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Saturday, January 28, 2023

Stress less about entertaining! Cookbook author Claire Tansey shows us the way

Looking to be happier in 2023? There’s an easy way, and it’s right under your nose: host a dinner party. I know, I know, you’re exhausted from just keeping your life together for the past eleventythousand days — so am I — but go with me for a minute: Being with people we like is amazing for our health. Science has proven over and over that social interactions boost happiness, lower stress and lead to longer lives.

But the simple act of sharing a meal with friends has become so crusted with expectation (thanks to food TV, Instagram and even my beloved Barefoot Contessa) that it’s no wonder people are reluctant to undertake inviting friends over. Humbug! Instead of trying to out-Martha Martha, aim to spend time with friends without stressing about everything being perfect — or even close to it. Invite a few friends who always make you laugh. Don’t bother vacuuming or curling your hair. Serve some easy pasta and bagged salad. Keep it simple and focus on the fun. Here are some of my best low-stress tips, gleaned from decades of entertaining.

Lazy dinner party rules

1. No extensive housecleaning or personal primping

2. The meal must be uncomplicated and not require much work

3. Use dishwasher-safe plates, cutlery and glasses

4. No hostess gifts allowed

Drinks and appetizers

Take it easy on the snacks. Appetizers are optional, but if you choose to serve a little something before dinner it should be light, crunchy, tangy or salty — not rich. Store-bought everything works! Keep the drinks simple, too. There’s no need to have a bottle of every booze in the shop.

Easy appetizers

• Pickles, olives, marinated mushrooms or artichokes from your local deli

• Pretzels, popcorn or a few potato chips

• Say no to creamy hot dip, elaborate cheese boards, baked brie (sorry), devilled eggs or puff pastry — wrapped anything

Easy bar

• Have a bottle of red, a bottle of white, maybe a handful of beers

• Sparkling water and other non-alcoholic options

• If you really love crafting cocktails, have at it — but know it’s not a requirement!


Focus on uncomplicated crowd-pleasers. For me, that’s comfort food (I’d rather eat beans and wieners with friends than never get any dinner invites).

• Taco buffet (this is great for people with dietary issues and/or picky eaters because everyone can assemble the plate that works for them)

• Any stew or casserole that can be made in advance

• Breakfast for dinner. Fun!

• Sheet pan suppers where everything is roasted on the same pan

• takeout pizza. Seriously!

• Add a baguette warmed up in a 400F oven for 5 minutes to any meal, and everyone will be full and happy.

• A tub of decadent ice cream adds to the fun, too. I like to pick something slightly ridiculous like Major Chunks of Caramel with Hunks o’ Cookies and Chocolate Everything (store bought, obviously!).

“Dinner, Uncomplicated: Fixing a Delicious Meal Every Night of the Week,” $32, chapters.indigo.ca SHOP HERE

House prep

Were you, like me, programmed to believe you cannot have anyone over unless you’ve done a top-to-bottom house clean? Well, I’ve chilled out on that concern and given up most chores. “But, Claire,” I hear you saying, “My house is a disaster.” Guess what, so is mine. It’s a living house with real, messy humans inside. I’d still rather spend time with friends in our messy homes than never see anyone. Here are your cleaning chores in order of importance:

• Hide the clutter

• Tidy the bathroom

That’s it. Dim the lights and light some candles.

If there’s a friend you haven’t seen in ages, or a neighbour you’d love to get to know better, invite them for dinner. Keep the food simple and the drinks strong and just have fun. You’ll laugh and enjoy each other’s company, and no one will care that you didn’t make place cards or scrub your baseboards. They’ll be too busy asking for seconds of that over-the-top ice cream.

"Dinner, Uncomplicated: Fixing a Delicious Meal Every Night of the Week" (2020)

Ten Minute Tacos

Prep 5 minutes | Ready in 10 minutes | Serves 3 to 4


1 tbsp (15 ml) ground cumin

2 teaspoons mild chili powder

2 teaspoons cornstarch

2 teaspoons paprika

½ teaspoon smoked paprika

½ teaspoon garlic powder

½ teaspoon onion powder

¼ — ½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon cayenne (optional)

1 tablespoon (15 ml) canola oil

1 lb (500 g) lean ground beef (see below for vegan option)

½ cup (125 ml) water

Taco shells or wraps

Toppings (see below)


Combine the cumin, chili powder, cornstarch, paprikas, garlic and onion powders, salt and cayenne together in a small bowl. Reserve.

Heat a large non-stick frying pan over medium-high. Add the canola oil, then add the beef and smush it into an even layer. Cook for about 3 minutes, or until the beef is more than halfway cooked (no need to stir it yet).

Add the spice mixture and continue to cook, stirring and breaking up the meat, another 2 to 3 minutes, or until the beef is cooked. Stir in the water and cook another 30 seconds to 1 minute, or until the sauce thickens. Serve immediately with warmed taco shells and toppings.

TOPPINGS TO CONSIDER: Salsa, grated cheese, chopped avocado, sliced green onion, chopped lettuce, sour cream, pickled or fresh jalapenos, etc.

VEGAN OPTION: Use 2 540-mL cans black beans (rinsed and drained) in place of the beef. It won’t take as long to cook. Crush with an immersion blender or potato masher if you like.

MAKE IT AHEAD: Both the beef and black bean versions double well and freeze perfectly. Cook the recipe, then cool completely and freeze in airtight bags for up to 6 weeks.

Recipe from Dinner Uncomplicated: Fixing a Delicious Meal Every Night of the Week by Claire Tansey (2020).

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Claire Tansey is the author of national bestsellers “Dinner, Uncomplicated: Fixing a Delicious Meal Every Night of the Week” (2020) and “Uncomplicated: Taking the Stress Out of Home Cooking” (2018). Claire was food director of Chatelaine, is a guest expert on Cityline and CBC Radio and she runs a virtual cooking school where she inspires home cooks with easy, delicious recipes.


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