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What's your go-to, tried-and true, entertaining meal

bananie Nov 30, 2006 05:33 PM

I'm planning a small dinner party of 7 people. My usual go-to meals in the winter are lasagna or beef bourguignon for two reasons: I've never met anyone who doesn't like either dish and I also can make them a day ahead and then not have to spend much time in the kitchen when my guests arrive. I'd love to hear what dishes others instinctively go to...

  1. u
    upstate girl Dec 8, 2006 08:06 PM

    I too like buffet, but here are my old standbys, easy ideas for a crowd of 8 or so:
    Morrocan chicken with lentils (Epicurious, this recipe is a keeper! Excellent.)
    Chicken or eggplant parmesan
    Broiled haddock with lemon, olive oil, garlic, basil, and lemon pepper seasoning (so fast to make and very good flavor)
    A couple different kinds of quiches with several side dishes for lighter fare

    1. t
      Tanya Wiens Dec 2, 2006 01:09 PM

      This one isn't for the calorie-counter or someone that watches cholesterol, but it is very good, simple to make and wows folks every time:

      1 chicken breast per person
      1 large brick Philly Cream Cheese
      1 pintsour cream
      2 cans cream of chicken soup
      1 jar dried beef
      1 strip of bacon for each breast

      Line the bottom of a 13 x 9 pan with the dried beef.
      Wrap 2 pieces of bacon around each breast, and place on the dried beef.
      Mix the soup, sour cream and cream cheese and pour over the chicken.

      Sprinkle pepper to season. You don't want to salt it due to the bacon and dried beef you have in the pan.

      Cover and bake 2 hours @ 325. Remove foil and cook a little longer to brown the top slightly.

      Serve it on rice.

      I usually accompany this with steamed broccoli, hot home-made bread and a nice tossed salad.

      Excellent.... Everyone I've ever served this to has begged for the recipe.

      1. andreas Dec 2, 2006 12:30 PM

        This time of year:

        Oxtail braised in Guinness or red wine, served with roasted root vegetables.
        Wild boar ragu, with fresh pasta.
        A proper sauce Bolognese, kept on the stove from morning to evening.
        Lamb shanks braised in red wine, served with a wild mushroom ragout and roasted garlic mashed potatoes.
        Beef ribs, braised.
        Fish pie, with peas.

        1. q
          Querencia Dec 2, 2006 09:29 AM

          I favor buffet service because a) you can do so much of it ahead of time and b) people love to help themselves and keep going back and c) it's such a fun chance to do something show-offy. My two favorite buffet formats are 1) baked ham (with a roast turkey also if it's a large crowd), lots of salads, some hot dishes, lots of relishes, rolls etc followed by several dessert choices and 2) Middle Eastern (hummos, baba ganooj, tabbouleh, fatoosh, olives etc for first course-type things and a big moussaka and some spanakorizo for entree things, followed by homemade baklava and coffee.

          1. t
            tomaneng Dec 2, 2006 12:54 AM

            Crowd Pleasing Standbyes:

            Appetizers: Todd English's Caponata with crostini
            Black Pepper Almonds (epicurious)

            Salads: Union Square cafe's Red Oak & Bibb with Homemade Garlic Croutons and Gruyere
            Grilled Raddichio and Romaine with Dijon Vinaigrette
            Baby spinach, dried cranberries, toasted nuts, crumbled cheese
            Shaved Fennel with EVOO, S&P and parm. shavings

            Mains: Barefoot Contessa's Chicken Chili
            Beef or lamb ragout served on soft polenta
            Tuscan chicken with warm bean salad (epicurious)
            Warm Lamb slad with raisins, pine nuts & sweet onion vinaigrette (Frog Commisary) served with plenty of crusy bread for dipping
            Simple roast chicken, lemon roasted potatoes and veggies
            Grilled Flank Steak with garlic-parsley sauce
            artichoke and mushroom lasagna (epicurious)

            1. k
              kittyfood Dec 2, 2006 12:30 AM

              Jambalaya -- even better the second day so you can prepare it ahead.

              Pizza on the grill -- great fun because everyone picks toppings and makes their own pizzas.

              Sarah C

              1. Dommy Dec 2, 2006 12:15 AM

                We host dinner parties and we line to do Theme Menus...

