When Guests come for the Weekend -June 2007

Performing the job of a good host is a task fraught with many implications

by: Nicole Harnishfeger

Under the best circumstances, performing the job of a good host is a task fraught with many implications.

These implications stem from whom you’re hosting and in turn their expectations of you. On Nantucket the business of being a host is a particularly sticky undertaking. First of all, once arrived on-island your guests may never leave – or at least decide to stay and stay until the whole summer has passed.

Then there’s the possibility – yes, a tiny possibility – that you might like to enjoy the beaches, boating, fishing, gallery-hopping and the other variety of events that are offered, just like your guests. You may not want to spend all your time food shopping, peeling and chopping, then cooking all that you’ve prepared – not to mention doing piles of laundry.

Even if your guests are invited for just dinner and/or drinks, there’s something about warm-weather entertaining that makes you want to keep it simple for the same reasons already mentioned. You want to stay at the beach to catch as many waves and rays as possible. You want to throw your fishing line into the surf one more time, and you want to share in that ritual bonhomie that everyone who makes the Friday-night rounds of island galleries experiences.

Simplicity is the key.

Barbara Akins and her husband Cary are wine-lovers and like to base their casual entertaining around the bottle that they’re uncorking that particular day. Their home affords stunning views overlooking Washing Pond, and at sunset the sky is particularly beautiful.

“I like to have people over for drinks and serve something fresh like shrimp and the best cocktail sauces I can make – Chili Mayonnaise and Aioli. Or, it could be even simpler, like oysters and a glass of champagne,” said Barbara, who is a cardiac surgical nurse and manages a research office in Boston. Her husband is a heart surgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Barbara went on to say that she also “likes to entertain a few people at a time for dinner.” In addition to her research job, Barbara found time in recent years to be a home test-cook, and assistant test-cook for the various publications of the Cook’s Illustrated group. She also apprenticed at the old Chanticleer restaurant and did recipe-testing for the Taste of Nantucket catering company.

“Being a chef, I understand the importance of a mise en place – putting everything in its place, right down to putting water in the refrigerator so it’s ready to pour in pitchers,” she said.

“I like to make a Salade Nicoise for a dinner for six. Everything can be prepped ahead of time and composed at the last minute. I don’t like to see a lot of pots and pans around. My kitchen is clean. I don’t like to do last-minute cooking.”

Susan Simon is the author of several cookbooks about Nantucket and Italy. She writes about food and wine for The Inquirer and Mirror, Nantucket’s newspaper since 1821, and is a frequent contributor to Nantucket Today.

The Recipes

Eel Point Macaroni Salad

from Meg Ruley
(from Sue Vallet’s “Cook’s Tour of Nantucket” recipe by Goldie Rogerson, née Howes)

“This is the Ruley family standard, every gathering, every season’s dish,” Meg told me. “However,” she added, “I use fresh seafood when I make it.”

For the dressing:

  • 1 cup vegetable oil

  • 1⁄4 cup malt vinegar
  • 1⁄3 cup sugar
  • 3⁄4 cup ketchup
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon onion juice
  • Juice of one lemon

For the salad:

  • 3⁄4 pound elbow macaroni
  • 3 ribs celery cut into 1⁄4-inch dice
  • 1 green bell pepper cut into 1⁄4-inch dice
  • 1 large onion, grated
  • 2 pimentos, coarsely chopped
  • 1 61⁄2-ounce can crabmeat
  • 1 61⁄2-ounce can shrimp or lobster
  • 2 tablespoons tarragon vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
  • 2⁄3 cup mayonnaise
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon paprika
  1. Make the dressing: Add all the ingredients in a mixing bowl and whisk vigorously until a smooth emulsion is achieved.
  2. Cook and drain the macaroni. Add it to the dressing, toss together, and marinate, refrigerated overnight or at least for 8-10 hours before serving.
  3. Add the remaining ingredients to the macaroni, toss together to thoroughly combine.
  4. Serve immediately.

Chinaberry Book Shop Orzo Salad

from Meg Ruley

Meg thinks that this dish is “great for a party. The ingredients may sound like there are too many, that it’s too intense – but when it’s put together it’s like an explosion in your mouth!”

