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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)
-Chili

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.)

TIA.

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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.