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help me impress my bf!

  • j

i will be cooking for my bf for the first time (yikes!). i am not much of a cook but he is a great cook (i know, i am a lucky gal). i need a great menu (not too difficult to make) to impress him (although we are past the impressing you stage) or just put a smile on his face. appetizer, salad, main course (with side dishes), dessert, accompanying wine/cocktail. no chocolate in the dessert, and light on the dairy on all plates.

i am willing to travel to little delis and farmer's markets to get any ingredients near santa monica, ca.

thanks in advance!!

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  1. That's such a broad question, it's hard to know where to start.

    Okay, here's where to start: don't make all of it yourself. Buy some prepared dishes for the appetizers and/or salad and/or sides. Think about what some of your favorite prepared foods are and come up with a theme. Maybe you know a place that makes great tabbouleh, so you could do an Eastern Mediterranean themed meal: a plate of spreads for an appetizer, lamb for a main, baklava (which you can also buy) for dessert. Or maybe you have a favorite Italian deli. You get the picture.

    The other thing is: choose dishes you can make in advance, to take the pressure off and let you relax. You don't want to be so stressed out from cooking that you don't enjoy the evening with your BF. Maybe an All-American meal with chili you can make in advance, cornbread, green salad, etc. Or build a meal around a favorite dish you know you can make well. Put your efforts into the "showy" parts of the meal: a strong entree and a fabulous dessert (there was a thread a few days ago about non-chocolate desserts with lots of ideas). And wine, lots of wine!

    Good luck!

    1. Ruth's advice is excellent. I'd suggest a roasted chicken. It's easy and it's not something that has a lot of "last minute" steps (other than carving). As sides, maybe some simple roasted potatoes (you can roast them in the oven with the chicken). Any seasonal vegetable would be great. You can do some ahead of time and serve at room temperature. Here is a reliable recipe. You can substitute your favorite vegetables -- red peppers, eggplant, zucchini, etc. http://www.foodnetwork.com/food/recip...

      1. Another possibility: it's wild Pacific salmon season and poaching a salmon in white wine with some seasonings and herbs is really easy. What's more, if your timing isn't perfect and the salmon is finished before dinnertime, no problem--it's just fine at room temp. You can make a blender mayonnaise if you (a) have a blender and (b) feel ambitious--chop up some fresh herbs, parsley/dill/tarragon/whatever and stir them into the mayo and spoon it over the fish.

        Inexperienced cooks often worry about coordinating everything so the dishes are finished simultaneously. In fact almost everything can be "held" for at least 15 minutes, and roast meat and poultry actually improve if allowed to rest after coming out of the oven.

        Also: hand him a large vodka martini the minute he comes through the door. A tipsy guest is an easy-to-please guest.

        1. thanks everyone! very helpful advice. lots of alcohol, and something low maintenance so i could actually enjoy the meal. the problem here is that he cooked a delicious mediterranean meal for me before, and a roast chicken - i was trying to go for something different. the salmon might be a good idea..

          thanks again!

          1. I'd agree with Ruth's initial suggestions. Keep it simple, don't try to prepare complicated dishes for all of the courses, and make things you can prepare in advance, even the day before if possible. If it were me I'd probably do a plate of cured meats, olives, almonds ect for the appetizer (in any event things you can purchase), its nice to have things for him to nibble on in the event that things don't time out well. Arugala or baby greens salad with shaved parmesan, toasted pine nuts, shaved fennel or some fresh zucchini ribbons and a lemon/garlic/olive oil vinagrette. Super easy, you can have it all set to go in the bowl and just toss it with the dressing at the last minute. I like the idea of some sort of main dish roasted in the oven, but I would avoid having to carve a chicken in this situation it can be messy and difficult if you're not used to doing it. It can also be tricky to tell when roasted chickens are done if you haven't made them many times before. Raw chicken is not romantic. A roasted pork loin is much easier to carve and time and would still go great with roasted potatoes which can be done in the same pan and make ahead seasonal veggie sides such as those farmersdaughter recommended. A dish with roasted chicken pieces that have been marinated overnight might also be a good option. I'd close it out with a fresh fruit gallette which is super easy to make if you can roll out a circle of pie crust, or have a good supplier for refrigerated pie dough.

