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We love to welcome people to our home for Dinner Parties. Putting the guests and the menu together is a great pleasure, and I enjoy it even more when connections are made, conversation is flowing, and everyone has a wonderful time. 
I am learning to keep the menu simple so I can spend time with my family instead of cooking the entire day, and to choose recipes that can be made in advance, so I can spend time with my guests while they are here, instead of being in the kitchen.
My house is never perfect, and I usually set the table the same way – for speed and convenience, but the food and mix of people is always different, and always interesting.
This is one menu I put together for a casual dinner with friends. We started with a simple Saba Champagne Cocktail and cheese board, then sat at the table to enjoy a leisurely fun filled evening of wonderful conversation and conviviality.


1 1/2 cups pecan pieces
2 tablespoons of butter, melted
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper
6 bacon slices, cooked and chopped
4 cups greens
4 peaches, sliced
4 ounces of Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
Bourbon Vinaigrette

Heat oven to 350F.
Toss pecans in butter. Stir together brown sugar and red pepper in a bowl, add pecans, tossing to coat. Spread pecans in a single layer in a lightly greased foil lined shallow pan.
Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until lightly browned, toasted and fragrant. Remove from oven and toss pecans with chopped bacon. Cool in pan on a wire rack for 20 minutes, separate pecans with a fork.
Combine lettuce, peaches and pecan mixture in a bowl. Top with the crumbled cheese and serve with Bourbon Vinaigrette.
Whisk together 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar, 1 tablespoon brown sugar, 4 tablespoons of bourbon, 2 teaspoons of Dijon mustard, 3/4 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper.
Add 1/4 to a 1/3 cup canola oil in a slow steady stream, whisking constantly until smooth.

Recipe adapted from Southern Living, April 2012


1/4 cup fresh orange juice
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
5 teaspoons olive oil, divided
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
3/4 teaspoon salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
3 cups lentils, cooked
1/4 cup chopped mint
2 tablespoons finely chopped red onion
4 arctic char fillets

Heat oven to 400F.
In a bowl, whisk orange juice and zest, 4 teaspoons of oil, vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, mustard and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.
Gently stir in lentils, chopped mint and onion. Arrange fillets on a foil lined baking sheet. Brush with remaining oil and season with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Roast until fish is opaque and just cooked through, about 10 minutes. Spoon lentil salad onto plates, top with fish.


10 lemons
5 eggs, separated
1 1/2 cups sugar, divided use
1/2 cup limoncello
1 cup water
2 (8 ounce) containers of mascarpone, at room temperature
40 lady fingers

Zest and juice the lemons to make 2 tablespoons of zest and 1 1/4 cups of juice, set both aside.
Create a double boiler using a medium pot and a stainless steel or glass bowl. Pour just enough water in the pot so that the water is just below the bottom of the bowl when the bowl is set on the rim of the pot. The water should not touch the bowl.
Heat the water in the pot to a steady simmer. In the bowl, beat the egg yolks with 1/4 cup of the limoncello until well blended. Set the bowl over the simmering water and whisk constantly, frequently scraping the whisk around the sides and bottom of the bowl, until the egg mixture expands and heats into a frothy sponge, at least 5 minutes.
When the mixture has thickened enough to form a ribbon when it drops on the surface, take the bowl off the double boiler pan and let it cool.
Meanwhile in a small saucepan, combine the lemon juice, 1 cup water and 1 cup of the sugar. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar, and cook for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool completely.
In another large bowl, stir the mascarpone with a wooden spoon to soften it, then drop in the grated lemon zest and beat until light and creamy.
In a separate bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the egg whites with the remaining 1/4 cup sugar until the mixture can form moderately firm peaks.
When the cooked egg yolk mixture (zabaglione) is cooled, scrape about a third of it over the mascarpone, and fold it in with a large rubber spatula. Fold in the rest in two or three additions. Now fold in the whipped egg whites in several additions, until the limoncello-mascarpone cream is light and evenly blended.
Pour syrup in the bottom of individual serving dishes, to the depth of 1/4 inch. Arrange a single layer of ladyfingers over the top of the syrup, then divide half of the limoncello-mascarpone cream onto the ladyfingers and smooth it. Top with a second layer of ladyfingers. Drizzle just enough of the cooled syrup over the lady fingers to moisten them. Top lady fingers with the remaining limoncello-mascarpone cream, spreading the mixture evenly.
Cover and refrigerate at least 6 hours.

Recipe adapted from The Arkansas Democrat Gazette, April 2012