Offer Hospitality With Easy, Make-Ahead Dishes

Cheese Torta with Roasted Red Pepper and Pesto makes a flavorful appetizer served with crostini. The spread can be prepared a couple of days ahead. Check out the recipes for creating an easy make-ahead menu for offering hospitality. PHOTO BY ANN CIPPERLY / FOR THE OBSERVER

By Ann Cipperly

After being home most of two years, we have missed celebrating special occasions, having houseguests and just getting together to savor dinners with family and friends. Now that the virus numbers have remained low, plan a get-together. Whether it is a family or friend’s birthday, a bridal shower, bridge luncheon, dinner after church or getting friends together for fellowship, assemble a make-ahead menu to enjoy more time with guests instead of being in the kitchen.

When offering hospitality at our home, generally there is an appetizer or two waiting on the desk in front of the window in the living room as guests arrive and the meal is being warmed in the oven. My easiest appetizer combination is homemade cheese wafers with roasted pecans, which can be made days ahead.

A cheese platter with grapes and homemade crostini instead of crackers is quick and easy. Another favorite no cook option is Cheese Torta with Roasted Red Pepper and Pesto that can be assembled a couple of days ahead. Crostini goes well with this too.

The crostini are made with a small sliced French baguette or sourdough bread that is sliced and cut into small squares. Other breads can be used as well, including wheat, but it works better if the bread is firm. The squares are brushed with olive oil and then baked until lightly toasted. Lately, we have been toasting them in an air fryer/toaster oven for a few minutes, and they come out perfectly crisp. These can be made a day or two ahead and stored in an air-tight container.

For an elegant appetizer, top crostini and/or sliced cucumbers with dill embellished cream cheese and wild-caught smoked salmon. The smoked salmon can be kept a couple of weeks in the refrigerator to pull out when needed for an appetizer.

Another delicious choice is Chef Christine Healey’s smoked salmon pinwheels. They are simple to make by spreading cream cheese over flour tortilla, then placing smoked salmon on top. The tortillas are then rolled up, wrapped in plastic wrap and stored in the refrigerator. When ready to serve, slice and place on a platter for an attractive presentation.

Leftover smoked salmon can be served with bagels for breakfast. When having houseguests, I will often arrange a serving bar with sliced toasted bagels, smoked salmon, cream cheese, dill, capers, finely chopped red onion and cucumbers. Guests can help themselves as breakfast is cooking.

When offering hospitality, it is helpful to have a casserole in the freezer. One of my favorites is Chicken Tetrazzini. There are many shortcut versions using canned soup, but I prefer to make a quick and easy sauce with milk or cream with chicken broth.

It is an economical dish as it stretches out chicken and is versatile. You can use different kinds of pasta and vary the other ingredients. Mushrooms pair nicely with the chicken. You can also add green peas and chopped roasted red pepper for color or sauté a green pepper with the onion.

Once the tetrazzini is assembled, you can wrap it in plastic wrap and foil and freeze. It is important to tightly cover the dish. I cover the entire dish in foil. It will keep a couple of months in the freezer.

Two other tasty entrees that can be prepared a day ahead or frozen are Chicken and Mushrooms in Wine Sauce and Chicken and Pasta with Cheddar and Olives.

Serve the entrees with a robust salad and crusty bread. Salad ingredients can be prepped ahead, and the dressing made days ahead. A layered salad is the easiest for offering hospitality as it is prepared the day ahead and is ready to serve.

Instead of a salad, Tomatoes Rockefeller is an attractive vegetable choice that can be prepared ahead and reheated. It also makes a good addition with the salad for hearty dinners.

To complete the menu, select a delectable dessert that can be prepared ahead and kept in the refrigerator a couple of days or frozen. The Lemon Mousse Cheesecake can be prepared two days ahead. To make it easier, use a jar of lemon curd instead of making your own.

The Flourless Chocolate Cake is expensive on restaurant menus but easy to make at home. Serve it with chocolate sauce and purchased salted caramel gelato.

