Read an Excerpt
SIMPLE PLEASURES Entertaining
By Susannah Seton
Red Wheel/Weiser, LLCCopyright © 2004 Susannah Seton
All rights reserved.
I'm a big proponent of simplicity in all the domestic arts—simple food, simple crafts, simple gifts, and simple games for you and your family and friends. In this and all my books, I advocate getting back to basics—appreciating the smell of fresh-squeezed orange juice, the feel of clean sheets, sitting down with your whole family to enjoy a meal. Particularly when it comes to homemaking and entertaining, all of us, no matter how domestically challenged, spend a great deal of our lives on these routine tasks of life—cooking, cleaning, and the like. So we might as well get the maximum satisfaction from them. This is what I'm hoping Simple Pleasures of Entertaining will give you.
BURSTS OF FLAVOR
My husband is a rabid tomato-grower. After our enthusiasm for freshly picked and eaten cherry tomatoes has waned and fall has arrived, then it's time for sun-dried tomatoes. Though I have actually dried tomatoes in the sun, a much more dependable and efficient method is to dry them in an oven for 5–8 hours, depending on the size of the fruit. After cleaning and splitting the tomatoes in half, I salt them lightly on oiled cookie pans and place them in a 170° oven. When they are dry but not crispy, I pack jars with the tomatoes and fill to the top with extra virgin olive oil (press with a spoon to make sure the air is all out and add more oil if needed to cover tomatoes completely). We have so many we give lots away, but I always save some for ourselves. In the middle of winter these make the quickest and sweetest tomato paste in the world.
CHICKEN WITH SUN - DRIED TO MATOES
This recipe never fails to get raves at parties large and small. It's simple, once you get the hang of the rolling-up process. I pound the chicken with a full wine bottle, but you can use a flat mallet instead.
4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
4 ounces goat cheese
1/3 cup sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, drained and
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup chicken broth or white wine
Place the breasts one at a time between two sheets of waxed paper on a flat surface. Pound until¼-inch thick. (You may go through several pieces of waxed paper.)
Spread 1 ounce of goat cheese on each chicken breast. Top each with 1 tablespoon sun-dried tomatoes and 1 teaspoon basil. (There will be some of each left over.) Roll up like a jellyroll and secure with toothpicks so that no filling is showing.
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium flame and add the chicken, turning frequently until white inside and lightly browned on outside. Be sure the inside is thoroughly cooked; this takes 12–15 minutes. Remove and set aside on a warm plate. Cover with aluminum foil.
Add the broth or wine and the remaining sun-dried tomatoes and basil. Turn up heat to high and reduce liquid by half.
THE PARTY FAN
Creatively folded napkins add to the beauty of any place setting. Here's a folding method that takes no time at all. If you don't have napkin rings, use a bit of ribbon or raffia as a tie. First, fold the napkin in half to form a horizontal rectangle. Fold the rectangle into 1-inch accordion pleats, and put on the ring or ribbon. Then spread out the pleats at the top and bottom to create a fan.
PEACH OR NECTARINE CLAFOUTI
This is a marvelous low-fat dessert that's perfect for late summer when peaches and nectarines are abundant.
1 ¼ cups low-fat milk
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
1 ½ pounds peaches or nectarines,
peeled, pitted, and sliced
1 tablespoon powdered sugar
Preheat oven to 350°. Grease a medium-sized baking dish. Combine the milk, granulated sugar, eggs, vanilla, salt, and flour in a mixing bowl; beat with an electric mixer until the mixture is frothy, about 3 minutes.
Pour enough of the batter into the prepared baking dish to make ¼-inch-deep layer. Bake for 2 minutes. Remove the dish from the oven. Spread the fruit in a layer over cooked batter and pour the remaining batter on top.
Bake until the clafouti is puffed and brown and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean, about 30–35 minutes. Sprinkle with powdered sugar just before serving. Serves 6.
Here's an easy way to decorate your backyard for a summertime evening get-together—or just for yourself.
one strand of small white
indoor-outdoor Christmas lights
½-inch-wide white or gold ribbon
plastic or silk green leaves
Pull apart the silk flowers and discard the stem. Take the light strand and push a light through the center of one flower. Hot-glue the ribbon to one end and begin wrapping the strand of lights. As you wrap, hot-glue the leaf stem to the chord and cover the leaf stems with the ribbon.
OLD - FASHIONED TAFFY PULL
Before you start, be sure to read the directions all the way through—making this does require some expertise. Above all, don't leave the little ones alone—the hot syrup can be dangerous!
