HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >


help: my mother gave me a specific menu to serve

i'm hosting my mom's birthday dinner (for 11) this year and asked her what type of cuisine she might want and she gave me a specific menu. trouble is, i don't routinely cook this type of food. i'm more of an ethnic-food-loving home chef. i am comfortable in the kitchen and love to be challenged, so i'm curious: what would you do with this menu to make it more modern? favorite recipes? cookbooks to consult? cocktails and hors d'oeuvres to pair with it? other ideas?

rare roast beef
potatoes – any kind
soft rolls
a whipped cream white or yellow cake


  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. You could use a aged prime rib roast and crust it with cracked peppercorns and mustard and make a pan sauce similar to a steak au poive.

    A potato gratin with Gruyère and crimini mushrooms

    roasted veggie medley? This is too vague, and I would have to know what vegetables your mother likes.

    A assortment of rolls with baguette, sourdough and chibatta dough, and serve with a variety of compound butters. cloverleaf rolls?

    It is possible to make a yellow cake and fill the layers with different fruits and ice with dark and milk chocolate ganache/buttercream. garnish with truffles and chocolate curls.

    It is her birthday and you need to cook what she likes instead of what you like to prepare. IMVHO

    1. Is your mom likely to be unpleasantly surprised at a 'modern update' of her menu? Traditional doesn't have to be boring, and if it's not your usual bailiwick, it could present a fun challenge.

      One of my all-time favorite beef roasts was a rib roast that was encrusted with salt, pepper, garlic (and also studded w/ garlic, too), and a LOT of fresh rosemary.

      1. I recently made the standing rib roast from Nigella Lawson's cookbook Feast for my dad's birthday. It got rave reviews. I served it with a butternut squash soup with pancetta tuilles to start, roast potatoes, braised red cabbage, cauliflower gratin and some flopped yorkshire puddings.

        1. I would have to strongly agree with the last sentence of the Kelli2006. It's her birthday, so you should to cook to her preferences...no sense in going all Martha on her if she isn't going to like it, and on top of it you'll feel resentful. (I've made this mistake with my non-foodie friends and family, and it's a nightmare for everyone. Everyone is happier if you remember to cook to your audience.) Since she gave you a specific menu in response to your offer, I'm guessing that she likes simple and clean flavors, no fuss, nothing too fancy.

          That being said, simple doesn't mean boring. Do a standing rib roast (which is prime rib) with really great meat. Or steak au poivre (unless it's too spicy for her) or a roast with a good spice rub. Baby new potatoes cooked in goose fat with fresh herbs. I personally like greens when I serve beef, so maybe a broccoli rabe with golden raisins and pinenuts? And a stuffed roasted tomato for color.

          The cake can be a really good genoise with a liqueur in the syrup, fresh fruit and the requested whipped cream topping.

          1. I love a good rib roast. Have your butcher remove it from the ribs and then tie the roast back on the bones. It will make carving very easy and you can save the bones for yourself and make for deviled beef ribs the next day or not, they are great for gnawing on. Something really good with a roast beef is frozen horseradish cream. Whip heavy cream to peaks and fold in horseradish to taste and freeze before serving. Oven roasted potatoes are great with the roast but even better is spoonbread. Maybe brussels sprouts in mustard sauce sort of like in the Bouchon book?

            1. If you feel the need to improve on her request, why not give it a retro-luxe treatment?
              --roasted whole tenderloin, cooked nice & rare; rub with a simple but tasty mix of garlic, olive oil, kosher salt & chopped rosemary
              --marchand du vin or other wine reduction sauce for the tenderloin
              --duchesse potatoes, piped into lovely individual nests or mounds
              --a spinach & mushroom gratin, baked in ramekins
              --homemade parker house rolls
              --three layers of genoise cake, brushed with her favorite liqueur and filled with a compatible fruit jam, iced with whipped cream and decorated with fresh fruit

              It's 1959 all over again, but you can't argue that the food isn't delicious.

