Easy Elegance

You can set a lovely tone and table with an intimate ladies’ luncheon.

Ladies have been enjoying leisurely and elegant luncheons for thousands of years, but these days everyone seems to be in a rush. Maybe making time to host or attend such a gathering could be a wonderful way to slow things down a bit.

Elegant luncheons in someone’s home are a common occurrence in locales such as Palm Beach and Charleston, and I would love to see more of them in Ocala. Today, many women take time to meet for lunch at a restaurant, which is great, but a luncheon in your home offers a chance for the gathering to become more personalized and relaxed.

Jill and Luna

Creating an elegant setting begins with linens and fine china. And bring out those “special” serving dishes that may have been passed down from loved ones. Fresh flowers and candles can add a touch of color and an air of gracefulness, and soft background music is always a plus.

I think we owe it to the past to really get spiffed up for a ladies’ luncheon. Back in the 1960s, women wore hats and white gloves to lunch. I’m not saying we need to go there again but getting out of casual or work wear for a couple of hours can be a lot of fun.

When hosting a meal such as this elegant luncheon, I recommend doing as much of the prep work ahead of time as possible. With this menu, for example, I had the Herbed Avocado Egg Salad Tea Sandwiches mixture—minus the avocado—prepared the night before. I also washed and dried the lettuce for the Strawberry Salad with Strawberry Balsamic Dressing and made the Mini Berry Cheesecakes so they could chill in the refrigerator overnight.

When making the Proscuitto Asparagus Puff Pastry Bundles and Chicken Stuffed Shells Alfredo, have them ready to cook just before your guests arrive so they are as piping hot and fresh as possible. While you complete those final steps, your guests can help themselves to tea and coffee, or libations such as mimosas or a nice white wine.

When you are invited to attend a special luncheon, be sure to bring your hostess a gift such as a bottle of wine, chocolates, flowers or anything monogrammed as a way to thank her.

These kinds of elegant events can be a good time to involve young girls and help them learn etiquette and give them some hosting tips they can use when they grow up and entertain.

Sometimes us ladies deserve something all our own, so if the men in your life balk at not being invited, encourage them to enjoy a round of golf or other activity and then meet up for cocktails later in the afternoon.

No matter the guest list, use the occasion to dress up a little, laugh a lot and slow down and enjoy each other’s company.   OS

Chicken Stuffed Shells Alfredo

Chicken Stuffed Shells Alfredo

2 1/2 cups cooked chicken, shredded (I use rotisserie)
1 12-ounce box jumbo pasta shells
1 1/4 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy whipping cream
3/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
2/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese 2 large egg yolks, beaten
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Italian seasoning
Parsley, fresh is preferred

Cook pasta until al dente. > Lay the shells on a dish or pan to they can cool without sticking together. > Combine butter, garlic, heavy cream and milk in a saucepan over medium heat and bring to a simmer. > Beat the egg yolks in a bowl. > Add a spoonful of the hot milk mixture to the eggs and stir, then repeat with several more spoonsful to temper the eggs. > Slowly add the egg mixture to the saucepan and stir. > Remove from heat. > Stir in the Parmesan and half of the mozzarella. > Season with salt and pepper to taste. In a large mixing bowl, toss together the chicken and 1/2 cup Alfredo sauce. > Put a spoonful of Alfredo sauce on the bottom of a 9” x 13” baking dish and smooth it around. > Fill each shell with a large spoonful of the chicken and sauce mixture and place in the pan. > Sprinkle with Italian seasoning and parsley. > Pour the remaining Alfredo sauce evenly over the shells. > Sprinkle with remaining mozzarella. > Bake at 350 for about 25 minutes or until warm and bubbly. (Note: You can assemble the shells in the pan and cover and refrigerate them for up to one day in advance.)