                Bistro: Paninis and French Onion Soup
                BBQ: Santa Maria Tri Tip and Grilled Veggies
                Provincial: Cassoulet with Mixed Green Salad
                Mediterrean: Halibut with Charmoula and Pilaf
                Hearty: Alton's Roasted Duck with Garlic Mashed Potatoes

                We also try to cook as much as we can ahead of time. We also tend to stick to 'tried and true' recipes so our guests don't feel like guinea pigs. Like all CH, we often go overboard, but we love it and our guests love it... :)


                1. d2u Dec 1, 2006 11:49 PM

                  I mostly cook very casually for my friends, but the enchilada recipe is my go to recipe. The sides I usually serve with it make it very casual. You could easily go upscale with the sides to make it dinner party worthy. The enchiladas are excellent. I usually make a double batch and freeze a pan.
                  * Exported from MasterCook *


                  Recipe By :
                  Serving Size : 6 Preparation Time :0:00
                  Categories : Poultry

                  Amount Measure Ingredient -- Preparation Method
                  -------- ------------ --------------------------------
                  2 large onions -- thinly sliced
                  2 cups cooked chicken -- chopped
                  1/2 cup roasted red peppers -- chopped
                  6 ounces cream cheese -- cubed
                  2 tablespoons butter
                  1 package flour tortillas
                  1 large green enchilada sauce -- can
                  8 ounces Monterey jack cheese -- grated
                  salt -- to taste
                  Green Sauce:
                  2 large cans geen chiles
                  1/2 chopped raw onion
                  2 cloves garlic -- chopped
                  salt and pepper -- to taste
                  1 tablespoon dried oregano leaves
                  1 tablespoon ground cumin
                  3 small cans chicken broth

                  In a wide frying pan over medium heat, cook the onions in butter, for 20 minutes. Stir frequently to keep onions from burning. Remove from heat and add chicken, red bell peppers, and cream cheese; stir gently to blend, and season with salt. Pour a little green sauce in bottom of 9X13 baking pan. Spoon about 1/3 C of filling down center of each tortilla and roll. Set enchiladas, seam side down in baking pan. Continue until pan is full. Cover with remaining sauce and top with grated cheese. At this point you may cover and refrigerate. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. If refrigerated, bake for 30 minutes, 15 minutes covered, remove foil and bake 15 minutes more. If not refrigerated, bake uncovered for 20 minutes. Makes approximately 12 enchiladas. If you can't find the green enchilada sauce, you might try pureeing 2 large cans chopped green chiles with some chopped raw onion, garlic, salt and pepper, dried oregano leaves, and ground cumin. Then add about 3 small cans chicken broth. until mixture is the consistency of a thinned gravy.

                  - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

                  * Exported from MasterCook *

                  Family Recipe - Vegetarian Black Beans

                  Recipe By :Diana/NYC
                  Serving Size : 1 Preparation Time :0:00
                  Categories : Latin American

                  Amount Measure Ingredient -- Preparation Method
                  -------- ------------ --------------------------------
                  2 lbs. dried black beans or 2 cans of unseasoned
                  black beans
                  1 " El Sofrito"
                  1/4 cup spanish olive oil
                  1 large onion -- minced
                  6 garlic cloves -- crushed (6 to 8)
                  1/2 green pepper -- minced
                  2 bay leaves
                  8 ripe roma tomatoes -- chopped
                  1/4 cup dry sherry
                  1 T red wine vinegar
                  Salt and pepper to taste
                  1 habanero pepper
                  1 T spanish olive oil

                  If doing from scratch, soak the black beans overnight, refrigerated, with twice as much
                  water (in volume), in a covered pot. To cook, add water again, so that you have twice as
                  much water again. Cook until tender. Do not add salt until the beans are done, this will
                  make them tough. While the beans are cooking, make the "sofrito." This sauce is added to many Cuban dishes: rice, fish, eggs, vegetables. To a hot pan, add 1/4 c of spanish olive oil
                  when fragrant, add the garlic, onion, and green pepper. Sautee until onion is translucent.
                  Then add the rest of the ingredients to the sofrito. Simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Salt and Pepper to taste. Then add to the cooked beans. Again, salt and pepper to taste. Lastly, add habanero oil, you can make this ahead of time: de-seed a habanero chile, chop coarsely, fry up in olive oil, discard the chile shells, then add as much of the oil to the beans, to taste. Buen provecho.