            Happy Cooking!

            1. I'm surprised no one has suggested meat.

              What better way to a man's heart than a big ol' roast, or a juicy steak? You can get a tri-tip, pop it in the oven, season it liberally, smoosh foil around it, and let 'er rip for an hour or so (test it to make sure it's not raw!)at 425. Roast some red potatoes in another pan in the oven (start those before, drizzle some olive oil, cracked pepper, boom. done. A salad and some warm bread. You can easily do a mustard sauce simply by mixing some Grey Poupon, sour cream and a little milk, then zap it in the micro. Poof! Instant sauce. Not in the mood for mustard? spoon some of those pan juices over the meat and you're done.

              Some red wine, and I'd say the evening was a hit.

              1. Here's another idea for dessert: Peaches and berries in prosecco. Its practically the easiest dessert in the world and it does impress with its beautiful simplicity. We had this the other night with white donut peaches and it was divine. This is a dessert that requires making ahead -- it should sit at least an hour, but you can even make it up to 8 hours in advance.

                The amounts are a guideline for 2 people, but they measurements don't matter that much - just do whatever amounts of fruit suit you: (The original recipe is from Marcella Hazan, Marcella Cucina)

                approx 1 pound of white peaches
                approx 1/2 pint of mixed berries, preferably blueberries and raspberries
                approx 1/3 cup sugar, preferably superfine
                Zest of 1/2 a small lemon
                mint leaves for garnish

                Slice the peaches into a glass serving bowl (I used a trifle bowl, but a punch bowl is nice too). sprinkle the lemon zest and the sugar over the peaches. Sprinkle the berries over. Add enough prosecco to cover the fruit (maybe for this much fruit about a cup). Gently stir to dissolve sugar, careful to not damage the berries. Cover and let sit in the refrigerator until you are ready for dessert. When you are ready to serve, add a few mint leaves to the fruit bowl as garnish. Mmmmmmm.

                1 Reply
                1. re: grubn

                  I am totally stealing this recipe for a dinner party I have coming up! Good use for my chocolate mint growing in the backyard too :)

                2. what about a anti pasta plate (olives, cheese, meats, olive oil, bread etc)for app, seafood lasagne (I say if you can find fresh pasta sheets do it sooo much better and easier b/c you do not need to boil)with perhaps a bechemal or light tomato cream sauce. salad with homemade ceasar dressing.retro, but so good. dessert sky is the limit-can be very simple or complicated-something with lemon and berriers could cleanse the palate

                  1. Fruit in prosecco, absolutely. Fruit over good vanilla ice cream, also good. Or get all French and buy some good cheese (shouldn't be a problem in Santa Monica/West LA) and a bottle of good dessert wine--Madeira, maybe.

                    1. I would say, if you are a somewhat inexperienced cook, that I would avoid roast chicken, speaking from personal experience. Sure, it's easy for someone to roast a chicken that has been cooking for ages, but I know, as a somewhat inexperienced cook, I'm not comfortable knowing when a whole chicken is done, etc. Same goes for fish too. Just my opinion, of course! Also coming from the inexperience point of view, I would recommend using a recipe, preferably a so-called "tried and true" recipe.

                      I think the antipasto idea for a starter is a terrific idea, because that will not stress you out in the least, but can still be impressive. Also, he can be snacking on that, if you are still doing other things in the kitchen. As far as mains go, here are a few suggestions that have gone over well with my fiance:
                      Filet Mignon with Balsamic Syrup and Goat Cheese http://www.foodnetwork.com/food/recip...
                      Penne with Beef and Arugula (this would be nice and light
                      Southwestern Grilled Beef Salad with Corn Salsa and Chipotle Dressing http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/rec...
                      The salads as mains are nice, because all you really have to do is make an appetizer, some kind of bread or something to go with the salad, and then the dessert! Dessert can be the easiest, especially if you are able to make it ahead of time. Good luck and I hope you report back on what you made!

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Katie Nell

                        I've made that Filet with Balsamic and Goat cheese and it was fantastic!

