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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?

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  1. 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?

    1. 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.

      1. 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.

        1. 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:


          1. 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.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Kater

              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. :)

            2. I'd recommend this salmon and pasta dish with a dill vodka sauce. Make the sauce ahead of time and cook the salmon ahead of time, but don't add it to the sauce yet. At the last minute, cook the capellini and toss with the sauce and the salmon. It's really elegant. I've added steamed chopped asparagus and/or peas before, but I've also served them on the side.

              1 medium onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
              1 tablespoon olive oil
              3 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth (24 fl oz)
              1 cup heavy cream
              1/3 cup vodka
              1/2 teaspoon salt
              1/2 cup chopped fresh dill
              1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated fresh lemon zest
              2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
              1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
              2 cups flaked broiled salmon
              10 oz capellini (angel-hair pasta; about two thirds of a 1-lb box)

              Cook onion in oil in a 3-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened (but not browned), about 6 minutes. Add broth, cream, vodka, and salt and boil over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until sauce is reduced to 2 cups, 40 to 50 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in dill, lemon zest and juice, and pepper. Reserve 1/2 cup sauce, then add salmon to saucepan and cook over moderately low heat until fish is just heated through, 2 to 3 minutes.

              While fish is heating, cook pasta in a 6- to 8-quart pot of boiling salted water until al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup pasta-cooking water, then drain pasta in a colander. Return pasta to pot, then toss with reserved sauce and cooking water. Serve pasta immediately with fish and sauce spooned over the top.

              1 Reply
              1. re: katecm

                That looks delicious. I wouldn't do an all vegetarian meal for one person, but would make sure he had plenty to eat, and he does eat fish, so that helps.

              2. I would do a souffle--you get a lot of wow for minimal effort. Pair it with a salad, and perhaps a nice bread (big fan of the artisan bread in five) eh voila! (If that doesn't seem hearty enough, maybe a cold soup in shot glasses for a starter?)

                Oh, and if you have a lot of folks, so one large souffle wouldn't be enough... you could do the epicurious recipe for twice baked goat [ETA--yikes--goat CHEESE] souffles. On dinner party day, they just need five minutes in the oven to puff up again and get warm. (I've done them with other cheeses when goat wasn't around, if that's an issue. I liked the stronger flavored cheeses best, but that's generally where I lean.)

                Whatever you decide, have a great time!

                1. I would make a simple Roast Chicken with lemon and fresh herbs, a salad of brown rice, garbanzoes and artichoke hearts, and a couple of seasonal vegetable sides, probably including a green salad of something kin to wild arugula.

                  and strawberry shortcake (with a homemade biscuit base) for dessert. ( I like to prepare the strawberry part as for Strawberries Romanoff, with the Cointreau.)

                  FWIW, I would not be likely to make, much less serve, lasagna in May.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: ChefJune

                    I really like ChefJune and others' roast chicken suggestion -- it's simple and can be dressed up wonderfully with a range of interesting flavors, as NYChowcook noted. When made well, it can wow.

                    ChefJune's suggestion of a vegetarian-friendly dressing is also great! I'm thinking maybe wild rice, garbanzos, almonds or cashews, dried apricots and figs and raisins...

                    lulubelle, I know in Pakistan right now you probably have access to good, fresh tomatoes and garlic and potatoes. If you wanted to make another starch, other than the dressing, try roasted potatoes and/or a fresh pasta with tomatoes and garlic.

                    As an appetizer, maybe think about a caprese-like salad out of tomatoes, basil (Thai could work if that's all that's available), paneer or other local cheese. (Can you find balsamic vinegar and olive oil?) This would be great in your warm climate. Or simple crostini with tomato and garlic (and pancetta if you can find it) would be lovely.

                    For dessert, perhaps do a watermelon or mango sorbet / granita for dessert; a flourless chocolate torte if the chocolate isn't prohibitively expensive or hard to find; or a creme brulee (eggs and cream are easy to find where you are).

                    Of course the roast chicken presumes that you have an oven in your kitchen... Do you? What kinds of herbs do you have on hand? I would probably personally avoid making anything very widely available, locally, like kebabs, even though they are obviously quite delicious. But if you're thinking of wow factor, something a little more unusual for the area (like Provencal roast chicken) would be in order.

