I think one of the secrets to a great get-together is a menu that you can have 90-100% complete before your guests walk in the door so that you spend your time enjoying your company and not stressing out over whether something is burning, undercooked etc.
This weekend we had friends over for a game night and I planned a menu that included a pork stew, field green salad with lettuces I had gotten at the farmer's market in the morning, fresh bread from the local bakery and dark chocolate chip chocolate cookies. Our friends are wine lovers so they brought the wine. The stew is a one-pot wonder recipe I found in one of those "Best Of Good Housekeeping" cookbooks that I purchased a couple of years ago in a used bookstore - I love finds like this one - it is a gem. The stew was done and warm on the stove, the last batches of cookies in the oven or cooling, the bread warmed and the salad ready to be tossed and dressed when our friends walked through the door.
Couple of notes: As always, using fresh ingredients will really make this recipe pop. The Other Half is not a huge cilantro fan so I sometimes swap out half of the cilantro for flat leaf parsley and it still has a really nice taste. Take your time browning the pork in smaller batches - I usually put two spoonfulls into the pot at a time - you want that really nice crust that only space in the pot will give you. It makes a pretty generous amount of stew so for those of you not feeding an army I recommend making the full recipe and then planning on putting some in containers in the freezer - it freezes beautifully and might only need a little chicken stock added when reheating to keep it from getting dry. This is another Other Half favorite. It worked particularly well in this instance because one of our guests was lactose intolerant so I could not use any dairy.
I have modified the cookie recipe to be lactose free from an Ina Garten, Barefoot in the Kitchen recipe from the "Barefoot Contessa Parties!" cookbook. The original recipe is for a Chocolate White Chocolate Chunk Cookie - I just swapped out all dairy and replaced the white chocolate with dark chocolate (recipe to follow). Warning - these things are addictive!
Latin American Pork Stew
2 tsp olive oil
2 lbs. pork tenderloin, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 large onion, chopped
4 large garlic cloves, minced
(1) 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes (I like to use Muir Glen's no salt added fire roasted diced tomatoes) or just shy of 2 cups of seeded, diced fresh tomatoes when they are in season
1 cup loosely packed fresh cilantro leaves and stems, chopped
1 tsp ground cumin (if you can find roasted cumin the flavor is amazing)
3/4 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp ground coriander (if you can find roasted coriander the flavor is amazing)
1/4 tsp ground red cayenne pepper
3 medium sweet potatoes (about 1.5 lbs), peeled and cut into 1/2" chunks
(2) 15 oz. cans black beans rinsed and drained (I like to use Eden Organics because of the packaging - the cans don't leech anything into the beans)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large Dutch Oven (I use my cast iron oven), heat oil over medium high heat. Once hot add pork in batches and cook until lightly brown, about 5 minutes per batch. (Usually takes me 5-6 batches to get it all browned). Transfer pork to a bowl.
Reduce heat to medium. Add onions and cook in pork drippings until tender, about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Add garlic and cook 1 more minute longer.
Add tomatoes with their juices, cilantro, cumin, coriander, salt, ground red pepper and 2 cups of water. Heat to boiling. Stir in pork, cover and bake in oven for 30 minutes.
Remove from oven and stir in sweet potatoes. Cover, return to oven and bake for 40 minutes or until potatoes are just tender.
Remove from oven and stir in black beans. Cover, return to oven and bake for 15 more minutes until beans are heated through.
Chocolate Dark Chocolate Chip Cookies
1/2 lb. unsalted butter at room temperature (in this instance I used Earth Balance Vegan Spread as a substitute)
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 extra-large eggs at room temperature
2/3 cup dutch process cocoa (Hershey's makes a nice one)
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp kosher salt
1 bag dark chocolate chips
Preheat oven at 350 degrees.
Cream the butter and two sugars until lightly fluffy in the bowl and beat with an electric beater. Add the vanilla, then the eggs, one at a time and mix well. Add the cocoa and mix again. Sift together the flour, baking soda and salt together in a separate bowl then slowly add to the chocolate mixture with the mixer on a low speed until just combined. Do not over mix. Fold in the chocolate chips.
Drop the dough on to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper (not wax paper) or Silpat cooking mats (one of the best gifts I ever received) using a rounded tablespoon. Dampen your clean finger and press the dough slightly flatter. Bake for up to 13-15 minutes (the cookies should be slightly underdone). Remove from the oven and let cool slightly on the pan, then transfer to a wire cooling rack to cool completely.