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Dec 28, 2008 06:15 PM

Family dinner help- I need an awesome menu

one of my resolutions for 09 is to reconnect with my siblings whom I am a bit distant from, though they are still close. It has been long enough, that these siblings (there are four coming to dinner, plus me) have no idea i can boil water. One sister is deathly allergic to shrimp, other than that, anything goes. I figure, a great menu will be fun, surprising for them certainly since last they heard I could only make cereal and give us something to chit chat about if needed.
I want the meal to be great (an olive branch if you will). I want a knock your socks off meal, one that will make them say, gee, little cassoulady has been busy since we last saw her. I would like to make lobster bisque, which I think I do well, but would love suggestions for other courses. Thanks!

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  1. is she just allergic to shrimp or shellfish? I just ask because the couple of people I know that allergic to shrimp can't eat lobster either.

    14 Replies
    1. re: LaLa

      As i recall, it is just shrimp, not shellfish in general, but to be safe i will double check

      1. re: cassoulady

        Just FYI, I CAN and do eat shrimp, but I'm allergic to lobster, clams, oysters. (Once I reacted to those, I never tried any other shellfish.) And my father was allergic to crab, but no other shellfish. So do check to make sure.

        Cassoulady, I reallly like smtucker's suggestion of some kind of build-your-own, finger good or DIY course, for icebreaking and conversation purposes. It could be the tacos and burritos, it might be fondue, or, if not hands-on, tapas.

        I agree with smtucker about a well roasted chicken, which is always something that you can dress down to casual or bump up to special occasion.

        But...two questions, so we can think about this. Tell us a little bit more about your siblings. Are they mostly people who like casual, or do they like formal dining more?

        And, in addition to the bisque, name us an item in each course that you feel you do especially well and, maybe even more importantly, that you LIKE to cook and get excited about preparing? Because...I'm a firm believer that if the cook has fun and looks forward to serving a particular dish, it shows through and sets a tone. It would also reduce the potential stress in the kitchen factor, which I think would be useful in this situation...for your sake. I admire you for doing this, and would love to help with some ideas; just looking for a little more guidance to suit suggestions to your guests AND *you*.

        P.S. The one thing that occurs to me right off is that Champagne could be on the ingredient list somewhere, not to drink (although, that's okay, too, LOL)...but, roast chicken with Champagne sauce, or beautiful berries macerated in Champagne...something celebratory) ;-).

        1. re: Steady Habits

          I see them very rarely in recent years but on the whole, they are adventerous eaters and have traveled a fair amount.

          For a main course, I was thinking of something that is dramatic to bring to the table, a standing rib roast, something like that ( for the oooohhhh ahhhh factor) I also love lamb shanks and rack of lamb so that could be fun and is something people dont eat all the time.

          For dessert ( not my strong suit) I am most comfortable with fruit tarts, creme brule, chocolate mousse, apple tartes.

          1. re: cassoulady

            I think you could be right on the way to a wonderful bill of fare right there with any of these dishes you've mentioned. A rib roast would be a winning choice, and an excellent presentation. Thinking about these items you've mentioned, plus the roast chicken already discussed on the board, I myself am going to vote for the rack of lamb, if they like lamb. It's easy, relatively quick, too, you can be creative with rubs, crusts and marinades, and it is special because it's not served that often.

            If I were going to do the rack of lamb, I think I would not do potatoes, but instead would do some kind of rice, either herbed, or depending on how I fixed the lamb, maybe a composed rice with some combination of chopped/diced cranberries, apricots (one of my favorites with rice), or golden raisins, maybe soaked in brandy, and some nuts and maybe parsley or chopped celery leaves. If I chose the standing roast, I'd probably go with potatoes. can do the same thing with bulgar wheat, or the easiest of all, couscous.

            Another option with *any* of these--the rib roasts, the rack of lamb, or the roast chicken--would be a special bread dressing. What I like about a composed rice or a dressing, versus, say, roast potatoes, is that by your choice of additions to the rice or dressing, you have so much flexibility in adding textures and so many colors to the plate, the latter adding to the presentation.

            For veggies, you could go with anyone of the lovely Brussels sprouts treatments that appear on the board frequently, cutting the bottoms off and quartering them so that the leaves fall apart in sauteeing, with whatever seasonings and additions you like. Or, sauteed sliced fennel (which could be nice with some sort of curry if served with lamb). Either of those go so nicely with beef or pork and are able to stand up to lamb. You could also do a roasted corn salad, which would also add color.