Check out the recipes and assemble a menu. Offering hospitality can be stress-free when all of the dishes are prepared and waiting to be placed in the oven or removed from the refrigerator and served. Set the table a day ahead and relax, even if you didn’t chase down all the dust bunnies.

Hospitality is not about being perfect or fussy. Don’t wait until you have new furniture or better china. No one will care what the dishes looks like, as they will be so happy to be sharing a meal with you. Opening your home can be enriching with friendships and creating joyous memories.

While many people have been out and about for weeks, if you still have concerns for the Covid virus, you can spread out on the patio or porch. While the news is scary and always will be, it is important to make the best of every day and enjoy life.

Smoked Salmon with Dill on Cucumber or Crostini

4 oz. cream cheese, softened

1 Tbsp. fresh dill or 2 tsp. dried

1 tsp. lemon juice

Salt to taste

Sliced cucumber or Crostini

4 thinly slices smoked salmon

Mix cream cheese with dill, lemon juice and salt. Spread on cucumber slice or use a pastry bag to form a rosette. Place a small slice of rolled salmon on cream cheese mixture. Chill until ready to serve. Garnish with dill. 


1 long French baguette, sliced or loaf of sourdough bread, sliced and cut into squares

Extra virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Brush one side of bread with olive oil or for extra crispy, brush both sides of bread. Bake for about 10 minutes or until lightly toasted. 

Note: Instead of baking in oven, toast in an air fryer.

Smoked Salmon and Cream Cheese Pinwheels

Chef Christine Healey

2 flour tortillas

8 oz. cream cheese, softened

1 lb. smoked salmon

6 jerkin pickles, sliced in half

On each tortilla shell, spread cream cheese and layer salmon. Place jerkin pickles on one edge and roll into a tube. Chill for 2 hours. When ready to serve, slice into pinwheels. 

Cheese Torta with Roasted Red Pepper and Pesto

Three 8 oz. pkg. cream cheese, softened, mild goat cheese or a combination of both

Fresh roasted red peppers or bottled roasted peppers 

1 jar basil pesto or homemade pesto

Crostini or crackers

In a small springform or loaf pan lined with plastic wrap or foil, layer one-third of cheese. Top with roasted peppers (if using ones from a jar, be sure to pat them dry on paper towels. 

Place another layer of cheese. Top with pesto. Add last layer of cheese. Cover and chill until ready to serve. 

Pull the plastic wrap or foil up to lift the torta. Remove covering and place on a serving dish. Garnish with roasted red pepper strips. Serve with crostini or crackers.

Chicken Tetrazzini

Adapted from Emily Smyth’s recipe

4 large chicken breasts

3 stalks celery, coarsely chopped

3 carrots, cut up

1 onion, quartered


1 lb. angel hair pasta

Stew chicken with celery, carrots, onions, and salt to taste. When cooked, remove chicken and discard vegetables. Strain broth and reserve 2 cups for sauce. When cool, cut chicken into bite-size pieces. Salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

Use remaining broth plus enough water to cook pasta. May need to add more salt. Cook pasta according to time on package. Drain.

2 Tbsp. butter

1 medium onion, diced

1 green or red pepper, diced

1 lb. mushrooms, sliced

Salt and pepper

Melt butter; sauté onions, pepper and mushrooms; salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.


3 Tbsp. butter

3 Tbsp. flour

1 cup heavy cream or half and half

2 cups chicken broth (canned or reserved from above)

2 Tbsp. sherry, optional

7 oz. jar chopped pimentos, optional

2/3 cup Parmesan cheese, grated for topping

Melt butter and add flour over low heat, stirring until well blended. Slowly add cream. When thickened, add chicken broth and chopped pimentos if using. Then add mushrooms and onions. Increase heat to medium and cook until thickened slightly, stirring frequently.

Spread pasta in bottom of greased 9 x 13-inch pan. Top with chicken and pour sauce on top. Make sure sauce covers all of chicken and pasta. Sprinkle Parmesan cheese on top.

