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Menu Development

My husband and I will soon be "required" to entertain his colleagues at home. Now, while I am not new to cooking, I am new to entertaining at a more formal level.

When creating menus, how do you decide what dishes go together? Do you mix cuisines or stay with one unified theme? Any other tips?

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  1. If you're new, you can start with a menu from epicurious - they usually do a good job of balancing dishes and flavors, and also have good tips on what can be done in advance. Once you get more comfortable, you can do your own mixing and matching of recipes.

    1. And test drive any recipes first. Don't make an unpleasant discovery 20 min before the boss and his wife are due to walk through the door.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Louise

        And stick to fairly mainstream tastes until you've entertained said colleagues several times...tastes vary widely, and you don't want to serve strongly bitter, spicy-hot, or overwhelming flavors or organ meats until you know that they'll be appreciated. Your dinner conversation can explore their favorite restaurants and/or foods, and then you'll have a better idea of what will be a hit.

      2. I am always tempted to try out new dishes for dinner parties. Nearly always a bad idea. Stick with one of your classics and dress it up a bit. Easier foods will give you more time to get used to the other aspects of hosting. Cheese plates and fruit deserts are always good. Do as much as you can ahead of time. You are the hostess not the chef.

        1. I would try to find out if any of your guests have dietary restrictions or anything they really don't like. I made the mistake of not asking before my first two dinner parties and was entree-less for one guest at each.

          1 Reply
          1. re: ghbrooklyn

            This hard-learned lesson is one that many hosts and hostesses wish they'd thought of earlier. I have always asked about food preferences, since those early disaters, and keep a file of who likes - and dislikes - what. Serious food allergies are especially problematic. Those pesky medics responding to anaphylactic shock certainly interrupt the flow of a dinner party!

            When looking at your mythical plate, think of complimentary flavors, textures and colors. Have a crunchy to compliment a smooth, for example. I like something brightly colored, usually green, for interest. Must have been scarred by the famous all-white dinner in the wilds of the UK many years ago - boiled fowl w/ white sauce, mashed turnips and some cauliflower did not make for visual delight. Also, one of the choices on your plate ought to be "a place for your palate to rest", polenta, rice or mashed potatoes fit the bill. Choosing a cuisine for a specific geographic region makes it easier to construct a menu because you already know that these foods work well together. Of course, a wise hostess will have few items required diddly last-minute attention. If you have to carve a roast, make gravy, portion vegetables, pipe the topping, slice the bread and brown the top of a gratin simultaneously your guests will feel your frazzle. Something that waits well - either in the oven or refrigerator or counter - is a boon.

            Until you're more comfortable with entertaining, make food that you and your husband enjoy. At least one of you will have a nice meal (for years, I couldn't taste what was on my plate).

            Good Luck!

          2. I always try to keep the menu within a single cuisine (french, italian, mexican, spanish, US) and preferably within a single region of that cuisine. I find that the dishes tend to meld better when I do this and the whole meal comes off as more polished.