                    1. re: cimui

                      Simple roast chicken is THE way to go. People swoon when it's done correctly. It's a no-fail for a dinner party, and has the added advantage of being dead easy at the last minute.

                      Your vegetarian will be used to eating just sides at dinner parties. Very few would ever dream of insisting on a unique main dish.

                      Make a vegetarian soup to start, and keep the sides vegetarian as well. Make a gratin of asparagus and a grain or potato salad. And yes, pull out all the stops with a make-ahead dessert.

                      Remember, though, that a lot of people don't like asparagus for some strange reason. If you're concerned about picky eaters, you might consider another vegetable.

                      Wow, I'm thinking I want to prepare this menu now!

                      1. re: dmd_kc

                        Oh yes, soup! Hot weather + available ingredients... so gazpacho? The cheese in the caprese-like salad would provide more protein for the vegetarian, though...

                        If you go with the asparagus idea -- I LOVE asparagus -- maybe top it with lemon and a quail or duck egg over easy and parmesan cheese curls, if available. The egg and cheese are good protein sources.

                        p.s. Sorry -- nemo's greater powers of perception indicate that you are in Bangladesh, not Pakistan! Hopefully the available ingredients aren't too different...

                    2. re: ChefJune

                      I would never make a lasagna in May in the States, but it is HOT here year round and as we live in a perpetual state of air con, people tend to just cook and eat what they like, not what is "seasonal"

                      Can you give me a better idea of the brown rice salad? It sounds like it might be doable here (assuming I can use canned or jarred artichokes and not fresh)


                    3. Out of curiosity, are the folks who are suggesting roasted chicken thinking that the fish-eating vegetarian will get by with sides? Or did they miss the semi-veggie in the OP's post? (Not to hitchhike the thread, but I am always curious about how carnivores accommodate (or not) vegetarians.)

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: miss louella

                        The salad I suggested is a Main Dish salad: Brown rice, garbanzoes, artichoke hearts, and comprises a complete protein. It is not a "get-by" dish!

                        1. re: ChefJune

                          When I have picky eaters coming to my cottage for the weekend, I keep it fairly clean with chicken souvlaki with home made tzatziki, roasted potatoes with lemon and oregano, Greek salad and perhaps some mid-Eastern dips such as baba ganouj or hummus or else roasted sweet peppers or grilled zucchini and goldbar/yellow squash. If your semi-veg diner doesn't eat chicken, you can marinate firm/extra firm tofu in a separate dish of the souvlaki marinade and grill it on a separate part of the grill. There's plenty of veg for the non-meat eaters, no seafood to taint the allergy sufferer, nary a mushroom in sight and only dairy to contend with. I make my tzatziki with goat yogurt, but it probably isn't available in your nabe, so stick with drained cow's yogurt (2% or 3%), to keep the thickness but not all the fat. Nobody should go away complaining, unless someone's lactose intolerant, but he or she should be forthcoming with that information in advance of the day. Just in case, serve feta on the side of the salad, rather than dispersed throughout it or sprinkled on top. A non-dairy eater can make do with hummus and baba ganouj. With some fresh pita or even a fresh hearty country loaf or baguette, the wow factor will be in the colours and well-presented spread. The only unhappy people will be non-garlic eaters, but they'll have to endure it for one meal. Everyone will be eating the garlic, so nobody will smell any more offensive than the next person.

                        2. re: miss louella

                          We don't know any vegetarians. The one we do know (rarely see) is a friend's daughter who's vegan. When she's at her parents for dinner, she brings or makes her own food, bless her heart!

                          1. re: miss louella

                            I touched on this in my other post, but I was vegetarian for 17 years, and still count many of them among my friends today. Vegetarians (and especially "semi-"vegetarians) are well accustomed to getting by with what's available any time they eat food they don't prepare themselves. I don't know anyone who makes a big scene if they have to eat salad, bread and potatoes at a dinner party. As the host, I'd go out of my way to prepare the sides without meat products of any kind, and I'd make sure the vegetarian guest knows.

