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Menu challenge - high impact/low effort

I'm hosting a special birthday dinner for my husband. We plan to have about 12 guests. Can you give me a foolproof menu that will completely "wow" the guests? We're on a budget so we're trying to keep the costs moderate. I am definitely up for doing any amount of advance preparation but want to have a menu where there are very few last minute details to tend to.. I'm sure I'll be too tipsy to remember ! My husband loves spanish red wine so we'll probably serve spanish red wine and I want to do a port tasting with dessert. Any good menus would be appreciated!

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  1. Since you are having the red wine and port... :)

    There are several very simple "Paella" like dishes out there that you can make with in expensive chicken thighs and Sausages.

    Spanish Tortilla is mostly potatoes.

    For appetizers, you can do olives, bacon wrapped dates stuffed with cabrales cheese, Jamon Serano wrapped in figs, Dip made with red pepper paste. All these things are inexpensive at trader joes.


    1 Reply
    1. re: Dommy

      Oh, Saffron is also pretty inexpensive at Trader Joes too (Since people seem to like the "Paella" idea... :)


    2. My thoughts exactly, Dommy! I just want to suggest to the poster that she may want to pick up a copy of 'Paella!' by Penelope Casas. Lots of terrific paella recipes. Easy tapas and dessert ideas, too. I have paella/Casas on my mind since a friend and I are making two of her paella recipes over the Labor Day weekend. Can't wait. And good luck to AmblerGirl, too.

      1 Reply
      1. re: micki

        You could add a nice gazpacho -white or red- for an app. It is cheap, easy, and make-ahead.


      2. I don't think anyone is going to be able to beat Dommy's idea, but some kind of fish in parchment packets would be impressive too!

        Flan would be an easy dessert that you could do ahead of time, and would go well with the rest of the Spanish menu. (Cheap too!)

        1. I love the Spanish theme-paella idea, but it's not really a last minute dish. You can make the soffrito ahead of time, but if made way ahead the flavors won't be very good. I would definitely do the spanish tortilla as an appetizer. You can make it way ahead and serve it at room temperature. I'd start with that and some manchego cheese and olives. Next I'd serve gazpacho. It is completely make-ahead.

          I can't think of an entree right now, but if I do I'll edit my post.

          1 Reply
          1. re: farmersdaughter

            Actually, I make Penelope Casas's Paella a la Valenciana almost entirely beforehand. She even says in the recipe "Make in advance up to this point," although I found I needed to fiddle around somewhat with the order of her procedure before it worked as well as I wanted it to. Basically, you can do everything up until stirring in the broth and adding the chicken and seafood hours in advance. I spend less than ten minutes in the kitchen once the guests have arrived. Very doable. And outstanding results. And very definitely a high-impact presentation.

          2. Would you consider doing a tapas meal? If so, there's a great thread recently with lots of suggestions and links to recipes.

            1. Another main course idea is spanish lamb meatballs, which can be made ahead - ground lamb is pretty inexpensive.

                1. Ooooooh... I knew you all would have some great ideas. I love the idea of a Spanish theme. My husband is Spanish and is crazy for Spanish food. I actually had a tapas and wine tasting party for his last birthday so I think a full on Spanish dinner might be in order here.

                  OK - you gave me great ideas (plus that tapas thread was great). I have to at least have some tapas to start with. I'm thinking garlic shrimp, tortilla, and olives. Then we can sit down with a cold gaspacho (great make ahead idea). For dinner, depending on on how much time I'll have the day of, I could either do a chorizo and chicken paella or do a vegetable paella and also a pork tenderloin (maybe dusted with spanish smoked paprika and stuffed wth piquillo peppers). I actually already have the Penelope Casas Paella cookbook and it's great-all of her books are a staple in our house. So I definitely looked to her for inspiration here! I like the flan idea for dessert though I've never made it before. I just saw Alton bBrown make a yummy looking flan on good eats so I might give that a try.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: AmblerGirl

                    The Casas paella book has a recipe for orange flan you might want to try. Looks easy and sounds like a simple and satisfying dessert after a paella. Let us know how your dinner turned out.

                    1. re: AmblerGirl

                      If you already have the Casas Foods and Wines of Spain, take a look at her Flan del Gran Flanero. It's a snap, totally do ahead (even the day before), and is really terrific. It's what I nearly always serve when I make her paella.

                    2. I would consider adding in a salad, maybe arugula or some other peppery, refreshing leaf, tossed with black olives, orange segments, and an fresh orange and vinegar dressing. Toss some shaved manchego on top.

                      Also, i find daisy martinez (daisy cooks) does an easy paella recipe. just a thought.

                      1. Soup: make Marcella' Hazan's Tomato Sauce with Butter and Onion as a soup (it actually is better this way and she commends eating it from the pot). Cheap but rich in flavor and texture (because of the butter and simplicity of ingredients).


                        Entree: Souffle (make 2 for 6 each) -- souffles are heavy on prep (but prep can be done hours in advance) but cheap and easy to execute


                        Serve with champagne or prosecco.


                        Serve with great bread or grilled polenta, a simple green salad or roasted/grilled vegetables. All of which can be prepped ahead.

                        Dessert should be fresh fruit -- this is the peak of the annual orchard fruit season (peaches, plums, blackberries) and cheese and port (a half of tawny port will go far here).