Nothing is ever simple is it? I have fallen for a lovely man, head over heels, and he is coming down to stay for a long weekend, and on Monday evening, his mum is coming to dinner after work- an early dinner- maybe 6-7pm. I have met her already. Because she is the CEO of my company. Yup, I'm shacking up with the bosses son. I expect she will come home with me after work, he will be hanging out at mine so can do some stuff (but not lots, he's not had much practice and is more of the mind to "just tell mum to bring pizza or something").
I don't eat meat, she does, he does. I'm ok with cooking meat, as long as the side dishes are interesting or theres some sort of veggie main course. I don't know what else she likes to eat, he just says "she eats everything" and I don't know whether to believe him. He said he ate everything too, and thats not true. (Fruit is slimy and prawns are vile but shrimp is fine, and veg is great unless of course its slimy....).
So I need to look relaxed and welcoming, and tread the line between smart employee and potential loving daughter in law and bringer of grandchildren. This is what I know about for sure: all three of us like Chardonnay and green beans. And brandy. Its spring in NZ so it could be sunny, it could be blowing a gale and raining. I want to make something that won't have her sitting in the kitchen with a glass of wine watching me do fiddly things, I'd rather it looked simple and effortless, although I don't mind putting in the effort to plan and do things during the weekend but not look too try-hard. She'll want me to be at ease. Do I sound at ease? Damn that Chardonnay is sounding good right now.
Menu idea's to make me look, just for one shining evening, less of a seat-of-my-pants kind of gal and more of an "Oh that? No, no trouble, it just takes a few moments to prepare.... its easy really..."
What about lamb shanks (a great spring dish and so easy)? You can prepare it all the day before, refrigerate, and then reheat within the 20 minutes prior to serving.
You can pair it with white beans, noodles, mashed potatoes, rice, whatever, and you can even serve it with a side of green beans!!!
A simple but fancy feeling dish, once prepared is one I make pretty frequently during the summer, if you have yellow squash and zucchini available. If not, you can use different colored tcherry omatoes instead. (But don't mix the aquash and tomatoes - the tomatoes are too powersful) I kind of do it off the top of my head, so measurements aren't exact, you can eyeball it though.
4 yellow squash
2 or 3 medium onions (to taste)
Panko Bread Crumbs
Anchovy Paste (Really helps make the dish and is not fishy when added, I promise)
Olive or grapeseed oil
salt and pepper
Whole wheat spagetti or capelini
Italian seasoning blend or whatever you ahve on hand - oregeno, parsley
Optional - 1lb pan seared / carmelized ham or crispy thick bacon cut in pieces- can be mixed in theirs and not yours
Preheat oven to 350 - 400 degrees
Chop veggies in a little bit bigger than bite sized chunks (they will shrink)
If using cherry tomatoes, keep whole
Mush about a tsp of anchovy paste in some oil in a big bowl. Toss veggies in the oil Add salt and a little bit of pepper (pepper goes a long way with squash) Add the Panko bread crumbs (enough to dry it up a little, but still coated in oil) and parmesan cheese.
Spread in one lyaer on one or two cookie sheets and cook until they look done. Veggies will be somewhat dry and bread crumbs toasty.
Time the pasta to finish at the same time. Drain the pasta (save some of the pasta water)
Mix the pasta with the veggies, add pata water if needed to blend. Add a little oil if needed, top with parmesan cheese.
This goes great with Chardonnay. Includes a lot of veggies, requires very little pasta unless you prefer more. It looks pretty and is so easy to prepare. It covers everything in one dish.
You could serve roasted tomatoes on the side too.
If you are using cherry tomatoes instead of squash watch the tomatoes carefully. You want them to brown, you don't want all of them to explode.
Anyway, it's one idea for you. I'm sure whatever you choose will be great!
The day before, can you prepare some kind of pasta/veg casserole, ready to be popped into the oven Monday evening? I'd ask the boyfriend to pick up a nice rotisserie chicken somewhere that Monday afternoon. A caprese salad is easy -- sliced good tomatoes with sliced good quality whole milk mozzarella and basil leaves, drizzled with good olive oil, s & p.
I don't know if this is substantial enough, but I love to make a beautiful Salade Nicoise when serving both vegetarians and omnivores. You can get all of the ingredients prepared the day before, and then just compose the salad that evening. Sometimes I use v. good quality canned tuna (in olive oil, Italian) and other times I use seared tuna, which is a bit 'fancier' though not authentic, I believe. I then serve the tuna on a separate serving plate so that the omnivores can add it to the salad.
I do agree with other posters about doing as much as you can ahead of time so that you seem serene while putting together dinner while sipping on Chardonnay! What about a pasta dish - one of my absolute favorites is Sorrentino sauce - I make a tomato sauce (usually Marcella Hazan's tomato and butter sauce that has a halved onion in it which you then remove - happy to link to post recipe - it's dead simple), then toss the pasta with the sauce, cubed fresh mozzarella (though I particularly like using smoked mozzarella, even if unorthodox) and basil. That with a salad, and perhaps some kind of canapes to nibble on before, and a lovely fruit for dessert sounds like a great meal to me.
I'm rooting for you to cook without meat. I mean, this is who you are, and you're sharing that part of you. What about pasta primavera? Petit pois (frozen are perfectly acceptable), haricot vert, asparagus tips, carrot and red pepper matchsticks for color, blanched or barely roasted, in fridge. Pasta par-boiled, tossed with a little oil, in fridge. Cream sauce made the day before, in fridge with plastic wrap down on top of the surface to prevent a skin forming.
BF gets a pot of water boiling so it's ready to finish off the last two minutes for the pasta. He takes the sauce and veggies out of the fridge to come to room temp. You warm the veggies in a tiny bit of butter in a skillet, reheat the white sauce, drain pasta, mix and serve with grated Parmesan. Bread and green salad. Cold shrimp with a red cocktail sauce or curry-mayo for dipping as an hors d'oeurves while you assemble. Something as simple as crispy lemon cookies and strawberries macerated in liqueur for dessert.
Best of luck!