A no-cook, no-sweat dinner party

 

Dessert

Blueberry and Lemon-Cream Icebox Cake

This take on a traditional icebox cake alternates creamy layers of lemon whipped cream and berry-infused mascarpone. The striped slices look nice on a plate. In order to set up, the cake needs to be refrigerated for at least 4 hours or up to a day in advance.

2 pints fresh blueberries, stemmed and rinsed

1/2 cup Lyle’s Golden Syrup (available at larger supermarkets, on the baking aisle, and online)

Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon

12 ounces mascarpone cheese

1/4 cup granulated sugar

2 cups chilled heavy cream

8 ounces graham crackers, or more as needed

Confectioners’ sugar, for serving

Puree the blueberries in a food processor until smooth. Use a flexible spatula to push the puree through a fine-mesh strainer, pressing to extract as much liquid as possible (discard solids). There should be about 2 cups of strained puree.

Return it to the food processor, along with the syrup and 2 tablespoons of the lemon juice, and blend until well incorporated. Reserve 1 cup as a sauce for serving; cover and refrigerate it.

Combine the mascarpone and remaining blueberry mixture in the food processor, and blend until uniform and smooth.

Combine the lemon zest, granulated sugar and heavy cream in the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat on low speed for about 1 minute, then on medium-high speed for about 2 minutes, until stiff peaks form.

Use parchment paper to line the bottom and sides of the loaf pan (a light coating of cooking oil spray may help). Use an offset spatula to spread half the blueberry-mascarpone mixture evenly in the bottom. Cover completely with the graham crackers, making a single layer that uses about one-quarter of the crackers, breaking them as needed.

Wipe the spatula, and use it to spread half the lemon whipped cream evenly over the graham cracker layer.

Repeat with another graham cracker layer, the remaining blueberry mascarpone mixture, a graham cracker layer, the remaining lemon whipped cream and a final graham cracker layer.

Compress very gently; the assembled cake should come to the top of the pan. Wrap in plastic wrap and weight with a heavy plate or pan. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours and up to a day in advance.

To serve, remove the weight and plastic wrap. Place a platter over the pan, and use both hands to invert the cake so it lands on the platter. Gently peel away the parchment paper and discard it.

Whisk the reserved cup of blueberry puree so it becomes smooth and pourable. Drizzle some over each slice of cake, and sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar. Serve right away. Makes 10 servings.

Per serving: 520 calories, 3 g protein, 52 g carbohydrates, 35 g fat, 21 g saturated fat, 105 mg cholesterol, 230 mg sodium, 3 g fiber, 28 g sugar


Appetizer

Smoked Trout Pâté With Crème Fraîche and Dill Cucumber Strips

Serve this rich spread on crusty baguette rounds, rosemary crackers or anything else that offers a little crunch. The pâté can be made and refrigerated a day in advance; freshen it with a splash of lemon juice before serving. Make the cucumber strips just before serving so they maintain their crispness.

8 ounces smoked trout, skin, bones and blood lines discarded

1/2 cup crème fraîche or low-fat sour cream

1/2 cup low-fat cream cheese (4 ounces; do not use nonfat)

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, or more as needed

2 teaspoons Dijon-style mustard

1/4 teaspoon Tabasco sauce

1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1/2 cup minced fresh chives (optional)

Kosher salt

1 English seedless cucumber (about 1 pound)

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill, plus more for garnish

Flake the trout into a food processor; pulse to chop. Add the crème fraîche, cream cheese, lemon juice, mustard, Tabasco and pepper. Pulse until smooth.

Transfer to a container. Fold in the chives, and season with salt to taste. Taste and add pepper and/or lemon juice as needed. Seal and refrigerate.

Trim and peel cucumber (a Y-shaped peeler is best). Applying greater pressure, use the peeler to shave wide strips into a mixing bowl until you reach the seed core, which can be reserved for a separate use. Add the vinegar, dill and 1/4 teaspoon salt, tossing to incorporate.

To serve, spread pâté on bread or crackers, topping each portion with a few ribbons of cucumber and dill. Makes 8 servings (a scant 2 cups pâté).

Per serving (without bread): 160 calories, 11 g protein, 4 g carbohydrates, 12 g fat, 6 g saturated fat, 35 mg cholesterol, 810 mg sodium, 0 fiber, 0 sugar


Soup

Chilled Avocado and Melon Soup With Spicy Crab-Corn Salad

The soothing richness of this soup is cut by the heat and acidity of the marinated salad. Really fresh sweet corn is tender enough to serve raw. The soup needs to be refrigerated for at least 1 hour and up to a day. The salad needs to sit for 10 minutes before serving and can be assembled up to 1 hour in advance.

For the soup

3 cups peeled and diced ripe honeydew melon (from about 1/2 melon)

3 cups cold water, or more as needed

2 ripe avocados (about 2 cups pulp)

1/2 cup heavy cream

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

2 scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced

2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint

For the salad

6 ounces lump crabmeat, shredded (about 1 cup)

3/4 cup fresh sweet corn kernels (from 1 ear)

1 Scotch bonnet or habanero pepper, seeded and minced

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice (about 1 lime)

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1/2 cup cilantro leaves, washed and patted dry

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

For the soup, combine the melon, water, avocados, cream, lemon juice, cumin, salt and pepper in a blender and puree until smooth; thin the mixture with more water as needed. Stir in the scallions and mint, and set in the refrigerator to chill for at least 1 hour and up to 1 day. Taste for salt, pepper and lemon juice before serving.