            Your dessert repertoire sounds classic and always right. I think any one of those would be appropriate. My own first choice would probably be one of the tarts, but--really--that's just a matter of personal opinion. I just like *some* inclusion of fruit in the dessert with these particular meat entrees.

            If you're interested, I have an *easy* recipe for a Mandarin orange tart that has a short, press-in crust and a white chocolate filling. I like the oranges because they cut a heavy meal, but you could use top it with *any* fruit you like that complements your final menu.

            I think you should stick with these types of things *you* were thinking of for your menu. They are definitely special occasion "company fare" and you sound enthusiatic about them. I don't see how you can miss.

            1. re: Steady Habits

              Id love the tart recipe, pls post or email it to me!

              1. re: cassoulady

                White Chocolate Fruit Tart


                ½ c. 10x sugar
                ¾ c. butter, room temp
                1-½ c AP flour
                ¼ t. salt
                ¼ t. cinnamon, optional

                Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy; then blend in flour, salt and, if desired, cinnamon. Press mixture into 12-inch tart form or pie pan, or 9-inch by 12-inch rectangular baker. Bake 20 to 25 minutes, or until lightly browned, at 300 F.

                Cool crust before using.


                10 oz. white chocolate, chopped or broken
                ¼ c. heavy whipping cream
                8 oz. creamed cheese (no subs)
                ½ t. vanilla extract

                Combine first three ingredients in double boiler over gentle heat and stir until fully melted without lumps and combined. Take off heat and stir in vanilla extract completely.

                Spread onto cooled crust. Cover and chill.

                Once tart is chilled, place very well drained Mandarin segments in circular pattern, if tart form is used, or in rows or pattern of choice, if tart is rectangular. This should be kept refrigerated; however, remove from refrigerator to bring to service temperature about a half-hour before serving.

                (Cassoulady, note: The original recipe I got called for one of the small cans of Mandarin oranges. However, I find that they’re so delicate; some are broken in the cans and some break when you drain them. So now I always make sure I have two cans on hand when I make this. Also, as I noted before, you could really use any fruit you prefer. I’m thinking of making one for New Year’s Eve and, instead of oranges, pre-cooking apples in butter and brown sugar, cooling before placing the apples on the tart, then spooning the juices from the pan over the apples. Haven’t tried it before with this recipe, but…it sounds good to me. ;-)

                1. re: Steady Habits

                  that sounds great! I will try this for sure. i might use raspberries. I assume I am rolling the dough before pressing into the shell, no?

                  1. re: cassoulady

                    No, cassoulady! That's one of the beauties of it (besides the fact I think it's yummy). ;-) Just press the crust mixture into the bottom of your form or baker. (Just a bottom crust, not on the sides of the vessel.)

                    Raspberries go so well with white chocolate, don't they? I had another recipe once upon a time for a great raspberry white chocolate pie. I had tried to find that, too, for you... Unfortunately, I can't locate it right now, but I've always had good luck with this recipe, and I've made it probably half a dozen times.

                    1. re: MaggieRSN

                      cool, so like a graham cracker crust. I will try that!

                    2. re: cassoulady

                      cassoulady, the following post (w/screen name MaggieRSN) is from me. Sorry for the confusion; nothing duplicitous intended. I participated in the board briefly a couple of years ago and since that time changed my primary email and couldn't remember what I had used here before. I do apologize, but that is I (Steady Habits).

                      1. re: Steady Habits

                        cool thanks!I am a little excited for dinner and a little bit dreading it but these great ideas are helping!

                        1. re: cassoulady

                          Well, I can understand the little bit dreading part, but it is a positive thing you're doing, and, again, I think you were already on the right track with your own great menu feel confident about that. Btw, when are you doing this?

                          1. re: Steady Habits

                            thanks steady! I am doing it in jan, we are still trying to pick out an evening everyone is free. If the way to a mans heart is through his stomach, maybe the same is true for five estranged siblings.

