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casual dinner for a group of 6

I know this is sort of a generic question but I'm looking for ideas for a sort of one-dish dinner I can serve one night next week. The problem is, it's a workday, so I'll really only have about an hour or so of prep time...I'm thinking I'd make the dish in advance (perhaps a night or two before) and then the hour would be basically spent setting up, heating the meal, etc.
A nice fall, hearty dish would be good, here are some of my initial thoughts:

-Chicken parm (would cook up some penne w/olive oil and garlic on the side)
-Baked ziti (or perhaps a lasagna)

Would love to hear any other thoughts & recipes (including any special recipes for the above, though I've got my own tried and true for chicken parm, chili and ziti.)


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  1. Beef stew...and it taste better the 2nd day
    Meatloaf...prepare one night, bake the next
    Stuffed peppers...fill one night, bake the next
    Spaghetti squash and pesto..bake one night...dish the next

    my stand by for nights when my schedule is just off is to make breakfast for dinner...comforting and no pressure!

    1. How about latin theme...?
      I made a pork chile verde the other night that was really good, pretty easy and easy to make ahead and reheat.
      Serve with grated cheese, corn tortillas, beans and rice...
      I got my recipe from Mary Sue Miliken and Susan Feniger off the Food network website (look for Pork Chile Verde)

      1. My favorite quickie dinner is pasta carbonara. I think it takes under 30 minutes from start to finish and everyone I know likes it. Fajitas are also fast to make if you have the sides ready to serve.

        I love chowders, especially when it's cold outside. Fish, seafood or corn chowders all improve with standing a day or two. If your group doesn't like fish, you could make hearty soups (bean & bacon, potato leek, pasta fagioli, beef and barley, split pea) and serve them with a nice loaf of bread and a salad.

        If you're up to advance prep work, almost any stew or casserole can be made beforehand and reheated. Curries are especially good with a day or two for the spices to blend and mellow. I'm making a huge batch of shortribs this weekend to be served a week later (will freeze and reheat).

        1. If you want to add a little panache to whatever stew you make, you could try doing a gougere. Basically, you make your stew (day or so ahead if you like) then mix up some pate a choux with gruyere and dollop it around the edge of a large casserole dish. Fill the center with your stew and bake. The pastry will puff up impressively around the stew. Or, along the same lines, you could do a chowder and make popovers to go with it. They are super-quick to mix up but take about 45 min. or so to bake. They are delicious with seafood chowders and would be a fairly easy way to add something special to a weekday meal. I also have a nummy recipe for sweet potato/chickpea curry from Nigella. Happy to post recipes if you like...

          1. A few more cool-weather suggestions:

            ~ onion soup, which can be made ahead and assembled before your guests arrive -- serve with a frisee salad with bacon and sherry vinegar dressing before or after the soup.

            ~ chicken pot pie, but special -- make the creamed chicken with pretty baby veggies ahead of time, then put a sheet of puff pastry on top (cut decorative steam-venting slits in it), brush with cream or milk to enhance the color of the crust, and bake right before serving. A delicious and interesting alternative is to replace the chicken with salmon. Again, a salad would be a good accompaniment, especially one with a citrus tang to compliment the rich main course.

            ~ If you have one, break out the fondue pot, which is a great idea for 6 people.

            1. Chicken Marbella is really easy to do for a lot of people and you marinate it overnight (or longer).


              Add bread and a salad and you're all set.

              1 Reply
              1. re: chowser

                I second the Chicken Marbella. It is excellent; the marinade and chicken juices caramelize the olives and suffuse them with savor. A real hit!

              2. Fast fish stew -- chopped garlic, onion, and tomatos heated high with lots of olive oil, S&P. After 10 minutes or so,add chopped greens (like kale) and boneless white fish filets cut into chunks, white wine and lemon juice. Cook until the fish just begins to break apart. Serve in big bowls and add a drizzle of fresh olive oil and handfull of herbs (chives, basil, dill -- all good) at the very end. Serve with lots of crusty bread. You can make fake aoil with whole yogurt, mayo, lemon juice, crushed garli, pepper flakes. My favorite summer-into-fall meal.

                1. if you're looking for a twist on lasagne, there's a recipe on epicurious for a butternut squash and hazelnut lasagne. it's been in my recipe box for ages, although i haven't made it yet. i believe you can make the components the day before and then assemble it the day of.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: funkymonkey

                    I actually did make the butternut and hazelnut lasagne.

                    It was good, but not worth the hours and hours of cooking. However, the squash with hazelnuts make a great side dish by itself.

                  2. Thanks to all for your replies.
                    You have picqued my interest with the Chicken Marbella recipe. Looks good. Any other details re this you can provide?
                    The suggestion of chicken pot pie is also a good one, Barefoot Contessa has a great recipe I've had before, definitely worth considering. Hmmm. This is a tough one. But thanks to you guys, I'm getting closer.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: twentyoystahs

                      Have you tried her Filet of Beef Bourguignon? That's one of her make a day ahead meals and it is truly fantastic.

                      1. re: twentyoystahs

                        It's straightforward and you don't need to measure exactly. I also used precut chicken pieces so it was easier. It's the sauce that makes it so baste. And, it tastes good cold. Oops, this should have been under twentyoystahs post...

                      2. If you have a crockpot, there is a great roast recipe on allrecipes.com. I brown it and then add a can of mushroom soup (low sodium) a can of red wine, and onion soup mix. It cooks all day and makes the house smell awesome. The recipe is deceptively simple, but delicious. You can bake potatoes and have a nice vege.

                        1. I third the Chicken Marabella recipe. You can find it in the Silver Palate cookbook. It is one of my favorites (recipe and cookbook). The chili recipe with whole olives in this book is also quite good.