Friday Dinner Party

We discussed with friends on Friday that we had become our parents; we all made sure our kids were busy and met for a dinner at our house. We divided the duties with a menu planned out over texts:

  • Appetizer (maybe cheese and crackers)
  • Salad
  • Bread
  • Phyllo-wrapped salmon with leeks and red peppers
  • Cumin-scented beef
  • Asparagus
  • Polenta
  • Dessert (maybe crème brûlée or a trifle)

I volunteered to take care of the entrées and as you can see I had an idea in my head for what the meal would become. After the discussion, the final menu was perfect:

  • Appetizer – Apricot Jam/Cream Cheese Dip with cracker
  • Salad
  • Bread
  • Phyllo-wrapped salmon with leeks and red peppers
  • Cumin-scented beef
  • Asparagus
  • Polenta
  • Dessert – (trifle) Crème Brûlée 

Meals where everyone contributes are wonderful and everyone is happy. 

One of our attendees was planning on bringing a trifle and a savory polenta, sadly she threw out her back and was unable to attend; my contribution expanded to include the polenta and Crème Brûlée. 


I found the two entrées several years ago and neither has ever let me down. Both are mostly prepared in advance which makes for an easier dinner party. 

Phyllo-Wrapped Salmon With Leeks And Red Bell Pepper

Cook 15-20 minutes ∙ Makes Serves 6 ∙ Difficulty Medium ∙ Source Bon Appétit | October 1997

  • 10 Tbsp butter
  • 3 cups red bell peppers, cut in matchstick size strips (about 1½ large)
  • 3 cups leeks, cut in matchstick size strips (white and pale green parts only; about 3)
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 tsp dried crushed red pepper, (this makes for a pretty zippy dish – could be reduced)
  • 1 cup thinly sliced fresh basil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 12 sheets fresh phyllo pastry or frozen, thawed
  • 2½ pounds salmon fillet (skin removed), cut in 6 pieces


Melt 2 tablespoons butter in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add bell peppers and leek and sauté until leek is tender, about 6 minutes. Add wine and crushed red pepper to skillet. Simmer until liquid evaporates, about 4 minutes. Remove skillet from heat. Cool vegetable mixture. Stir in basil and salt.

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Melt remaining 8 tablespoons butter in small saucepan. Place 1 pastry sheet on work surface (keep remaining phyllo sheets covered). Brush with some of melted butter. Top with second pastry sheet; brush with melted butter. Place 1 salmon fillet crosswise on pastry sheet, 5 inches in from 1 short end. Top salmon fillet with 1/4 cup of vegetable mixture. Fold 5-inch section of pastry over salmon. Fold in sides. Roll up, forming rectangular packet. Transfer to heavy large baking sheet, vegetable side up. Brush packet all over with melted butter. Repeat with remaining pastry sheets, melted butter, salmon fillets and vegetables. (Can be prepared ~6 hours ahead. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Remove from fridge about 1 hour before baking.)

Bake salmon until pastry is pale golden and salmon is cooked through, 15-18 minutes.


For smaller portions cut each piece of salmon in half and wrap in a single sheet of phyllo dough.
Cumin-Scented Beef Kebabs

Prep 3 to 24 hours ∙ Cook 10 minutes ∙ Makes Makes 6 Servings ∙ Difficulty Easy ∙ Source Gourmet | August 2009

  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp oregano, fresh, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tsp cumin, ground
  • 1 tsp coriander, ground
  • ¼ tsp cayenne
  • 2 pounds sirloin flap steak or flatiron steak, cut into 1½” pieces
  • 12 skewers, soaked in water 30 minutes if wooden
  • Roasted red pepper spread


Stir together oil, oregano, garlic, spices, and 1 teaspoon salt in a bowl, then toss with beef. Marinate, chilled, at least 2 hours and up to overnight. 

Prepare grill for direct-heat cooking over medium-hot charcoal (high heat for gas). Thread about 4 pieces of beef onto each skewer, leaving small spaces between pieces, then transfer to a tray.

Oil grill rack, then grill beef, covered only if using a gas grill, turning, until browned but still pink inside, 4 to 5 minutes.
Roasted Red Pepper Spread

Cook 10 to 15 minutes ∙ Makes Makes About 3 Cups ∙ Difficulty Easy ∙ Source Gourmet | August 2009

  • 14-16 ounces roasted red peppers, rinsed and drained
  • 1 cup coarse fresh bread crumbs
  • 1 Tbsp red wine vinegar
  • ½ tsp cumin
  • ⅛ tsp cayenne
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil


  • 1 cup walnuts (4 ounces), toasted OR
  • 15 ounces garbanzo beans, drained


Purée roasted red peppers, bread crumbs, walnuts or beans, vinegar, cumin, cayenne, and ¼ teaspoon salt in a food processor until almost smooth.

With motor running, add oil in a slow stream, blending until incorporated.


  • Spread is also delicious with crudités, crackers, or toasts.
  • Spread can be made 3 days ahead and chilled. Bring to room temperature before serving.

 I have shared this polenta before and continues to impress me. I have wasted hours stirring polenta on the stove top; this is equal in taste and texture and the results are perfect. My mother made it for a dinner party this weekend and was equally thrilled (she made the original dish I prepared with this polenta).

Baked Polenta

Makes 8 ∙ Difficulty Medium ∙ Source Bon Appétit | October 2012

  • 1½ cups polenta (coarse cornmeal)
  • 7½ cups water
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1½ cups finely grated Parmesan
  • 2 Tbsp. butter
  • black pepper, freshly ground


Preheat oven to 350°. Stir polenta, oil, salt, and water in a 13x9x2” baking dish to blend. Bake, uncovered, for 1 hour 15 minutes. Stir in cheese and butter and season with pepper. Smooth top and continue baking until polenta is set and jiggles like custard, 25–30 minutes.

Preheat broiler. Broil polenta, watching very closely to prevent burning, until surface is light golden, 5–7 minutes. Serve immediately for a softer polenta; for a firmer texture, let rest for up to 30 minutes.
For dessert I referenced a trusted cookbook and selected the crème brûlée:

Le Cirque’s Crème Brûlée

Makes 8 servings ∙ Source Essential New York Times Cookbook | Amanda Hesser | 2010 – page 844

  • 4 cups heavy cream
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 8 egg yolks
  • ¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 cup light brown or raw sugar, approximately


1. Heat the oven to 300 degrees. Place eight 6-ounce ramekins or ceramic custard cups in roasting pan. Combine the cream, vanilla bean and seeds, and salt in a saucepan set over low heat and and warm for 5 minutes.

2. Gently whisk the egg yolks and granulated sugar in a large bowl. Gradually pour in the hot cream and stir gently to combine. Strain the custard into a pitcher; discard the vanilla bean and use a spoon to skim off any bubbles on the surface of the custard.

3. Pour the custard into the ramekins, filling them almost to the rim. Place the roasting pan in the oven and carefully pour warm water into pan until it reaches halfway up sides of ramekins. Loosely cover the pan with aluminum foil. Bake until set, 1 to 1¼ hours. Remove ramekins from the water bath and allow to cool.

4. Cover the ramekins individually and refrigerate for at least 3 hours, or for up to 2 days.

5. When ready to serve, preheat the broiler. (see Cooking Note). Uncover the ramekins and place them on baking sheet. Top each with 1 tablespoon of brown sugar, and using a metal spatula or your finger, spread the sugar evenly over the custards. Broil the custards about 4 inches from the heating element until the sugar browns and caramelizes, 30 seconds to 1 minute.


Use a blowtorch, if you have one, to carmelize the sugar on top of the custard in Step 5.


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