HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >

Discussion

tips on this dinner party menu for 8?

I'm looking for suggestions, warnings and tips about timing (very nervous about timing) for this menu I've planned for a small birthday dinner that I'll be making at the birthday girl's home. I have recipes already, but I would appreciate tips from experienced cooks:
Manhattans (cocktail)
beet and goat cheese salad
4 steaks (filet mignon or what?)
4 salmon steaks (arctic char or what?)
small yellow and red potatoes with rosemary
green beans
red velvet cake
Any help you can offer this enthusiastic, non-expert, cook would be very appreciated! Thanks!

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
Delete
  1. Is there a specific reason you are cooking two main courses (more stress, timing problems, more chance of something going wrong)?

    Do you know for instance that exactly half your guests prefer one to the order? Unless there is a very specific reason why you must prepare two entrees I would suggest something else.

    6 Replies
    1. re: JudiAU

      You're right, half the guests will eat red meat, half won't. Should I just make a decision that we all eat fish and that's that? After all, it's the timing difference between the two that has me the most worried.

      1. re: mess hall mama

        I would do one of two things:
        1) Do the steak on the stove top and the salmon in the oven or broiler.
        2) Do the steak on the stove top, then start the salmon (in a different pan) immediately after you take the steak out of the pan to rest. Steak needs to rest for about ten minutes before eating, and if you get salmon filets instead of steaks, that's just enough time to cook them through.

        I think that the first option might be a little easier, especially since you're doing four of each, so there will be a lot of turning (and probably four pans total -- two for each kind of protein).

        I'd also use rib eye steaks instead of filet mignon (less expensive and tastier) and I'd roast the potatoes in the oven (at whatever the temperature you use for the salmon). If you do the salmon in the oven, then when you take the steaks out to rest, you can immediately cook the green beans. I'd suggest some lemon with both the green beans and the salmon.

        Also, with regard to timing: write down what time you want dinner to be served, and then how long everything needs to cook (at each step), and then schedule backwards, and figure out exactly what time everything needs to go into the oven/on the stove, including preheating the stove and pans, etc.

        I'd also try to do ahead everything possible, since with a party lots of people might be in the kitchen getting in your way. Make the cake ahead of time, do all of the steps for the salad except for dressing it and combining everything, snap the green beans, and whatever other small tasks you can do.

        1. re: mess hall mama

          Make it easy on yourself and prepare one entree whether fish or chicken or something that all of your guests eat. If you want variety serve a little something with your cocktails like warm nuts, tapenade and bread etc.

          Have beets roasted in advance, salad greens washed, vegetables washed, cake made and frosted, coffee set up, etc.

          Enjoy

          1. re: mess hall mama

            There are some of us who would not touch salmon if their lives depended on it. How about a nice rosted chicken or two?

            1. re: Candy

              You wouldn't eat it even if you were a guest at someone's home?

              1. re: Procrastibaker

                This is such an interesting question: If I would not eat salmon in my house, why would I eat it in someone else's house....either a person likes something, in this case salmon, or they don't.

                I would not eat it in a train and I would not eat it in the rain I will not eat salmon...Sam I Am.

        2. Agree with JudiAU about doing one entree if possible. If you went with steak, how were you planning to prepare it?

          If I were you, and assuming you are making the beet salad from fresh roasted beets, I'd roast and peel the beets before the party (you could do it the night before, for instance). It can be a messy job, and flavor won't suffer if you do it in advance.

          I'd also serve a little something with the drinks -- doesn't have to be fancy or labor intensive (you could do a selection of olives and almonds, or cheese and bread or the like) -- but when serving hard liquor cocktails before the meal, it's nice to give people a few nibblies to soak them up.

          If you do go with steak as the entree, you might want to have a bottle or two of red wine to go with dinner.

          Your other side dishes seem easy (and tasty) enough, and will compliment a variety of main dishes. Again, though, you may want to wash and trim the beans beforehand (assuming they need to be trimmed), and use baby potatoes which don't need to be peeled (or get someone at the party to volunteer to be your prep cook and help with the peeling, etc.) -- the "prep cook" part of a meal is often the most time consuming, and the part that is the hardest to estimate time-wise when you haven't done it so often before.

