As the COVID-19 pandemic begins to subside and government restrictions are lifted, households all across the country are returning to normalcy. That means dinner parties, game nights, and private celebrations of all kinds are finally re-emerging as crucial components in the social lives of many people. But after two years of on-and-off mandated constraints on the size of private gatherings, even the most experienced of hosts may have forgotten some of the more subtle culinary tricks for dazzling friends, relatives, and houseguests alike with a sumptuous meal. As a well-respected and highly sought-after private chef in the bustling, sophisticated metropolis of Toronto, Ontario, Adrian McKague knows a few trade secrets when it comes to meal preparation. After graciously agreeing to lend his expertise to the creation of this article, Adrian took some time to put thought into just the right recipe recommendations to aid those that find themselves in such a post-COVID predicament. So here, without further fanfare, are five popular recipes—one for each course of a typical five-course meal—that professional Private Chef Adrian McKague says all of his clients love, without exception.
Hors D’Oeuvre: Crab Toast
Yield: Serves 6-8 people
Time: 20 minutes
- 1⁄2 cup mayonnaise
- 1 (10 oz.) loaf sourdough, sliced half an inch thick and cut into thirds
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 12 oz. lump crabmeat
- 1⁄4 cup capers, rinsed
- 1⁄4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tsp. crushed red chili flakes
- 2 lemons, zest and juice
Heat a charcoal or wood-burning grill or set a gas grill to medium-high. Another option is to heat a cast-iron grill pan over high heat. Spread mayonnaise on each side of bread and season with salt. Proceed to grill for four to five minutes, flipping once, until crisp, then transfer to a serving platter. Stir crab, capers, olive oil, chili flakes, lemon zest and juice, salt, and pepper in a bowl. Spoon crab salad over toast.
“Crab toast is a delightfully tasty treat to lay down on a table for guests as they arrive and mingle amongst each other,” says Adrian McKague. “As with any good hors d’oeuvre, it is partly for eating and partly for discussing. This course is meant to be a conversation-starter, after all.”
Appetizer: Hot Spinach Artichoke Dip
Yield: Serves 6-8 people
Time: 30 minutes
- 1 package (8 oz.) cream cheese, softened
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/4 cup mayonnaise
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 teaspoon dried basil
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic salt
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- 1 can (14 ounces) water-packed artichoke hearts, rinsed, drained and chopped
- 1/2 cup frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
- 1/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
- Assorted crackers or toast points
In a large bowl, combine the cream cheese, Parmesan cheese, mayonnaise, garlic, basil, garlic salt and pepper and mix well. Stir in the artichokes and spinach. Transfer to a greased nine inch pie plate. Sprinkle it with mozzarella cheese. Bake, uncovered, at 350° for 20-25 minutes or until bubbly and edges are lightly browned. Serve with crackers or toast points.
“Simultaneously decadent and healthy, I have never seen this recipe for hot spinach artichoke dip fail to please, even in a room full of the most discerning gourmands,” remarks Chef McKague.
Salad: Quinoa Spinach Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette
Yield: Serves 2-4 people
Time: 15 minutes
- 1/2 cup quinoa, uncooked
- 2 cups spinach, finely chopped
- 1 tomato, diced
- 1/2 cup cucumbers, diced
- 1/4 cup raisins
- 1 + 1/2 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 + 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
In a medium bowl, rinse the quinoa a few times. In a medium saucepan, boil two cups of salted water. Add the quinoa and continue to boil for about ten minutes until the quinoa is tender. Drain the quinoa and let it cool. In a large bowl, combine the spinach, tomatoes, cucumbers, raisins and cooled quinoa. In a small bowl, make your lemon vinaigrette. Combine the lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. Pour onto the salad and toss to coat. Season to taste with more salt and pepper, if needed.
“Refreshing, summery, and not too filling, quinoa spinach salad with lemon vinaigrette is the perfect mid-meal respite for any guests in danger of over-eating. And it expertly cleanses the palette, paving the way for the entrée to come,” comments Adrian McKague.
Main Course: Seared Scallops with Basil Risotto
Yield: Serves 4
Time: One hour
- 2 cups pineapple juice
- 1 + 1/2 cups vegetable broth
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/3 cup minced yellow onion
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1 + 1/4 cups uncooked Arborio rice
- 3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, plus more for seasoning
- 3 tablespoons minced fresh basil
- 1 pound sea scallops
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus more as needed
- 1/2 cup micro-greens, for serving
Combine the pineapple juice and broth in a medium saucepan set over medium heat. Bring the mixture to a simmer, then cover with a lid and remove from the heat. Heat the butter in a large saucepan set over medium-low heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring, until the onion is translucent, which should be about five minutes. Add the rice and cook, stirring, for one minute. Add a ladle full of the hot juice mixture to the saucepan and cook, stirring, until the liquid is fully absorbed. Continue adding the hot liquid to the saucepan, one ladle at a time and stirring intermittently, until the rice is no longer crunchy, which should be about 30 minutes. Stir in the Parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper, then turn off the heat and stir in the basil.
Set aside the risotto, covered, while cooking the scallops. Pat the scallops dry, then season with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a medium skillet set over medium-high heat. Once the oil is hot, add half the scallops and cook undisturbed for two minutes. Flip the scallops, then tilt the skillet and baste them with the oil. Continue cooking the scallops an additional one minute, until no longer translucent. Transfer to a plate and repeat with the remaining scallops, adding more oil as needed.
Divide the risotto among serving plates and top with the scallops. Garnish with micro-greens and serve.
“Seared scallops with basil risotto is one of my favourite dishes to prepare. Though tricky to execute, the results—including a beautiful presentation, a welcoming aroma, and a dining room full of thoroughly impressed guests—are well worth the effort,” says Chef McKague.
Dessert: Mango Sorbet with Raspberry Sauce
Yield: Serves 4
Time: Four-five hours
- 3/4 cup caster sugar
- 1 cup water
- 1 1/2 cups raspberries
- 2 tbsp icing sugar
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
Combine the sugar and water in a heavy-based saucepan. Bring to the boil, stirring, until the sugar has dissolved. Reduce to a simmer and cook for five minutes without stirring. Remove from the heat, pour into a jug, and chill until cold, about two to three hours. Once cold, combine the sugar syrup with the mango and lime juice in a food processor. Purée until smooth. Pour the mixture into an ice cream machine and churn according to the manufacturer’s instructions until set and semi-frozen, usually 15-30 minutes. Cover and freeze for at least four hours.
Combine the raspberries with the icing sugar and lemon juice in a food processor. Purée until smooth before passing through a fine sieve into a bowl. Cover and chill until needed. Spoon the raspberry sauce into four serving glasses, then scoop the frozen sorbet on top.
“Mango sorbet with raspberry sauce is an ideal finish to any five-course meal. After guests have indulged in four other courses, the last thing a host should offer them is a heavy, rich dessert. Much better to serve something light and clean, and this recipe fits that description nicely,” comments McKague, adding, “Guests will leave the dinner party feeling satisfied but not overfull.”
Adrian McKague is a professional Private Chef residing in Toronto, Ontario in Canada.