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Help me choose a menu for Sat night

Hi. I'm new here and not much of a cook. I've been watching the food network and started buying cool new gadgets - man, things have changed since I shopped for my kitchen 30 years ago - I have a microplane grater, a pasta fork, a new deep 12-inch fry pan and so on.

Here are 3 possible menus. What sounds like it will taste the best AND be the easiest?

Baked salmon, Au gratin potatoes, Veg

Chicken Marsala, Rice, Veg

Seafood Gratin (Ina Garten's recipe), roasted veg, salad

Appreciate any comments! Thanks!

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  1. Having no clue to how many people will be dining with you on Saturday night makes a selection difficult. Your culinary ability along with the number of diners should help you make the choice.

    I'm the risotto cook in the house. The two main ingredients are chicken and arborio rice. We have an empty nest so that I make a little more than enough for 2 people. The chicken is usually leftover meat from a supermarket roasted bird. The aromatics that I use are onion, celery, red or green bell pepper, carrots, and garlic. Ground cumin and coriander are infused with the olive oil and butter that are used to saute the aromatics. Marsala or dry vermouth is added after the rice is toasted in the sauteed aromatics. Low salt chicken broth is the liquid of choice altho water can be used.

    24 Replies
    1. re: ChiliDude

      Total of 8 people. I don't cook often anymore and try to choose recipes with few steps.

      The risotto sounds good. Do I have to do it all at the last minute, or can I make it and hold it?

      1. re: ErikaZ

        You could also do a squash or pumpkin risotto - you just bake the squash, and make risotto as normal, then swirl in the roasted veg, which just melts right in. The color is gorgeous.

        I'm not a big fan of salmon, but if you wanted to do fish I like fish in parchment paper with capers, lemon, olives, tomatoes -- delish, and guests get excited as they open the crunchy paper. Looks a *lot* more complicated than it actually is :) I did this for an 8-person dinner party, with tofu for two vegetarian guests. Served with a pretty winter salad and homemade dressing (I just made a really easy creamy shallot last night, if you want recipe, or do a search here), you'd be all set. Instead of rice -- maybe Israeli couscous for a grain, with some dried cherries, scallions, toasted nuts, cooked in broth? Quinoa? Both are easy to prepare, and more unusual than rice.

        1. re: foxy fairy

          Also, if you have leftover risotto, you can make delicious little arancini, little rice balls with mozzarella in the middle. Grown-up version of mozzarella sticks :) Here's Giada's recipe for those (you can do them with any kind of risotto), along with her instructions on making a risotto:

          http://www.foodnetwork.com/food/recip...

          1. re: foxy fairy

            All that sounds delicious, foxy. Will consider trying.

            1. re: foxy fairy

              foxy...i do a very similar salmon in parchment, and i add a bit of feta as well. you should try it sometime...the extra layer of flavor is fantastic, and the texture of the cheese is perfect. it gets a little melty, but still retains some body.

            2. re: ErikaZ

              I love making risotto but it needs to be served immediately and there is a lot of stirring so it's not something you can do quickly and have free time. You could end up spending half an hour in front of the stove stirring, just before guests arrive, and until you serve.

              As far as entertaining goes, your last option can be done all in advanced--seafood in the oven with the roasted vegs and salad already made and sounds great for cold winter weather. The chicken for the chicken marsala can be pounded, and cooked ahead of time and then added to the sauce on the stove or baked to reheat but you take the chance of the chicken being a little tough since it's being double cooked. I think it tastes best when it's panfried and then added to the sauce and served right away. The salmon takes the least amount of prep but it depends on the size on how long it'll be in the oven. Plus, if you don't cook it often, you have to be able to judge when it's done.

              1. re: chowser

                Good point on the stirring. But it's not necessarily a negative for me -- I guess it depends on the way you like to hostess. I enjoy stirring, stirring when guests arrive, b/c it keeps me busy, and some guests will cluster in the kitchen with me, others will mingle, or I can put a (cooking-capable) guest to work :) I tend to hover and make sure everyone is having fun, so I like being busy with a task.

                1. re: chowser

                  I thought so. So the risottos's out, at least for this meal. I'm not ready to have guests watching me cook, although they do hang out in the kitchen.

                  Bad news on the seafood gratin. There is no way for me to purchase cooked lobster down here. The gratin had lobster, shrimp and ... oh, some fish. Without the lobster it just won't be the same.

                  1. re: ErikaZ

                    Thinking maybe Coq au vin. Do ahead, and let the flavors blend.

                    1. re: ErikaZ

                      I like Coq au vin idea because it is *best* made ahead. You might also do a beef burgundy. Both could be served over pasta. Let the guests choose which they want. Make a wonderful green salad (green in crisper ready to go) with artichoke hearts, olives, avocados, whatever. Oh, and crusty bread and red wine.

                      1. re: Gail

                        Yes, coq au vin, salad, nice bread. I'm thinking a nice roasted vegetable. Should I make rice too?

                      2. re: ErikaZ

                        Coq au vin sounds great. Also, there are quite a few threads about chicken marbella. You mix it all up the night before and then bake it. It's delicious and makes a pretty dish.

                        1. re: chowser

                          just finished make chicken marbella and the dish looks very impressive. I would like to make a rice dish to accompany it. Any suggestion.

                          1. re: classylady

                            How about creamy smashed potatoes instead? We serve it with those for a couple of reasons --- The potatoes sop up all of those delicious juices, and I would definitely advise making a sandwich the next day with chicken AND the mashed potatoes (I never would have done this, but my Sweety tried and we both loved it that way). Heat your sandwich in the oven. I like it on a bagel.

                          2. re: chowser

                            Ok, coq au vin sounds like the best bet. Can I mix breasts and thighs? Will it all take same time to cook?

