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Spring Fling

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Relax…this fresh, flavorful menu is practically stress-free

You don’t need a lot of time to pull together a satisfying evening of friends, family, and great food—you just need to relax.

The menu I’m proposing here is very relaxed—no individual appetizers, a main dish that’s all in one bowl—and it’s full of the fresh spring flavors that we’re all craving about now, yet it still has some substance to counteract any lingering chill of winter.

It starts with an easy-to-make spread of goat cheese with lots of fresh herbs, lemon zest, olive oil, and a dash of white wine for tang. For the main dish, serve a salad of fresh greens and herbs cradling succulent slices of roasted chicken breast, carrots, and asparagus. The chicken and vegetables should be served slightly warm but not hot, so there’s no rush to the table with this dish. Pair a warm, crusty loaf of garlic-Parmesan bread with the salad, and dinner is served.

Dessert is fun, delicious, and dead-easy it’ll take you only a few minutes to pull off. It’s a riff on the Famous Chocolate Wafer Refrigerator Roll (the undisputed favorite at my house growing up). In my version, you just crunch up the cookies and fold them into raspberry-swirled whipped cream.

If you have a couple of hours before your friends are coming over, you can easily concoct this entire menu. But if you plan ahead a bit, you can get the first course and dessert finished a day ahead, leaving just the salad to make before—or as—your guests arrive. And that’s a reality anyone can face, relaxed and refreshed.

Menu Timeline

This timeline breaks each recipe down into its make-ahead components, but don’t worry if you can’t get to all of them ahead of time. You could actually make everything (except the dessert, which benefits from an overnight chill) in the couple of hours before your guests arrive.

The day before

  • Shop for all groceries; put white wine in fridge.
  • Make cheese spread. Wash tomatoes. Wash and trim celery and refrigerate in an airtight container.
  • Make butter-Parmesan mixture for garlic bread; refrigerate.
  • Lightly toast pine nuts for salad.

The night before

  • Make the cookie-and-cream dessert; refrigerate.

A couple of hours ahead

  • Prep chicken, asparagus, and carrots, and put them in their own baking dishes.
  • Remove butter-Parmesan mixture from fridge to soften. Butter bread and wrap in foil.
  • Wash greens and herbs for salad.

An hour before guests arrive

  • Heat oven. Roast chicken. After 10 or 15 minutes, start roasting asparagus and carrots also.
  • Shave Parmigiano Reggiano and prepare fennel for salad. Zest and juice lemon for dressing.
  • Remove chicken and vegetables from oven when done; let chicken rest in a warm place. Increase oven temperature to 425°F.

As guests arrive

  • Pour wine or other drinks.
  • Unmold cheese spread onto a platter. Garnish with oil and reserved zest and herbs. Arrange vegetables around the cheese, and set out for everyone to serve themselves.
  • Put garlic bread in oven.

As guests nibble the appetizer

  • Make the lemony dressing. Toss salad greens with oil and lemon juice, and compose the individual salads. Dress salads, garnish, and serve, along with garlic bread.

After the salad

  • Break away from the table to start the coffee or tea. Scoop cookies and cream into individual bowls, decorate with a whole chocolate wafer and drizzle on raspberry sauce. Serve.

Shopping List

Fresh Produce:

  • 2 bunches of fresh herbs (choose 2 of the following: parsley, chives, tarragon, dill)
  • 1 bunch fresh thyme (1 Tbs. of leaves)
  • 1 large bunch flat-leaf parsley (1/2 cups leaves)
  • 1 large bunch fresh mint (1/2 cup leaves and garnish)
  • 2-3 lemons
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes
  • 1 pound asparagus
  • 1 pound trimmed baby carrots
  • 1 celery heart
  • 6 cups salad greens
  • 1 medium fennel bulb

Meat, Eggs & Dairy:

  • 6 medium bone-in, skin-on chicken breast halves

Other Groceries:

  • 8 ounces (about 1 cup) goat cheese
  • 1 block of Parmigiano Reggiano (for shaving and grating)
  • 1 carton heavy cream (at least a cup)
  • 1/3 cup creme fraiche
  • 1 package good crackers or loaf of walnut bread
  • 1 medium load of artisan bread with a tight crumb
  • 1 package Famous Chocolate Wafer thin chocolate cookies
  • 1 package of pine nuts (1/3 cup)
  • 1 bottle dry white wine (2 Tbs.)
  • 3 cups (about 12 ounces) frozen raspberries

Pantry Staples:

  • 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt black pepper
  • 1 head of garlic
  • 1/4 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • 8 Tbs. (1 stick) salted butter
  • 5 Tbs. granulated sugar

Wine Choices:To pair with the Goat Cheese Spread, you’ll want a bright, fruit-forward white with crisp acidity and no oak, like a Pinot Gris. Look for the 2004 WillaKenzie Estate ($16) or the 2004 Elk Cove ($16), both from Oregon. The appealing fruit and supple texture of Pinot Noir make it a perfect mate with the Salad of Roast Chicken and Spring Vegetables. Try the 2003 A to Z Pinot Noir from Oregon ($17) or the 2004 Saintsbury Garnet ($17) from the Carneros region of California. —Contributing editor Tim Gaiser is a master sommelier.

The Menu

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