Bake at 375 for 30 minutes. Let cool slightly before serving.

Can prepare ahead and store in refrigerator until ready to bake. Can be frozen. 

Chicken and Mushrooms in Wine Sauce

Debbie Purves

Can prepare ahead and freeze. 

Olive or canola oil

1 pkg. deboned chicken thighs, cut in quarters and dry

Flour, salt and pepper for dredging chicken

½ cup onion, chopped

½ cup celery, chopped

½ cup carrots, chopped

6-8 garlic cloves, chopped

1 can diced tomatoes

2 cups chicken broth

3 cups red wine

1 lb. whole mushrooms

Bouquet garni

Bay leaves

Add salt and pepper to flour and coat chicken. Heat oil in pan. Add chicken and sauté until browned. (We use a cast iron Dutch oven.) Remove chicken to a plate. Wipe out pan and add new oil. Sauté onion, carrots, garlic and celery until soft. Add chicken back to pan. Add tomatoes, broth and wine until it covers the chicken. Add bouquet garni and bay leaves and cook covered in the oven on 300 for 2 – 2½ hours. 

In a separate pan, sauté mushrooms until they are about halfway soft and add to chicken about halfway through the cooking time. (This keeps them from over-cooking.) Remove bouquet garni and bay leaves before serving. Good served over mashed potatoes.

Chicken and Pasta with Cheddar and Olives

2 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts or a rotisserie chicken

2 chopped onions, divided

1 cup celery stalks

Salt and pepper

½ cup butter

½ lb. mushrooms, sliced

½ cup celery, minced

1 cup half and half

1 cup chicken broth

1/4 cup white wine or chicken broth

2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour

2 Tbsp. butter, softened

8 oz. pkg. thin spaghetti or penne

1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped or 2 to 3 tsp. dried

1/4 cup ripe olives, sliced

1 cup grated Cheddar cheese

3/4 cup Parmesan cheese

In a large pot boil chicken, 1 onion and celery until chicken is tender. Partially cool; drain broth and reserve. Salt and pepper to taste. Chop cooled chicken.

In a saucepan, melt ½ cup butter; sauté mushrooms, the other onion and celery. When onion is cooked, add half and half, broth and wine or more broth. Salt and pepper to taste. Stir over low heat until heated. 

Make a paste of flour and softened butter; add to skillet. Simmer until the sauce is smooth and thickened.

Cook pasta in remaining broth, add water if needed. Add salt. Cook as directed on package; drain. 

Toss pasta with chicken, mushroom mixture, parsley, olives and Cheddar cheese.

Pour into a 9 by 13-inch pan that has been coated with nonstick spray. Sprinkle Parmesan cheese over top. Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes or until hot. Can refrigerate and bake later or freeze. 

Tomatoes Rockefeller

Bobbie Umbach

10 oz. pkg. frozen chopped spinach, thawed

6 tomatoes, cut in half

2/3 cup dry breadcrumbs

1 stick butter, melted

¼ cup chopped green onions

¼ cup (7 slices) crumbled, crisp-cooked bacon, optional

¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 tsp. fresh lemon juice

½ tsp. salt

¼ tsp. garlic powder

3 drops Tabasco sauce or to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Drain spinach on paper towels and press to remove any excess moisture. Arrange tomato halves cut side up in an 11 x 15-inch baking pan sprayed with nonstick cooking spray. 

Combine spinach, breadcrumbs, butter, green onions, bacon and cheese in a bowl; mix well. Stir in lemon juice, salt, garlic powder and Tabasco sauce.

Mound spinach mixture evenly on the tomato halves. Bake for 30 to 45 minutes or until heated through. Can assemble ahead, store in refrigerator and bake later. 

Layered Greek Salad with Blue or Feta Cheese

Katie Melton shared this recipe many years ago. It is nice to have made ahead since the dressing in on the bottom of the bowl with olives and vegetables with the lettuces and cheese on top. Toss just before serving. 

