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Ideas for tomorrow last minute dinner party - 8 ppl. - 3 hours to cook

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Ok, this will probably be easy for all of you. For some reason, I am stuck. Please help...

Having a last minute dinner party tomorrow night for 8. Supposed to be 4, but I couldn't help myself, and it magically turned into 8. I was supposed to have the whole day to shop and cook. (Still cutting it close, but I figured once I started shopping, I could come up with a decent menu.) Then, a couple of hours ago, I was asked to work and said Yes! Now, I am left with 3 hours to do everything (maybe 1/2 hr. extra to shop, if I can get away).

I have been digging through my cookbooks and looking online, but haven't come up with a menu I am satisfied with yet. It was always supposed to be casual, but my idea of casual usually isn't "casual" (probably like the rest of you). Most of the guests cook themselves and know their food.

One more tidbit, one of the guests doesn't eat pork, so I was going to skip it altogether.

Any ideas? (Other than cancel?)

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  1. There are any number of directions you could go in, doughreme. It's hard to suggest one or two, since you haven't given us an idea of which ideas you've discarded, or what you're in the mood for. I'm also not sure of your budget.

    I'm not sure what your schedule is, so I'm going to assume you're going to work first, and will have to get the shopping, prep and cooking done *after* that?

    Anyway, you could do something pasta-based. Linguine tossed and sauteed with (fill in veggies and greens of choice) topped with shaved cheese.

    You could grill shrimp.

    You could combine the two and do scampi.

    You could choose other shellfish or fish.

    If you have three hours to cook, you could certainly broil racks of lamb with a panko and herb crust, mustard crust, whatever you choose.

    You could sautee chicken tenderloins and do a wine sauce, cream sauce, savory cinnamon sauce, Asian peanut sauce (if you KNOW nobody has allergies), or vinegar-fruit sauce (frozen WILD blueberries work well for that; much more flavor and juice for the sauce than with cultivated blueberries).

    You could give a nod to casual with individual pizzas (dough purchased, obviously, given the time restraints) or tacos. Just upgrade the ingredients to more sophisticated choices, if you do want something less casual than actual casual.

    You could do flat iron steaks with a brandy or Marsala sauce with pearl onions from the freezer case.

    You'd have time to do a soup course, if you'd like, if you either have stock on hand or by picking some up at the store. Choose something simple, in which you include something that doesn't need a *lot* of treatment--e.g., a storebought fresh tortellini or ravioli soup, or escarole, or sauteed mushrooms and celery added to a clear broth. The possible combinations there are endless... You could do onion soup; pick up a baguette and some good melting cheese.

    Depending on the dinner, you could do something simple for dessert like a premium vanilla ice cream with a reduced Cabernet sauce and a wafer cookie.

    Or if you see some nice fall fruit, you could put those in to bake while you eat dinner, and serve with ice cream, creme fraiche (depending on the fruit) or marscapone with crystalized ginger.

    Any idea which type of food you want to serve?

    My supermarket has a butcher counter that *always* has marinated kabobs or meat suitable to a stir-fry. Again, with a stir fry, make sure to choose ingredients that don't need an awful lot of prep.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Normandie

      Thanks Normandie. Got me going. Used to do a great quick tortellini and escarole soup. That's one. Wanted to short ribs, but not enough time. Working first, then shopping and cooking. Dessert I can purchase at the bakery, so it's just the main course. The rest I can fill in when I am shopping. Running to work, so I will check in during the day. Budget should be reasonable for 8 people but not too crazy. Just looking for a nice menu.

      1. re: doughreme

        You're welcome, doughreme. True about the short ribs. But I liked cassoulady's suggestion because it has the same feel of a nice cool weather braise.

        I agree with your approach; you'll see what looks especially good today at the store and maybe that will make your decision for you.

        Let us know whenver you have the chance, tomorrow or whatever, what you ended up with and how it went. Hope you have a wonderful dinner and a wonderful time.

      2. re: Normandie

        To me pasta with veggies, greens and cheese is not a main course; it's a side dish.

        I like the idea of the rack of lamb. As you cannot cook it ahead, it does not cut into your 3 hours. Besides, I never have any problem with making my guests wait; they are used to it by now!

