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Easy Entertaining! (December 7, 2001)


It's the season, you'd love to have friends and colleagues over for smart little parties, but ooooohhhh, who's got the time to put together something really good without hiring professional help? Last time you tried to pull off a coup like this you wound up in a mess in the kitchen with last minute details while your guests sipped champagne and wondered where the host had gone. Never again, you later vowed, staring at the stack of dishes and wondering what happened to the evening…

Help is here! Julia Aitken, leading food writer, cookbook author and food editor of Elm Street Magazine, has the answer in her terrific book Easy Entertaining. We loved Easy Entertaining, and not only for the yummy recipes; the very first page is entitled "Entertaining 101," and it's full of great tips on planning and shopping for a dinner party. Next comes the delicious follow-up: "My Top Twenty Tips for Entertaining," with rule number one, "Don't entertain people you don't like" – we were hooked! It doesn't stop there; the book gives you instructions for "The Prudent Host's Pantry" and the "Dinner Party Survival Kit" and then, to make sure your event is perfect, "A Word About Wine."

The recipes are perfect as well, with everything from pre-dinner nibbles to sit-down appetizers such as Brewer's Mussels, Smoked Fish Monte Carlo and Nut-crusted Scallops with Mango Salsa. Then on to soups, pastas and breads, fish and meat, side dishes and salads and finishing with desserts like Figs Poached in Mulled Wine with Spiced Cream and a Chocolate Grand Marnier Fondue.

Hey, it's easy! Set the date, invite the guests. You, with Julia Aitken and Easy Entertaining at your side, are easily the Host of the Season!

On the menu today:

Sizzling Shrimp

  This delectable first course is a tad messy but perfect for sharing among good friends. Serve straight from the baking dish with good-quality crusty bread to map up the spicy olive oil. More shrimp? Of course…oh, isn't entertaining fun!

Serves 6

Preheat oven to 450°F (230°C).

9 inch (22.5cm) ovenproof earthenware dish or glass pie plate

1½ lbs. raw large shrimp, peeled and deveined, patted dry (750 g)
3 cloves garlic, sliced
¼ tsp. salt (1 mL)
¼ tsp. hot pepper flakes (1 mL)
½ cup olive oil (125 mL)

Accompanying wine?
Tony Recommends...

a white wine with good acidity and a touch of residual sugar – Oregon Pinot Gris or a German Riesling Spätlese Trocken

Spread out shrimp in baking dish; tuck slices of garlic in amongst shrimp. Sprinkle with salt and hot pepper flakes. Drizzle oil evenly over shrimp.

Bake in preheated oven for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring once or twice until shrimp are pink and opaque and oil is bubbling. Serve at once.

Tapenade-crusted Lamb Racks


A perfect main dish this season, a little rack of lamb coated with tapenade, the traditional French olive paste that's usually served atop good sliced bread. Make it easy on yourself, buy frozen lamb racks that have been "frenched," or had the bones already cleaned of excess fat.

Julia's tip: Tapenade can be made ahead and refrigerated, covered, for up to 2 days.

Serves 6

1½ lemon
¾ cup pitted black olives (175 mL)
3 Tbsp. drained capers (50 mL)
4 tsp. olive oil (20 mL)
1 ½ clove garlic, sliced
1 ½ tsp. fresh thyme leaves (7 mL) (or ¾ tsp. / 4 mL dried)
3 frenched lamb racks, 11 oz. each, about 2 lb. 1 oz. in total (930 g)
Fresh thyme sprigs

Cut 6 thin slices from lemon; set aside. Squeeze 2 tsp. (10 mL) juice from rest of lemon. In a mini chopper, food processor or blender, combine lemon juice, olives, capers, olive oil, garlic and thyme; process until finely minced and well combined.

Place lamb racks, meaty-side up, on baking sheet; spread olive mixture over top of each lamb rack. Roast in preheated oven, uncovered for 20 minutes (rare), 25 minutes (medium-rare) or until a meat thermometer inserted in meaty part of lamb (not touching any bones) registers 140°F or 150°F (60°C or 65°C).