              3 Replies
              1. re: Hungry Celeste

                I think Celeste has a great idea here. As much as we all love a beautiful standing rib roast, it is probably a little trickier to cook than a tenderloin, and tenderloin is considered by many to be a special occasion treat. If you are worried about getting the timing of roasted meat right, invest in a great meat thermometer if you don't have one and you will have no trouble.

                In the week or two before the event, take the time to make a rich beef stock from scratch to use in the sauce -- it will freeze beautifully. This makes all the difference.

                1. re: Terrie H.

                  I think Celeste is right as well. A tenderloin is the way to go. It is very easy to cook, serve, and slice, holds well, and doesn't have to be piping hot. It is my favorite cut of beef but many, many people (including most "mothers" I know prefer it above all others). I would serve it with a simple sauce on the side, perhaps some horseradish creme fraiche as well as a richer potato variation.

                  1. re: JudiAU

                    I guess I am the lond dissenter when it comes to tenderloin. It just lacks flavor so you end up having to do more elaborate preparations. A good rib roast is so much more flavorful and can free you to spend efforts where they might be better appreciated.

              2. Personally, I love comfort food w/out doctoring it up to be something modern. Nothing beats great mashed potatoes w/ gravy. The problem is that kind of food is it's often done poorly: overcooked and bland. I love the yellow and white cakes I've made from Cooks Illustrated (I know I'm beginning to sound like an informercial for it). They're the perfect denseness, texture and taste. I've yet to find a great buttercream recipe that's not too sweet, though. I think there's a challenge if you can make that menu for her, the way she'd like and make it amazing. Think of the opposite situation--if you asked her to make an ethnic dish and she left out the spices and "unusual" ingredients to make it more like her cooking.

                1. To "upate" it I'd simply buy the best beef you can get, prime beef at that and just don't over cook it. Maybe even slow roast it at 250 or something like that.

                  I'd also get really fresh/organic veggie and potatoes to go with it...fresh cut string beans w/ almonds, yukon golds and something other variety (mashed or pan roasted). For cake and rolls I'd go somewhere old school, old fashion buttercream frosting, etc.

                  If you get the best natural ingredients with strong natural flavors I think you'll do very well. Sounds like your mom just wants a nice old fashion dinner and if you can bring flavors from the past (prime beef and produce w/ flavor) back you'll probably make her happy.

                  1 Reply
                  1. one of my favourite dishes is a super easy potato casserole that gets scarfed up whenever I bring it out.

                    1 onion, chopped (if you're feeling fancy, sometimes I leave this out)
                    1 can cream of chicken soup
                    1 (8 oz.) carton sour cream
                    1 (32 oz.) package frozen hash brown potatoes
                    1 cup Cheddar cheese (or more, if you're in the mood)
                    1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
                    black pepper

                    Stir together onions, soup and sour cream.
                    Put hashbrowns in the bottom of a large casserole dish, and mix in Cheddar cheese.
                    Pour mixture over the potatoes and top with Parmesan cheese.
                    Bake at 350 for 1 hour.

                    It's commonly called Funeral Potatoes. But it's versitile and I've been known to call it Celebration Potatoes, Christmas Potatoes, Easter Potatoes or in your case Birthday Potatoes.

                    1. all great suggestions so far. just to clarify: mom (bless her) loves my cooking and is totally open to new recipes! of course, i know it's herrrrrr birthday - that's why i asked her what she wanted! in fact, she initially just said, "oh, i love everything you cook, so whatever you make is fine." gotta love moms!


                      1. You: What do you want for your B-Day Mom?
                        Mom: That green cable-knit cardigan we saw in the window of ...

                        What are you gonna do now, buy her a red pullover? You ask her what she wants, then go out of your way to not do it? What's she supposed to think about THAT message?

                        IMHO, you're stuck with Mom's menu this year. Next year, if you want to be more adventurous, don't ask first.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: PDXpat

                          I (politely) disagree with you. I think if your mom has said she loves your cooking (and obviously entrusts you to prepare a meal for 11), she would be overwhelmed to find that you not only prepared her menu but went above and beyond and added twists and new ingredients to an otherwise "common" feast.

                        2. Why don't you stick w/ her plain palette and add additional potato/vegetable that's more ethnic?