My absolute favorite things to serve my friends are the foods that since I've done these often, are no fail for me:
Lettuce wraps, shu mei, lumpia, pork buns and then my version of chicken chowmein or moo shoo pork with homemade pancakes
Enchiladas and fajitas or tamales both red and green-huge fresh salads with fresh homemade pico de gallo or camarone ala diabla
Osso buco with rice milanese-artichokes garli aiolli
Chicken picatta, angel hair pasta with garlic and basil butter
Pots of beans with all the sides full of pork, usually pork butt: toppers would be like cilantro, avacado, green onion or red, tomatoes, cheese, sour cream, jalapeno. Served with French Bread.
Vino D'hos - pork marinated in wine and spice, fried then served with soft french bread for sandwiches///
My absolute stand-by is marinated carne asada.
Our local butcher (Taqueria Sanchez in Los Angeles to be exact) slices and marinates it for us. A few hours later it grills up perfectly. It's also fast to grill, so you can grill pounds and pounds of it in no time. Some fresh pico de gallo, warm tortillas, a salad on the side, cold Modelo ... that's almost every weekend at our house during the summer.
It reheats great, too.
This is for a pretty big dish. I think the one I usually use is about 9 x 13" Pyrex or non-stick metal. You can cut amounts to suit. Amounts here aren't exact, I'm of the "better to have too much than too little" school of thought.
- 2 medium sized eggplants
- 3 or 4 cloves garlic
- 3 or 4 cans of tomatoes--I use 400g cans of crushed Italian ones, you can use two large cans
- olive oil
- bunch of fresh basil
- 4 eggs
- Parmesan cheese (about 1 1/2 cups grated)
- flour for dipping eggplant
- mozzarella cheese (I usually use about 3 or 4 of those tennis ball-sized ones, drained and sliced or chopped).
I don't usually salt and press the eggplant, but if you want to, slice into 1/4 inch thick circles, salt, stack, and press between two plates, with something to weigh down the top plate. When I do this I do it on the draining board, and tip the plate so that the liquid runs into the sink. Wait at least an hour, then rinse and pat dry. Otherwise, just cut into circles.
Make the sauce. (Obviously you should use any tomato sauce you like--this is just my family version). Mince garlic, saute in olive oil until golden. Add tomatoes, season with salt and pepper (and some hot crushed chili if you like). Cook down to a pretty thick consistency; I like it slightly thicker than it would be if you were putting it on pasta. When done, take off heat and stir in lots of fresh torn basil leaves.
In a bowl, beat the eggs with about half of the parmesan, add pepper and some salt (bearing in mind that the cheese is salty). Put the flour in a bowl or on a plate convenient for dipping the eggplant slices. Season it with salt and pepper.
Heat a frying pan or griddle with a thick coating of olive oil--maybe up to 1/4 inch deep. When the oil is shimmering hot, dip eggplant slice in flour, tap off, then into the egg mixture, let drip off a bit, then into pan. Repeat till you have a nice layer of eggplant slices. Brown on one side, then turn over and brown other side. Remove to paper towel-lined plate and repeat, adding oil and wiping out burned bits as necessary, till you've used up all the eggplant. As with pancakes, the first batch will usually be inferior. I can't explain this.
Now assemble: coat bottom of dish with tomato sauce. Add a layer of eggplant slices, then mozzarella. Repeat sauce, eggplant, mozzarella till everything is used up. It doesn't have to be neat. Sprinkle the remaining Parmesan on top of everything.
The whole thing can be frozen at this stage if you're doing this far in advance. Or you can refrigerate for a day.
To cook, put in a 375 degree oven for about 30-45 minutes, till cheese on top is browned and you can see it bubbling through the Pyrex (this is why Pyrex is good). If cooking from frozen, I'd cover with foil for the first 30-45 minutes or so, then uncover till browned and boiling.
I noticed that the NY Times yesterday had Jamie Oliver's eggplant parm recipe, where he grills the eggplant. I have tried grilling rather than frying, and the result is good. Surely worth trying. It's lighter, easier, and undeniably healthier (and your kitchen doesn't smell like fried food for three days), but in my opinion it lacks the flavor and richness of the fried eggplant. Try them both and see what you think. And report back, of course!
Usually depends on the time of year, but everyone loves our family's pureed white bean and garlic dip, fresh roasted peppers in OO and garlic, fresh mozz, and fresh italian bread.
Another new thing we have been doing is a great cheese plate with little side dippers like truffle honey, homemade blueberry jam and red pepper jelly.
Last thing that friends go crazy over is chilled sesame seed seared tuna with a bunch of dippers like spicy mayo, ponzu, wasabi/soy, etc.
corn and scallion pancakes with chipotle shrimp- recipe from Coyote Cafe; cedar planked salmon with an egg and caviar sauce;
triple cabbage lasagna with pork roast. A greek dinner- lambstuffed grape leaves with egg lemon sauce, spinach pie, baked giant beans, tsatsiki and taramasalata and baklava or galactoboureko.
Homemade potstickers. They're incredibly easy to make if you get pre-fab gyoza skins (available at many Asian supermarkets, and they taste just fine) and a gyoza press (a plastic device that you can put the skin and fillings on, closes with a hinge and crimps down the edges of the dumpling for you). You can also make up a big batch ahead of time and freeze them. Serve them with a homemade dipping sauce, tell people that you made them yourself -- they'll usually be quite impressed and, more importantly, will scarf them up. There are tons of recipes for the fillings and dipping sauces on this site and elsewhere on the internet; I can post/e-mail you some if you'd like.
These are not things I necessarily serve together, but I love to work them into whatever I am making:
homemade flour tortillas (with real lard)
pulled pork (slow grilled for hours) with homemade milk rolls
odd flavors of icecream (honey lavender is my favorite so far)
wine wine wine
margaritas (equal parts tequila, fresh lime and cointreau)
nice veggie side dishes
We love to serve guests simple but special basics:
Fresh made bread(served with dairy butter/parm/olive oil)
A platter of fresh cut up fruit (seasonal)
A sampler plate of cheeses (usually themed)
A sliced meat tray with various dips (horseradish is a fav)
Lots of wine (usually regional theme)
Beyond that our dinner menu could vary alot.
Most things that can be prepared in advanced. I don't want to be cooking and working when everyone is there. So that means, if it's meat, it's a roast or something that's in the oven, or stews. Large fish and not individual pieces. Roasted vegetables or salads. Appetizers that are premade and can be popped in the oven. It's busy before everyone arrives but once they do, I have little to do but serve. I don't have a "favorite"--I love experimenting and trying new things.