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Feb 19, 2009 01:34 PM

Need Menu For Small Dinner Party

Hi all!

So, next Friday I need to make dinner for 6 people.

Here are my problems. I have been "boasting" about loving to cook, so I think they are probably expecting something really fantastic.

Further - I am in law school fulltime, which equals no time to do anything (much less cook), as well as a limited budget.

What was I thinking getting myself into this?

I was thinking about a couple of roast chickens or a pasta, but neither of those seem very special/ company worthy. I made Rachel Ray's quick cassoulet last weekend ( and it was quite wonderful, but again, it doesn't seem "fancy' enough for company. I also thought about a poached salmon, but is that something you can serve on a cold, February night?

Any affordable, elegant ideas would be much appreciated. Oh, yes, (1) if they can partially be made ahead of time, or (2) any of you want to help me cook, that'd be great too! LOL.

I appreciate it so much!!

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  1. Beef bourguignon - flavorful and smells wonderful when someone walks in the door! It is especially good when made a day before. Cook the recipe very slowly (at 180-190 oven) until the meat is tender and then refrigerate. Cook the veggies separately. On dinner day, warm the stew and add the veggies until all is warm - again on a low stove, covered. Present with wide egg noodles dressed with olive oil, butter and parsley. noodles and a creamed horseradish sauce. If you want, add a first course of a simple salad with blue and a third course of cheese, fruit and jam.

    Oh, and the ingredients are fairly inexpensive given the cut of meat.

    1. If you haven't had these people over before, I'd suggest your coq au vin or tenderloin steaks with gorgonzola and cranberry sauce.

      Otherwise, your roast chicken or RR cassoulet. Start with a multi-greens and whatever salad with your best home made lilght dressing and do beautiful plating. If the chicken, carefully cut up and plate, along with your perfect rice or potatoes and asparagus or artichoke hearts. Cassoulet you want to serve family style; make sure that when you assemble the pot, you think about what it will look like when it is ready for the table. I very light sprinkling of finely chopped cilantro or parsley would be OK for serving to brighten up the look. Dessert can be something as simple as a cut up pineapple dressed with white sugar and mint leaves ground up in your mortar.

      But, overall if you don't have a lot of time- presentation! You don't have to do ridiculous "tall" food. But separating and balancing the plating to be simple and elegant always is and has been a good "gourmet" trick.

      My overall thinking here is that you are a busy person and, in this case, should stick to what you've done before. Please report back.

      9 Replies
      1. re: Sam Fujisaka

        Sam, ever since I started school last August, I have missed having the time to read Chowhound diligently - and your posts are always extraordinary. You are such a neat and special person - thank you so much for taking time to write. You know, I haven't made my Coq au Vin in a long while, so I may very well do that. (I am kinda partial to my coq au vin, come to think about it :-) .

        Always Cooking - thank you so much --- my last attempt at Bouef Bourguignon wasn't at my level of satisfaction, but I may very well give than another thought, too. I dearly love boeuf bourguinon, and would love to give it another try. I was using Julia Child's recipe... is there another one you prefer? I don't know why I couldn't get it just right.

        Thank you both so much!

        1. re: Tehama

          Consider using the JC carbonnade recipe instead. It takes less time and is delicous. We generally make it with bison but it designed with beef in mind. The vinegar added at the end is very important. Untraditional, but we often add a bit of smoked paprika.

          We serve it with homeade spaeztle but buttered egg noodles would work well too. Finish with a bitter salad and a sweet dessert.

          1. re: Tehama

            Tehama, thank you and good luck with your studies. One of my favorite younger cousins defends California's PG&E against plaintiff claims. I was very worried initially (who wouldn't be?), but now think that she takes a balanced and just approach - as I'm absolutely sure that you will too in your career.

            1. re: Tehama

              Wow - if you make a great coq au vin I'd definitely go with that (it would be my second choice after the bouef since I make it a bit better than the chicken). It's a lovely meal with such great flavor and aroma that everyone drools. As Sam says, elegance is about presentation and great flavor.

              I haven't used Julia's BB recipe and I'm curious about what you mean that you didn't get it just right. Here's what I do:

              Saute blanched fat back or bacon in a dutch oven to render the fat, remove and reserve. Deeply brown trimmed, cubed, dried, seasoned chuck (2+ in cube) without crowding the pan - you made need to do this in batches. Remove and reserve the beef. In the same pan (it may need additional fat or oil) roast chopped carrots, potatoes,onions, garlic until it picks up some color or begins to soften. Push the veggies aside and add some tomato paste to brown. Remove and reserve. With stock or wine, pull up the fond on the bottom of the pan. Put everything back in the dutch oven, add in a ratio of about 2:1 - beef stock (homemade would be best) and a good red wine (burgundy or a pinot or whatever you want the stew to taste of). Add bay, pepper corns, parsley, and salt to the pot. Cover with a parchment lid, aluminum tightly over the top and the dutch oven cover. Place in a 200 or lower oven and wait - it can take 3-6 hours until the beef is done (fork tender). Remove from the oven and pull out the beef. Strain the stock (the veggies will nearly be gone) and return the beef to the pot. Cool and refrigerate (this is why I tend to make BB in winter when I can stick the hot pot outside).