                      2. You've gotten some great menu ideas, in fact I'm going to make the peach/berry/proseco dessert tonight! If you have time, and are comfortable improvising I prefer to do the marketing before I decide what to make - but I recognize that approach may be uncomfortable for the novice cook. My more important suggestion is that you focus on creating a sensual environment and serving luscious, but light, dishes. Your boyfriend is the better cook, so the point of this meal is not to compete in the kitchen. The point of this meal is to pamper him. Set a gorgeous table, use lots of candles and serve a sparkling wine.

                        1. I agree with hbgrrl - steak is super-easy and very impressive! For the easiest way to cook it, buy a piece of tenderloin or a hanger steak, spread 2-3 cloves of minced garlic, pepper and olive oil on top and let it sit for 10-20 minutes. Heat a frying pan on high until it's super-hot and sear the meat on both sides - 4-6 minutes per side for medium rare (depending on the meat's thickness...when in doubt, make a little cut in to check it out!) and serve with hot mustard or a herbed butter. For sides, whatever vegetable looks nicest at the market - saute some zucchini or sweet potato coins in a pan, steam some broccoli, or make a caprese salad (sliced tomato, bocconcini and basil with salt, olive oil and balsamic vinegar.) Fruit with prosecco sounds lovely, grubn!

                          1. i feel like a coward but i am scared to cook dishes that he has cooked for me - including a fabulous steak. i saw giada this morning on the today show - she made this fig/goatcheese wrapped in prosciutto, broiled it for 5 mins, put it on a bed of greens. i may start with that..

                            rather than steak, tri tip sounds good.. still considering as d-day is still a week away...

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: jwn

                              Hopefully, as the relationship progresses, you will discover it is best not to be competitive. Keeping score on either side, about ANYTHING, can slip down a very ugly slippery slope.

                              My SO also is the most amazing cook and baker!! It was only in the VERY initial courting stages that we 'cooked' for each other to impress. Very quickly though, we discovered that we LOVED to cook together (Especially for others!). We have worked through a few cookbooks, make special projects, and entertain together. We have SO much fun doing it and we're teaching each other so many things. I hope your interest in cooking continues and that you guys get to that stage... :)

                              That being said, my favorite, SUPER simple dish to impress that is not steak is Charmoula over fish. It's PERFECT for the summer (Charmoula is a chilled Morroccan Salsa made with lots of spices and parsley) and would go lovely with those figs...

                              Basically, you take a couple of thick pieces of fish (I like Halibut, but Salmon works equally as well)

                              Pre heat oven to 375 degrees

                              Season Fish with plenty of salt and pepper and place them in a a foil pouch

                              Cook fish for about 20 minutes (Check pouch to see if fish is flakey)

                              While fish is cooking, use a food processor to create a Charmoula Salsa. Here's a recipe I found on-line that is pretty close to my own:


                              WHen fish is done, serve with Charmoula placed on top. Along side you can serve one of those take away cousous salads from WF or Bristol Farms.



                              1. re: Dommy

                                Great post, Dommy! I know what I'm making this weekend!

                                1. re: Dommy

                                  I thought you didn't like salmon?!? ;-)

                                  Cooking fish in a packet (or pouch) is a great way to do it... it's pretty foolproof, because the fish stays moist longer, so less chance of it being overcooked.

                                  1. re: Katie Nell

                                    LOL! I actually make this for my Salmon loving friends. That is why I put each fish piece in a seperate foil pouch... so that icky salmon doesn't contaminate my NUMMY Halibut and then everyone is happy! :)


                              2. You've gotten so many great suggestions, but here is mine:

                                For the main course I recommend the "spicy sauteed fish with olives and cherry tomatoes" on epicurious.com It is simple and delicious and you can have the few ingredients prepped and then cook it in no time.

                                Serve it with whatever vegetable looks best at the market (perhaps green beans) or a salad and some Near East brand rice pilaf and you'll be set!

                                I suggest panna cotta with fresh berries for dessert. You make it a day ahead so you just have to assemble at the last minute.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: maviris

                                  I vote for this fish recipe, too -- you get a lot of flavor for very little effort.