                            1. re: cassoulady

                              You have me chuckling, because, whenever my husband talks about what he likes about me, my cooking always heads the list. He thinks that's a great compliment, while I'd rather hear him fawn about my mind, a kind heart or integrity first...but...I guess since apparently I don't have those ;-), it's a darned good thing he thinks I make a great burger. :-D As for your siblings, it's a little bit of a different situation than with a man. If I were a betting woman, I'd bet you anything they are going to *really* appreciate the great deal of thought you've put into showing them a heartfelt hospitality. I know when I go to my friends' houses, it's such a treat just to be pampered for the evening, by someone who cares about my being there. If by any slim chance you don't get that reaction from one or some of them, you will know that you made an excellent effort, and you should feel satisfied about that. But relaxing over good food during a leisurely evening has an amazing effect in forging amity and breaking down walls. ;-) I think it's good that you're working out the menu now and getting your plans set; it should give you a good confidence boost during the busy preparation, etc.

      2. How wonderful to reconnect with your siblings. That is hard work.

        But, If your sibling is allergic to shrimp, she is probably allergic to all shellfish.... at least I am. I would not try to hard, under these circumstances. For fun, self assembly works well, especially if you aren't sure how the conversation might go. Build your own tacos or burritos. Or a lovely roasted chicken. Nothing says "company" like a roasted chicken.

        I hope that this goes well for you.

        2 Replies
        1. re: smtucker

          I was thinking roast chicken, too. This seems like a situation that calls for food that really makes people feel good, can be surprising when its really good (because most people figure it's boring) and doesn't require a lot of hands on time on the part of the host/cook once the company is there. Something like a roast chicken, scalloped potatoes (or potatoes Anna) that you assemble mostly ahead of time and can happily live in the oven for a bit and some kind of over the top vegetable (brussles sprouts with bacon and fried shallots or something along those lines) can make for a terrific dinner that really thrills diners. You can dress up the chicken with sauteed mushrooms with sherry or brandy, too. If your sister can have lobster, the bisque would work well with the meal, too.

          Don't forget that a fabulous desert covers all else, too. Something gooey and decadent like chocolate cake always goes over well.

          1. re: ccbweb

            I'm on board with this idea. Do something simple, but do it well.

        2. I would also make a roast chicken. Perhaps with sauteed spinach or kale and a potato dish. I love roasted potatoes served alongside a roasted chicken. Since you haven't really dined with your siblings in a while, maybe make a couple of vegetables so everyone will be happy. If there's leftovers, pack up lunches for everyone. I like a chocolate tart or fruit crisp for dessert.

          1. If you have access to it, Delia Smith's Winter Collection has a nice series of suggested Sunday Suppers (with the timings included) and a list of menus too, including some vegetarian ones. I'm going to have to do the Sixties Supper as a wink to the TV series Mad Men (alas for you, it features a shrimp cocktail, but it also has Beef Carbonnade à la Flammande and Crêpes Suzette!).

            Mind you, it's heavier fare and with a British inspired twist (I know it's not really pure British). I've been drooling over the puds and cakes.

            I've been cooking from it this week and enjoying it.

            Here's her first menu, clearly inspired by apples.
            First: apple and cider salad with Camembert dressing
            Main: pork braised in cider vinegar sauce; spiced sautéed red cabbage with cranberries, and potato apple rosti.
            Dessert: fallen chocolate soufflé with Armagnac prunes and crème fraîche sauce.

            3 Replies
            1. re: TheSnowpea

              ",,,,with the timings included)... Does this mean she tells you how to time each recipe in conjunction with the others to prepare the meal? I have looked online and cannot "see" inside the book anywhere, but I would love this if available?

              1. re: Siobhan

                Yes, on page 147, she has drawn up five suggested Sunday lunch menus that are planned for 1 pm and are based on meat roasts of various kinds (you could very well make them supper, frankly), with indications on when to start what, including the sides. There's a beef rib roast, roast chicken, roast ham, roast pork, and beaujolais braised lamb. It's not extensive, but it is helpful for less experienced cooks, and you can mix and match the sides a bit too.

                1. re: TheSnowpea

                  I have the Winter books and can attest that every recipe I have tried (especially the puddings) have been amazing.

            2. I'd like to suggest chocolate fondue for dessert. I like the idea of people interacting while making there dessert. A tray with strawberries, pretzels, marshmallows, dried apricots, and pound cake might make for a fun end to the meal. Plus, it is easy.