Recently I had a good friend over for dinner to celebrate her birthday. Whenever I have guests for dinner, I plan my menu strategically. The goal is easy entertaining. I avoid dishes that rely too carefully on exact timing. And I won’t serve anything that requires much in the way of last minute cooking. I’d much rather spend time relaxing and enjoying the company of my friends than fussing in the kitchen.
I was extra strategic when coming up with this menu. Since I haven’t done much entertaining in recent history (thanks, pandemic), I was a little worried I might have lost the knack. So I set this menu up to be pretty foolproof. You can make most of it ahead, so it is low-stress as well. Yet the result is a restaurant-quality feast that looks as if you’ve slaved.
Some notes on the menu
I will admit that I served a Roasted Squash & Leek Hummus from Earth + City the night my friend was over. But the Pumpkin Hummus I’ve included here is similar in style and super simple to make. I served the hummus with a rainbow of raw veg for dipping. Cherry tomatoes, snap peas, sliced cucumber, yellow bell pepper and multi-coloured carrots made for a fresh and healthy presentation. I also served spiced almonds, mixed olives and some savoury Blue Cheese & Fig Shortbreads from Provisions Food Company in Niagara to round out the apéro (a term I recently learned from my Parisian client).
The Low, Slow & Faux Duck Confit is just that. It cooks in the oven at very low heat for a few hours, making the timing of serving it quite flexible. You can amp the heat up a bit at the end if you need to crisp the skin up a little more quickly. To confit is to cook the meat very slowly while it is submerged in fat. I have called this a Faux Duck Confit since you don’t actually submerge the duck in fat to cook it but, rather, crowd the legs in the pan so that when the fat renders off it partially submerges the meat as it cooks. So it isn’t a true confit but it is way simpler and just as tasty IMHO! A little acid helps balance out the richness of the meat so I served mine with Spicy Tomato Jam by Manning Canning.
The components of the Warm Farro & Sweet Potato Salad can be prepared in advance. Simply reheat the cooked farro on the stove before adding the spinach and pop your pre-roasted sweet potato in with the confit for about 5 to 10 minutes to rewarm before assembling the salad. Brimming with both vegetables and whole grains, this is the only side dish you need. You can easily scale up both this recipe and the duck to serve more people.
Given it was her birthday, I finished with some indulgent, densely fudgey Peanut Butter Banana Muffin Brownie Bites. You can bake these well in advance, if you like, as they keep very well in the freezer. A little whipped cream on top would be a nice touch but I didn’t think of that until now. Instead, I served them with a few blackberries as I love berries and chocolate!
And a wine pairing suggestion
I served one of my favourite Niagara wines – Cave Springs Dolomite Cabernet Franc – with the duck. It was a big hit with my friend and I hope you enjoy it too! If my Easy Entertaining Menu inspires you to invite a few friends over to share this low-stress yet succulent spread, you can sign up here to receive the recipes.
Easy Entertaining Menu
Appetizer: Pumpkin Hummus (use canned pumpkin and chickpeas and this can be whipped up from pantry staples in no time – I use my mini-food processor for blending and spice it up a bit with chili powder as mentioned in the notes)
Main: Low, Slow & Faux Duck Confit (it was a revelation how easy it was to get deliciously crispy-skinned duck legs that tasted just like confit but with virtually no work; save the duck fat for Pommes de Terres Salardaises another day)
Side: Warm Farro & Sweet Potato Salad (I love the chewy nuttiness of farro; use prewashed baby spinach to make things even simpler)
Dessert: Peanut Butter Banana Muffin Brownie Bites (peanuts, bananas and chocolate – this flavour trifecta is a perfect example of the sum being greater than the parts!)
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A few featured foods …
Muscovy duck from the males (drakes) are popular for duck confit due to their rich flavour and healthy fat content. While high in fat, the majority of the fat is unsaturated.
As well, cooking the duck this way renders off much of the fat, leaving just crispy, delicious skin and succulent meat behind. Unlike chicken, duck provides about as much iron per serving as beef.
Farro is an ancient whole grain wheat and a generic term which may refer to einkorn, emmer or spelt varieties. It is high in both fibre and protein and has a soft, chewy texture when cooked. Its nutty flavour can be made even more pronounced by toasting the grains in a dry skillet until fragrant prior to cooking.
Farro is great in salads as it never gets mushy, even if you overcook it. As I said, this menu is foolproof!
Cooking your own food is the single most impactful step you can take to improve your health and energy!
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