1 ¼ cups sugar
¼ cup water
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 ½ teaspoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
In a medium saucepan over low heat, stir together the sugar, water, vinegar, and butter until sugar is dissolved. Turn heat up to medium and cook, without stirring, until the syrup reaches 265° on a candy thermometer. Pour onto a buttered platter (be careful not to be splattered by the hot syrup: hold the pouring edge away from you and pour slowly) and let cool until a dent can be made in it when pressed with a finger. Sprinkle the vanilla on top and gather the taffy into a ball. Take care in picking up the mass; it could still be very hot in the center.
When you can touch it, start pulling it with your hands to a length of about 18 inches. Then fold it back onto itself. Repeat this action until the taffy becomes a crystal ribbon. Then start twisting as well as folding and pulling. Pull until the ridges begin to hold their shape. Depending on your skill, the weather, and the cooking process, this can take between 5 and 20 minutes. Roll into long strips and cut into 1-inch pieces. Makes ½ pound.
These delectable treats are easy to create; use them on top of ice cream or cakes. Pick the flowers fresh in the early morning.
1 or 2 egg whites, depending on how many flowers
superfine sugar, to taste
Gently wash flowers and pat dry with a clean towel. Beat the egg whites in a small bowl. Pour the sugar into another bowl. Carefully dip the flowers into the egg whites, then roll in sugar, being sure to cover all sides. Set flowers on a cookie sheet and allow to dry in a warm place. Store in a flat container with waxed paper between layers. The flowers will last for several days. SIMPLE PLEASURES
MEXICAN WEDDING COOKIES
Traditional wedding cookies are often served at other festive occasions as well.
½ cup powdered sugar
1 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 ¼ cups flour
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ cup chopped nuts, optional
additional powdered sugar
Cream together the ½ cup sugar, butter, and vanilla in a large bowl. Sift in the flour and salt. Add the nuts, if using. Cover and chill the dough for 2 hours in the refrigerator or 10 minutes in the freezer. Preheat oven to 400°. Roll the dough into 1-inch balls and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake until set, about 10 minutes. While still warm, roll the cookies in powdered sugar. Makes 4 dozen.
A BUNCH OF BEAUTY
Once a week or so I buy flowers at the grocery store and take great pleasure in arranging that fresh bunch of flowers in a vase or two.
The other day at the store, one bunch of particularly vibrant dark pinks was much thicker than usual. I just had to buy it—pinching pennies can be so satisfying! Later I spent twenty minutes at my house happily making one arrangement after another, filling vase after vase. The florist had counted a few too many blooms into the rubber-banded bunch and had given me a bargain both satisfying and beautiful.
FLOWER ARRANGING TIPS
Invest in a large beautiful vase—there's nothing like a heavy, well-designed, large, beautiful vase to display flowers and accent a room.
Use odd numbers to create a pleasing arrangement.
Make an arrangement with "found" plants. This past Christmas my mother and I took a walk around our street. Someone had been trimming their evergreens and we ended up picking up several branches of different pines that were just lying in the snow. We took them home, she arranged them in a vase with a red bow and a few white mums, and we had an arrangement worthy of Martha Stewart.
Think all one color of different kinds of flowers—all white flowers, or all red, or all pink. The variety of flowers and the monotone color really work together.
The highest flower or green should be 2 1/2 times the height of the container, and the largest flowers should be at the bottom of an arrangement.
This chicken is a low-fat entrée—provided you remove the skin when eating.
4 chicken breast halves, with skin on
salt and pepper to taste
2 cups fresh raspberries and blueberries, mixed
2 tablespoons chives, chopped
1 onion, sliced
Rinse the chicken and pat dry. Create a pocket in each by loosening the skin with your fingers. Salt and pepper the chicken and set aside. In a food processor or blender, purée 1 cup berries. Pour over the chicken, sprinkle the chives on top, cover, and refrigerate for several hours. Preheat oven to 350° F. Remove the chicken from the marinade and place in a greased baking dish. Discard the marinade. In the pocket you have created in each breast, stuff 1.4 cup berries and a quarter of the onion. Bake until the juices run clear when cut, about 45 minutes. Serves 4.
I love to have friends over for dinner but I don't have much time. And I'm not the best chef in the world either. But I accidentally hit upon a method for entertaining that solves all my problems. Over the years I have developed a few "guest menus"—for example, a delicious vegetarian stew for my non-meat-eating friends; that meal begins with a warm goat cheese, garlic, and sundried tomato appetizer that everyone loves and can be made in less than ten minutes. I've collected each "menu" in a notebook with lists of ingredients needed for each meal and a notation of whom I've served it to. When I'm having guests, I just whip out my notebook, see what I haven't served recently, and shop. Following are two of my favorite recipes.
WARM GOAT CHEESE APPETIZER
This is adapted from Cucina Rustica by Viana La Place and Evan Kleiman. It never fails to get raves—and requests for the recipe.
