My generation married soon after college. We gave dinner parties, the table set with wedding china and sterling silver, if we had it. Dinner forks, salad forks, seafood forks.
We scrimped to pay for pricey ingredients. Laborious menus required untold hours of kitchen work; each course was meticulously plated with fancy garnishes. Afterward, we were pooped.
My grown daughters and their friends take a far more user-friendly approach to home entertaining. Sharing the work, the host provides the protein, a simple meat main dish such as roast chicken or grilled steaks. A self-serve bar is set to provide guests with choices of wine, water, beer or a pitcher-made cocktail (Sangria is a favorite).
Guests bring the starters, side dishes and dessert. Unlike an old-fashioned potluck, the menu is discussed and dishes that complement one another are agreed upon. Special dietary needs are hashed out. And because the dishes are passed family-style at the table, it’s agreed that they can’t be overly fussy.
Chef Chris Santos’ book “Share: Delicious and Surprising Recipes to Pass Around Your Table” (Grand Central Life & Style, $40) celebrates the theme of casual entertaining served at a communal table. Santos, restaurateur and judge on the Food Network’s “Chopped,” provides over 100 big-platter recipes that are creative twists on old-school favorites, each easily passable. Rick Rodgers, acclaimed author of more than 40 cookbooks, teamed with Santos to make sure that the recipes are flawlessly written with home cooks in mind.
Guests with prep time might like to tackle either this salad or dessert from the book. The Cobb Salad Bites take the bacon-egg-avocado-blue cheese theme in a mouth-watering direction. The bacon, the star of the concoction, is baked atop mini muffin pans to form individual bite-sized “cups.” Shredded Brussels sprouts are used in place of the traditional Iceberg lettuce, a crunchier, more robust alternative. And the perky Avocado Vinaigrette lightly coats the salad, yielding a just-right amount of acidity. The vinaigrette and bacon can be prepared a day in advance. For transporting it to the party, the salad components can be stored separately and assembled at the destination.
Good news for Chef Santos fans. He is bringing his east coast Beauty & Essex concept to Los Angeles later this year. So if you prefer to sample his cuisine in a restaurant setting, it will be a drivable distance.
Cobb Salad Bites
Yield: 24 pieces, about 6 to 8
Vegetable oil cooking spray, for pans
6 slices thick-cut bacon, each cut crosswise into quarters to make 24 pieces
1/2 ripe Hass avocado, pitted, peeled, and coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons vegetable oil