                            I think it's usually a bigger risk to fix fish for an entire dinner party, especially if you aren't sure how stick-in-the-mud your audience is. Lots and lots of people simply refuse to eat fish (even salmon), regardless of how it's prepared.

                            1. re: dmd_kc

                              I totally agree. I was a vegetarian for over 10 years, and never felt out of place eating just the sides. And I always had plenty to eat.

                              Even today, when Ham is served somewhere I never eat it. I have just never been a huge meat lover, preferring sides.

                          2. you could do two kinds of kabobs, or meat brochettes. one using beef (do a greek marinade with olive oil and oregano), and the other chicken (chicken tikka is fabulous http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo... http://answers.yahoo.com/question/ind... ).

                            also make a veggie kabob, with mushrooms, onions, bell pepper, squash, cherry tomatoes.

                            (all these kabobs can be grilled, which gives the guests a focal point to chat. but if no grill, just broil.).

                            here are some excellent kabob-making tips: http://homecooking.about.com/od/speci...

                            warm an assortment of fresh flatbreads, like pita or naan.

                            as a side, make an israeli couscous (or quinoa, or brown & wild rice) salad with chickpeas, tomato and a little mint or dill (or basil or parsley) in the vinaigrette.

                            maybe have some marinated fresh (lightly steamed) green beans, with perhaps a lemony accent -- served warm or at room temp. also, you can serve some oven-roasted yukon gold or fingerling potatoes, with a light dressing of some sort, and which may be served at room temp, too.

                            ooh, roast fresh corn done in foil with butter on the grill.

                            think PICNIC! some dishes can be served hot, but you don't have to.

                            so, lots of prep can be done ahead, and the grilling is done in real time, with skewers all pre-made. skewers are festive, and people can easily take another if one isn't enough. (if i were going over the top, i'd also do a marinated mahi-mahi or swordfish kabob.) http://www.cooks.com/rec/doc/0,1645,1... .

                            buy a nice fresh local fruit pie and serve it with vanilla ice cream. also, have a watermelon chilled, and slice it up. nothing says summer like this!

                            ok, i must add: my dip in a sourdough breadbowl, using the knorr's spinach vegetable combo -- with extra green onions. also a make-ahead deal. double the recipe and use the green part of the green onions, too. some add cilantro, but i have not -as some don't like cilantro. i want to try adding artichoke, too.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: alkapal

                              I really second this picnic idea with kabobs! Everyone's eating *something on sticks*, so it doesn't seem like anyone's singled out because of dietary issues/choices. And pretty easy on the cook.

                              (BTW, alka...are you on Knorr's payroll? It seems every time I turn around you're making me hungry for that ding-dang dip! I think you need a bowl of that as your avatar! Oh, and artichokes are delicious in it!)


                              1. re: cayjohan

                                cay, maybe i need to contact knorr's with a proposal! ;-).

                                ps, as an avatar.... "not so much."

                            2. If you are, indeed, in Bangladesh as your profile suggests, I see that weekend temps are going to be mid-90's with possible T-storms. Whatever you decide upon for your main, a chilled soup might be a welcomed starter. Vichyssoise, with a local onion substitute if you can't find leeks. Or gazpacho with the local tomatoes Cimui suggests you probably have, onions, mild peppers, cucumbers and/or celery and/or any regional crunchy vegetable that might work for the dish. Serve in a wine glass to make it a bit more fun (with spoons available to capture the last veggies at the bottom).

                              Also I have recently made tomato water which, if you have a bountiful supply of delicious tomatoes, makes an incredibly weird yet wonderful essence of tomato. I think it's supposed to be the ingredient in a tomato martini or something, but I just drank it straight.
                              It's clear like water, yet tastes like tomato -- a confusion between the eye and tongue! Delightful.

                              Have you considered a cheese souffle or individual ones? That might be too much last-minute juggling, but an individual souffle with a salad of greens or fruits and lovely bread would be light -- assuming you answered Cimui's oven question in the affirmative!