                  - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

                  * Exported from MasterCook *

                  ARROZ GUATEMALTECO (Guatemala Style Rice)

                  Recipe By :The Latin American Epicurean Tour Group
                  Serving Size : 1 Preparation Time :0:00
                  Categories : Latin American

                  Amount Measure Ingredient -- Preparation Method
                  -------- ------------ --------------------------------
                  2 cups long grain rice
                  2 Tbs oil
                  1 cup mixed vegetables (carrots -- celery, sweet red
                  peppers, finely chopped, and green peas)
                  Salt and pepper to taste
                  4 cups chicken stock

                  Heat oil in heavy saucepan and add rice. Saute lightly until rice has absorbed the oil, being careful not to let it color. Add mixed vegetables, salt, pepper, and chicken stock. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce heat to low. Cook for about 20 minutes until rice is tender and the liquid has been absorbed. Serves 6-8

                  - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

                  1. shanagain Dec 1, 2006 04:43 PM

                    Add me to the pork tenderloin list.

                    My standard go-to is pork tenderloin and new potatoes roasted in a horseradish butter. (Melted butter, horseradish, parsley - usually I give the tenderloin a good pepper rub before adding the butter.) The horseradish roasts down to a delicious nuttiness that is completely un-horseradish-y. The other sides change, but the tenderloin is as no-fuss as you can get - put it in the oven and enjoy your company until the house smells wonderful.

                    1. m
                      MartinDC Dec 1, 2006 12:34 PM

                      Things made in large heavy pots. I don't fry or saute a lot (except to brown meat before braising) because my hood does not ventilate to the outside.

                      Daube Provencale (from Dean & Deluca cookbook)
                      Short ribs (fabulous recipe by Daniel Boulud)
                      Large pot of chicken or shrimp curry with condiments
                      An argentinian multi-meat stew with hominy (posole)
                      Jambalaya (from Craig Claiborn's Southern Cooking book)
                      Caldo verde (thick stew/soup made from chorizo, kale and potato)

                      For special meals:
                      French Onion Soup where I make the stock myself
                      Standing rib roast (very very easy)

                      1. l
                        librarian Dec 1, 2006 06:50 AM

                        Raclette - all the work is prep and its relatively easy at that. The guests do the cooking, the grill heats the house and everyone has a long, relaxing meal. For dessert, dark chocolate and exotic fruits. Finish off with a coffee/tea service and you're set.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: librarian
                          MMRuth Dec 1, 2006 11:42 AM

                          I love raclette, but don't have a racletter maker - or room for one, so I put the potatoes in small gratin dishes, put sliced raclette on top, and then melt under the broiler.

                        2. JoanN Dec 1, 2006 12:07 AM

                          Seafood and Sausage Gumbo
                          Marcella's Baked Green Lasagna
                          Baked Ham
                          Short Ribs

                          These, too, are do completely or mostly ahead of time and the reason--aside from consistently rave reviews--that I return to them again and again.

                          1. steinpilz Nov 30, 2006 11:17 PM

                            These are some good simple things, more individually good than necessarily as a group, probably better for cold weather:

                            Bacon wrapped-almond stuffed dates. These can be assembles and frozen, then microwaved to cook.

                            Avocado, asparagus, and white mushroom salad - with EVOO, lemon juice, and soy, dressing. Sliced avocado, raw mushroom.

                            Garum masala-spiced roasted duck breasts.

                            Roasted tomatoes. Blanch stem-tomato to remove skin and roast.

                            Curried fresh peas are good, miso eggplant is also good.

                            Wild rice or saffron rice or roasted potatoes (use duck fat!).

                            Poached pears, chocolate sauce or brandy cream sauce.

                            (I'm not a big dessert person frankly, I'll choose wine or some other alcohol as my dessert)

                            1. QueenB Nov 30, 2006 11:05 PM

                              Brie en Croute with Sun Dried Tomatoes and Pesto

                              Pork Tenderloin with Dijon Rosemary Cream Sauce
                              Wild Mushroom Risotto
                              (Or, sometimes it's Chicken Francese with linguini)
                              Roasted Asparagus

                              Peach Cobbler with Vanilla Ice Cream

                              Yeah, I'm usually all over the place.

                              1. m
                                MuppetGrrl Nov 30, 2006 09:59 PM

                                Pizza and osso buco. I always check ahead re the veal, though.

                                1. jfood Nov 30, 2006 09:47 PM

                                  KISS theory for me.

