Dining Chez Jess & CK

Hello hello!

How was everyone’s weekend?

Mine was absolutely wonderful! For starters, I opted out of working over the weekend, deciding my brain needed a rest from all the stuff that I’m working on.   Best decision I made all weekend.  I was actually able to enjoy myself!

Saturday, CK and I took a leisurely drive up north to visit his parents at the cottage. Autumn is in full swing up here in Montreal and the colours are simply stunning:

We went for a nice long walk with the dogs and I held everyone up by taking about 2000 pictures.

Man and his best friend:

We came home Sunday morning and I immediately jumped into the kitchen as we were having friends over for dinner.

I know it may seem like CK and I are extremely anti-social and don’t like having friends visit, well that may well be true for CK but it isn’t for me 😉

I absolutely love to entertain, to have friends over and cook a whole bunch of food for them. So when CK informed me last week that Rob and Tara were coming over for dinner on Sunday, I immediately dove into dinner planning mode.  I think I drove CK completely insane during the process, but that’s half the fun!

Tara generously offered to bring dessert which with my being out of town for most of the weekend was a true lifesaver! Thank you, Tara!!

So with dessert out of the way I began planning out my menu.   This is what I came up with:

Appetizers:

Crudité platter with homemade hummus
Tzatziki (store-bought) with pita and crackers

Main Course:

Butternut Squash Gnocchi with Brown Butter Sage sauce (recipe to follow)
Steak (for the carnivores)

Side:

Sautéed mushrooms
Salad topped with apple, walnuts and cranberries with Better Than Bottled Balsamic Vinaigrette

With the exception of the Gnocchi, I opted to keep my menu simple and easy to prepare.  Because we were coming home from the cottage that morning, the last thing I wanted was to be stressed about not having enough time to get everything ready.  On top of the cooking we also had to clean up the house and run a few errands.

Since, we’re on the topic, I thought I’d share a few my entertaining tips:

When planning your menu, take stock of what’s in your pantry- any way you can use up that can of garbanzo beans that have been lurking in there for the past few months?  Entertaining can be expensive so try and use up whatever ingredients you already have on hand.

Now, the easiest way to avoid the stress of entertaining is to draw up a schedule.  What I will do either the night before or the morning of, is write out each dish I’m preparing, and the ingredients I will need to go with it onto 1 or 2 sheets of paper.  This way, I’m not scouring multiple cookbooks/blogs/references to prepare the multiple courses.  Also, take a good look at your menu- is there anything that can be made a few days leading up to the dinner or even the night before? The more you can do before, without interfering with the taste of the dish, the easier your life will be.

So after I decided on my menu, and drew out my game plan, I got to work.

When I first got in the door (11:30am), I prepared the hummus.

You will need:

1 c. Chickpeas

2-3 Tbsp tahini

1 clove of garlic

1 Tbsp lemon juice

1/4 tsp salt

Pepper to taste

2Tbsp – 1/4 c. olive oil

In a blender, combine all ingredients and blend until smooth.

It’s quick and easy, but also dirties a few dishes including that silly blender or food processor, plus it’ll keep in the fridge no problem so it’s nice to get out of the way.  Be sure to take it out of the fridge before your guests arrive so it can get back to room temperature (I find it tastes its best, then).

Once the hummus was prepared I made my crudité platter. (11:50)

Nothing too fancy, just some nice fresh veggies that everyone can enjoy and appreciate.

Next up was my salad and salad dressing, which again, along with hummus and veggie platter, can be shoved in the fridge until your guests arrive. Actually the salad and dressing can hang out in the fridge until you’re ready for dinner.

Once I had these all done (12:25pm).  I set my table:

Again, nothing extravagant: I didn’t go out and buy all new dishes, glasses or even any accessories.  Even if you’re dishes don’t match (and mine don’t) I find this adds a fun eclectic flare to your table and since they’re yours, are representative of your personality.  So have fun with it.

I do usually buy seasonal paper napkins to change it up a bit, but didn’t have a chance to do so this time around, so white it was.

