavy duty-foil as directed in the recipes below, or use special grilling bags, fire up the grill, and you're ready to cook! Using tongs, carefully move the packets around the grill occasionally to make sure they cook evenly and don't burn. Be careful not to pierce the packets to avoid flare-ups and to keep all that wonderful flavor sealed inside!
Keep in mind that the following recipes are totally versatile. Add or subtract meats, fruits or veggies to your taste, change the marinade seasoning, add or subtract cheeses and herbs. Substitute shrimp for the fish, use pork instead of chicken, or add asparagus or peppers. One word of advice: beef just isn't as good cooked this way. I feel that a good steak should be cooked all by itself to get the wonderful browning and carmelization that only direct heat can provide. So if you have a hankering for beef, cook vegetables in the packets and just plop those steaks directly on the grill. Be creative and enjoy yourself! And remember to tell your guests to be careful of the steam when they open the packets.
Add a green or fruit salad to these packets, try a grilled bread recipe, and serve cookie ice cream sandwiches for dessert. What could be simpler?
Chicken and Fruit Packets
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1" pieces
2 firm pears, sliced
1 Granny Smith apple, sliced
1/2 cup honey mustard salad dressing
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
Heat coals on grill or prepare gas grill. Divide chicken, pears and apple among four 18x12 inch sheets of heavy duty aluminum foil. Drizzle with dressing and sprinkle with thyme. Fold foil over chicken and fruit. Seal edges, making tight 1/2-inch fold, then fold again. (If you are preparing this in the morning before your party, brush the pears and apple with a little lemon juice so they don't turn brown). Make sure you allow space on sides of the packet for circulation and expansion. Place on grill and cover. Grill 4-5 inches from medium heat 10-15 minutes or until chicken is cooked through and no longer pink. Place packets on plates, cut large X across top, and fold back foil to serve.
Polish Sausage and Cabbage Packets
1 pound smoked, fully cooked Polish sausage, cut into 1" pieces
8 small red potatoes, cut into 4 wedges each
1 small head cabbage, cut into 8 wedges
1/2 cup ketchup
1/4 cup coarse grainy mustard
1/2 teaspoon caraway seed
Heat coals on grill or prepare gas grill. Divide all ingredients among four 18x12 sheets of heavy duty aluminum foil as described above. Grill, uncovered, 4-6 inches from medium high coals 30-40 minutes or until cabbage and potatoes are tender.
Mexican Fish Packets
1-1/2 pounds red snapper fillets
1/4 cup sliced green olives
1 tomato, seeded and coarsely chopped
1 bunch green onions, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, finely chopped, if desired
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
Heat coals on grill. Cut fish into 6 serving pieces. Place fish on foil as directed above. Mix olives, tomato, green onions, garlic, and jalapenos, if using, and arrange over fish. Sprinkle with lemon juice, oil, salt and pepper. (If making ahead, add lemon juice just before grilling so the fish doesn't become mushy). Seal as directed above. Place on grill, cover and cook 5-6 inches from medium heat, about 15 minutes or until fish is cooked through and flakes easily with fork.
Thai Turkey Packets
1-1/4 pounds turkey breast tenderloins
3 cups packaged prepared julienned carrots and cabbage
1 cup salsa
1/4 cup chunky peanut butter
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons orange juice
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon grated gingerroot
Heat coals on grill. Cut tenderloins crosswise into 3/4" slices. Divide evenly among 4 sheets of heavy-duty aluminum foil, 18x12 inches. Top each with equal amounts of carrot mixture. Mix remaining ingredients and pour over each packet. Seal as directed above. Grill, covered, 4-5 inches from medium high heat 15-20 minutes or until turkey is fully cooked and vegetables are tender.
Grilled Vegetable Medley Packets
2 ears corn, each cut into 4 pieces
4 small red potatoes, cut in half
2 carrots, cut into 1" pieces
1 medium onion, chopped
1/4 cup butter, melted
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Combine vegetables in large bowl. Mix butter, mustard and seasonings and add to vegetables, stirring to coat. Divide evenly among four 18x12-inch sheets of heavy duty foil. Seal as directed above. Grill, uncovered, 4-5 inches from medium high heat 25-35 minutes, or until vegetables are tender.
Grilled Parmesan Bread
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
1 loaf French bread
Combine butter and cheese. Slice bread into 1" slices and spread with butter mixture. Arrange back into loaf shape and wrap securely with heavy-duty foil. Place loaf on grill 4-6 inches from medium low coals (I place this on the side of the grill while the packets are cooking). Heat 10-20 minutes until butter mixture is melted.
Creamy Cheese Bread
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1-1/2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese
Dash hot pepper sauce
1 loaf French bread, cut in half lengthwise
Combine mayonnaise, cheese and hot pepper sauce; mix well. Place bread cut side down on grill 4-6 inches from medium heat. Cook 3-5 minutes until lightly toasted. Spread cheese mixture on toasted sides of bread halves. Cook, cheese side up, 10-15 minutes or until cheese bubbles.
Cookie Ice Cream Sandwiches
Cookie ice cream sandwiches are really fun to make. Use your favorite cookie recipe and ice cream flavors, and mix and match for a fun selection. Bakery cookies are wonderful served this way. Try chocolate chip cookies with chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream, or oatmeal cookies and chocolate gelato. Lemon sugar cookies would be great with lemon sorbet, or try M&M cookies with chocolate marble ice cream. For an extra special touch, I like to melt a package of chocolate chips and dip each cookie ice cream sandwich halfway into the chips, then freeze. Let them sit at room temperature 10-15 minutes before serving so the chocolate and ice cream soften a bit, then enjoy!
NEXT WEEK...Last-minute Fourth of July bash
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.