              The next day, defat the pan and remove the beef. Heat the pan to begin reduction. Cook pearl onions with a glaze of butter, a little sugar and water/stock until nearly done then add chopped mushrooms - cook until liquid is released (this can be done the day before as well). Create a stiff roux (I cook mine but it has the texture of a Beurre manié) When the stock is ready, add the roux until reaching the desired thickness. Add the beef and onions and mushroom to the pot. Heat through and serve.

              Geez - whe I write this down, it seems very complicated but it is really fast to put together. Sorry that I don't have a recipe for this - I've made it too often to measure. I find that it's really hard to get the proportions wrong. The key is slow braising of the beef - it should still be pink in the middle when served.

              Good luck on your party!

              1. re: Tehama

                I made the boeuf bourguignon from Mastering the Art of French Cooking for a party a couple of weeks ago and it was very well received. Was it that one that disappointed you? Or the one in The Way to Cook? They’re different from each other in small but interesting and potentially significant ways.

                1. re: JoanN

                  Good morning! I used the recipe from MTAOFC.... the beef was too chewy (overdone, I guess from searing it beforehand), and it was too salty overall... It was my first try, and I think I was so disappointed, that I have never tried again.

                  But I will resolve to! :-)

                  1. re: Tehama

                    too chewy....sounds underdone, not overdone, to me.

                    1. re: Tehama

                      A couple of thoughts. It could indeed be that you didn’t cook the meat long enough. Mine was positively falling apart. Or it could just be that you bought a really tough piece of meat. As for the saltiness, I know the recipe says you can use canned beef bouillon, but most commercial stocks have enough sodium to make a salt lick. And because the liquid is reduced so much, the already salty braising liquid get even saltier. If you’re going to use a commercial product, make sure it’s a low-sodium one. And even then you might want to thin it with water.

                      1. re: Tehama

                        Ditto JoanN on the salt - since it will cook down, the salt will only magnify so try to use a stock with the least amount of salt. And I also agree with JoanN's rescue technique - if it's it too salty, thin the stock with water - roux can always make it thicker at the end.

                        As for the toughness, it simply didn't cook long enough. Although a recipe my state x temp for y time, it is just a generalization since each cut of meat is different. Some may have much more connective tissue that will make it tough but, given enough cook time, will add to the mouth feel of the sauce (when the gelatin is fully broken down).

                        Lastly, while I don't know what MTAOFC says about covering the dish while cooking but it is essential that the lids (the pot cover and aluminum) are tight. Some cooks also use parchment as well - this keep the steam and flavors inside the pot. I've even meet a couple of French cooks that use flour and water to glue the lids to the pots. And don't peek too often. One further pointer, I've had best success using a very low temp for a very long time.

                2. We did a dinner party a few weeks ago for 8. Did not have time to go shopping until the day of the party and wanted to cook things that (a) could be made ahead to some extent so that we would be spending time with our guests, not mainly in the kitchen, and (b) were things we'd made before that we were fairly confident would work. Here is what we ended up doing:

                  1. First course: "Lemon herbed shrimp." This is a recipe that I pulled from the Chicago Tribune years ago and is one of my go to recipes because it is so easy and do ahead. If you want it, I can give you all the specifics, but here is the general concept: Saute sliced jalapeno peppers, julienned sweet peppers, whole peeled cloves of garlic and sliced onions in olive oil. Meanwhile boil whole, peel medium shrimp until just done. Drain shrimp, cover & coat with lemon juice, and then mix together with pepper mixture. Set aside for a few hours or overnight (if more than a few hours, refrigerate). Remove cloves of garlic, add some dried thyme & oregano, and mix. Serve on toasted baguette slices. (This is not finger food. Too messy. Must use fork & usually knife).

                  2. Second course: Salad of mesclun greens, sliced Granny Smith apples, and dried, sweetened cranberries, dressed in 1/2 balsamic, 1/2 red wine vinaigrette.

                  3. Main course: Chicken parmagiana. This is easy to do ahead, up to the point where the chicken, covered with red sauce & cheese is popped in the oven; that happened right before we sat down to eat. Sides were linguine, and sauteed spinach. (We did feel that this might not be "elegant" enough, but the convenience factor and fact that it was a recipe that my husband had down cold won out.)

                  4. Dessert: Was supposed to be brownies with ice cream. A guest brought a homemade cheesecake & so most people went with the cheesecake, which was fine with me. I love cheesecake but since I only started shopping at 11 am the day of the party, there was no way I had time to make it.

                  1. A super simple but impressive dish is to halve and roast some squash (ie acorn) then fill it wil cooked tortellini. Whip up a quick herby white sauce and pour over the top. Any variation on this will work. I dunno though, you might be looking for something that demonstrates more technique.

                    You could start with a soup (make ahead of time) and serve with a salad.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Bcakes

                      I really like to start with a soup, because it requires minimal fiddling just before serving.

                    2. Personally I dont think it matters what you serve, take out from the local place, it is how you serve it..with grace, abundance and love. Seriously.....I have a dinner party every year for 50 people. 3 years ago I was sick as a dog, but the invites were already out and people were already talking about it.

                      Cooking was the last thing i was going to do. I ordered Pizza - sever is on silver trays and the good china....

                      Someone once said being a good host is under appreciated and i matter what you serve, make your guests feel like they are at home.