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Need a fabulous, but not trying-too-hard menu for a date

So - I'm newly single, and taking baby steps with a new person - impulsively invited the person over for a home-cooked meal. I know how to do elaborate, pull-out-all-the-stops, but what's a good casual, but creative meal? I need this meal to subliminally say, you're a lot of fun, but I'm not looking for a new spouse. I DO NOT want a "seduction" menu. Guidance would be much appreciated . . . I was playing with the idea of mussels steamed in beer or homemade pizza?
** Also, it would be awesome if it's budget friendly

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  1. I think a home made pizza would be great. It's nice and casual, and gives you some room to show your creative side.

    1. My first thought was an amazing pasta dish - a sauce that you can make ahead, so that all you have to do is boil the water, cook the pasta and toss with the sauce, and then a simple but very good salad - my favorite is arugula, olive oil, lemon juice or vinegar, salt & pepper and shaved parmesan.

      1 Reply
      1. re: MMRuth

        Too funny, MMR. I was just about to suggest "your" salad :) I would do Hazan's carbonara - here's the recipe:


        I have cooked the oil, bacon, wine part hours ahead and then reheated. Grated the cheese likewise and the parsley. It comes together super fast. I also have a panini grill on which I put sliced sourdough bread that's brushed with garlic infused olive oil.

      2. I'd go with a comfort food, like a nice organic roasted chicken with roasted potatoes.

        9 Replies
        1. re: chuckl

          I was also going to suggest roast chicken. Are you a man or a woman?

          1. re: Laurie914

            I, too, was thinking roast chicken. Everyone loves it, and you'll have leftovers.

            1. re: Laurie914

              I'm a woman. Roast chicken sounds like a good bet. . . just really simple? Or should I throw in a fancy sauce?

              1. re: ziggy5

                Make a gravy from the pan drippings. Include something to absorb the gravy and a green vegetable. It knocks my husband off his feet every time I make it. Classic "American" meal if you include apple pie a la mode.

                This food isn't too heavy or bad breath inducing, both of which are date killers.

                1. re: TampaAurora

                  i can't help but think of all those tales about "engagement chicken"...and rumor has it that some women have also topped off the meal with apple pie as the clincher...so since ziggy5 isn't looking to seduce this guy [yet], perhaps she should hold off on this one! ;)

                  1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                    My thoughts exactly! Roast chicken just screams domesticity and coupledom to me!(though when I wanted to seduce hubby the dish of choice was cioppino. worked like a charm... :-))

                2. re: ziggy5

                  You could do the Zuni chicken with the bread salad. They're delicious, and take some effort but seem like something very simple.

                  1. re: chowser

                    Is this recipe available on the internet? Or just in the cookbook?

            2. With the recent thread, how about pasta carbonara? Come together quickly, delicious, classic.

              1. What about MMRs salad and a I love your idea of a big bowl of steamed mussels. I love moules marineres ( white wine, garlic, shallots, parsley and butter). mussels are usually very cheap, and cook fast and with a nice pieces of bread to sop up the juices. I think it is a fun dish to share with a friend.

                2 Replies
                1. re: cassoulady

                  She'd need to know if he likes mussels or not. I eat them but prefer other things. That wouldn't be an impressive meal for me :)

                  1. re: c oliver

                    maybe roast chicken, that is yummy and nice but not over the top.

                2. You might try this
                  Saute chicken breasts
                  Francais sauce (butter, chicken broth, white wine, lemon & parsley)
                  Sauce the chicken & top one half with chopped alphonso olives, the other w/ capers
                  simply delish

                  1. Pesto Shrimp and Fettucini, it's quick and delicious. Add French bread, a nice tomato and fresh mozzarella salad drizzled with olive oil and balsamic, some good wine, soft music, dessert served later......!

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: susabella

                      Do you have a recipe you'd recommend? Just homemade pesto and shrimp sauteed in garlic and red-pepper flakes?

                      1. re: ziggy5

                        I buy pesto from Whole Foods, it comes in a jar. I saute the shrimp in a pan with olive oil. I cook the pasta, then toss it with the shrimp and pesto. It's really fast and simple and tastes great.

                    2. I think you're original thought of pizza sounds great. So many good things to do with that. And y'all can do it together.

                      7 Replies
                      1. re: c oliver

                        Yeah. . . something involving teamwork would be good. I'm a little nervous about so much one-to-one face time (i.e. alone in house, cooking dinner). . . breaking out board games is so passe, so i thought pizza-building? Are there any other non-technical dishes we could cook together(ish?)

                        1. re: ziggy5

                          I think pizza-building is a great idea. You can put together a green salad too. It's not too stiff or seduction-y and pizza is very forgiving.

                          1. re: cheesecake17

                            And not a "girly" or "mom" kinda dish! For dessert, how about ice cream cones or something else silly?

                            Really good burgers? He can help with slicing and dicing. Yummy toppings available.

                            Just read my husband this post and he suggested meat loaf. I like that idea also. With mashed potatoes? I made them for T'giving and did them the day before and reheated in the slow cooker (a suggestion from a 'hound.)

                          2. re: ziggy5

                            another build-it dish would be lasagna... he can help with the slicing and/or layering or stir the sauce...