For the dressing:

  • 1⁄4 cup vegetable oil
  • Scant 1⁄4 cup sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 2 tablespoons chopped scallions
  • 1 teaspoon minced, fresh ginger root
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons finely-chopped fresh cilantro

For the salad:

  • 1 pound orzo
  • 3 cups shredded carrots
  • 1 cup frozen peas, defrosted
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • 1⁄2 cup toasted seeds: sesame, sunflower, pine nuts, or a combination
  1. Make the dressing: Add the ingredients to a mixing bowl and whisk together until an emulsion is achieved. Reserve.
  2. Cook the orzo according to the package instructions. Drain and rinse under cold water. Use paper towels to pat dry the pasta.
  3. Add the orzo to a large mixing bowl. Add the carrots, peas, cranberries and dressing. Toss together to combine.
  4. Toss in the seeds just before serving. Serve at room temperature.

Note: the salad can be made one day before serving.

Two Sauces to Serve with Cold Shrimp

from Barbara Akins

  • Chili Mayonnaise Sauce
  • 1 cup good-quality commercial mayonnaise
  • 3 tablespoons Heinz chili sauce
  • Dash Tabasco sauce
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon prepared horseradish
  • Kosher salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste

Mix all the ingredients together and refrigerate until serving time.

Aioli Sauce

  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 to 3 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
  • 1⁄2 cup olive oil
  • 1⁄2 cup canola oil

Morning Glory Muffins

from Barbara Akins

Barbara tested this recipe when she worked on special projects for Cook’s Illustrated’s book division. She says that all the dry ingredients can be sifted together, and the other components measured out and stored in containers, the night before your breakfast/brunch. Or, you can even make them the day before and warm them up on low heat before serving.

  • Vegetable spray to grease muffin tin
  • 21⁄4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon salt
  • 11⁄4 cups sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 4 carrots, peeled and grated, yield 2 cups
  • 1 8-ounce can crushed pineapple, drained and pressed dry with paper towels*
  • 1⁄2 cup sweetened, shredded coconut
  • 1⁄2 cup raisins
  • 1⁄2 cup walnuts or pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped
  1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 375° F. Generously coat a 12- cup muffin tin with vegetable spray.
  2. Whisk together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt in a large bowl. In a separate bowl whisk the sugar, eggs, melted butter and vanilla until smooth. Use a rubber spatula to gently fold the egg mixture into the flour mixture until just combined.
  3. Fold the carrots, pineapple, coconut, raisins and walnuts into the batter.
  4. Use a large ice-cream scoop to place the mixture into the muffin tin. Bake until golden and a toothpick inserted into the center of the muffin comes out with just a few crumbs attached, 25-30 minutes.
  5. Cool muffins in the tin for 5 minutes, then flip out onto a wire rack. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Makes 12 muffins

*Barbara notes to be sure that the pineapple is very dry or the muffins will be soggy.

Sausage and Spinach Strata

from Barbara Akins

This versatile, make-ahead, savory bread pudding – strata – is an excellent choice for breakfast or brunch. Barbara likes to serve it with Morning Glory Muffins (see recipe) and fresh berries adorned with Greek yogurt and honey.

  • 1⁄2 pound hot Italian sausages, casings removed
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 cup finely-chopped onion
  • 1 10-ounce package frozen spinach, thawed
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
  • Softened butter to grease the baking dish
  • 1⁄2 pound dense Mediterranean-style bread, cut into 1⁄2-inch cubes
  • 1⁄2 pound Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
  • 2 cups half and half
  • 3⁄4 cup whole milk
  • 10 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon freshly-grated nutmeg
  • 1⁄3 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
  1. Crumble the sausage and brown with the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Transfer the sausage to a mixing bowl. Remove all but 2 teaspoons of the pan drippings. Add the onions to the skillet and sauté until soft, 4-5 minutes. Add 1⁄2 teaspoon salt, 1⁄4 teaspoon pepper and stir to combine. Stir in the thoroughly-dried spinach and sausage. Remove from heat.
  2. Grease a 2-quart gratin dish with the softened butter. Spread half of the bread cubes on the bottom. Layer half of the spinach mixture on top of the bread. Sprinkle half of the Monterey Jack on top of the spinach. Repeat layering.
  3. In a large mixing bowl whisk together the half and half, milk, eggs, mustard, nutmeg, 1⁄2 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Pour this mixture evenly over the strata. Cover with plastic film and refrigerate for at least one hour and up to overnight before baking.
  4. To cook: preheat an oven to 350° F. Let the strata stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before baking. Sprinkle the Parmigiano over the strata and bake, uncovered, in the middle of the oven until puffed, golden brown, and cooked through, 45-55 minutes.
  5. Serve immediately.

Serves 6-8

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