We turned to our Recipe Editor, Sharron Wood, who has years of experience editing (and taste-testing!) thousands of our recipes featured in our catalogues, cookbooks, on our website, and on our blog. An avid entertainer and craft cocktail maven, she shares her favorite quick-but-elegant meal to serve guests when her husband spontaneously decides to invite people over. Read on to learn just how she gets dinner on the table for eight on a weeknight!
Although I’m fond of planning elaborate dinner party menus that take days to assemble, my husband is a little more, ahem, spontaneous, preferring to invite guests at the very last minute for impromptu dinners. And though he’s fine with ordering in takeout for said guests, I much prefer serving a homemade dinner. (Cooking, after all, is my love language.)
So, when my husband breezily calls me as I’m leaving work to tell me that we have dinner guests arriving at 6, I fall back on my secret weapon for impromptu entertaining: the French classic mussels marinière. Inexpensive, practically foolproof and easy to find at almost any fish market or grocery store with a halfway decent seafood section, mussels with shallots and white wine are the quickest way to get a company-worth dinner on the table in minutes once you’ve done the (very simple) grocery shopping.
Here’s how I put together the most impromptu of dinner parties . . . and how you can too.
I leave work. Luckily, there’s a good grocery store on my way home.
I run into the grocery store and pick up 5 pounds of mussels (if I’m cooking for 8), which should have a “fresh sea” smell, with no trace of ammonia. Next, I toss some shallots, a bunch of parsley and a baguette (okay, maybe two baguettes) into my basket. Finally, I add some pre-washed arugula or mixed greens for a salad and I’m out the door.
I get home and throw the salad greens straight into a bowl. If I don’t already have some salad dressing in the fridge, I take three minutes to whip up this super-simple traditional French vinaigrette. What I love about it is that it requires nothing more than a few pantry essentials: Vinegar, Dijon mustard, olive oil, salt and pepper.
After setting the oven to 350°F (180°C), I scrub the mussels, chop up the shallots and parsley, and pop open a bottle of dry white wine for the mussels, pouring myself a glass while I’m at it. I arrange all my ingredients next to the stove top.
I toss my baguettes in the oven to warm them up. Tip: You could also slice the bread first and toast them to make crostini, but warming the baguettes whole saves me a good 10 minutes, and I prefer a serving the whole loaf anyway, toasted just until it’s lightly crisp on the outside and still tender within. Then, I combine some wine, shallots, butter, bay leaf and pepper in a Dutch oven (or two if I’m doubling the mussels recipe). If I happen to have some saffron in my pantry, I crumble that into the pot too, because, although it’s not traditional, just a pinch adds a delightful aroma and gorgeous color to moules marinière.) Five minutes later, the mussels go in and steam just long enough for the mussels to open. Remember: Don’t forget to throw out any mussels that don’t open.
I dress the salad greens with my homemade vinaigrette. If I have any leftover bits of Parmesan, Pecorino Romano or goat cheese in my cheese drawer, I grate or crumble the cheese into the salad and toss again.
I ask a guest to pour the remaining white wine (and open another bottle, of course) while I plate the mussels and salad and wrap up the baguettes in a clean dish towel. And voila, dinner is served to my impressed guests, and I can enjoy dinner knowing that cleanup will go even more quickly than the dinner prep.
Culinary editor Sharron Wood has edited (and taste tested!) thousands of recipes for Williams Sonoma’s catalogs, website and blog. Before joining Williams Sonoma five years ago, she spent 15 years as a freelance cookbook editor, food and travel writer, and restaurant reviewer.
An avid hostess, craft cocktail aficionado and baker, she enjoys entertaining at her San Francisco apartment and cooking as many of Williams Sonoma’s 7,000+ recipes as humanly possible.