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Dishes to help ease you back into entertaining

Chewy coconut cake with milk chocolate glaze
Dishes like this chewy coconut cake with milk chocolate glaze are made for entertaining friends, something we can enjoy soon.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

As of Friday, those who are already vaccinated have the go-ahead to travel and gather with other vaccinated people indoors. And more good news for everyone weary from a year of isolation: L.A. is on track to have four out of five people vaccinated by the end of June.

But instead of going right back into life as we knew it before March 2020, I’m taking baby steps. And that first step will be to have as many friends over for small dinner parties as possible. I’ve got a binder full of dozens of recipes I’ve saved over the past year for dinner parties, and now it’s time to put them to good use.

To ease you back into entertaining, I’ve excerpted recipes from Paris- and L.A.-based author Rebekah Peppler’s new cookbook, “À Table.” It’s a wonderful book that strikes the perfect chord between food that is easy to bring together yet has the impact you want to show off for your guests. There are Comté and sesame puff pastry twists, a deeply flavorful French shrimp boil that’s wonderful enjoyed indoors or out, and a easy dessert of whipped cream and strawberries that highlights spring’s first fruit. And to go on the fruit, crumbled sablé cookies are intensely buttery and salty; they’re the perfect gift to send home with your guests to enjoy later.

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In addition, here are some recipes from our recipe site that I plan to enjoy soon as well. My French onion-braised lamb shoulder is what I’m making for Easter lunch, but it’s infinitely riff-able: Swap out fennel or leeks for the onions, pork or beef for the lamb, and another vinegar to customize the dish to your taste. Diana Henry’s easy roast chicken thighs — swimming in a sauce of oregano, garlic, olives and sweet oranges — is another dish that looks more impressive than the effort put into making it. Similarly, thinly sliced hanger steak is tossed with Sichuan peppercorns, dried chiles and scallions in this Sichuan-inspired dish from chef Brandon Kida.

For vegetables, I’m going with Adeena Sussman’s brilliantly simple rough chopped salad: You use any raw vegetables you have on hand, topple large chunks of them onto a bed of yogurt, then cover them in a nutty, salty dukkah spice mix. And for dessert, my new chewy coconut cake acts like a fancy Mounds bar — or chocolate-dipped coconut macaroon.

All these dishes are the type of relaxed cooking that is perfect to indulge in again with guests. Because when friends are over, I want the food to be easy so I can focus on what really matters: getting close with people I love after a long year of having to stay apart.

French Onion-Braised Lamb With Garlic and Rosemary

Though this recipe takes 4 hours start to finish, only one hour is spent actually cooking. The other three are time in the oven, where the lamb shoulder braises down until spoon-tender in browned onions, apple cider vinegar and garlic. Serve this over rice or with warm flatbread and a simple salad for a satisfying, easy Sunday lunch.
Get the recipe.
Cook time: 4 hours.

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Vinegar-braised lamb with onion and rosemary jus.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

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Sichuan Chile Hanger Steak

Cups of Japones, or arbol, chiles flavor the oil for this hanger steak, but it’s not too spicy. Instead it’s imbued with a fragrant heat and the numbing, tingling quality of Sichuan peppercorns. This dish is ideal served family-style, with everyone grabbing bites to eat with rice and/or cold, crunchy cucumbers.
Get the recipe.
Cook time: 25 minutes.

Brandon Kida's hangar steak with Sichuan spices and citrus.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

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Rough Chopped Salad With Yogurt and Dukkah

Though you can use the vegetables called for here, you can also customize this salad with whatever vegetables look great in the market. Cut raw vegetables into large chunks and topple them over yogurt (I love to make this vegan by using cashew or coconut yogurt). The coriander, sesame and hazelnut dukkah sprinkled over the top finish the salad and give it a salty, floral edge.
Get the recipe.
Cook time: 20 minutes.

Rough-chopped salad with yogurt and dukkah
(Silvia Razgova / For The Times)

Chewy Coconut Cake With Milk Chocolate Glaze

Like a grown-up Mounds bar — or a chocolate-dipped macaroon, depending on your cultural reference point — this simple cake is filled with toasted coconut and eggs to give it a chewiness that eats like a giant bar cookie. Choose your favorite chocolate for the glaze and use whatever coconut you have on hand. Crumble leftovers as a topping for ice cream.
Get the recipe.
Cook time: 45 minutes.

Chewy coconut cake with milk chocolate glaze.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

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Los Angeles Times Dinner Series: Dinner With the Stars featuring chef Enrique Olvera

For this exciting awards season L.A. Times Dinner Series event, join international chef and cookbook author Enrique Olvera and Mexican documentary filmmaker, screenwriter and award-winning director Fernando Frias de la Parra for an evening of fun conversation centered on food and entertainment. Enjoy a three-course gourmet Mexican meal from chef Enrique’s Cosme restaurant in New York and Damian in Los Angeles.

Cosme and Damian, the bicoastal twins, will be preparing different takes on the same Mexican menu using local ingredients and recognizing the unique seasonality of each city. Guests will tune in to an exciting awards-season conversation hosted by L.A. Times arts columnist Carolina A. Miranda while enjoying the meal. Plus, L.A. Times celebrity photographer Jay L. Clendenin will share a behind-the-scenes look at this year’s awards nominees. Afterward, stay tuned to watch a talk with some of the best film directors of 2020.

For more information, go to events.latimes.com/dinners/ or damianandcosme.eventbrite.com.


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