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From VIP entrances in Versace to service entrances in my apron

  • Julie Anne Rhodes

Practically Effortless & Healthy Dinner Party

Weight loss diets, or getting back on track with eating healthy in the new year can sometimes present a real challenge to any social life. Drinks don’t work for me, plus I’m over rich restaurant food and crowds after the holidays, so what’s a gal to do? I prefer to casually entertain at home where I can control the ingredients

Tatjana and Julie Anne Rhodes in Hello Magazine

Tatjana and Julie Anne Rhodes in Hello Magazine

in my food, and keep it simple while enjoying the company of friends on a more intimate note. Tatjana and I had a most amusing couple over for dinner this week. I knew they were dieting too, so here’s the menu I

Julie Anne Rhodes cooking

Cooking for a healthy dinner party is easier than you may think

concocted to help us all stay on track. It took very little time or effort, had plenty of taste popping flavor so we didn’t feel deprived, and most of it could be made in advance so I could relax and enjoy the evening too.

Healthy Dinner Party Menu

Marinated Grilled Artichokes with Balsamic-Fig Dressing Dip

Herb Roasted Pork Tenderloin with Sauteed Spinach and Roasted Mixed Root Vegetables

Red Wine & Blood Orange Poached Pears with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream (optional)

Relying on high-fiber, low-calorie vegetables for the bulk of the menu is wise, but the secret to success with lean, healthy recipes is in boosting flavor with herbs and spices instead of hidden sugars, fat and salt. The recipes are available in the premium members recipe library with the exception of adding a slightly dramatic dimension to my balsamic dressing recipe with a tablespoon of fig-balsamic reduction.

Normally I would do the pears a day or two in advance, but the pears at my store were not quite ripe, so I wrapped them in a paper bag (which helps speed up the ripening process) overnight. I made the dish first

Pears poaching in red wine and blood oranges

Poaching pears in red wine first allows time for flavors to meld

thing that morning so they would have time to cool and the flavors meld. I simultaneously steamed the artichokes, then marinated them, and whisked together the dressing. More than half the dinner was easily prepared in just under an hour (using store bought ice cream). If you have more time, try my homemade Tahitian vanilla bean ice cream recipe, but Tatjana and I had some errands and serious shopping to do.

Marinated Grilled Artichokes

Marinated Artichokes can be grilled in advance

Upon our late afternoon return, I quickly grilled off the artichokes before taking a leisurely bubble bath to revive myself from the somewhat severe battering my credit card took earlier in the day.

I like to serve these artichokes at room temperature drizzled with just a little olive oil to keep them from drying out. The smokiness from the grill mixed with the tang of lemon zest in the marinade and a dusting of sea salt always makes my mouth water.

Balsamic-Fig Dressing and Grilled Marinated Artichoke

Balsamic-Fig Dressing compliments the grilled artichoke

Artichokes are the perfect low-calorie starter. You are forced to savor them as you scrape the cool “meat” from the bottom or each leaf through your teeth before sinking into the tender heart. I’m perfectly content with a bare artichoke, but I must admit the balsamic-fig dressing with it’s sweet and acidic overtones does compliment them exceptionally well. Serve it on the side, so your guests can dip without overindulging.

Julie Anne Rhodes making pork tenderloin

Pork loin is a very low fat and affordable cut of meat

Next I chopped all the vegetables and herbs. While the vegetables roasted, I prepared the meat, but that is the only part of the meal I waited to cook. Guests can often be late, and overcooking pork means dry, leathery meat. Since it only takes 25 minutes to cook a pork loin to perfection, I like to have the oven preheated, then

Mixed Root Vegetables

Mixed root vegetables offer a high-fiber alternative to classic roast potatoes

pop it in once we sit down to our first course. While the root vegetables were roasted, I sauteed the spinach, then kept both side dishes in my warming drawer. I know, most kitchens are not equipped with warming drawers, but remember all you have to do is quickly heat to eat the vegetables a few minutes before serving.

Ready, set table, go

Having the table set and the mostly made-ahead meal allowed me to comfortably enjoy our evening instead of running myself ragged, fussing over the stove and missing out on most of the giggles. In fact, we ended up having so much fun that the evening ran into the wee hours in what seemed like the bat of an eyelash!

Tatjana and Julie Anne Rhodes

Slave labor (ahem, I mean daughters) are always helpful too

Okay, so you are left with a few dishes, but you can get most of the pans done before guests even arrive. Isn’t that what we have daughters for? We make a great team – I cook, and she cleans. Thank you Tatjana!

Poached Pears
Red Wine & Blood Orange Poached Pears

Getting back into your best shape doesn’t have to mean goodbye to all desserts! It just means getting smarter about the ones you choose. Here’s an occasional indulgence I whipped up for the dinner party that won’t derail your weight loss plans completely (hint: go light or skip the whipped cream or ice cream), but it will make your sweet tooth happy, they look beautiful, and poached pears are a great make-ahead dessert. The citrus, cinnamon, and Szechwan pepper all serve to add robust exotic flavor without adding calories.

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