What’s Cooking: Easy dinner party fare

Chicken breasts with cheese make a great tasting and elegant dish for a dinner party.
Chicken breasts with cheese make a great tasting and elegant dish for a dinner party. Detroit Free Press

Between the Thanksgiving turkey and the Christmas roast beef, there just might be a gathering or two that requires fancier food than spaghetti. But what if you’re not in the mood, or lack the time, to cook up a storm for dinner guests?

Here are a few suggestions for dinner party fare – two entrees and a dessert – that won’t eat up all your time or budget.

Chicken breasts with cheese

Prep time: 10 minutes

Total time: 30 minutes

Serves 4

Adapted from Food & Wine magazine, January 2006 issue. Tested by Susan Selasky for the Detroit Free Press Test Kitchen.

1/4 cup walnut halves

1/4 cup favorite blue cheese or goat cheese

1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

1 garlic clove, minced

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Four 6-ounce skinless, boneless chicken breast halves

1 tablespoon olive oil

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1/4 cup chicken stock or low-sodium broth

2 tablespoons walnut oil or canola oil

1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

Basmati rice for serving

Heat the oven to 400 degrees.

Spread the walnuts in a pie plate and toast them in the oven for 6 minutes, until they are fragrant. Remove them from the oven, but leave the oven on. Let the walnuts cool, then chop them.

In a small bowl, mash the cheese with the lemon zest, garlic and half of the walnuts; season with salt and pepper.

Using a small knife, cut a pocket in the side of each chicken breast; keep the pocket opening as small as possible. Stuff the chicken breasts with the cheese mixture and gently press to flatten them.

In a large ovenproof skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and place in the skillet. Cook it over moderately high heat, turning once, until it's browned, about 6 minutes. Transfer the skillet to the oven and roast the chicken for 5 minutes.

Transfer the chicken breasts to a platter and keep them warm.

Add the lemon juice and stock to the skillet and cook over moderately high heat, scraping up any browned bits stuck to the pan. Simmer for 3 minutes. Stir in the walnut oil, parsley and the remaining chopped walnuts.

Transfer the chicken to serving plates and spoon the walnut sauce on top. Serve with steamed rice or couscous.

Per serving: 356 calories (53 percent from fat), 21 g fat (4 g saturated fat), 3 g carbohydrates, 38 g protein, 223 mg sodium, 101 mg cholesterol, 75 mg calcium, 1 g fiber

Beer-glazed pork tenderloin with tart cherry risotto

Total time: 1 hour

Serves 4

Risotto takes some time, but it’s not hard. Remember to keep the heat at medium for best absorption of the broth.

Adapted from Food and Drink Magazine, Holiday 2013 issue. Recipe can be doubled.

For the pork tenderloin:

1 good-size pork tenderloin, about 1 1/4 pounds, trimmed of silver skin

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

1 1/2 tablespoons mix of unsalted butter and olive oil

For the risotto:

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic

4 medium shallots, peeled, finely chopped (about 3/4 cup)

1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme or sage leaves (more if you like)

Generous pinch of salt

1 cup Arborio rice

4 cups reduced-sodium beef broth or stock, warmed

1/3 cup dried tart cherries, coarsely chopped if large

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

3/4 cup grated Grana Padano cheese or other favorite good quality Italian cheese

For the glaze:

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage

1 cup hard cider or favorite beer

2 tablespoons apricot jam

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Trim the tapered end of the tenderloin, this piece will cook quicker and you will remove it from the pan before the other piece is done.

Season the pork all over with salt and freshly ground black pepper or your favorite all-purpose seasoning. In an oven-proof skillet large enough to fit the pork pieces, heat the butter and olive oil over medium heat. (If your skillet is small, cut the larger piece of pork in half.)

Add the pork and brown on all sides, about 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer the skillet to oven and cook the pork about 20 minutes or until an internal temperature is 145 degrees.

Meanwhile, get ready for the risotto. Place a saucepan with the beef broth over low heat to warm. In another saucepan or deep skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add garlic and sauté about 1 minute or just until it becomes fragrant. Add the shallots and sauté until they are tender, about 6 to 8 minutes. Do not allow them to brown or the end result of the risotto will be brownish. Stir in the thyme or sage and a good pinch of salt.

Stir in the rice and combine well with shallots. Add enough warm broth to come to the surface of the rice and stir well. Keep stirring slowly and when the stock has been absorbed continue to add broth about 1/2 cup at a time and stir until it's absorbed.

Continue adding broth until the rice is al dente, about 20-30 minutes. If the rice is still too firm and you have no broth left, you can add some water. Stir in cherries during the last few minutes of cooking. Just before serving, stir in 2 tablespoons butter and the grated cheese.

To finish the glaze, in the same pan the pork was cooked in, add the remaining 1 tablespoon butter and sauté sage for 1 minute over medium. Add beer and apricot jam. Reduce over medium heat to desired consistency.

Slice pork and serve on top of the risotto. Drizzle with the glaze.

Ridiculously fast chocolate mousse

Serves 3 (can easily be doubled, tripled or more)

In many respects, chocolate mousse is the perfect dessert. The only question is how to serve it. You can use it in a tart, or to fill those little chocolate cups. But the classic way may be the purest and the best: in a glass bowl, topped with whipped cream.

It needs to be noted that mousses are made with raw eggs, and that the U.S. Department of Agriculture says that no one should eat raw eggs (unless the eggs have been pasteurized in the shell). Raw eggs should especially be avoided by infants, young children, older adults, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems.

Recipe by Annemarie Huste, Annemarie's Cookingschool, via the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

6 ounces semisweet chocolate

2 tablespoons Kahlua

3 tablespoons orange juice

2 egg yolks (preferably from pasteurized eggs)

2 eggs (preferably pasteurized)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 cup heavy cream

In a small pot on low heat, melt the chocolate in the Kahlua and orange juice, and set aside to cool.

Put the egg yolks, eggs, vanilla and sugar in a blender or food processor; blend for 2 minutes on medium high speed. Add the heavy cream and blend 30 more seconds. Add the melted chocolate mixture and blend until smooth.

Pour into a bowl or individual cups and refrigerate several hours or overnight.

Per serving: 758 calories; 56 g fat; 33 g saturated fat; 357 mg cholesterol; 12 g protein; 58 g carbohydrate; 48 g sugar; 4 g fiber; 85 mg sodium; 87 mg calcium.