Accompanying wine?
Tony Recommends...

a medium-bodied red – red Bordeaux or California Meritage

Remove lamb from oven; transfer to a warm serving platter. Let stand, loosely covered with foil, for 10 minutes. To serve, slice lamb between bones into individual chops. Serve garnished with reserved lemon slices and fresh thyme.

Viennese Chocolate Triangle Cake


Remember that last trip to Vienna? All those pastry shops, coffeehouses, chocolate cakes, candies, all picture perfect and decadent beyond belief... ah, let's try just one more…

And here it is. Julia Aitken has taken that unglamorous workhorse of desserts, the frozen pound cake, and transformed it into a magical concoction fit for a royal table. Come on, it's easier than it looks, and what a dazzling finish to the perfect dinner party! Oh, Julia, are you available again next week?

Note: Make ahead and refrigerate for at least 8 hours and up to 24 hours.

Serves 6

Butter Cream
2 Tbsp. boiling water (25 mL)
2 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder (25 mL)
½ cup unsalted butter, softened (125 mL)
2 cups icing sugar, sifted (500 mL)
1 Tbsp. milk (15 mL)

1 frozen loaf-shaped pound cake (10 oz / 300 g)
8 oz good quality semi-sweet chocolate (250 g)
¼ cup unsalted butter (50 mL)
1 Tbsp. vegetable oil (15 mL)

Candied violets, edible flowers or gold leaf, available from cake decorating stores

Butter Cream: In a small bowl, combine water and cocoa; stir until smooth. Set aside. In a medium bowl, beat butter until creamy. Beat in 1 cup (250 mL) icing sugar until light and fluffy. Add cocoa mixture, milk and remaining icing sugar; beat until smooth and fluffy. (Don't worry if butter cream curdles slightly.) Cover; set aside.

Cake: Unwrap pound cake; place on a sheet of wax paper (to prevent cake from sticking) on work surface. With a long sharp knife, trim rounded top from cake to form a flat surface. With the cake sitting flat on work surface, cut in half horizontally. With each half sitting flat on work surface, carefully cut each horizontally into 3 thin slices.

Set aside the slice from the bottom of cake. Spread each of the remaining 5 slices of cake with about 2 Tbsp. (25 mL) butter cream; stack slices neatly on top of each other. Transfer cake to a platter. Measure out 2/3 cup (150 mL) butter cream and set aside; spread remaining butter cream evenly over sides of cake. (The cake should be completely covered with butter cream.) Freeze for 1 hour or until firm.

Remove cake from freezer. Stand frozen cake vertically on short end. With a long sharp knife, make a diagonal cut crosswise through one short end to the opposite short end to form two long wedges (see diagram).

Place reserved cake slice on a wire rack standing over a sheet of wax paper. Spread with 2 Tbsp. (25 mL) reserved butter cream. Arrange the 2 wedges of cake, with long frosted sides meeting, on top of the reserved slice to make a long triangle shape. Spread remaining butter cream over the cake to cover it completely, filling any cracks. Freeze for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, in the top half of a double boiler, melt chocolate with butter and vegetable oil, stirring occasionally until smooth. (Alternatively, microwave on medium for 2 minutes until smooth, stirring once.) Let cool to room temperature. Spoon chocolate over cake to cover it completely, using a spatula to smooth the surface. Let cake stand on wire rack until the excess chocolate has dripped onto wax paper and chocolate has firmed up slightly.

Accompanying wine?
Tony Recommends...

a Late Bottled Vintage port, 10 Year Old Tawny Port or Cream Sherry

Using 2 spatulas, carefully transfer cake to a serving platter. Refrigerate for at least 8 hours or up to 24 hours before serving. Garnish with candied violets, edible flowers or flecks of gold leaf.


We wish to thank Publisher Robert Rose, Inc. for permission to use these recipes and photographs from the Easy Entertaining Cookbook.

Food photography by Mark T. Shapiro.

Happily tested by Helen Hatton and Ron Morris.




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