                            you could also do something as simple as burritos or quesadillas or even paninis pressed under a brick in a pan - give him options for what to put in and then do them as min-paninis, so you can have several different kinds!

                            1. re: Emme

                              All great ideas. I like the burrito one especially, probably because we do at home a lot. I fix pork ahead of time in the slow cooker. Then we have rice, beans, cheese, salsa. But you could other things for going on the burrito or on the side as a salad. Although people on this board will tell you what a "classic" burrito consists of, I believe that it's whatever. And we serve these to guests and they always have fun as well as enjoy the food.

                            2. re: ziggy5

                              On the teamwork and budget theme: sushi, lettuce wraps, tempura or other fried dishes (exciting! hot oil!), homemade ravioli or gnocchi, potstickers or steamed dumplings, fajits/tacos, breakfast-for-dinner, or fondue are other options. Interactive meals are definitely best for keeping things light and giving you something to talk about, especially if it is somewhat challenging...if you don't choose an interactive dinner, maybe a dessert?

                              1. re: gwendolynmarie

                                I adore breakfast for dinner - and boy does that open the options, doesn't it?

                          3. I think I'd make spaghetti and meatballs... it tastes good and it's not exactly romantic, but it's also very simple to make (I always bake the meatballs in the oven instead of browning them because that way you don't have to stand over them on the stove!) And it's a warming winter meal.

                            13 Replies
                            1. re: Kajikit

                              Ok - I'm thinking this as my menu:
                              1. hummus/pita
                              2. lamb meatballs in tangy tomato sauce over rice (http://www.taunton.com/finecooking/re...
                              )3. roasted curried cauliflower
                              4. brownies and ice cream
                              thoughts? Dinner is tomorrow night and I'm getting kinda nervous. I've been thinking about this WAY too much.

                              1. re: ziggy5

                                I thought you said not trying too hard?

                                1. re: Nunzio

                                  Ha ha - yeah. I'm the queen of elaborate cooking. This is paring it down for me. Plus these are all recipes I've made a lot and know are reliable.

                                2. re: ziggy5

                                  I think that's just fine. Whether it is or not, it will seem like a simple, everyday kind of dinner. And remember, being nervous and being excited feel just about the same. Tell yourself you're excited, try to relax, and have a wonderful evening.

                                  1. re: ziggy5

                                    I'm assuming that you've dined out with this person enough or discussed food to the point that you know he'd like these foods. They're not exactly everyone's cup of tea. If I had served my husband hummus when we were dating, I doubt he'd have come back for a repeat :) Some people truly don't like lamb versus those we THINK they don't like lamb. I think I'd repeat that sentence for cauliflower. Again, I'm betting you KNOW these are winners for him.

                                    1. re: c oliver

                                      Hmm... yeah I don't KNOW that they are winners for him - but he's arab-american; so I'm making a lot of assumptions. This could potentially backfire, I suppose.

                                      1. re: c oliver

                                        Also, he did mention he really loved Indian food? So these are similar flavors, right?

                                        1. re: ziggy5

                                          I think you are fine then ... and I don't think your menu sounds like you are over doing it at all. I might actually add a cucumber raita to it. Have fun!

                                          1. re: ziggy5

                                            Ditto re fine. Now go to the market and try to relax. This is NOT a world peace negotiation. Just dinner with a friend :)

                                            1. re: c oliver

                                              Thanks! I feel like this thread has evolved into a support group for my reentry into the world of dating. Thanks for all your good advice and support. :) I'll check back in and let y'all know how it goes.

                                              1. re: ziggy5

                                                Oh yeah .. . one more thing - does anybody have a good microbrew they might recommend to pair with that menu?

                                                1. re: ziggy5

                                                  For a quick answer, you may want to post your menu on the beer board.

                                                  1. re: c oliver

                                                    Ah! Amazing. I didn't even know there was a beer board. Thanks!

                                    2. I would have shrimp cocktail then a pasta dish orecchietto with broccoli rabe and crumbled sausage. pasta =Italian=Romantic. For dessert strawberries with whipped cream :))

                                      1. Fondue! At least two kinds, maybe three. Cooperative, goofy, short on prep, the sort of treat most people don't get often...

                                        1. I think the most important thing is that you have to pick something that requires NO last-minute preparations of any kind. Nothing that might make you sweat or cause any frustration. Pizza can be a blast, but it can also be very hard to time well while you're maintaining a conversation.

                                          I think something like braised chicken with preserved lemons and olives is unexpected but not threatening -- and looks like an elaborate production, though it takes nothing at all. Add some simple couscous (rehydrate with good chicken stock, not water and add a little handful of finely-chopped chive or scallion) and a nice salad. You can have everything ready long before your guest arrives, so all you need to do to get it ready is boil the stock, pour it over the couscous, then fluff and serve.

                                          Lasagna, as noted below, is another sure-fire hit -- as long as you know red meat is OK. Take it out of the oven, cut and serve.

                                          1. Hey, how'd it go??? Was looking for an old post and came across this one. Inquiring minds want to know :)

                                            1. Kind of jealous that you're newly single . . . .

                                              Anyway, dinner with a theme and a movie with same theme to follow? Can't decide if that's cute or stupid.