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
8 ounces goat cheese
1 teaspoon dried oregano
5 sundried tomatoes in oil, drained and cut into slivers
2 teaspoons capers
pepper to taste
Heat the oil in a small skillet and sauté the garlic until golden brown. Set aside. Cut the goat cheese into ½-inch thick rounds and place in a single layer in a microwave-safe dish just large enough to hold the cheese. Sprinkle on oregano, tomatoes, capers, and reserved garlic. Grind pepper on top. Heat in the microwave for a minute or so until cheese is warm. Serve with crackers or baguettes. Serves 6. SIMPLE PLEASURES
PERSIAN LAMB KABOBS
These are fabulous—and relatively low-fat.
1 pound lamb from leg or
loin, trimmed of fat and
cut into 1-inch cubes
red wine vinegar
2 cloves garlic,
chopped or pressed
1 teaspoon dried
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 green or red pepper,
cut into chunks
1 large onion,
cut into chunks
12 cherry tomatoes
Combine lamb with vinegar, garlic, oregano, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Mix well, cover, and marinate in the refrigerator overnight. Remove lamb from marinade and thread onto skewers, alternating with pepper, onion, and tomatoes. Brush meat with marinade and barbecue until lamb is medium rare, about 10 minutes, turning every few minutes. Serves 6.
HEART PLACE MATS
This is a lovely item that will grace your table for months to come.
2 15-by-19-inch pieces of washable fabric,
red or patterned with hearts
thread to match
Tape two 8 ½-by-11-inch pieces of tracing paper together along the 8 ½-inch sides. Fold in half along the tape seam and cut out a heart. Unfold the paper, trace the heart onto the wrong side of the fabric pieces, and cut out the fabric.
Place the two hearts together, right side in, and pin together. Stitch along the outside of the heart, a quarter-inch from the edge, leaving an opening of about 2 inches. Clip along the curved edges and in the crevice. Turn right side out and slip stitch the opening. Makes 1 place mat.
HOLD A COOKING PARTY
I love to gather a group of people to make something best done in an assembly line—cookies or tamales, for example. I buy all the ingredients, invite over neighbors or friends, open a bottle of wine, and cook, cook, cook. The time speeds by, the work goes quickly, and everyone goes home with a big pile of whatever we've made that afternoon. As far as I am concerned, a cooking party is the perfect blend of conviviality and cuisine.
CONFETTI CORN CHOWDER
Here's a delicious chowder perfect for those cool, early fall evenings.
1 red pepper, diced
6 cups chicken broth
kernels from 8 ears of corn
1 russet potato, peeled and
1 quart low-fat milk
1/4 pound bacon, fat trimmed,
cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1 large onion, diced
1 medium zucchini, diced
salt and pepper to taste
5 tablespoons chopped fresh
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
1/2 cup slivered fresh basil leaves
Blanch the bell pepper in boiling water for 1 minute. Drain and set aside.
Place chicken broth in large soup pot, and add half the corn and, the potato. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium, cover and cook until potatoes are tender, 10–15 minutes. Let cool slightly. Puree in batches, in a blender or processor, until just smooth. Transfer to a large bowl and stir in milk.
Saute bacon in the soup pot over low heat just until fat renders out, about 5 minutes. Add onion and cook until wilted, about 10 minutes. Add reserved puree, zucchini, and remaining corn kernels. Season with salt and pepper and cook for 5–8 minutes (do not boil.) Stir in blanched bell pepper and all herbs. Serves 6.
This is a classic recipe that has graced many Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas tables. If you have managed to live this long without giving it a try, rectify the situation immediately (if you eat ham!). You're guaranteed to be delighted.
1 ham, about 5 pounds
1 20-ounce can pineapple slices in juice
Preheat oven to 350°. Score the surface of ham with a knife and insert whole cloves in each intersection. Put in baking pan and bake. If ham is not precooked, allow 20 minutes per pound. If precooked, follow wrapper instructions. Pour juice from pineapple slices into a bowl. Add enough brown sugar to make a thin paste. Baste ham with glaze
PERSONALIZED NAPKIN RINGS
At the craft store, buy a set of clear Lucite napkin rings (the kind with an opening that allows you to put a piece of paper inside). Cut paper to fit inside the rings. Glue pressed flowers in any pleasing arrangement onto the paper, and cover the paper with clear, heavy tape, such as packing tape. Insert the paper into the rings. If you can't find Lucite napkin rings, you can glue pressed flowers directly onto wooden rings, then give them several coats of shellac.
Excerpted from SIMPLE PLEASURES Entertaining by Susannah Seton. Copyright © 2004 Susannah Seton. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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