Strawberry Salad with Balsamic Strawberry Dressing

Strawberry Salad with Balsamic Strawberry Dressing

For salad:
4 cups butter lettuce, torn
2 cups strawberries, sliced
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup red onion sliced
1/4 cup goat cheese crumbled
1/4 cup almonds sliced

For dressing:
1 cup strawberries
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

To make the dressing, pulse 1 cup of strawberries, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, Dijon mustard, garlic, salt and pepper in a food processor or blender until smooth. > Make the salad by layering the butter lettuce, sliced strawberries, cranberries, onion, goat cheese and sliced almonds in a large bowl. > To serve, either toss the entire salad with dressing and leave it in the bowl or drizzle dressing some on top of individual servings.

Proscuitto Asparagus Puff Pastry Bundles

Proscuitto Asparagus Puff Pastry Bundles

12 slices prosciutto
8 ounces Gruyere, shredded
2 sheets frozen puff pastry, thawed
1 bunch asparagus (about 12-16 ounces), ends trimmed
1 egg, beaten
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 425. > Toss the asparagus in olive oil and season with salt and pepper and let rest. > Line a baking pan with parchment paper. > Lightly fl our a surface and roll out the puff pastry until you get a rectangle about double the size you started with. > Make sure the edges are even, then cut the piece into six squares (a pizza cutter works great). > To make the bundles, place a folded slice of prosciutto on top of a square, add three or four stalks of asparagus (depending on size) and one to two tablespoons of cheese. > Lift two opposite corners of the square and wrap them around the ham, asparagus and cheese, and press down to seal the pastry. > Brush the top with beaten egg. > Sprinkle with salt and pepper if desired. > Bake until the pastry is golden, about 12-15 minutes. > Serve immediately.

Herbed Avocado Egg Salad Tea Sandwiches

Herbed Avocado Egg Salad Tea Sandwiches

10 slices of bread
7 large eggs
2 stalks celery, diced
1 ripe avocado, medium size
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons crème fraîche
2 tablespoons chives, chopped
1/4 -1/2 cup onion sprouts (or another sprout such as alfalfa)
2 to 4 teaspoons mayonnaise
2 teaspoons parsley, chopped
2 teaspoons lemon juice, freshly squeezed
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper Sprigs of fresh dill Thin slices of cucumber

Place the eggs in a large saucepan and cover with water. > Bring to a rolling boil for one minute. > Turn off the heat and cover the pot with a lid and let stand for 10 minutes. > Drain the eggs and plunge into an ice water bath for at least 15 minutes. > Peel and dry the eggs, then grate them into a large bowl. > Dice the celery and add about 1/4 of a cup. > Add the crème fraîche and mayo, then the herbs. > Halve the avocado, remove the pit and scoop the flesh into a separate bowl. > Mash the avocado with the lemon juice, salt and pepper until smooth. > Add the avocado to the grated egg mixture and fold everything together gently. > Taste and add salt if needed. > Butter the bread slices. > Divide the egg salad between five slices and spread it around. > Top with a small amount of onion sprouts. > Put the remaining slices of bread on top and press each sandwich down firmly. > Cut off the bread crusts with a serrated knife and cut each sandwich into four pieces. > Top each piece with one slice of cucumber and a sprig of dill. Arrange on a platter and serve. (Note: The sandwiches, wrapped in plastic, will keep for up to four hours in the refrigerator.)

Mini Berry Cheesecakes

Mini Berry Cheesecakes

8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 cup graham cracker crumbs
5 tablespoons butter, melted
1/3 cup sugar 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg, room temperature, lightly beaten Fresh raspberries and/or blueberries

Preheat oven to 350. > Spray cooking oil in a miniature muffin tin. > Combine graham cracker crumbs and butter in a bowl. > Press some of the mixture gently into the bottom and side of each muffin space. > In another bowl, beat the cream cheese, sugar and vanilla until smooth. > Add the egg and beat on low speed just until combined. > Spoon the mixture over the crusts. > Bake 12-14 minutes or until the centers are set. > Cool for 10 minutes before removing from the pan to a wire rack. > Refrigerate at least one hour. > To serve, top each mini cheesecake with raspberries and/or blueberries.

Posted in Living, Table

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