The Horn's Aunt Amy shells out a delicious recipe for a girl who is nervous about cooking for her boyfriend's parents.
My boyfriend's parents are coming to town and I would like to have them over for dinner at my apartment. I've never met them and I really want them to like me! I try to make a good impression. I barely know how to boil water. Help! Do you have any suggestions that are yummy but not too expensive or fussy? My boyfriend and I are both over 21 and his parents like wine. We all eat anything. What to make?
Not Exactly a Food Network Star
Dear Not Exactly,
First of all, don't panic--being a good hostess is all about making your guests feel comfortable. They want to get to know you and it doesn't matter if you serve chips and bean dip or duck a L'Orange, as long as you and your guests relax, laugh and have fun. So get some good music ready and set a fun and warm table, and smile.
Now. Every gal, and guy for that matter, should perfect a couple of stupendously delicious, yet simple and affordable recipes. It's a life skill that you can eat.
Here's a crowd pleaser: spaghetti with delicious homemade sauce, crusty bread, and a fresh green salad with French vinaigrette dressing. Serve cheap red wine and you're good to go. Dessert - good old ice cream.
You will perfect this sauce over time and people will fall in love with you because it's so delicious. Every time you make it it'll get a little bit better, but I promise even the first time will be delicious.
Here you go:
Take one small can of tomato paste, throw it in a frying pan with a tiny bit of olive oil. Turn the heat up high and literally scorch the paste, moving it around the pan as you go. It's ok to kind of burn it a bit - this adds a depth of flavor to your sauce later. After five minutes remove from heat and set aside in a small bowl.
Scrape out all the sauce from the frying pan, or if you like big messes just get out another pan. Anyway that's your problem but what you're gonna do now while the burned paste hangs out in a bowl, is sauté a pound of hamburger meat. Again dump a bit of olive oil in the pan, throw in the meat, break it up, stir it around and cook it over medium till it's all cooked and kind of crumbly. What kind of ground beef? 93% lean or 80/20? I don't care, don't ask me! I don't stress over such things. Ok now that's done - drain the meat in a colander. Let it relax a bit.
Now chop one white onion and a few cloves of garlic and sauté them in a large sauce pan in three tablespoons of olive oil on medium, until translucent.
Now the symphony of flavors comes together! Dump the meat, the scorchy tomato paste, AND three or four 14 oz cans of tomato sauce into your cauldron. Stir it all up, bringing it to a boil, while singing "when the moon hits your eye, like a big pizza pie, that's amore!" as loud as you can. Sprinkle in liberally lots of cool Italian type things like oregano, basil, thyme, garlic powder - whatever stuff like this you have in your spice rack. Note: spices can be expensive so you could get one "Italian seasonings" tin, or, borrow from a neighbor. Salt to taste. If it seems too thick add another can of tomato sauce. Cook this concoction on low for HOURS....! Hours I tell you! Stir now and then. This sauce gets better over time and makes your house smell wonderful. If dinner is at 7, you could start this at noon. Too busy? Let it cook at least a few hours. You can do a day ahead and reheat. Yummy that way.
Now for la salade. Get good looking red leaf lettuce. See if you can find some poor sap other than you to wash it as that job is a crashing bore. Tear up. Don't add any other vegetables - the French never do. Just serve with a French vinaigrette and you'll be adored and revered from coast to coast. Maybe they'll have a parade. Here's that: smash one garlic clove, then chop finely. Put in a bowl with a teaspoon of Grey Poupon mustard, and a few tablespoons of olive oil. Stir or shake - emulsify that stuff! Add some more oil - a bit. Then cut a lemon on half and squeeze the juice in, along with a generous dash of salt, pepper and a half to whole teaspoon of sugar. You can do this in a jar and shake if it pleases you. Taste. Add salt or oil or a dash of red wine vinegar to taste.
The rest is easy:
Get a baguette. Throw in a 350 oven for 12 minutes while the noodles are cooking. Wrap in a dish towel and let people break off their pieces at dinner or hit each other over the head with it.
Boil spaghetti noodles, put in charming bowls, put sauce on each, dress the salad, throw it on the table, get the wrapped baguette out, and eat.
Have fun, spill some wine, get crumbs all over the place, tell jokes and have fun. They'll love you.