The evening is perfect — a soft summer breeze; a sunset straight out of a painting; white wine chilling in the fridge; and your favorite music in the background. The linen tablecloth is ironed, and the best china is at the ready.

You’ve invited good friends over for a small soirée on the porch and you have just about an hour to create magic in the kitchen before the doorbell rings. You’re as cool as a cucumber, however, because there’s no need to rush or overthink. You have simple and economical, yet, festive recipes in your arsenal. Lemon shrimp; green beans with mushrooms; a crisp garden salad; and delicate pastries made with raspberries, white chocolate and whipped cream are on the menu.

You may want to consider preparing the main dish and vegetable ahead and then very gently reheat them. This gives the flavors an opportunity to mingle and affords you the pleasure of doing something else, like hunting for sea glass on the beach or sighing over a romantic novel from the confines of a comfy chair in the garden.

After the entrée, your friends may even want to help by assembling their own napoleons at the table, and they may want seconds of these delights.

Just take a deep breath and relax. Your company may be so grateful for the divine meal you’ve served them that they’ll even stay to help with the washing-up of the few pots after a convivial stroll in the twilight.

Yes, this menu is just the ticket if you’re looking for a special meal with minimal prep and clean-up. 

So open that second bottle of wine, put your feet up and focus on your friends. For this night, at least, all is right in your world.

Lemon Shrimp and Pasta
1 (12-oz.) box angel hair pasta

4 tbsp. butter

1 pound large frozen cooked shrimp, thawed  

1/4 cup lemon juice

1-2 tbsp. lemon zest

Salt and pepper to taste

Parmesan cheese for the table (optional)

In a pot of salted boiling water, cook pasta until al dente and drain, saving about 2 tablespoons pasta water.

In a skillet over medium heat, melt butter. Add shrimp and warm through. Stir in lemon juice and zest, pasta water, salt and pepper. 

Add cooked pasta. Toss until combined. Serve with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese if you wish. Yield: 4 servings.

Green Beans with Mushrooms
1 lb. fresh green beans, trimmed

1 lb. small button mushrooms, thinly sliced

2 tbsp. butter

3 cloves garlic, minced

½-1 tsp. dried tarragon

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Steam green beans over boiling water for 8 minutes. Melt butter in a medium skillet. Add tarragon and garlic and sauté over medium-low heat for 2 minutes. Add green beans and mushrooms. Season with salt and pepper. Sauté 5 minutes more. Yield: 4 servings.

Raspberry and White Chocolate Napoleons
1 (17-oz.) package frozen puff pastry, thawed in refrigerator

1-2 tbsp. flour

2 (4-oz.) bars of good-quality white chocolate, chopped

1 pint heavy cream, whipped and sweetened with sugar to your taste

2 pints fresh raspberries

Confectioner’s sugar

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place pastry on a floured surface and sprinkle with a bit more flour and roll out in one direction.  Then flip the dough, sprinkle with more flour and roll it in the other direction. Pastry should measure about 18 x 12 inches. Roll the pastry over the rolling pin then unroll it onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Allow to rest for 10 minutes then prick evenly with a fork over the entire surface. Cover with another sheet of parchment paper and place a second baking pan on top to act as a weight. Bake for 30-40 minutes until pastry is golden. Cool on a wire rack. Carefully cut pastry into 12 equal rectangles.

Gently melt chocolate by placing it in a bowl set over boiling water or in the microwave. Be sure to keep a close eye on the white chocolate when melting it. It’s very sensitive to the heat and can burn easily. I also bake both sheets of pastry to have back-up in case of breakage or if anyone wants seconds.

To assemble, place one rectangle of pastry on each of four dessert plates and drizzle a spoonful of chocolate over each one. Spread with whipped cream and dot with raspberries. Place a second piece of pastry on top and spoon on more chocolate and whipped cream. Add more berries. Repeat process with a third layer. Dust with confectioner’s sugar. Garnish plates with extra berries. Yield: 4 servings.

Karen Schneider can be reached at:
[email protected]