Company Dinner for Difficult People
I am having my department members over for dinner this weekend, and I have no idea what to make. it's a good-bye dinner for my department head, so I would like it to be special, but so many of the people coming have food issues that I am at a loss as to what to cook. I also live somewhere where I do not have access to a lot of what most people people would consider staples. (one kind of lettuce, not much seafood, no pork, only basic veggies)
I was thinking Ina's Shrimp Scampi, but one the wife of one of my co-workers is allergic to shrimp. She also doesn't eat mushrooms. He doesn't eat anything with curry.
Another co-worker is veggie, but eats fish.
I am leaning towards lasagna, simply because it's easy to make veggie, but not being able to use mushrooms means that the sauce won't be terribly interesting. Plus, lasagna, as yummy as it is, doesn't really have any WOW factor, and I wanted to put on a little bit of a show.
Anyone have any brilliant ideas?
As far as I can see you've listed four limitations from your guests. No shellfish, no mushrooms, no curry, and preferably vegetarian, is that right? And a fifth limitation being that you don't have access to much by way of ingredients. Can you get beef? Or poultry? What seafood -do- you have access to?
You haven't said how many people you are serving. If it's more than 6, I'd say don't do a saute, which will have you slaving at the stove last minute while your guests are there.
My first piece of advice is: don't stress too much. Make a roast. Roast chickens w/ some unusual flavors. Feeds many and less stress for the cook. Or a big roast beef -- chateaubriand, perhaps?
Or you could save the wow-factor for dessert. Surely you have some fruit, even dried fruit? Rhubarb and/or dried fruit compote w/ almond cake perhaps?
It seems that you're not going to please everyone w/ every dish, so my suggestion is several dishes, particularly sides (some can be made ahead and served room temp), and perhaps some simple soup to start.
If you make stewed lentils or barley salad, the vegetarian can simply skip the meat.
Can you put together a composed salad of available ingredients -- asparagus, orange and/or beets w/ citrus vinaigrette? I could try to help w/ the sides if you state what veggies/starches/grains/beans you do have access to. Everyone will be pleased to be at a dinner party, and so should you.
Here is an excellent chicken recipe for company, using boneless chicken breasts. You marinate the chicken in this sour cream mixture. Then coat them with bread crumbs, roll them up and bake them. No one knows there is sour cream in there. Tip: Use thin sliced breasts, not thick ones.
Serve this with rice, a nice vegetable, and your veggie lasagna for the vegetarian.
I agree w/ Morganna that it doesn't seem that limiting. There are quite a lot of options. If you like lasagne but want something different, what about stuffed shells, manicotti, or eggplant parmigiana? Or, for something that requires a little more work, risotto. To suit everyone, you can do kebabs, making different types and a home made naan type bread, if you grill. Or home made pizza. If you want to go the fish route, a whole baked fish in a salt crust is impressive (unless guests are squeamish about seeing their animal). Something fresh, tilapia w/ tomatillos. I've followed the recipe and I've played around with it, adding black beans, tomatoes w/ chiles, etc. and it's always good:
This is a great time of year for an asparagus lasagne.
Roast your asparagus with truffle oil and lemon zest before you assemble. Use ricotta and goat cheese along with plenty of parmesan.
I make a 'light' bechamel but usually use some sort of animal stock. Since that will be out of the question just be sure that it is not gloppy and use the stick blender to ensure that it has a particularly silky texture. I find that making it on the stove top then finishing it in the oven in a heavy enamel coated pot helps the texture a great deal. Also I use a bit more liquid than might be typical. And throw an onion studded with a couple of cloves, a piece of nutmeg and a sprig of thyme in while it's cooking in the oven - then fish them out before you use the sauce.
Another lasagna suggestion- spinach and butternut squash lasagna with bechamel (using mozzarella and ricotta cheeses) . I mix ricotta with spinach for the spinach layer, mix rosemary in the bechamel and squash (can use canned pumpkin or frozen cooked squash for convenience) and layer it up like a regular lasagna with no-boil noodles. Oh yes, and top with a layer of mozzarella and some fresh Parmesan. My friend, a relatively unadventurous eater, liked it so much that she requested it for her birthday party!
Something that can make lasagna feel more special is layering individual lasagnas in small ramekins. (That can save mushroom hater from the mushrooms that go in everyone else's, if you're heart is set on including fungi.) For layered pasta in round dishes, I'll sometimes use gyoza skins (two or 3 per layer, since they're so thin) to fit the round bill, but you might have trouble finding them...in which case, you can make your own with a pasta roller or make a relatively good fit with regular noodles snuggled in.
If lasagna doesn't float your boat, how about gnocchi with Marcella's tomato-butter sauce? That's a nice, impressive dish that wows me whenever it's done properly. :)