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A Gluten, Dairy, Soy, Nut, Egg and Mess-Free Dinner

To me, entertaining is one of life's greatest pleasures. There's only one problem: I hate cleaning up at the end of the night.
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To me, entertaining is one of life's greatest pleasures. There's only one problem: I hate cleaning up at the end of the night. I'm sort of a neat freak, and I hate throwing a party only to return to the kitchen at the end of the night to an explosion of baking sheets, serving bowls and leftovers. My husband constantly chastises me because I don't make the table look fancier and that I don't use every single, beautiful serving piece in our collection because, well, I just don't want to have to put it all away again.

Does this make me a bad person, a bad host? Maybe. I know that it definitely makes me lazy. But whatever, I believe that getting together for dinner with friends is more about the food and the company, and less about whether or not we're dining on Wedgwood.

Rarely do we stay in the City for the weekend, but given the snow on Friday and the fact that I had spent the day cleaning out my baking closet and labeling all of my new storage containers, I just couldn't face a nearly 3 hour drive out to Long Island. So, on Saturday morning, it occurred to me that we could have some friends over for dinner. With the exception of my own food allergies, there were no allergies, no vegetarians and no other major challenges in planning the menu. With no fish allergies, it seemed like the no-brainer of the day was to serve cod en papillote. This is not a particularly revolutionary cooking method, but it plays into my theme of laziness. I bought the fish, a small sweet onion, some zucchini and some very fancy grape tomatoes. I took it home, seasoned the fish, sliced the vegetables and then folded all of it up in six pouches. By 10:30 AM, dinner was ready to be cooked and there was zero mess.

Our guests arrived later in the evening, and all I had to do was take the pouches out of the refrigerator, put them in a 400 degree oven and bake them for 35 minutes. I tossed the aluminum foil and only had to load the dishwasher at the end of the night. The best part? Dinner was so colorful and tasty that our friends thought I'd worked really hard on the whole thing. The food was delicious and light. We had a really good time with our friends, and I wasn't stressed out all night about the mess waiting for me in the kitchen.

Seriously, this was my kind of party.

Cod En Papillote
This is a really easy, mess-free way to cook fish. However, if you have fish allergies, substitute 4 ounce, boneless chicken breasts for the cod.

6- 6oz cod fillets
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 small Vidalia onion, sliced in thin rings
6 small zucchini, sliced thinly
30 cherry tomatoes, halved
1 tablespoon olive oil

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and tear off 6, 14-inch squares of aluminum foil. In a small bowl, mix together the salt and Italian seasoning. Place a few slices of the onion in the center of one of the squares, place the slices of one of the zucchini on top of the onion slices and then a cod filet on top of the zucchini. Sprinkle some of the salt and Italian seasoning on top, and then 10 halves of cherry tomato on top of that. Drizzle with 1/2 teaspoon olive oil. Fold the aluminum foil over the top of the fish and fold the edges together to form a tight seal around the fish. Repeat the process until all of the fish is dressed and in a pouch.
Place the pouches in the preheated oven and bake them for 30-35 minutes. Be careful removing them from the oven so as not to spill any of the juice that may ooze out of the folded edges. To open the packages, I like to cut one end open with scissors, over the sink, and pour out the cooking juices. Carefully pull back the rest of the foil so as not to burn yourself. Then carefully transfer the fish and the vegetables to a plate.
Leftovers may be stored, refrigerated, for up to two days.

Serves 6