My husband likes to invite people to our home for dinner.
Many of these people have been total strangers to me.
More often than not, he has done this at the last minute. By last minute, I mean the day of.
And the last time I checked, we are still happily married!
From the beginning of our marriage, the Commander has always felt an affinity for people who were visiting his workplace from out of town; those who were living in a hotel for a week or two, performing an audit or other temporary task. While working out of town may sound like an idyllic vacation, after a week or more of that, most people crave a home cooked meal. Enter my husband. Like a homing pigeon, he will find these folks and invite them to dinner at our house. There have been times when there was a whole team of people, and in most cases, if you asked them they would come.
When we moved to Hawaii in 2001, this practice actually seemed to increase. The call would go something like this; “Joe Blow is here from DC and I’d really like to get him out to the house for dinner while he’s in town. Would tonight work?” Or this; “The so and so’s are here on vacation this week. They just called and want to get together. Why don’t we have them out for dinner?”
In all honesty, I have always been secretly flattered that my husband is so proud of our home and hospitality that he wants to share it with others. So early on, to cope with these impromptu dinner guests without stress, I developed what I call the Shortcut Company Dinner.
The Shortcut Company Dinner is something I can make with one hand tied behind my back, is foolproof, and for which I have most of the ingredients on hand. And today my friends, I am going to share my Shortcut Company Dinner, with you.
But before we get to that, I realize that many of my readers already have a favorite dinner in their hip pocket (well not literally…) that they like to make for guests. If that’s the case, now is the time to go take a look at my Bungalow Tour or take a bubble bath, and read no further. But for my friends who have not yet mastered an easy, company-worthy meal, you might find this to be a life and marriage saving trick to have in your kit bag.
And now, for the Shortcut Company Dinner:
- Grilled or baked salmon with panko topping,
- Rice pilaf with dried cranberries and cashews,
- Fresh roasted or steamed asparagus
- Béarnaise Sauce
- Dessert of an Aloha Angel food cake (see recipe in What’s Cooking section above) or a Dump Cake (recipe below), depending on what time of year it is.
Before you say that this menu sounds too complicated, believe me it is not!
If I don’t have time to go buy fresh salmon filets, I always have them frozen. Quite frankly, I can rarely tell the difference in quality.
For the rice, I often use Near East Rice Pilaf original flavor. Yup, a boxed mix that I embellish with dried cranberries and cashews to make it company worthy. (Yes, I do know how to make excellent rice pilaf from scratch, and you probably do too. But for this purpose, I’m showing you the quick and easy method.)
The asparagus does have to be fresh, no question. And for the fancy sounding Béarnaise sauce? I use Knorr, which comes in an envelope on the spice aisle. I know you can make it from scratch, but why?
This dinner works remarkably well, and it is so easy to pull together that recently I made it two weekends in a row for two different groups of eight from our church. I have made it for family holiday dinners, and even when it’s just the two of us. Living near the Pacific Northwest ensures that most people who visit love salmon and asparagus, so it is a menu that features local favorites.
One of the great things about this Shortcut Company Dinner is that almost all of components can be prepared ahead of time. The salmon can be seasoned and put in the baking dish with the topping the morning of the dinner. The asparagus can be trimmed and put in the casserole as early as the day before. The rice pilaf can be made ahead and reheated just before serving, as can the Béarnaise sauce. Lastly, the dessert options can be made early in the day or even purchased from your bakery of choice.
So there you have it. The never-before-published, Top Secret, Classified, marriage saving Shortcut Company Dinner. I encourage you to copy mine or develop one of your own, possibly based on your local fresh ingredients. Your company dinner could be a Taco Bar. The idea isn’t to impress your guests with your culinary magic, but to find that one menu that you like and can pull together on short notice. Then I suggest you practice making the menu to get the timing down, until you feel confident enough to call it your Company Dinner.
When the menu is established ahead of time, I think you will welcome the opportunity to entertain often, and share your home and meals with others. You will become a relaxed, gracious hostess, and ultimately that is what will make dinner at your house a memorable experience for your guests. I promise.
And now for the recipes:
Salmon Filets with Panko Topping
6-8 oz. salmon filets (each will serve at least one per person)
Olive oil, dill weed (fresh or dried), season salt, lime juice, butter, Panko breadcrumbs.
Coat the bottom of the appropriate size glass baking dish with olive oil. Place salmon filets in dish. Drizzle tops of filets with olive oil, a pinch of season salt and a pinch of dill weed. Top each filet with 1 Tbsp. Panko breadcrumbs and dot with 1-2 tsp. of butter.
Bake at 400 for 15-20 minutes or until 145 degrees internal temperature. If desired, finish under broiler for 3-5 minutes until topping is golden brown.
Rice Pilaf with Dried Cranberries and Cashews
1 box of Near East Original Rice Pilaf, made according to package directions. During last 5 minutes of cooking, stir in 1/8 cup dried cranberries, 1/8 cup roasted cashews.
Roasted or Steamed Asparagus with Béarnaise Sauce
Fresh asparagus, trimmed and washed; plan on 6-8 spears per person. If you do not know how to trim asparagus, hold spear ends in each hand and fold in half. They will snap where the woody part begins, leaving the tender part to use. Either steam in microwave for 6-8 minutes, or coat with olive oil, salt and pepper and roast on bake sheet in 400 degree oven for 10-15 minutes until tender.
Prepare Knorr Bernaise sauce according to package directions. For extra richness, you can prepare with 2 percent or whole milk, but it turns out great with skim, as well.
Dump Cake (terrible name, good dessert)
One yellow cake mix, dry
One 30 oz. can of cherry pie filling. You may use apple or peach pie filling, if desired, with equally good results.
One 20 oz. can crushed pineapple with juice
One stick of butter, melted
½ cup chopped walnuts or pecans, optional
In a lightly greased or sprayed 9×13” baking dish, dump and spread the pie filling and then pineapple in bottom. Top with dry yellow cake mix. Drizzle top with melted butter and nuts if desired. Bake at 350 for 55-60 minutes until brown and bubbly. Serve warm with ice cream or whipped topping, if desired.