For the salad, combine the crab, corn, chile pepper, lime juice, sugar, salt and pepper in a mixing bowl; let the mixture sit for 10 minutes, giving it a gentle toss or two during that time. Stir in the cilantro and oil. Taste, and adjust the seasoning as needed.

Divide the soup among individual bowls. Spoon equal portions of the crab-corn mixture onto the center of each bowl. Serve right away. Makes 8 servings.

Per serving: 220 calories, 6 g protein, 15 g carbohydrates, 17 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 35 mg cholesterol, 570 mg sodium, 5 g fiber, 7 g sugar


Main dish

Italian Chicken Salad With Fennel, White Beans and Heirloom Tomato Aspic

Think of aspic as a savory Jell-O. Here, the juices of ripe tomatoes are transformed into a refreshing, palate-cleansing partner to a Mediterranean chicken salad. You’ll need eight 4-ounce ramekins. Greased cupcake tins with 1/2-cup wells can be substituted, but they will be harder to unmold, and the aspic will react unpleasantly with metal tins if they remain in contact for an extended time. The aspic needs to be refrigerated at least 4 hours and up to 2 days. Assemble the chicken salad an hour or so before serving.

For the aspic

2 1/2 pounds ripe heirloom tomatoes (about 4 beefsteak)

3 envelopes (about 2 1/2 tablespoons) unflavored gelatin

1/4 cup very hot water

2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 teaspoon chopped thyme leaves

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

For the salad

3-pound rotisserie chicken

28 ounces canned, no-salt-added cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

1 small bulb fennel, quartered, cored and very thinly sliced (about 1 1/2 cups)

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

3 ounces baby arugula (about 4 cups)

3/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano shavings (made using a peeler), plus more for garnish

12 leaves basil, torn, plus more for garnish

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

For the aspic, lightly grease eight 4-ounce ramekins with cooking oil spray.

Seed one of the tomatoes, letting the seeds, gel and liquid fall into the bowl of the food processor. Finely dice the flesh to yield 1/2 cup; transfer to a small bowl.

Cut the remainder of the seeded tomato and the remaining whole tomatoes into 1-inch chunks and add to the food processor. Process until pureed, about 1 minute. Strain into a 1-quart liquid measuring cup through a fine-mesh strainer, using a flexible spatula to press through as much of the juice as possible; discard any solids. You’ll need 2 3/4 cups juice; reserve any extra for another use (such as a gazpacho or vinaigrette). If you don’t have enough juice, add water.

Transfer a generous 1/2 cup of the juice to a very wide, shallow bowl. (You need a large surface area.) Sprinkle the gelatin evenly onto the juice, letting it sit on the surface. After 10 minutes, add 1/4 cup of the hottest possible tap water and stir until the gelatin has dissolved and the mixture is thick yet not lumpy. Add it to the 2 1/4 cups tomato juice in the measuring cup, stirring to incorporate. Add the reserved 1/2 cup diced tomato along with the vinegar, salt, thyme and crushed red pepper flakes.

Pour equal amounts of the aspic mixture into each ramekin. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until the aspic sets, at least 4 hours and up to 2 days.

For the salad, discard the skin, bones and all visible fat from the chicken. Cut the meat into 1/2-inch pieces, placing it in a large serving bowl as you work. The yield is about 6 cups.

Add the beans, fennel, oil, vinegar and lemon juice, and toss well to incorporate. Let the salad sit for 5 minutes so the fennel begins to soften and the chicken picks up the flavor of the dressing. Add the arugula, Parmigiano-Reggiano and basil, and toss well. Taste, and add salt and pepper as needed.

To serve, dip a paring knife into hot water and run it around the inside edge of each ramekin. Invert the aspic onto individual plates. Mound the chicken salad around or next to the aspic, and garnish with additional cheese and basil. Makes 8 servings.

Per serving: 430 calories, 42 g protein, 19 g carbohydrates, 21 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 100 mg cholesterol, 630 mg sodium, 5 g fiber, 4 g sugar


Washington Post

An invitation to dine entails a pact of sorts. You, the host, offer to nourish your guests; they, lucky things, get to show up and adore you for your labors. Nowhere in this social contract does it say that you, the host, need to work up a sweat.

Here’s a warm-weather dinner-party menu that’s impressive without requiring any actual cooking, meaning no heating up the kitchen.

Start with a smoked trout pâté. Crème fraîche and cream cheese give the spread its requisite richness, while marinated cucumber strips add crunch and tang.

On to the soup course, where a spicy, salad-like garnish of crab and corn adds interest to each bite of a creamy, chilled avocado and melon blend.

The entree is built upon a store-bought rotisserie bird: Dice the chicken, add white beans, fennel and arugula. On the side, tomato aspic — a preparation in which the fruit’s juices become a savory gelatin — provides a retro twist.

Finish the meal with a classic icebox cake layered with sophistication. Lemon and blueberry flavor the tiers of cream built on an easy graham cracker base.

Hey, you’re still the one who put it all together. So accolades will be earned the honest way.

Read more Food stories from the Miami Herald

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