1 jar (6 ½ oz.) black olives, drained and thinly sliced

10 radishes, sliced (about 1 cup)

1 medium cucumber, sliced

5 green onions, cut into ½ inch slices

½ cup vegetable oil

1/3 cup wine vinegar

1 and ½ tsp. salt

1 and ½ tsp. dried oregano leaves

1 medium bunch romaine, torn into bite-size pieces

1 medium head lettuce, torn into bite-size pieces

1/4 cup or more crumbled blue or feta cheese

Place olives, radishes. cucumber and onions in 3 quart bowl, Mix oil, vinegar, salt and oregano in covered glass container; shake well. Pour salad dressing on olives and vegetables. Place romaine and lettuce on top; arrange cheese on lettuce. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours. Toss salad just before serving. Makes 8 servings.

Flourless Chocolate Cake with Ganache Glaze and Sea Salt Caramel Gelato

You can find the Sea Salt Caramel Gelato at local grocery stores.

Nonstick butter spray

4 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped

1 stick cold butter

2 tsp. vanilla

¾ cup sugar

½ cup cocoa powder, sifted

4 eggs, beaten

Chocolate Ganache

Fresh raspberries for garnish, optional

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray 8 or 9-inch round cake pan with nonstick spray (can line pan with foil and coat with nonstick spray to assure easy removeable from pan.) 

Put chocolate, butter and vanilla in bowl on top of double boiler, stirring until smooth or melt in the microwave. Cool completely.

Mix in sugar and cocoa. Stir in eggs; pour into prepared pan.

Place pan on cookie sheet and bake 20 to 25 minutes.

Remove cake and glaze with Ganache. Save the extra for drizzling over cake and gelato (Talenti recommended). Garnish with fresh raspberries, if desired.

Chocolate Ganache

1¼ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

1 cup heavy cream

Put chocolate into bowl. Heat cream in small pan over low heat. Pour hot cream over chocolate; mix well with spatula until melted.

Lemon Mousse Cheesecake


18 graham crackers crushed
½ cup melted butter
1/4 cup sugar


Three 8 oz. pkg. cream cheese, softened
1 ½ cups sugar, divided 

4 eggs, separated

1/3 cup flour
¾ cup lemon juice

1 Tbsp. lemon zest

Lemon curd, recipe follows (or purchased jar of lemon curd)

Twist of lemon and mint leaves for garnish, optional 

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Combine crushed graham crackers, melted butter and 1/4 cup sugar. Press graham cracker crust in the bottom of a 9 or 10-inch springform pan coming up about 1-inch on the sides. Seal the outside of the pan with foil and set in a baking dish. Add water to baking dish to come 1-inch up the sides. Bake crust for 10 minutes. 

In a mixing bowl, cream cheese until smooth, gradually adding 1 1/4 cups sugar; beat about 5 minutes. Add egg yolks, flour, lemon juice, and zest; beat until smooth. 

In a separate bowl, beat egg whites to soft peaks. Add remaining ¼ cup sugar to egg whites; beat until stiff peaks have formed. Fold the egg whites into the lemon batter. Pour batter into the crust. Bake cheesecake until set and golden about 55 to 65 minutes.

When cool, place in refrigerator. Cover top with lemon curd. Loosen sides of cheesecake with knife before unmolding. Freezes well.

Lemon Curd:

3 extra-large or 4 regular egg yolks, strained through a sieve
Zest of one lemon
1/3 cup lemon juice
½ cup sugar
1/3 cup unsalted butter, cut into pieces 

Over medium heat whisk yolks, zest, lemon juice and sugar in a 1 quart saucepan. Cook for approximately 8 minutes until the mixture thickens and looks smooth. Remove saucepan from heat; add butter, one piece at a time with a wooden spoon until it is fully incorporated. Pour mixture into a bowl and put plastic directly on top of mixture. Let cool; then refrigerate. Makes 2 cups. 


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