                                2. For appetizers, I like to do really simple things with a lot of flavor. These three are my favorites, each one takes less than 5 minutes to prepare.
                                  - Phyllo cups (I buy the frozen ones, you don't even have to defrost them) filled with diced tomato, crubled goat cheese, and basil.
                                  - A Melba toast round spread with brie with a single whole raspberry on top.
                                  - heart of palm chopped and mixed with yogurt and dill on melba toast or crostini.

                                  These are super-easy. You can make the toppings in advance, and then put them in the shells or on the melba toast or bread at the last minute, so they don't get soggy.

                                  1. For a main, I actually suggest some sort of stewed dish. It's really hard to overcook a stewed meat. Steaks are easy to screw up. Nothing is worse than serving up raw or over cooked roast chicken. Stews can be made hours ahead of time and stored in a heating pot until serving time.

                                    I agree with not cooking as much as humanly possible. Buy, some premade tapas, salads, and antipastos for a starter. Phyllo is quick and great for presentation. Also, visit ethnic bakeries, and get an assortment of interesting desserts, to create a platter for him to pick and choose (middleeastern shortbreads, chinese cake slices).

                                    If you really want ot cook dessert from scratch, make some really pretty cupcakes. Make them ahead of time, and frost them just before serving.

                                    Hope all goes well!

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: qtxniki

                                      I agree about steak being a touchy dish. If you are not completely in tune with your stove and pans it can be hard to judge doneness, as well as taking into consideration the thickness and muscle density of the cut you are cooking. I disagree however with the suggestion of buying premade things - the level of complication of a dish is not always directly related to how impressive it is. You live in Southern California and have access to some of the best produce grown in the country, and at close to its' freshest state. I suggest you buy some tomatoes and whatever else is at it's peak right now, and create taste combinations that are maybe a little out of the ordinary (i've been making a salad of thinly-sliced fennel bulb, peaches, and red onions with a little lemon juice and single-estate california olive oil) and just present them nicely (composed salad plates always look beautiful if the ingredients are beautiful, no matter how you arrange them). And i think fish cooked in wine is a great idea - it is very quick and very easy to tell when it is done. Just rub the fish(halibut is good) with a little olive oil, lay it in a hot pan to get a little crispness, then flip it, pour in some wine and maybe shallots and herbs, maybe some chopped very ripe tomatoes, and cover it to let it steam. Once the fish is opaque through and flakes easily, you can remove it to a plate and reduce the wine for a minute or so, take it off the heat, add a little butter and there's a sauce. And fruit for dessert, with sorbet or sparkling wine and a little lemon or orange zest.

                                    2. Easiest thing ever. Beef Roast. It always turns out great and only takes 4 ingredients (I usually switch the water for red wine and use low sodium soup)


                                      Read the reviews and you will see how delicious it is. I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't made it myself. He does not have to know how easy it was and it is very impressive to have a large roast in the middle of the table!

                                      I usually serve it with mashed or baked potatos and a veg. I would recommend baked as it is simpler. Focus more on having a good time then on getting fancy. Just nuke some veges with butter. Don't make it too complicated. Nice loaf of bread, wine and lots of love. He will adore any effort that you give. It sounds like he is a regular cook and so he knows what time and energy goes into even the simplest meal. Enjoy! (Definitely do dessert)

                                      1. When I make miso fish, people are always impressed especially men as they aren't too fond of fish, but its a meaty fish steak and has flavor so this appeals to boys. Its my I don't feel like cooking dish.

                                        Its just cod steaks rubbed with a little miso paste all over (not too thick or it tastes too salty). Broil it. I usually serve it with water spinach stir fried in two whole cloves of garlic and a tiny spoon of shrimp paste.

                                        I would skip the salad and just do an appetizer, entree, and dessert.

                                        1. wow, thanks everyone! so many suggestions - it looks like i will have to do a post-dinner update next week with pictures. or maybe that will ruin the mood, stopping to take pictures and such..

                                          dommy! - there's absolutely no competing between us in the kitchen. he wins hands down.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: jwn

                                            You've gotten a lot of good replies, though I think that some of them might require more knowledge than a novice cook would have in order to do them well. Also, is this going to be done in your kitchen or his? Do you have a good supply of cooking supplies and utensils? Or are you more limited?

