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What do you cook when you don't know everyone's palate?

What is/are your fallback, tried-and-true, everyone-loves-it menu item(s)? When we entertain, we usually have a good idea of palates, but there is the occasion when someone says they just don't care what we serve or when I can't find out their dislikes.

Here's my generic please 'em menu:

strawberry salad (on fresh spinach with almonds)
chicken dish (usually baked, like a piccata)
meatless pasta (e.g., mushrooms, tomatoes, olive oil, spinach)
some kind of steamed veggie
bread
dessert can be anything from sorbet to a cake

Curious about your choices, since I'm looking for more creative alternatives to my main dishes.

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  1. 1. Roast capon is (other than turkey for Thanksgiving) my preferred poultry for company. Capon is much better designed for roasting than a large roasting chicken. Alternative would be grilled Cornell chicken (breasts and thighs, with skin and on the bone). Because everyone (other than me, it seems) eats boneless chicken parts all the time, I don't want to serve food that people are already getting at their homes for their ordinary meals.

    2. For pork, a good city ham (like Burger's Smokehouse spiral-sliced city ham). Virtually no one cooks a nice ham anymore, and folks devour hams with glee. I myself would prefer a lovely old-fashioned fresh ham, but the quality today is not as good, and pork shoulder is not to everyone's taste, sadly.

    3. For beef, grilled skirt steak is simple and wonderful.

    4. Racks of lamb (like from Costco or Trader Joe's) also go over well. Already prepped and easy to make. I myself love to grill lamb leg meat. Lamb actually goes faster (way faster) than chicken at my Easter buffets (supporting my thesis that people gravitate to old-fashioned foods they don't make themselves).

    5. Rice and bean dishes, like Hoppin John.

    6. Salads: if green, I offer a variety of dressings (homemade and storebought). My trademark Karlslaw is devoured by all sorts of unlikely folks (ranch or light sour cream-based dressing).

    7. Dessert: a seasonal fruit cobbler is hard to beat.

    1. * Make your own Pizzas
      * Baked Halibut with Charmoula On top
      * Veggie Lasagna
      * Chicken Enchiladas

      Sides:

      * Sauted Green Beans
      * Potatoes Anna
      * Mexican Rice and Black Bean Puree

      Desserts:

      * Apple Pie
      * Cherry Bars
      * Chocolate Torte

      1. Hotsmoked salmon with dill mustard sauce
        Stir-friend Asian veggies with chicken and oyster sauce
        Roast chicken - only for small groups, I'm not doing more than one
        Lasagna - seems everyone does this

        Orzo salad loaded with veggies, feta, olives
        Tossed green salad

        Pie - usually key lime and/or apple
        Brownies, ice cream optional

        1. Once I had 11 people over, encompassing kids, vegetarians, no-red meat, red-meat preferred, seafood preferred, etc., so I devised the following menu.

          Buid-your-own tacos: 3 separate saute pans of shrimp, beef, and chicken were set next to bowls of sliced spiced tempeh, grated cheese, guac, sour cream, lettuce, beans, rice, tomatoes, corn, 3 different salsas, cilantro, green onions, 4 different bottles of hot sauces, 3 different tortillas.

          Once I had everything prepped and staged, cooking the meats simultaneously on 3 different burners at the last minute was all I had to do.

          Dessert was build-your-own ice cream sundaes with brownies, fruit, 3 different ice creams and all the fixin's, including M&Ms.

          Kids and parents were all estactic about customizing their own meals.

          1. I think the build-your-own idea is marvelous for this type of situation. I've wanted to have a build-your-own pizza party where everyone brings a topping, but never thought to do it for times when I would be cooking.

            Trying to think of more build-your-owns...tacos and desserts (mentioned) are great. I'm thinking burritos as well...

            2 Replies
            1. re: yumtothetum

              The biggest problem w/ pizzas is that I can only cook 3 at a time (I have 3 pizza stones). For 12 people, the rotation can be quite long, and people have to eat in shifts when sharing is not an option between veg/beef/seafood eaters. Arrrrgh!

              1. re: Claudette

                I'm glad you brought this up. An alternative, to allow for more baking space, is subbing the rounds out with French bread.