                                  Buy a few filets, russets and salad. Crank up the oven, bake the taters, crank up the grill, make the salad, grill the steaks. Voila. In season I add corn to the grill.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: jfood
                                    Andiereid Nov 30, 2006 10:02 PM

                                    Oh, boy. Now I'm seriously craving a good steak and baked potato. One of my favorite meals. And we're eating chicken. (sigh)

                                  2. j
                                    jackie de Nov 30, 2006 09:44 PM

                                    Chicken bacon roulandes
                                    Pork tenderloin medallians with portabella's
                                    Grilled shrimp with ancho pasilla sauce or cilantro dipping sauce
                                    Salisbury steak with mushroom sauce
                                    Beef tenderloin with blue cheese sauce
                                    Curry Chicken pot Pie
                                    Most of these can be made a day ahead and are even better when they get a chance to sit. Other than the shrimp and beef tenderloin they require real cooking, which a lot of my busy, friends and family just don't have the time to do and I love to do. I vary the sides depending on what is fresh and available. I try to get as much as the prep work done a day before, so I'll have a chance to enjoy my guests as well.

                                    1. g
                                      Grubbjunkie Nov 30, 2006 08:57 PM

                                      Braised Lamb Shanks or Short Ribs. Both can be made a day or two ahead and never fail to impress. Serve with mashed root veg/potatoes or polenta, something you can do easily the day of. Add a green salad, some fancy chocolates, and lots of red wine.

                                      1. a
                                        annimal Nov 30, 2006 08:31 PM

                                        My most recent combo has been Chicken Pibil (technically should be pork, but i always have some non-pork eaters around) and Cevice. It's a Yucatan dish where you marinate the meat overnight in a mix of annato seeds and bitter oj, along with other spices. then you cook it all wrapped up in banana leaves. It's a good dish to feed a crowd with very little work involved, plus people really like the whole banana leaf thing. When i've made it i just lined a big roasting pan with the leaves and tucked them around the top. You should serve it with rice and pickled onions. It's an unusual meal to get at a gathering so it goes over well.

                                        Plus the cevice, which always appears to be such a fancy thing, but is actually another fairly easy dish as long as you have good fish. And it's pretty easy to vary the recipe. You can do everything ahead of time for the meal, making it easy to do for a party so you can spend time arranging and with your guests.

                                        1. Robert Lauriston Nov 30, 2006 07:48 PM

                                          Marcella Hazan's stracotto with no-stir polenta*

                                          grated fennel & Reggiano with white truffle oil

                                          * http://www.chowhound.com/topics/328327

                                          1. j
                                            JoLi Nov 30, 2006 07:45 PM

                                            App: Warm Spinach salad by Chiarello w/ my own variations

                                            Entree: Miso Glazed Black Cod with Wasabi Mashed Potatoes

                                            Dessert: Warm Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

                                            This dinner is always a huge success and I only need to spned about 1.5 hr in the kitchen before dinner and about 15 min during to prepare the rest.

                                            1. r
                                              rufustfirefly Nov 30, 2006 07:01 PM

                                              I don't eat meat but do eat fish and have two go-to's that I picked up from Jacques Pepin's series "Fast Food My Way."

                                              Heat an oven to 200 degrees. Season a tuna steak and put it on the plate that you'll serve it on. Put the plate in the oven. After 20 minutes, the fish will be cooked, but still a quite rare in the middle. While it's cooking, prepare a garnish with whatever you want. Olive oil, tomato, olives and capers is good.

                                              For the other recipe, you season a skinless salmon filet and then top it with a mixture of bread crumbs and crushed hazelnuts. Again, put it on the plate you'll serve it on and put it in a 200 degree oven, this time for 45 minutes to just cook the salmon. Serve it with a sundried tomato mayonaisse.

                                              The recipes are great because you can just put the fish in the oven, not worry about it, and prepare side dishes while they cook.

                                              1. AmandaEd Nov 30, 2006 06:37 PM

                                                Beef short ribs
                                                Chili with varied toppings for casual get-togethers
                                                Rack of lamb with Julia's dijon-herb marinade
                                                Mario's chicken stews - they are always so flavourful
                                                Manicotti or cannelloni served in individual oven-proof dishes
                                                Duck shepherd's pie with a parsnip topping
                                                Beef tenderloin, spiral-cut and suffed with a filling like pesto

                                                1. c
                                                  cheryl_h Nov 30, 2006 06:26 PM

                                                  Pork crown roast - always impresses.
                                                  Fish chowder - New England style or Portugese. Will convert even hard-core fish haters.
                                                  Beef short ribs - easy comfort food and can be dressed up so many ways.
                                                  Roast leg of lamb - I use the Silver Palate book (the first one published) as a template for the marinade but I like to fiddle with it depending on my mood.
                                                  Hot-smoked salmon with dill mustard sauce - recipes from the SmokinTex manual.

