For a literary club gathering, this simple-yet-elegant menu is one for the books.
There's no reason that a book-club get-together can't be as delicious as it is thought-provoking. A home-cooked meal is great to offer your literary companions, but the host can run into trouble if she's fussing over snacks for her guests when she should be finishing up the required reading. Fortunately, Australian cookbook author, food stylist, recipe developer, and magazine editor Donna Hay has shared a stylish menu that won't take long to prepare -- or impede the book discussion. Hay explains, "While you do want something satisfying that your guests can enjoy, you don't want to make anything too hard to eat while they're chatting -- so prepare food guests can nibble at."
Her easy-to-eat menu is vegetarian-friendly and simple enough to prepare for a weeknight -- so even if you're pressed for time, there's no need to resort to premade foods from the grocery store. "Cooking for friends doesn't need to be hard work," Hay reminds us. "And I couldn't imagine having a dinner party without the sounds and smells of the kitchen. For me, it's all part of the experience."
Hay is an avid reader, and is quick to draw comparisons between food and literature: "I love descriptive, evocative books with beautiful language that inspires me. One of my favorites is Perfume by Patrick Suskind, because every word is like enjoying a tiny bite of a delicate petit four," she says. "I also love reading chic-lit like The Devil Wears Prada and The Manny, which is more like candy."
So grab your favorite novel -- be it a timeless classic or a juicy paperback from the bestseller list -- and tuck into this modern menu that's sure to keep the conversation going. Hay has also included tips for prep, setup, and serving.
A Delicious Book Club Dinner
The day before: Make the Raspberry-Spiked Brownies.
An hour before your guests arrive: Toss the Garlic and Sage Marinated Antipasto together. Then, prep the Leek and Ricotta Tarts and pop them in the oven -- their rich aroma will greet your guests at the door.
Upon arrival: Chat with your book group as you prepare the simple salad.
Is alcohol appropriate? "It all depends on how serious your book club is! If you like to discuss books earnestly over a glass of wine, I would recommend a light Pinot with these recipes. A nice jug of flavored water with a delicate citrus lift is a refreshing drink to have on the side."
Mix and match solid and patterned tableware: "I have a set of very simple white china, but I like to mix it up with a very fine, vintage pattern that will go with everything. By adding a beautiful vintage platter to the center of a table or layering a white plate on top of a larger patterned plate, your table setting will look simple and subtle."
Cloth napkins aren't needed: "You can buy some really good-quality paper napkins now, so if you're doing finger food for a book club, it's fine to use some pretty paper napkins."
Create a newsworthy table: "You can give your book club a typographical theme by using sheets of newspaper as a simple table runner. If you're reading Mao's Last Dancer set in China or The Shadow of the Wind set in Barcelona, try foreign newspapers as a chic little touch. Off-cuts of beautiful wallpaper can also make a pretty table runner."
Choose music that won't drown out conversation: "I actually don't play any music during dinner, which sounds a bit strange, but I have a very open-plan house, and if I play soft music, it sounds like you're having dinner in a lift. I prefer to turn on a bit of Nina Simone or Edith Piaf after the main course to liven up dessert. I also love funky French beats, like Camille, or compilations like So Frenchy, So Chic."
How to signal that the meeting is adjourned: "Clearing away the table or turning the dishwasher on usually helps. Preparing a little treat for your guests to take home, like a sliver of leftover dessert, is a nice way to share food as well as give them a little nudge out the door."
Sometimes described as an Australian Martha Stewart, Donna Hay began her career as a recipe developer and food stylist with a degree in Home Economics from her local technical college. She is currently the editor of Donna Hay Magazine, and is the author of multiple cookbooks, including Simple Essentials, Instant Entertaining, and Off the Shelf.
For more information on Hay, go to donnahay.com.au.
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