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Chicken with olives or peppersBy Rosemary Collins, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist

There is nothing more enjoyable than hosting a casual meal for your friends at home. Almost everyone, though, feels a little nervousness during the preparatory stage.

You just need a little planning and some good ideas for simple and easy dishes to serve. There is no need to be a wonderful chef or to have to prepare the whole meal; your friends may be happy to bring along a dish to share on the day.

The most important part is the friendship and a chance to get together and chat whilst enjoying your summer meal.

*The first step is to invite your friends and choose a time which works well for everyone; lunch can be a wonderful time to get together especially on a nice summers day. A shaded area out on the deck or patio can be a very inviting place to eat.

*Next try to make everything easy for yourself. If you are feeling creative try choosing a new recipe from a summer magazine or try one from my recipe selection. Alternatively repeat a favorite you have tried a few times and you know works well!

*Then call your friends to see what they might offer to compliment your menu. If they agree to bring a salad, a side dish, or a dessert, then your menu is complete! Even if you have a friend who doesn’t like to cook it is easy to pick up a tasty readymade salad or dessert from the store.

*The next step is to make a list and shop a day or two before your lunch or dinner.
You might even like a visit to a local farmers market where there will be a healthy selection of fresh vegetables, corn, tomatoes, lettuce and all the really fresh and tasty summer produce.

*These are some quick and easy summer recipes you might like to try.

Chicken with olives or peppers - Mediterranean style (Servings 4)

Ingredients:

4- chicken breasts (boneless, skinless)
2 Tbs. Olive oil
½ lb. tub olive selection from supermarket deli bar- my favorite is lemon with garlic or as an alternative red bell pepper selection with sun dried and cherry tomatoes.

Directions:

1.Preheat oven to 375°F
2. Turn chicken breasts in olive oil until lightly but evenly coated in an ovenproof glass dish
3. Use olives or red pepper / sun dried tomato topping or both if you prefer to top chicken breasts. Chop into smaller pieces and spread evenly over chicken. Cover with foil and bake for 20- 25 minutes until chicken is thoroughly cooked.

Serve with: baby new potatoes, couscous or rice, green salad.

Sonoma chicken saladSonoma chicken salad 

Ingredients:

Dressing
1-cup plain yogurt or light salad dressing
4 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
5 teaspoons honey
2 teaspoons poppy seeds
Light salt and pepper, to taste

Salad
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts
¾ cup pecan pieces, toasted
2 cups red seedless grapes, halved
3 stalks celery thinly cut

Directions:
In a bowl, combine yogurt/salad dressing, vinegar, honey, poppy seeds, salt and pepper. Refrigerate until ready to dress the salad. This can be prepared up to 2 days ahead.

Preheat the oven to 375 °F. Place the chicken breasts in one layer in a baking dish with ½ cup water. Cover with foil and bake for 25 minutes until completely cooked through. Remove cooked chicken breasts from pan, cool at room temperature for 10 minutes, then cover and refrigerate.
When the chicken is cold, dice into bite – size chunks and transfer to a large bowl. Stir in pecans, grapes, celery and dressing.

Serve with a selection of fresh whole grain breads as a main dish.

Black Bean SaladBlack Bean Salad (Servings 4)

Ingredients:

1 ripe avocado mashed
¼ cup chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 (15oz) cans black beans, rinsed and drained
1 can of kidney beans, rinsed and drained
4 cups shredded romaine lettuce
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
1-cup corn kernels
1 small red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
½ cup pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds (optional)

Directions:

In a large bowl, whisk together avocado, cilantro and limejuice until well blended. Add all other ingredients and stir evenly until coated.

Serve as a side dish.

Meringue with Berries (servings 4) adapted from Delia Smith online recipes

Meringue with BerriesThis is one of the nice and easiest summer desserts

Ingredients:

4 individual meringue cases
For the topping
¾ lb. of strawberries or raspberries or a mixture of blueberries, strawberries and raspberries
Directions
Place meringue cases on individual dishes
Top the meringues with an equal mixture of fruits.
For a little extra touch on presentation serve with a sauce of pureed fresh raspberries.

Serve with: Whipped low fat cream or vanilla Greek yoghurt on the side.

Keeping preparation easy on the day

*On the day spend a little time chopping and preparing items in advance - you can even put your prepared items or a dressing in a container in the fridge get them out when you want to finish and serve the dish.

*An hour or so before your friends are due to arrive prepare and put any hot dishes dish in the oven and remember set your timer!

*Set up your table with a summer theme -nice bright colored placemats or tablecloth, paper napkins, silverware, water glasses and a few flowers from your garden if you have some to add a touch of summer. Place a jug of iced water with lemon slices in the fridge to chill ready to serve.

*Then you are ready to greet your friends, relax and enjoy!

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