                            Saw the recipe for chicken marbella. Sounds intriguing but ... prunes? I'm gonna have to try that out for myself ahead. I saw the threads where they said you *can* sub apricots but it's not nearly as good. ;-)

                            1. re: ErikaZ

                              You won't even know that there's prunes in there. They just add to the sweet taste of the dish. The combination of sweet and salty elements of Chicken Marbella make it a wonderful and impressive dish. And the funny thing is that it's so easy.

                              1. re: valerie

                                Ok, still considering this one. Probably won't shop until Thursday and will decide then. :-)

                    2. re: ErikaZ

                      Risotto, wonderful as it is, is very definitely a last-minute dish. While your guests are in the living room enjoying cocktails and hors d'oeuvres, you're in the kitchen plating the appetizers while simultaneously stirring, and stirring, and stirring the risotto. Don't get me wrong. I love risotto. And I do make it for guests. But while you're making rissotto, you're making risotto--not being a hostess. And anyone who tells you it can hold is just wrong. Although I do have a surprisingly good microwave risotto. But even that one you need to stop and stir and stop and stir.

                      1. re: JoanN

                        Would love the surprisingly good microwave risotto recipe. Maybe for next time. I'm feeling inspired. :-)

                        1. re: ErikaZ

                          Risotto Milanese
                          (Adapted from “Micro Ways” by Jean Anderson)

                          1 small onion, peeled and minced
                          3 tablespoons butter
                          1 cup short grain rice
                          1 cup chicken broth
                          1 cup dry white wine
                          Pinch of saffron
                          1/3 cup finely grated Parmesan
                          1/8 teaspoon pepper
                          ½ teaspoon salt

                          Cook onion and butter, covered loosely, on high for 2-1/2 to 3 minutes. Add rice and cook, covered loosely, 1 minute. Add broth, wine, and saffron, cover tightly, and cook 5 to 7 minutes. When it starts to boil, stir, cover again, and cook on medium power for 9 to 10 minutes until nearly all liquid is absorbed and rice is al dente. Let stand, with cover on, for 5 minutes. Fork in cheese, and salt and pepper.

                          I often add fresh or dried and reconstituted mushrooms along with the onion, but the recipe is endlessly versatile and a great way to use up leftovers.

                          1. re: JoanN

                            Thanks, Joan. Looks great and not too complicated - that's a good thing ;-) Will give it a try.

                            1. re: ErikaZ

                              Ok. Thanks, all, for your good ideas and help. Here's the menu:

                              gougeres
                              assorted cheese/crackers
                              simple salad-romaine-green goddess dressing-maybe add pistachios/cranberries
                              coq au vin
                              rice (because I know how)
                              spinach

                              Not sure about dessert. Was thinking of making cake - either a light genoise with rum and chocolate ganache - or choc mousse cake. Don't want to make myself crazy. Might just buy key lime pie from publix (it's really good and I don't even like key lime pie) to keep it lighter.

                              1. re: ErikaZ

                                Key lime pie is so easy to make! Graham cracker crust (make or buy), mix key lime juice, sweetened condensed milk, egg yolks and lime zest if you feel like it. Bake and refrigerate. And, for some reason, people are impressed with home made key lime pie. For an easy chocolate mousse cake, try this:

                                http://www.chow.com/recipes/11244

                                1. re: chowser

                                  I love to bake (as opposed to cook) but for some reason I can't make a good pumpkin pie or good key lime pie.

                                  Now, chocolate mousse cake ... that's another story! and I saw your recipe somewhere else on the boards and already copied it down. Looks terrif. Just not sure if I want to take the time. I'm making 3 new things already.

                  2. The dinner was terrific! Do you want a step by step? PS: I switched to Chicken Marbella.

                    I made gougeres. They were really good but very time consuming. I found a recipe that was supposed to be a 15-minute snap to put together. Not for me. Took a long time just to grate the cheese. Had to use the microplane. Couldn't find my box grater. But, they ate them all.

                    I made salad with romaine and green goddess dressing and nothing else in it. I plated the salad in the kitchen and served it. They loved the salad. One woman even took a spoon and just ate dressing. ;-) The dressing was almost perfect, very close to what I had hoped for.

                    Made rice, roasted asparagus, and the chicken marbella. Used dates, apricots and prunes. Everyone loved it. I had 15 pieces of chicken and only 1 piece is left. Wouldn't use the dates again. They fell apart in the long cooking time. Don't know why the time was so off, but I had to cook for almost 2 hours to get the chicken to brown. It stayed juicy. Luckily I had started earlier than planned, so it was ready only about 20 minutes later than I planned.

                    Served the key lime pie and also made bark with dark chocolate and added a 6 oz can of planters mixed nuts with pistachio, cashew and almonds, plus I threw in some dried mixed berries (that I had considered for the salad). That came out great and they kept nibbling at it.

                    So, it all worked out. Again, thanks to all for your help, and thanks to chowhounds across the board. I kept searching the boards with every little question I had and usually found an answer.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: ErikaZ

                      Glad it went well! So, what did you think of the prunes? I don't normally like prunes but think they work really well in the recipe.

                      1. re: chowser

                        Yes, glad it was a success. Re: the prunes, I've never eaten a prune outside of this recipe, but the first time I make something, I make it as written, and in the case of Chicken Marbella, I've never changed a thing.

                        1. re: valerie

                          Probably a good plan to make it as written the first time. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't :-) If I make this again, I probably would stick to the recipe.

                        2. re: chowser

                          The prunes were perfect in this dish. It's a nice combo with the chicken, fruit, and olives.

                      2. I think the 2nd choice will be the easiest.

                        enjoy