It has been months since you last saw each other. The demands of your job leave very little time to hang out, much less to enjoy your own life. And you know what happens to a dull girl, right? She picks up the phone, calls a few of her good girlfriends over and throws a “Ladies’ Night In.”

Instead of going out and spending money that you don’t have on drinks and food, why not host right in your own home, where you can kick off your shoes, unbutton the top button of your pants and let loose once you’re done…

There is no stressing about breaking the bank or bursting your waistline. Realizing that it is after the holidays and people tend to be exhausted financially as well as physically, you release your inner Martha Stewart and creatively whip up a few of your favorite appetizers, side dishes and main courses. Being the fabulous ‘budgetlista’ that you are, keep it to a minimum per person, that way it’s an even split.

Here are some tips to keeping it simple, healthy and ever so sexy at your next soiree:

1. Divide up the responsibilities. Assign each girlfriend a different task, whether it’s to bring a different item such as wine, crudites, desserts or side dish, etc.
2. Make a playlist on your iPod or MP3 player of your favorite songs to play when everyone arrives. While you’re cooking, guests can enjoy the sounds and even cut a rug or two until everything is properly prepared.
3. Break out the flicks! Nothing says a ladies’ night out like classics such as “Waiting to Exhale,” “Beaches” or “Love Jones” — all while lounging on the couch, armchair or the floor.
4. Think outside the box! Make your own rules and create your own unique menu based on your group’s likes and dislikes. There’s no set formula as to how you should run your show. Also, skip dessert. Instead savor the flavor of a sweet dessert wine. It contains fewer calories and will not stretch your waistline.
5. It is called a “Ladies’ Night In” for a reason. Turn your soiree into a slumber party. This way there’s no worry about anyone leaving intoxicated or extremely tired, and no one wants to move after a full belly, right?

Remember, this is more about gathering and reconnecting than anything else. And it helps if it involves beautifully prepared, healthy cuisine, right? Enjoy, and I cannot wait to hear about your next “Ladies’ Night In.”

Broccoli Dip
Makes 2 1/3 cups| Hands-On Time: 05m | Total Time: 05

1 14-ounce bag frozen broccoli, thawed
1 cup low-fat cottage cheese
kosher salt
15-ounce package pita chips

Puree the broccoli, cottage cheese, and 1/8 teaspoon salt in a food processor until smooth. Serve with the pita chips.

Maple Pepper Pecans

1/2 stick unsalted butter
1/2 cup maple syrup
1 1/2 teaspoons table salt
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 1/3 cups pecan halves

Melt the butter with the syrup, salt and cayenne pepper in a pan over a gentle heat. Add the pecans and stir to mix, leave them on the heat for 2 to 3 minutes. Spread the pecans on a silicon pad, parchment paper, or piece of foil to cool. Arrange the sticky pecans in bowls to serve.

Traditional Southern Deviled Eggs

7 large eggs, hard boiled and peeled
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 1/2 tablespoons sweet pickle relish
1 teaspoon prepared mustard
Salt and pepper, for taste
Paprika, for garnishing
Sweet gherkin pickles sliced, for garnishing
Pimentos, for garnishing

Halve 7 eggs lengthwise. Remove yolks and place in a small bowl. Mash yolks with a fork and stir in mayonnaise, pickle relish, and mustard. Add salt and pepper, to taste. Fill egg whites evenly with yolk mixture. Garnish with paprika, pickles and pimentos. Store covered in refrigerator.

Crispy Baked ‘Fried’ Chicken

8 chicken pieces (preferably 2 breasts, 2 thighs, 2 legs and 2 wings)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
4 cups cornflakes
2/3 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
3/4 teaspoon ground sage

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Place a rack in a roasting pan or on a baking sheet.
Rinse the chicken in cold water; pat dry. In a wide bowl or on a plate, season the flour with salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Dredge each chicken piece through the flour so it’s fully coated, tap against the bowl to shake off excess flour and set aside. Discard the flour.

Here comes the part kids like best: Crush the cornflakes by placing them in a big resalable plastic bag, carefully pressing the bag to push out the air. Seal up the bag (with as little air inside as possible) and run over the flakes with a rolling pin. Open the bag and pour the crushed flakes into a wide bowl or onto a plate.

In a large bowl (big enough to dredge the chicken pieces), mix the buttermilk, mustard, cayenne pepper, paprika and sage. Give each floured chicken piece a good buttermilk bath and then roll in the cornflake crumbs.

Arrange the chicken pieces on the rack and place in the hot oven. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes, lower the heat to 375 degrees and cook for another 25 to 30 minutes, until cooked through and crispy. The juices should run clear when the meat is pierced with a knife.

Carrot Salad

6 large carrots, peeled
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon salt, plus more for water
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the whole carrots (cut them in half if they don’t fit in the pot) and cook until just cooked through, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain and cut carrots into 1/2-inch thick slices.

Whisk together the lemon juice, garlic, cumin, cayenne, and salt in a large bowl. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil until emulsified and stir in the parsley. Add the cooked carrots and toss to combine. Serve cold or at room temperature.

Maple Roasted Sweet Potatoes

2 pounds small sweet potatoes (about 5), peeled and cut lengthwise into 1-inch wedges
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon pure maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
Sea salt and freshly grated nutmeg, to taste, for serving

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Toss the sweet potatoes on a large, foil-lined rimmed baking sheet with the oil; season, to taste, with salt and pepper. Roast the potatoes for 20 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven and toss the potatoes with the syrup.

Back in the oven, roast, tossing twice, until the potatoes are beginning to brown and are tender, about 15 minutes more. To serve, sprinkle warm potatoes with freshly grated lemon zest, sea salt, and nutmeg to taste.

Quinoa Pilaf with Crimini Mushrooms

1 tablespoon kosher for Passover olive oil
1 small shallot, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup crimini mushrooms, wiped clean and thinly sliced
1 1/2 cups quinoa, rinsed well and drained
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves removed from their stems
1 bay leaf
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
3 cups vegetable stock, or water

Place a saucepan on high heat and get it hot. Add the olive oil and swirl it around to make sure the entire surface is covered with oil. Add the shallot and sweat (cook until translucent but not brown). Add the crimini mushrooms and cook until brown. Add the quinoa, thyme leaves, bay leaf, kosher salt and black pepper to the pan and stir. Let the ingredients heat up and roast a little to bring out all their fullest flavors. The steam coming up should be very aromatic.

Slowly and carefully add the vegetable stock (it will spatter because the pan and ingredients are hot). When it comes to full boil, reduce the heat to a low simmer, cover and allow steaming for about 15 minutes.

After 15 minutes, turn off the heat, remove lid and fluff the quinoa and then replace the lid and allow to sit for about 10 minutes.

Taste for seasoning and adjust, if necessary.

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