Appetizers in, dinner out

May 30, 1999|By Betty Rosbottom | Betty Rosbottom,Los Angeles Times Syndicate

Although I love to entertain, there are times when my work schedule is so hectic I am lucky to get a meal on the table for my family, much less prepare dinner for company. My husband, however, is never too tired to have guests over.

Recently, he came home enthusiastic about meeting a new professor at the college where he teaches and confided to me that he had asked the man and his wife to have dinner with us. It was a terrible week for me -- one filled with deadlines and a business trip -- so I proposed a compromise, suggesting that we have drinks and appetizers at our house and then dine in a nearby restaurant.

This strategy worked admirably. Several hours before the guests were expected, I made the hors d'oeuvres. When the guests arrived, I served Arugula and Bleu Cheese Toasts along with bowls of olives and glasses of wine.

This simple style of entertaining, where friends come for appetizers and wine before dinner out, is a winning formula when you are short of time. I didn't miss one minute of the lively conversation that night and, best of all, at the end of the evening I was relaxed, not exhausted.

Argugula and Blue Cheese Toasts

Makes 24 toasts

24 (3/8-inch-thick) bread slices, cut on the diagonal from baguette about 3 inches in diameter

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more if needed

4 strips bacon

5 tablespoons chopped shallots

10 to 12 ounces arugula, stemmed, cleaned and coarsely chopped

1/4 teaspoon salt, plus more if needed

1 (4-ounce) wedge creamy blue cheese without rind, broken into pieces

To prepare toasts, brush bread slices lightly on each side with olive oil. Place on baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Bake at 350 degrees on center rack 5 minutes, then turn and bake additional 5 minutes until light golden brown. Remove and set aside on baking sheet.

Saute bacon in large, heavy skillet over medium heat until crisp, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove and drain on paper towels. Pour off and discard all but 4 teaspoons drippings in skillet. Return pan to low heat. Add shallots and cook, stirring, until just softened, about 2 minutes. Add arugula and cook, stirring constantly, until wilted, about 2 minutes. Season with 1/4 teaspoon salt. Taste and add more salt if needed.

Mound each toast with some arugula mixture. Top with some blue cheese and return to baking sheet. Crumble bacon and sprinkle some over each toast.

(Toasts can be prepared 3 hours ahead. Leave, covered loosely with plastic wrap, at cool room temperature.)

To finish, heat at 350 degrees 3 to 4 minutes until topping is warm and cheese melted. Watch carefully. Transfer toasts to serving plate and serve warm.

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