FRIDAY NIGHT WITH FRIENDS One sure way to strike fear in the heart of even your closest friends is to suggest they host the friendly Friday night neighborhood dinner. Watch them head for the phone.
Too often, takeout pizza has replaced the home-cooked meal. Even the potluck table is littered with telltale boxes. Friends don't expect five-star dining. So keep things easy. You can buy the ingredients at your local supermarket. Concentrate on the entree and assemble the rest of the meal with a minimum of fuss. Make it casual by serving everything family-style or from a buffet.
Hors d'oeuvres can be made in minutes by wrapping prosciutto -- now available in presliced packages -- around steamed asparagus spears or thin Italian breadsticks. Make a green salad your own by tossing in some sliced, sauteed mushrooms for an earthly, autumnal flavor.
For dessert, choose a sorbet and place a tray of cookies, also gathered from the supermarket, on the table.
For the main course, we offer an oven-braised chicken with leeks and dill. The dish is best when made the day before.
While your friends relax with a glass of wine, finish the sauce for the chicken and cook the noodles. When the chicken is on the table, it's time for you to rejoin the party.
Stephanie Witt Sedgwick, a former Food section recipe editor, is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America. Her Entertaining column will appear monthly.