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Easy Entertaining: A Make-Ahead, Self-Serve Meal

  • Photos by Lennart Weibull
  • Recipes and Food Styling by Greg Lofts
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A casual gathering makes perfect sense for autumn: Friends can come back to your place to congregate, chat, and warm up after trick-or-treating, apple-picking, or game-watching. What's needed is a warm and comforting, but not heavy, menu with wide appeal. The recipes here can be prepared ahead of time, which allows you to enjoy whatever outing your group has planned -- then come home, reheat the stew, set out the sides, and relax along with your guests.

The Menu

Start with a refreshing drink: Guava Fresca with Mint and Ginger.

Let guests help themselves to Chicken-Chile Stew, with

Salsa Fresca Salad and wedges of Cheese and Sweet-Pepper Cornbread.

And for dessert, Maple Flan.

Chicken-Chile Stew

This main dish is where stew meets chili, with delicious results. It's a make-ahead wonder, rich with cannellini beans, chicken thighs, and poblano chiles -- which add heat and sweetness. And did we mention it's all made in just one pot?

The Strategy

  • Make-Ahead

    Virtually everything on the menu can be prepared in advance:

    The stew, the flan, and the mint syrup for the guava fresca can be made two days ahead of time.

    The morning of the get-together, bake the cornbread, make the salsa fresca, and slice the lettuce. Store it in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

  • Serve

    As the stew heats, put out the lettuce and salsa fresca and cut the cornbread.

    Give the kids guava fresca sans booze, or a glass of cold apple cider.

  • Setup

    If you are joining a group of friends for trick-or-treating or watching a game, set out bowls, plates, and glasses before you leave the house.

     

    Keep it casual: Just arrange things on the counter near the stove. Then, when you get back home, transfer the pot of stew right from the refrigerator to the stove top to reheat.

  • Make-Ahead

    Virtually everything on the menu can be prepared in advance:

    The stew, the flan, and the mint syrup for the guava fresca can be made two days ahead of time.

    The morning of the get-together, bake the cornbread, make the salsa fresca, and slice the lettuce. Store it in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

  • Setup

    If you are joining a group of friends for trick-or-treating or watching a game, set out bowls, plates, and glasses before you leave the house.

     

    Keep it casual: Just arrange things on the counter near the stove. Then, when you get back home, transfer the pot of stew right from the refrigerator to the stove top to reheat.

  • Serve

    As the stew heats, put out the lettuce and salsa fresca and cut the cornbread.

    Give the kids guava fresca sans booze, or a glass of cold apple cider.

Rounding Out the Meal

With a lively jalapeno-cilantro-tomato salsa in place of the usual dressing, the salad has crunch and interest and is easy to put together at the last moment (romaine is the perfect prep-ahead lettuce). The cornbread is rich with cheese and two kinds of peppers; mild or hot green chiles add flavor (and heat if you go with the hot), while sweet little bell peppers give the cornbread instant eye appeal. Slice it into wedges rather than squares so it can easily be dipped into the stew.

The Sweetest Thing

Maple Flan

Maple syrup gives this eggy flan a distinct sweet -- but not cloying -- flavor and offsets the richness of dairy. It's an elemental wonder: just three ingredients, gluten-free, and make-ahead.

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