                                            A lot of the suggestions you've gotten have been for some impressive-sounding items, but in reality a good cook also usually enjoys good food, regardless of complexity.

                                            My suggestion would be much simpler than any of the others on here. I think the antipasto idea for an appetizer is great. I would follow it up with a simple pasta dish with marinara sauce. It's easy to make and can be made in advance, and is pretty much impossible to overcook or screw up provided you follow a decent recipe. Then the only thing you need to do is boil the water to cook the pasta.

                                            Spend a few extra bucks and get some good imported dried pasta. You can do the same for the plum tomatoes. A good Italian market should have a selection of these.

                                            I've used this as my fallback for many dinner dates, and it's always been a winner.

                                          2. it seems like i'm making everyone jump through hoops in giving me good suggestions.. i have another bit of info..

                                            he lives with a roommate, and he is a recent transplant from italy. he makes pizza from scratch! for the both of us! i can't compete with that! (not that i'm competing because of course, his roommate would win - i just don't want my bf to wish that the italian food i cooked was made by his roommate and not me).

                                            right now i am leaning toward a fish dish or a meat dish i can put a rub on or marinate and then stuff in the oven. and a rice dish. he likes rice but rarely is able to make it. fruit in prosecco sounds good..

                                            thanks everyone, i feel like i have some direction now..

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: jwn

                                              I have an idea for dessert: fruit crisp. I have a recipe that's dead easy and requires no skills, special equipment or ingredients. Make it with some good seasonal fruit (I just made it tonight with nectarines -- I don't even peel them -- and cherries, but you can use anything), and serve it warm with some good vanilla ice cream (actually Double Rainbow vanilla you buy at Trader Joe's is perfect).


                                              1. re: jwn

                                                OK, well given that bit of info, I can see why you'd want to avoid Italian!

                                                Here's another good recipe - very simple to make, and doesn't require a lot of fussing. Simply assemble the ingredients in the pan, and stick it in the oven. You will need to turn the chicken halfway through cooking.

                                                I make this all the time and it's very delicious. One suggestion - the instructions don't indicate, but it's best to start the chicken cooking skin side down. That way when you turn the pieces the skins will get nicely browned.


                                                Also, I just use thighs instead of an assortment of parts. Winds up being economical as well as tasty.

                                              2. The Chicken Marbella from the Silver Palate Cookbook is always a pleaser. You can make it in advance and reheat before the big event.

                                                A beautiful green salad with home made vinaigrette as a starter. You could always add some cheese and nuts. For the side dishes, Couscous,which you could also make in advance, or rice pilaf, and green beans or spinach. For dessert, I would do something simple like a Fresh Peach half filled with Ice cream or Sorbet and topped with a fresh Raspberry Puree.

                                                Good luck! I hope this is the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

                                                1. I'm really surprised to see all these suggestions for stewed and roasted dishes considering it's August and we're in Southern California! There's no need to slave for hours in the kitchen - this is a fantastic time of year to make a good tasting meal out of fresh ingredients. I would make something seasonal that is easy to prepare - like a grilled ribeye with an heirloom tomato salad and some fresh sweet corn on the cob, or harissa grilled chicken thighs with rice and cucumber relish. For dessert, a simple cake or tart made with fresh seasonal fruit- or something made with berries and lemon.

                                                  Forget the "multi course" aspect of the meal, and just give him something seasonal and fresh! You can get great fresh organic produce at the farmers markets, Whole Foods, Henrys or Trader Joes.

                                                  If you need more ideas, I would suggest browsing Epicurious or the Cooking Light website - both have ideas for stuff along these lines. You can search by ingredient, course, etc. Or, you can always check out the recipes on my blog and the other blogs linked on there. You will find literally hundreds of ideas! Good luck and have fun!!


                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: Alice Q

                                                    I have not had time to read all the answers but I will tell you this: If you can make his favorite food you are golden. My H is from Greece and he took me to alot of Greek restaurants while we were dating. I spent about four weeks trying recipes for his favorite greek foods and then made him a Greek dinner. He was hooked. The ploy worked. Married 39 years. Just make the thing that he loves and make it better than he has ever had it and you will win!!!!!