Once the table was set, I cleaned up the house a bit- dusted the floors, cleaned the bathroom, tidied up the bedrooms.  You don’t need to scrub, scrub, scrub, but make sure the house is tidy, and free of dust.  I’d also recommend opening up some windows for a bit to get some fresh air in.  Especially if you’re cooking with pungent smelling ingredients- they can be overwhelming when combined all at the same time.

Once my house was cleaned up I moved onto the star ingredient:

FYI I’ve learned the hard way that it’s much easier to peal a squash when it’s still whole.

Here’s the recipe you’ve all been waiting for:

Butternut Squash Gnocchi with Brown Butter Sage sauce:

You will need:

1 Large butternut Squash (2-3lbs)

1 tsp garlic powder

Salt and pepper to taste

2 Tbsp olive oil

3-4 cups of flour + extra for dusting

Brown Butter Sage sauce

½ c. butter

3 Tbsp freshly chopped sage

Directions

Preheat oven to 375F

Peel and dice squash (removing seeds as you go), and toss in a large bowl with oil, salt, pepper, and garlic.

Place squash in a single layer on a large baking sheet and roast squash until very tender (we’re talking slide off the fork tender) so approximately 45 minutes.

Let cool for 15 minutes (so give yourself this time to clean up a bit if you have to)

When it’s cooled off enough to handle you have 2 options to mash it up:

1)      Use a potato masher

Or

2)      Use a food processor

Now, because I really didn’t feel like cleaning my food processor this late in the game (it was 2:30, Tara and Rob were coming at 4), I opted for the potato masher.  If you go with this option, make sure you really mash I up in there, you don’t want any chunky bits.

Once you have beaten your squash into a pulp, start pouring the flour.  I added mine in 1 cup at a time.  Well, actually I started by adding in 2 and it just soaked it all up no problem.  So by the time it looked like this:

I’d added in 4 cups of flour, but I do caution you to add in your flour 1 cup at a time.  I used white flour but you could use whole wheat.

Once you have a big mass of dough on your hands, split it into 8 pieces.  I did this by cutting it in half, and then cutting my halves into halves, into halves.

Take 1 section at a time and roll it out on a floured surface  into a ½ inch tube and cut into 1 inch pieces.  With the tines of the fork, make an indent into each piece.  They should resemble something like this:

Place your pieces onto parchment lined, floured baking sheets and let them dry for 2 hours.

Now, I’m not even close to being Italian (like, at all!) but I was pretty damn proud with how these guys turned out.  Tara, who is Italian, was also impressed, so points for me!

I had almost finished these guys when our guests showed up and so the boys convened the living room with beer and the hummus platter and the girls hung out in the kitchen.

Once I had finished the gnocchi’s I cut up the pita and brought out the tzatziki to add to the hummus and crudités.

When everyone started getting hungry, I popped back into the kitchen to work on the gnocchi’s and CK got to prepping the steaks.

To make your gnocchi’s, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Add a small portion of the gnocchi into the water and cook until they float to the surface.  Fish them out and add in the next batch until they’re all cooked.

Meanwhile, in a small sauce pan, add in your butter and allow it to brown.  Add in your sage for the last minute, and then pour over your gnocchi.

This pic was taken this morning as I forgot to take one last night, but you get the idea.

Well, there you have it, a fun and pretty easy day in the kitchen to wow your friends with delicious homemade food.

Question: What are your favorite dishes to serve for dinner parties? Is there a particular dish you’re “famous” for?

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About Jess @ MTL Veggie

Jess, the face behind The MTL Veggie is a vegetarian, athlete, marketer and Torontonian turned Montrealer. In her spare time she enjoys cooking, photography, running, yoga, skiing, and of course blogging. The MTL Veggie recaps her recipes, restaurant reviews, and what it's like to be a Leafs fan living in Montreal (hint: scary at times).
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2 Responses to Dining Chez Jess & CK

  1. Looks like a fun weekend – those pictures are amazing of the leaves! I ❤ butternut!!!

  2. Tess says:

    Omg, I didn’t realize you MADE the gnocchi! And out of squash? AMAZING! I’m definitely 100% going to try this in a month.

    When entertaining I don’t have a favourite dish per se, but I will always make some kind of funky salad or vegetable side dish. I think so many people get into veggie ruts, so I like to spice things up for them when they dine Chez Tess 😀 lol

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