You might have had this vision of your home filled with friends, food, and the merriest of laughter. But, let’s be real, by the time the holidays actually roll around, we turn into total stress cases, and entertaining is the last thing we want to do. And suddenly, all those visions are nothing more than a pipe dream.
But, impressing guests with your kitchen skills might be easier (and a lot less stressful) than you think. Whether you're feeding 10 ravenous guests at your own table or bringing a dish to wow the in-laws, we’ve got a fool-proof menu for culinary dunces and whizzes alike.
Here, the masterminds behind Oakland's Hopscotch show you how to DIY using very few ingredients — most likely stuff you already have in your kitchen. Read on to skip yourself the frustration and get on with your dinner partying.
Photographed by Maria del Rio
Seafood Bruschetta, Serves 4
An elevated take on breadsticks and marinara, seafood adds an extra dose of sweet
umami to this tomato-based topping. Fresh shellfish tastes, well, fresher, but if you can’t
get to the market, open a can of tuna, clams, or anchovies. To make this vegetarian,
you can swap out the surf medley for a can of chickpeas.
1 16 oz can of tomatoes
A few springs of fresh thyme
1/2 pound or 1 to 2 cans of seafood of your choice. For anchovies, use a lighter touch — three or four fillets may be plenty.
5 cloves of garlic, sliced
1/2 loaf of focaccia or bread of your choice
1. Heat tomatoes in a small sauce pan.
2. Rinse and clean seafood. Place in a small pot, pour enough olive oil to cover, and
add thyme and sliced garlic. Simmer on low for 15 minutes.
3. Combine tomatoes and seafood. Remove thyme and simmer for 5 more minutes to
let flavors permeate. Stir occasionally. Season to taste.
4. Meanwhile, slice bread. Drizzle with olive oil, and toast for 6 to 8 minutes.
Spoon mixture on bread and serve immediately.
Shaved Root Vegetable Salad with Poached Egg and Furikake, Serves 4
The addition of a poached egg adds a sumptuous layer to this pretty salad. Plus, a dash
of furikake (a Japanese seasoning of sesame, nori, and bonito) will take this balance of
acidity and fat to another delicious level.
1 fennel bulb
red wine vinegar
1. Make vinaigrette by whisking 2.5 parts oil to 1 part vinegar.
2. Using a mandoline, shave vegetables into a large bowl. Toss with vinaigrette. Add a
liberal dash of furikake.
3. Top each plate with a poached egg. Here’s how to master the technique — courtesy of
Chef Itani. Crack one egg into a small bowl. Bring a pot of water to simmer; create a
whirlpool bath by spinning the water. Then, drop the egg into the center vortex. The
whites will fold over the yolk, producing a beautiful pouch. Cook for a minute or so,
and remove with a slotted spoon. Voilà, you have a delicate bundle of deliciousness.
Maple Spice Hot Toddy, Serves 4 to 6
One secret of a veteran hostess is to friend-source and actually put your guests to work.
Pick one with a steady hand and order him or her to mix up the following tippler.
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 tsp cinnamon (or 1 cinnamon stick)
1/4 tsp nutmeg or pie spice
8 whole cloves
In a sauce pan combine:
1 cup spirit of choice — even that dusty bottle of cooking brandy in the back of your
cupboard will do. It will still be delicious! Of course, if you have bourbon,
whiskey, or cognac, even better.
1 cup water
The peel of one orange or lemon
1. Combine all ingredients in a medium size pot. Bring to a simmer for thirty seconds.
2. Strain and pour into mugs or mason jars.
3. To create a garnish, slice the remainder of the lemon or orange into 1/4 inch thick
slices. Place whole cloves into every other segment — float in the cocktail.
Citrus Angel-Food Cake with Green Tea Glaze, Serves 8 to 10
Make the cake first, suggests Chef Itani, since it doesn’t need to be served warm.
Orange zest puts a semi-homemade twist to this dessert from a box. One other tip,
resist opening the packaged mix with your hands; use scissors or the pointy tip of a
knife — or you may end up with a flour bomb in the kitchen. You’ve been warned.
1 box of angel-food cake mix
Zest of 1 orange
1 bundt pan
1. Follow instructions as indicated on the box.
2. Before putting the batter in the oven, stir in the zest of one orange and combine well.
Matcha powder gives this topping a tannic and intense green-tea flavor. But, we wouldn’t
bat an eye, if all you had were green tea bags. To infuse green-tea notes, make a
strong brew, and use it in place of water.
1 heaping tbsp matcha
1 cup powdered sugar
1. Combine matcha, powdered sugar, and 1 tbsp of warm water in a medium bowl.
2. Stir until mixture coats the whisk — about three minutes. You may need a couple more
drips of warm water to prevent lumps.
3. Drizzle on cake right before serving.
4. Chef Itani also garnished the cake with pomegranate seeds — straight from the carton.
Roast Chicken with Mustard Soy Marinade, Serves 4
This extremely convenient marinade makes use of pantry staples in most well-stocked
and even not-so-well-stocked kitchens.
3/4 cup mustard
3/4 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup alcohol. Chef Itani recommends sake but white wine or beer
will work in a pinch
8 pieces of chicken
1 bunch chard (optional)
1. Combine mustard, soy sauce, and alcohol in a large bowl.
2. Add chicken and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
3. Season chicken with salt and pepper; then bake skin side up on a rack.
4. Check after 15 minutes and every five minutes until chicken is cooked through. If skin
is brown enough, turn the heat down to 300 degrees to finish cooking.
Bonus points: Create a beautiful bed of greens by sautéing a bitter green, like chard, for
a seasonal flourish. And best of all, it can be done under five minutes.
1. Separate leaves from stems. Cut leaves into medium 1” pieces, and give the stem a
2. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil with garlic. Sauté for one minute.