                              Then you could put your effort into a WOW dessert.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: nemo

                                I would do some sort of beef roast because there are a fair number of people that do not eat or like seafood. People also associate a beef roast with a special occassion. Then do a vegetarian pasta dish of some sort, either your lasagna or something else. I would then do a nice crisp salad. For appetizers you could do something slightly more adventurous or have 3 different kinds of crostini.

                                Have some sort of delicious dessert. I love trifles as they can assembled ahead of time.

                                I've done many events for many different types of people. Its very difficult with a work crowd as everyone has their particular prefences. You don't need to cater to everyone's exact preferences, but just make sure there are options for 1) vegetarians 2) seafood allergies.

                              2. The first thing i would do is find out what the departing department head's favorite food is, then work from there. S/He is the guest of honor, and as such, I would cater to his likes and preferences, then just make sure there are enough side dishes and other things for the eaters with limitations not to starve. I hope someone is helping your fund this. Or if it'snot too late, make it a pot luck, let everyone bring what they can eat, an you focus on the departing department heads faves...Works for me! '-)

                                You're a brave and loving soul!

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Caroline1

                                  He's the easy one. As long as there is something chocolate for dessert he'll be a happy man!

                                2. Why don't you make a variety of kabobs (veggie with tofu--if you have access to this, chicken, beef and swordfish or salmon) and have a few dipping sauces. You can then also roast some potatoes and have a nice salad.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: Jacey

                                    Often you can buy teriyaki tofu, these would make tasty kebabs.

                                  2. Butternut squash lasagna, and sweet potato lasagna, can have some wow factor (depending on the recipe) - and most of the recipes don't call for mushrooms....

                                    edit: oops- didn't notice the earlier spinach and butternut squash lasagna recipe suggestion when I wrote this reply :-)

                                    1. Thank you so much for all the great responses. There are only 7 people coming, so making multiple main dishes is kind of overkill. I think the roast chicken is a great idea--plenty of side dishes, and my veggie coworker will be happy. She is very easy to please, and never wants anyone to go to a fuss for her; I just really want to make it special and please everyone.

                                      To all of you who suggested asparagus--I wish. When I said that I lived someplace with limited access to what many people consider staples, I was serious. The only veggies I can get with any regularity are tomatoes, cukes, leaf lettuce, carrots and red onions. Sometimes other things show up in the market, but if it is imported, like white onions, the price is so prohibitive that I can't justify buying them (4-5 dollars for one onion?) Likewise, truffle oil, goat cheese, strawberries are not options. I am counting down the days to my summer trip home to Chicago so that I can stock up on good olive oil, chocolate and shallots!

                                      Thanks again!

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: lulubelle

                                        I don't mean to be impractical, Lulubelle, and perhaps I am being so, given your ingredient limitations. It is hard to tell, since I have never been in Bangladesh. But when I have a group of finicky eaters, I like to make something that allows them to be as finicky as they want and I still don't have to worry about their food limitations. So how about making a stack of savory crepes and then having your guests fill them themselves?

                                        Put out a spread of prepared fillings which you made ahead of time: beef stew, chicken curry, fish in a bechamel sauce with white wine. Also have plain Jane ingredients: precooked and shredded chicken, pork, beef, fish, bottled condiments and whatever vegetables (chopped) you can get to go with them. Even the most finicky eater ought to be able to make himself or herself a group of acceptable crepes.

                                        And if you want, you can repeat the trick for dessert.

                                        I know that Bangladesh is one of the poorest countries on earth, so maybe what I am suggesting is pie in the sky. Four to five dollars for an onion? Whew!

                                        1. re: gfr1111

                                          I like the crepes idea a lot! Maybe just two fillings, a meat and a veg, and a nice salad.

                                          Bangladesh is a fascinating place to live. I could go on and on about the poverty and the cultural differences, but that would be WAY off topic. Suffice to say that the life I have as a Westerner is completely different than the life most Bangladeshis lead.

                                          The reason that white onions are so expensive is that they are imported from Australia. Red onions cost pennies and are what I usually purchase, however, for some recipes you don't want your food to have a pinkish tint, at least not when you are serving them to company.

                                        2. re: lulubelle

                                          Do a tomato and red onion gratin. That would be absolutely delicious, and the red onions would look great!