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Make-Ahead For Easy Entertaining

March 29, 2010 - Jill Anderson

Happy (rainy) Monday mornng Cape Coral!  Fortunately it was not raining on Saturday and my out of town company got to enjoy some of the sites of our beautiful region. 

The biggest complaint I hear from hosts/hostesses about entertaining is that they feel everyone else is having all the fun while they are stuck off in the kitchen preparing the food.  It doesn't have to be that way. 

I will preface these tips by one EVER wants to cook for me!  Either at my own home or the homes of family or friends, yours truely usually ends up doing the cooking!  At home I have a little more control over the menu though and when I know ahead of time that company is coming, I spend the day before my guests arrive making simple dishes that can be put on the table in no time.

Getting Ready For Guests 

Ever heard the saying "failure to plan is planning to fail?"  This is true of entertaining as well.  Without a clear plan of attack... you may just end up in the kitchen sweating over pots and pans while everyone is lounging by the pool!  Here are a few basic tips for easy entertaining.

  • Decide on a SIMPLE menu that lends itself well to advance preparation.
  • MAKE A GROCERY LIST!  Do it several days in advance of your company's arrival to give yourself time to aquire necessary ingredients.
  • STICK TO THE LIST- it can be so tempting to deviate from the plan when faced with an artfully displayed "sale" endcap.
  • Make as much of the food as you can ahead of time.  Prewash and wrap fresh veggies and fruits for salads.  Freeze or refrigerate prepared food.
  • If you know you'll be grilling, check the gas or charcoal supply and have extra if needed.  Nothing worse than running out in the middle of cooking!
  • Have supplies on hand for mixing up drinks (alcoholic or non) and extra ice if you know your ice-maker can't keep up.
  • A supply of disposable plates and glassware may be your choice.  I personally never entertain with anything disposable but that is up to you.

When Company Comes Calling 

When your guests arrive, you will be surprised by how much more relaxed and enjoyable the visit will be for YOU with these advance preparations out of the way.  It is such a great feeling to know you are ready for a weekend of fun and fantastic food that will impress your guests and allow you time to socialize as well. 

My simple menu for Friday night was a fresh spinach and artichoke dip appetizer, sliced Italian Roast Beef (which I cooked and sliced ahead) with fresh Italian Bread from a local Cape Coral Italian market, some of my dark chocolate drizzled coconut biscotti (see previous post) and a cup of espresso.  A late night treat- Virgin Ginger Lime Mojitos with some left over artichoke dip and pita chips.

Saturday, we started the day with coffee and fresh bagels, cut fruit and MIGHT have dipped a couple of those biscotti in our coffee.  We spent the day on Sanibel Island at the beaches and attending the art festival.  We grabbed a tropical smoothie and a sandwich so there was no work at all for lunch.

For dinner Saturday night, I served that lovely spinach and stone fruit salad with the Mango Heather Honey Dressing, Grilled Chicken seasoned with a key lime seasoning blend (made locally) and black bean, corn and brown rice salad inside spinach wraps.  For dessert we enjoyed a dish of chilled Strawberry Coconut Fruit Soup and more biscotti for dipping.  Everything except the chicken was made ahead and dinner was on the table in 20 minutes!  Our final indulgence Saturday evening was Virgin Pina Coladas by the pool.

Sunday morning was crepes (the batter made ahead as well) filled with strawberry cream cheese and topped with more sliced fruits.  Sadly, it was time for my guests to leave after brunch.  We had a wonderful time sightseeing and I didn't have to spend the entire visit in my kitchen. 

An Elegant Make Ahead Appetizer- The Ultimate Spinach and Artichoke Dip

  • 2 cans organic baby artichoke hearts, drained very well and roughly chopped (I actually cook fresh baby artichokes but canned work fine)
  • 1 lb fresh organic spinach leaves roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup oil packed sundried tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 cup reduced fat cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup reduced fat olive oil mayonnaise
  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1 cup crumbled feta cheese or goat cheese
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup sliced green onions (tops included)
  • 2 cloves garlic, pressed or finely minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon or to taste salt
  • seeded chopped roma tomatoes for garnish
  • pita chips or corn chips for dipping
  1. Combine all ingredients except diced fresh Roma tomatoes and pita chips in a large bowl and mix well.  Hands work best.  Squeeze mixture until no clumps of unmixed cheese or dry spinach remain.
  2. Pack mixture into an oven proof baking dish (about 2 -2 1/2 quart size), cover with plastic film and refrigerate until ready to serve.
  3. To bake: Preheat oven to 350F.  Remove dip from fridge and allow to stand at room temperature for 20 minutes.  Bake until heated through and bubbly; approximately 25 minutes.  Garnish with chopped, seeded tomtatoes and serve piping hot or room temperature.  Refrigerate leftovers promplty.

This recipe makes quite a large appetizer.  I don't usually reduce the amount even for small parties because it is so good that there are not any leftovers anyway.  The dip can also be used as a sandwich spread and eaten at room temperature...its fabulous!

Food Quote for Today

"I once went on a diet for two weeks - all I lost was two weeks."  Cass Elliot, "Mama Cass", folk singer and member of The Mamas and The Papas


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The Ultimate Spinach and Artichoke Dip