Serious Entertaining: Cheap and Easy Do-Ahead Lunch

Serious Entertaining

Seasonal menu planning for the perfect dinner party.


[Photographs: Carrie Vasios]

As a food-minded person, it can be easy to forget that people come over to my house to see me, not my food. I obsess over the menu to the point where I inevitably make too many courses, spend too much money, and totally stress myself out. This is especially silly given that the best meals are often the impromptu ones, the ones where I'll make do with raiding the pantry and then let the conversation pass the time.

Proving that real resolutions never start on January 1, I've decided that, starting now, I'm going to consciously and actively simplify my entertaining style. That doesn't mean that I won't bring out the big guns (we did just buy a smoker, after all), but it means that I'll be more willing to invite people over when I have nothing planned and little to spend. I'll serve fewer courses and accept that people don't want to eat truffled lasagna at lunch, anyway.

In fact, lunch is the perfect place to start. No one really wants to go into a food coma at 1 p.m. or ruin their appetite for their fancy dinner date that night. The following menu is simple to make, cheap to prepare, and best of all, can be made a day ahead.

Gigante Bean and Meyer Lemon Open Faced Sandwiches

Gigantes, also known as butter beans, are an extra large, creamy, meaty bean. Here, they're tossed with a bright and citrusy vinaigrette made from Meyer lemons and champagne vinegar. The key is the heavy glug of extra virgin olive oil: It enrobes the beans and seeps into the toasted, crunchy pain de levain bread. The only other ingredients are a few diced onions and a handful of parsley. This sandwich is simple but incredibly hearty. I like to serve each one alongside a peppery arugula salad.

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Lemon Ice Box Pie


No dessert better proves that time and money aren't necessary to taste than Ice Box Pie. It's a matter of making a simple (but oh so delicious) buttery graham cracker crust and filling it with a mixture of hand whisked lemon juice, zest, condensed milk, and egg yolks. The pie is quickly baked then chilled in the fridge. The resulting filling is rich, cool, and custard-like. The pie has a mostly sweet lemon flavor, but if you hit some zest there's an occasional burst of mouth puckering acid. The crust is essential; it provides a crunchy, gingery shell to hold the smooth lemon filling. Make this a day, or even three, ahead.

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