Sometimes when there's a very special evening planned with friends at the theatre, a late night dinner party or buffet can be the perfect ending to a perfect "play date." There's nothing quite like having your house filled with the laughter of friends and the delicious smells emanating from great food on the buffet. So, let the laughter begin at your house this fall when you invite your theatre-going group over for a late-evening buffet.

To elevate the mood, a charming idea for party decorations would be to take themes from the play everyone has just enjoyed and carry it through in the table or buffet setting. For instance when the Nutcracker shows up on the Playhouse stage this Christmas season, Dec. 7-11, cutouts of ballerinas, sugar plums and nutcrackers would make a sparkling addition to the scene. A Sanders Family Christmas, Oct. 26-Dec. 23, inspires paper pulpits, colorful neck scarves and quirky caps. White Christmas comes to the Playhouse stage Nov. 10-Dec. 23, and inspires stockings, snowflakes and sleighs.

Following are a few suggestions for a tempting menu to fill your table and please your guests.



Filet Mignon with Cracked Pink Peppercorns

Ingredients

1/4 cup pink peppercorns, cracked

1 tbsp kosher salt

2 center-cut beef tenderloins (about 2 pounds each)

2 tbsp olive oil

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Tarragon or coarse-ground mustard

Directions

Preheat oven to 350° F. Combine peppercorns and salt in a small bowl; rub over all sides of tenderloins.

Heat one tablespoon oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add one tenderloin; cook, turning occasionally, until browned on all sides, about 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer tenderloin to a roasting pan. Repeat with remaining oil and tenderloin.

Insert meat thermometer into thickest part of one tenderloin. Roast until temperature registers 145° F, 35 to 40 minutes for medium rare. Transfer beef to cutting board; let stand 10 minutes. Carve into 1-inch-thick slices. Sprinkle with parsley and serve with mustard. Serves 8.

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Poached Shrimp with Fire-Hot Cocktail Sauce

Ingredients

2 cups white wine

4 celery ribs, cut into 2-inch pieces

3 bay leaves

Juice of 2 lemons

1 tbsp kosher salt

40 large shrimp in shells (about 1 1/2 pounds)

1 (11-oz) jar cocktail sauce

1 tsp finely chopped jalapeño pepper

Directions

In a large stockpot, combine wine, celery, bay leaves, lemon juice and salt. Add enough cold water to fill pot to two-thirds; cover and bring to a boil. Uncover; reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes.

Add shrimp. Increase heat to high; cover and return to boil. Cook shrimp until just opaque in center, about 2 to 3 minutes. Drain in colander; rinse under cold water until cool. Peel; refrigerate until ready to serve.

Combine cocktail sauce and jalapeño in a medium bowl. Serve with shrimp. Serves about 20.

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Crispy Roasted Garlic Potatoes

Ingredients

1/3 cup olive oil

6 large Russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces

24 cloves garlic (unpeeled)

12 shallots, roots trimmed (unpeeled)

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper

1/2 cup fresh rosemary leaves

Directions

Preheat oven to 425° F. Pour oil into a large roasting pan; transfer to oven and heat 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine potatoes, garlic, shallots, salt and pepper in a large bowl.

Carefully transfer vegetables to hot roasting pan; roast 30 minutes. Stir in rosemary; roast until vegetables are tender, about 30 minutes.

Increase oven temperature to broil. Broil vegetables, 4 inches from heat, until crisp, 2 to 3 minutes. Serves 8.

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Baked Caprese Salad

Ingredients

1 loaf baguette, cut into 1/2-inch thick slices (about 30 to 36 slices)

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

5 Roma tomatoes, sliced

1 1/4 lbs fresh mozzarella, sliced

1 bunch fresh basil leaves, stemmed

Directions

Preheat the oven to 450° F.

Arrange the sliced baguette bread on a baking sheet. Brush with some of the olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Bake until the bread is pale golden and crisp, about 5 minutes. Remove from the oven. Top each slice of bread with a slice of tomato and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Top each slice of tomato with a slice of mozzarella and sprinkle with salt. Return the baking sheet to the oven until the cheese and tomato are warmed, about 5 minutes.

Arrange the toasts on a serving platter. Top each toast with a basil leaf. Using the brush, drizzle the remaining olive oil over the basil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and serve.

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Corn and Crab Fritters with Garlic Aioli

Ingredients

1 tbsp unsalted butter

1 1/2 cups frozen corn, thawed

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp kosher salt

1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper

1/8 tsp ground red pepper

2/3 cup milk

2 large eggs

1 lb fresh lump crabmeat, picked over

Vegetable oil for pan-frying

Garlic aioli

Directions

Preheat oven to 250° F. Line two baking sheets with a double layer of paper towels.

In a medium skillet over medium heat, melt butter. Add corn and onion; cook, stirring occasionally, until onion softens, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat; cool.

In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt, pepper and red pepper. In a medium bowl, whisk together milk and eggs. Gradually whisk milk mixture into flour mixture just until smooth. Stir in corn mixture and crabmeat. Cover and refrigerate 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, add enough oil to a large, heavy skillet so it reaches 1/4 inch deep; heat over medium-high heat. Carefully drop 6 to 8 mounds of batter by level tablespoon into hot oil. Cook until golden brown, about one minute per side. Transfer fritters to paper towels; keep warm in oven. Repeat with remaining batter. Serve with garlic aioli (a garlic-flavored mayonnaise of Provence, served with fish, seafood and vegetables).

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Chocolate Pot de Crème with Vanilla Ice Cream

Ingredients

4 oz good-quality bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

1 cup heavy or whipping cream

1/2 cup milk

4 large egg yolks

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 pint fresh raspberries

1 quart vanilla ice cream

Directions

Place chocolate in a medium bowl. In a small saucepan, bring cream and milk just to boil. Add to chocolate; whisk until mixture is smooth and chocolate is melted. Refrigerate 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350° F. Place 10 espresso (or other small) cups in a large roasting pan.

In a large bowl, whisk together yolks and sugar until blended but not foamy. Gradually whisk in chocolate mixture until blended. Strain custard through a sieve set over a large glass measuring cup.

Pour a scant 1/4 cup custard into each espresso cup. Place pan with cups on center oven rack; carefully pour enough hot water into pan so it reaches halfway up sides of cups. Bake until custards are set in center, about 35 to 40 minutes. Transfer custards to a cooling rack; cool to room temperature, then refrigerate at least one hour. Top with raspberries and ice cream. Makes 10 servings.

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Pear Clafouti

Ingredients

1 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/3 cup + 1 tbsp granulated sugar

3 extra-large eggs, at room temperature

6 tbsp all-purpose flour

1 1/2 cups heavy cream

2 tsp pure vanilla extract

1 tsp grated lemon zest (2 lemons)

1/4 tsp kosher salt

2 tbsp pear brandy (recommended: Poire William)

2 to 3 firm but ripe Bartlett pears

Confectioners' sugar

Creme fraiche

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375° F. Butter a 10 x 3 x 1 1/2-inch round baking dish and sprinkle the bottom and sides with 1 tbsp of the granulated sugar.

Beat the eggs and the 1⁄3 cup of granulated sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. On low speed, mix in the flour, cream, vanilla extract, lemon zest, salt and pear brandy. Set aside for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, peel, quarter, core and slice the pears. Arrange the slices in a single layer, slightly fanned out, in the baking dish. Pour the batter over the pears and bake until the top is golden brown and the custard is firm, 35 to 40 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature, sprinkled with confectioners' sugar and creme fraiche.

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