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dinner menu for picky gourmets

Please help! We moved to our new home, east to midwest, about six months ago, and we've gone out several times with a couple who love to eat out. We've been to their house for dinner a couple times and had a minimal sort of meal, at least IMO. Pork chops and bottled salad dressing. But when we go out they love to eat. Now it's payback time for us. I need to cook for them. No pork, we've done that at their home. Beef or chicken? No Asian--she hates cilantro and that makes me nervous when it comes to adventure.

I consider myself a very cook home cook. But I am nervous about this.

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  1. Zuni chicken with the bread salad. It's impressive to do a simple dish well and even picky gourmets like roast chicken.


    1. Seabass or sea scallops - elegant and appealing to most people, and hard to screw up!
      With some asparagus, it is a homemade gourmet entree

      1. Spring rack of lamb is simple and very tasty. Add a salad, potatos au gratin, and seasonal fresh asparagus. Simple and very elegant.

        1 Reply
        1. re: primebeefisgood

          I second that! Watch that rack on the grill - can overcook in a heartbeat. Wrap the protruding bare bones in foil or they will potentially burn and break off.
          As an alternative that looks a little more "steaky" on the plate, try the thicker loin lamb chops. The trade-off is that the loin chops have more fat on them and will cause pretty serious flare-ups on the grill. Be prepared with a squirt bottle of water to douse the flare-ups or your chops will take on a "scorched fat" flavor. That applies to either racks or loins.

        2. It may be more than you'd like to do ($$$) but a beef tenderloin is almost no fail as an entree and can be served with any one of a number of sauces.....hard to beat OR dislike!

          1 Reply
          1. re: LoN

            I'd have to agree about the beef. I've met so many people picky about seafood. To me, I just can't comprehend -- how can you not like seafood?

            Beef tenderloin or a beef rib roast would probably go over well with them.

          2. Don't be afraid of Asian food. I, too, hate cilantro but have found that basil, flat-leaf parsley and/or pea shoots can be acceptable substitutes.

            When I cook for new friends my first meal is always a "mixed" grill-steak, shrimp, scallops and chicken; a simple (but yummy) rice or potato dish; a fresh green veggie(asparagus, beans, peas, etc); a salad w/homemade dressings; bread and for dessert-pound cake served w/assorted berries, sauces and whipped cream.

            1 Reply
            1. re: hipquest

              Celery leaves are an acceptable substitute for cilantro for those of us who have the palate sensitivity to cilantro.

            2. Since this whole anticipated event is causing you such anxiety, I'd simply pick the meal that you cook best. A tried and true. I have a chicken dish that never fails to please, and I serve it often without apology. Maybe try a special dessert to top it off, but I wouldn't try a recipe you've never made before.

              1. I agree with suggestions such as beef tenderloin, roast chicken, sea bass, scallops, asparagus (or artichokes), lamb, and beef rib roast. Simple great ingredients prepared in your favorite dishes!

                My "trick" for first-time-guests, however, is always starting with a high end, complex, carefully put together (but casual looking) salad: couple types of lettuce, arugula, carefully cut tomato (long wedges after seeding and removing pulp), red onion (feather cut), green onion (fine cross-cut), thin lenghtwise sliced pear, grated cheeses from my stash (fine for super hard, long for firm), julienned carrots, chopped capers. I dress with something like a red wine vinegar + oil + s&p + honey; marinade onion, pear, and tomato first and tossing the rest at the last minute; or use a squeeze bottle of a mix of my yogurt + evoo + s&p + Dijon grainy mustard + chopped garlic chives from the balcony. Carefully presented salad with the appropriate wine, followed by simple and good mains... you'll have em all on the run!

                1. I'd try to get my hands on some nice cuts of beef ... maybe a NY strip and grill up some steaks.

                  Really hard to mess up steaks, just don't overcook or overseason. Let the quality of the meat speak for itself.

                  Pair it with a simple side, like a lightly marinated potato salad or if you want to go really hearty, make a "gourmet" mac 'n cheese with a trio of artisan cheeses of your choice.

                  This menu will be on par with what they served you but just a tad better, and won't seem like you are trying to show them up by making a really, really fancy meal.

                  It's a win-win.

                  Good luck with whatever you end up cooking and serving.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: ipsedixit

                    I agree with this suggestion. If you make anything too fancy, they may never feel comfortable inviting you over for dinner again. (unless that's what you want!)

                  2. When I have picky eaters over for dinner, I always ask them what they HATE. This way you can omit any offending ingredients... or hide them... how do I make an evil emoticon?? :)

                    That being said, I never met a meat-eater who doesn't love a roasted chicken!

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: missfunkysoul

                      "That being said, I never met a meat-eater who doesn't love a roasted chicken!"

                      Consider yourself as having met one. :)

                    2. I would advise against beef if you have picky eaters. We always dread overcooked meat (we like ours very med rare). Somehow, when you don't know people very well, it always comes out wrong.

                      Cornish hens can be very festive and you can adapt virtually any poultry recipe to suit them. Allow 1 Cornish hen per person, even though you will have leftovers. Spring veggies are just starting to come in, they are always a good choice. Keep things very simple, perhaps an assortment of cheese and fancy crackers, tossed salad or Cesar salad, Cornish hens, some kind of potato or stuffing, roast asparagus or green beans almondine, choclate dessert. You can't go wrong if you keep it simple.

                      1. Wow, jfood needed to read all the way to Diane in Bexley to see what he was recommending. Cornish hens are fantastic and everyone jfood serves them to thinks they are so impressive. But really they cook like wittle chickens and they are 25 minutes from in the oven to plate.

                        Jfood has them all prepared on a baking sheet and then when he serves the salad he throws them in the oven. By the time the salalds are eaten and the plates cleared, the little guys are almost ready. Then a half on a plate with all sorts of choices for a sauce and sides and your in like flint.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: jfood

                          I've used this recipe for bacon-wrapped cornish game hens with raspberry balsamic glaze. It's really easy, but the taste is To. Die. For.


                          MexicoKaren had a great suggestion to cook what you do best (unless it's cilantro-laden). You've eaten with them at restaurants several times and the only thing you know she doesn't like is cilantro, so she must not be extremely picky, or you'd have noticed unusual ordering and requests to leave things off. Take some cues from dishes they've ordered when you're out with them if you remember any they raved about, put your own spin on those.

                        2. For dinner parties, I like to go with braised main dishes- you can make them in advance (most braises improve with time), they're hard to screw up, and you can reheat them gently in the oven while you're taking care of other things the day of. They can also be really elegant!

                          Anything I can make ahead is a sanity saver.

                          1. I LOVE everyone's suggestions, but just to add a different idea... how about paella? Looks, tastes, and smells very impressive. And distinctive.

                            If you go with beef, consider (now or later): tenderloin steaks with cranberry-port sauce and gorgonzola cheese http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo...

                            and if you go with chicken, please consider Julia Child's Coq au Vin (http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/Recipes/sto... ). Not only easy to make ahead of time, but tastes even better day # 2!

                            1. Relax dumpling, how picky or gourmet can they be if they use bottled salad dressing. Cilantro is one of those love or hate things for some people. Just make something you do well and I assume that includes many things. Have fun doing it and don't let others take that away.

                              1. I totally agree w/Mex. Karen-don't try anything adventurous & stick to what you know. You don't want to have an experimental disaster & it's one less thing to worry about. And I'd be careful if you do the roast chicken-when it's done right its amazing but if you don't know what you're doing it's gross.