                                                  1. n
                                                    nissenpa Nov 30, 2006 06:21 PM

                                                    Marinated Flank
                                                    Roasted Potatoes with Rosemary
                                                    Greek Salad

                                                    But I like all the ideas here better.

                                                    I recently learned how to make a great roast so I think that will be my new stand by. Thanks Cooks Illustrated!

                                                    Greek FIsh and Thai CHicken are two good ones for the summer.

                                                    2 Replies
                                                    1. re: nissenpa
                                                      niki rothman Dec 1, 2006 05:15 PM

                                                      What is your great new roast recipe?

                                                      1. re: niki rothman
                                                        nissenpa Dec 1, 2006 06:29 PM

                                                        From CI. They call it perfect pot roast--and it was. It calls for braising and it was the first time a roast turned out right for me.

                                                    2. stevuchan Nov 30, 2006 06:08 PM

                                                      Braised short ribs. Make the day before, then while they heat, prep apps and sides.


                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: stevuchan
                                                        MMRuth Nov 30, 2006 06:37 PM

                                                        That's a favorite of mine - from the Balthazar cookbook - also the Chicken Riesling from the same book - you can do the chicken pieces ahead and reheat w/o any problems.

                                                        Also rack of lamb - though I've not done that for awhile.

                                                      2. Candy Nov 30, 2006 06:05 PM

                                                        Choucroute for me too. Sometimes instead of the kraut I braise red cabbage in red wine and make spatzle to go along with the assorted meats.

                                                        This time of year it is hard to go wrong with roast beef with spoon bread. The rest of the sides vary with mood.

                                                        Enchiladas are always good too. Oh and a big pot of posole with all of the different trimings so people can dress it up or down as they wish. It is a really good wintertime stew and makes the house smell so good when it is cooking.

                                                        3 Replies
                                                        1. re: Candy
                                                          kittyfood Dec 2, 2006 12:34 AM

                                                          You should invite Jim Leff over for the spoon bread, since he was so disappointed with the spoon bread festival in Kentucky.

                                                          1. re: kittyfood
                                                            pikawicca Dec 2, 2006 01:00 AM

                                                            I think we're too far west for Jim.

                                                            1. re: pikawicca
                                                              kittyfood Dec 2, 2006 11:53 AM

                                                              He'll get there eventually!

                                                        2. kiwijen Nov 30, 2006 06:00 PM

                                                          Alton Brown's Chicken with Garlic and Shallots! All you need to do ahead of time is brown the chicken. Then you just put garlic, shallots, herbs and olive oil into the pot and stick it in the oven. And if you use chicken thighs, you don't even have to keep such a close eye on the timing since they're very forgiving. Mmmm....really good.

                                                          1. Andiereid Nov 30, 2006 05:59 PM

                                                            For a very simple meal, I cook pork tenderlin wrapped in pancetta cooked over apple slices drizzled with a little maple syrup. I can make it up ahead of time and put it in a pyrex dish and stick it in the fridge and then just poke it in the oven when our guests arrive. I usually serve that with a mix of sweet and white mashed potatoes and some kind of green vegetable and homemade rolls. Almost everything can be done ahead, and everyone likes it.

                                                            2 Replies
                                                            1. re: Andiereid
                                                              Mila Dec 1, 2006 04:14 PM

                                                              Along the same lines I love this Delia Smith recipe and make it regularly. The only trick is to not overcook the porkloin. Follow the cooking times loosely and adjust based on the size of your pork loin. Serve with mash and green beans. Yum.

                                                              Fast Roast Pork with Rosemary and Caramelised Apples


                                                              1. re: Mila
                                                                Andiereid Dec 1, 2006 04:16 PM

                                                                Yum! Thanks, Mila!

                                                            2. k
                                                              Kelli2006 Nov 30, 2006 05:59 PM

                                                              Coq au vin
                                                              Choucroute garnie (sauerkraut and pork)
                                                              beef Wellington
                                                              chicken paprikash
                                                              Osso bucco

                                                              1. soypower Nov 30, 2006 05:53 PM

                                                                I like stuffing salmon or chicken with crab and wrapping it in phyllo dough and baking it in the oven...it's great because you can stuff the salmon or chicken a day ahead of time. then an hour or so before you can wrap them in phyllo and put them in the oven while you work on other last minute stuff...

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