          1. Gonna need more info than this: Is there a grill? How many burners on the range? Gas or electic? Counterspace? Refrigerater space? Doing any cooking/prep in advance? Most of your timing issues will arise as a result of not knowing the answers to these questions and being therefore unable to work around them when the time comes. Cooking anything even slightly ambitious in someone else's kitchen (even if it is "better" than yours) increases the degree of difficulty by approximately 112.6% just because you don't know where everything is (imagine rearranging the prepped ingredients, oils, butters, herbs, saran wrap, aluminum foil, garbage can and utensils in someone's kitchen without telling them. Then tell them to make an omelet. It'll take 45 minutes). Advice: map out or at least make a mental note of the space you will be entering, its physical limitations, etc. Find out how big the biggest pot is (for blanching, etc.) Find out how many bowls and sautee pans there are, and what size. Know thine enemy before taking the field of battle, because the bottom line is that you can't cook anything without your MISE EN PLACE. But don't worry . Proper Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance. You'll be fine.

            1. I agree about planning for more time in someone else's kitchen. Even if you bring your own things, somehow it never melds as easily as when you're at home. And, I also agree about not serving two main courses. It would be easier to go with one and rather than doing individual servings, have one big one, like a big salmon fillet that can be cut after it's cooked. Or, for something simple but impressive looking, do a stuffed tenderloin (cut flat, pounded, stuffed and rolled). You could prepare it in advance, take it in the baking tray and just pop it in the oven w/ the potatoes. By having one where people can cut, they can take as much as they want and not be stuck with a big filet mignon that they don't want (which is what happens to me because I'm not a big meat eater).

              You can parboil the beans first and then stirfry/cook them when you get there. If you're doing fresh beets, they are messy to prepare (wear gloves if you're doing it there). I haven't tried them but Trader Joes has precut beets that would make it so much easier. I have it all done mentally, down to what time everything goes in the oven, comes out, when to serve. And, mostly, enjoy because that's the purpose.:-)

              1. Mess Hall,
                Do the folks who don't eat red meat not eat it out of preference or religious reasons? I have to say, it gets frustrating to try to cook for everyone's little dietary needs and wants. Sometimes I feel that all I can ever serve is chicken, damn chicken, because EVERYONE has something they just can't eat (which most often translates to "don't like it" which often means "has never had it prepared well"). Anyway, I feel your pain on the double entres-- it is kind of you to be so accommodating. I'd probably go with the salmon or arctic char. Picky people ruin the fun of cooking... whatever happened to eating what you're served?

                1. THANKS everyone! I learned so much and I really appreciate all the great tips! Cross your fingers!

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: mess hall mama

                    As mentioned above, try to cook larger roasts or filets rather than individual steaks/pieces of fish. It will make like easier on you if you can cook one large rib roast/tenderloin. You can just sear it and then finish it in the oven. Same thing with the fish.

                  2. Prep work and planning are the key here. Try to sketch out a timeline of everything that has to be done, and use it as a guide to the whole process. Incorporate everything that has to be done, including shopping, table set-up (if you're doing it), plating, etc etc. Think about what items you need ahead of time and make sure they're available!

                    Try to get all your mise en place done first, which means, all the chopping, slicing, etc before you actually start to cook the dishes. This will save you much needed time, and will help make sure you don't rush and forget any critical steps.

                    1. To all helpful responders: the birthday dinner party was last night and everyone had a great time! I'm mostly pleased, but the steaks were too rare and the salmon steaks were also undercooked, so I have a lot to learn about not feeling rushed close to the "planned" time for dinner, not to mention what I learned from all of you about trying to choose entrees in the future that EVERYONE can eat instead of trying to accomodate picky eaters. That said, I set up my mise en place upon arrival, thanks, and the beet/goat cheese salad, the roasted potatoes with rosemary and the red velvet cake were my three shining offerings, I was very proud and very grateful for all of your encouragement, wisdom and tips! Pfew!!!

                      1. That's great! Nice work. That was quite an undertaking. You should be proud.

                        1. Mess hall mama,

                          Go out and treat yourself to a meat thermometer. I still use one when cooking steaks for a crowd! It sounds like you still had a pretty successful party...I hoped you saved a manhattan for me!!