Once upon a time, inviting the boss to dinner meant preparing for the arrival of a middle-aged man with a non-working wife on his arm. More often than not, it was the woman of the house who spent all day in the kitchen getting ready.
Dinner began with cocktails, nuts and maybe cheese straws in the living room, then continued in the dining room with a perhaps vichyssoise in the summer or onion soup in the winter. Next might have come roast beef and gravy with mashed potatoes, broccoli and a congealed salad, and, finally, charlotte russe or pecan pie for dessert. At the end of the evening, an overstuffed boss and spouse would leave Dad to ponder his prospects for a raise and Mom to ponder the dishes.
Ah, but things have changed. Today's boss might just as easily be a she as a he, who may or may not have a spouse, who more than likely also works. It may be Mom's boss rather than Dad's who gets entertained. The cook might be the he of the family rather than the she--or both of them.
As for the menu itself, people are eating much more healthily and adventurously than they were a generation ago. Regardless of who does the cooking, it's a safe bet that no one is going to spend the day in the kitchen getting ready for company--boss or no boss.
But one thing hasn't changed: The best dinner parties are those done with ease and assurance. That means keeping the menu doable and affordable, planning carefully and preparing as much as possible ahead of time. A little flair never hurt, either.
When I'm entertaining, I always post a time chart on the refrigerator, starting with the time I want to serve and working backward. (For a weeknight dinner for working people, 7:30 p.m. is a reasonable time to begin serving. When I invite people, I tell them, "Drinks at 7, dinner at 7:30.")
I also advise making a simple list of serving dishes and implements that you plan to use. This avoids last-minute confusion and saves you from leaving the salad in the bottom of the refrigerator, to be found the next day.
The old adage that you should never cook anything for the first time when you are entertaining holds doubly true when the boss is coming. I recommend a trial run with some good friends or neighbors. Invite them for the same time of evening you plan to ask the boss, then prepare ahead as you will for the big night. Make a schedule and refine it if necessary, so that when the real time comes there will be no snags.
The nice thing about dishes cooked in parchment paper is the excitement that accompanies the presentation. Foil works as a substitute, but is not as dramatic. Either way, the whole package can be made ahead and refrigerated, ready to pop in the oven. The sauce is a variation of a veloute sauce. If using a thick fillet, you may have to add five minutes cooking time. Also, add five minutes if the package has been refrigerated before cooking. The mushrooms dilute the thick sauce and give a nice crunch. If you can see the shrimp through the paper, they should be pink.
4 medium (about 1/4-inch-thick) flounder fillets or other flat fish fillets such as lemon sole
1/2 pound shrimp, shelled and deveined
1/2 pound sea scallops
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup flour
2 cups fish stock, clam juice or chicken broth
1/4 cup dry white wine
Freshly ground pepper
2 egg yolks, lightly beaten
Parchment paper or foil
1/4 pound mushrooms, sliced
2 green onions, diagonally sliced (green tops reserved)
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
Rinse flounder, shrimp and scallops. Drain on paper towels. Melt butter in skillet over medium heat. Stir in flour and cook until golden. Gradually add fish stock, stirring constantly. Bring to boil. Reduce to simmer and cook, stirring, until reduced by half. Add wine and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Add little of sauce to egg yolks and then stir yolks back into sauce. Stir few seconds over low heat without overcooking yolks. Strain if necessary.
Cut 8 small or 2 large sheets parchment paper or foil to make 4 individual pouches or 1 large one. Brush half with oil. Place fillets side by side in middle of large sheet or 1 fillet on each small sheet.
Place 1/4 of shrimp, scallops, mushrooms, green onions and parsley on top of each fillet. Spoon sauce liberally over seafood and top with reserved green onion tops. Cover with another parchment paper sheet, securing tightly, so that no juice can escape. May be made ahead to this point and refrigerated.
Place pouches on oiled baking sheet. Bake at 400 degrees until paper browns, about 10 minutes. Serve in pouch, slitting pouch at table, or open pouch and turn onto plate or serving platter just before serving. Makes 4 servings.