        For the first course how about leek and potato soup: saute 3 leeks and 3 onions till soft. Throw in some store-bought chicken stock. Bring to a simmer. Throw in 2 diced potatoes. Cook about 20 minutes. Put an immersion blender into the pan to puree. To gild the lily you can also put in some Boursin (love the stuff!).

        Forget the store-bought stuff for dessert. How about making individual chocolate soufflees? You can make them and put them into the fridge until you are ready to bake.

        1. re: souschef

          My only concern about rack of lamb after doughreme's reply would be budget. At least in my area, it would be an expensive entree for eight.

          I love your idea re leek and potato soup. Especially if doughreme puts it together with cassoulady's suggestion re Coq au Vin. Sounds like a good, cozy autumnal carte, to me.

          I think it might depend upon where you live, as to whether a sauteed pasta dish would be a side, an appetizer or a main course. It's often served as an entree in my area (whether including veggies only or containing a protein).

      3. what about coq au vin? You can make that in under three hours and once it is all together in the pot there is little to so. That along with a nice green salad and some bread and a store bought dessert would be great. Roast Chicken would also fit the bill.

        1 Reply
        1. re: cassoulady

          Per my note to souschef, your recommendation of Coq au Vin sounds good to me, on this brisk, breezy fall day. :-) Don't know what doughreme's weather is, but you've got me heading to the freezer to look for coq.

        2. I was cooking for a group of ten this summer with little prep time and for the main course made moules frites - I made three different kinds of mussels (traditional with white whine, beer with sausage, and a thai basil) and homemade shorstring fries. The guests loved the dinner and I has enough leftover mussels to toss in a very nice pasta dish the next day.

          1. One of my favorite easy and budget friendly dinner recipes is from Giada de Laurentis. It basically is a puff pastry topped with pesto, slices of tomatoes, and oven-baked salmon. The salmon is cooked with a light slice almond coating. It is really easy, beautiful on the eyes and budget friendly. I like to make my own pesto for the occasion. (http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/gi...

            )

            For a side, I like to do fresh steamed asparagus or green beans with roasted garlic, or if you want something heavier, what about wasabi mashed potatoes?

            Dessert is always tricky - it depends on what you are comfortable with. Lucky for me, my dinner guests usually volunteer dessert!

            1. what about risotto with shrimp, artichoke hearts, sun dried tomatoes & whatever else grabs you? Start with a first course salad with maybe dried cranberries & nut crusted fried goat cheese over baby greens. My easy go to dessert is bananas foster over dulce de leche ice cream.
              Or you could saute chicken breasts & make a pan sauce w/ goat cheese, lemon zest & thyme. Serve with couscous & roasted brocolli.

              1. Thank you everyone for your very helpful ideas. I haven't been able to get near the computer all day to respond to you (but I have been reading the posts from my phone, which only allows me to read - not post). Couldn't end the night without letting you know how it turned out. Just in case you find yourself in a similar situation...

                Here is what I did:
                Before dinner, mozzarella, roasted red peppers and stuffed hot peppers, with semolina loaf - all purchased from a great local Italian pork store, with fresh basil and tomatoes on hand. Was going to be pizza with peppers, but ran out of time.
                Soup - escarole and tortellini (from same Italian store) in chicken broth (organic in box), with grated Reggiano, also shaved on top.
                Main - coq au vin, steamed haricot verts and frites (made myself and still need to clean the deep fryer).
                Dessert - assorted mini Italian pastries (purchased from great Italian bakery), such as cannoli, tiramisu, etc.
                Funny tidbit - as I was getting ready to brown the chicken in the rendered bacon fat, I remembered that Bacon Is Pork! I was supposed to leave the pork out of the menu for a guest and I somehow forgot that bacon qualifies as pork. Luckily, I remembered at the right moment and was able to brown the chicken another way. It's funny how pork is so ingrained in my eating, that I forgot this obvious fact.

                All in all, a fantastic meal. A bit hurried, but no one knew... except my 8 year old that was frantically prepping everything with me.

                I really appreciate all of the support. Thanks again. Hounds Rock!!!

                2 Replies
                1. re: doughreme

                  Sounds like a terrific meal! Isn't it great to have an enthusiastic 8 year old assistant!

                  1. re: doughreme

                    That sounds like a delicious evening!

                    If I had been your guest, I would have felt well cared for, indeed.

                    You must feel a great sense of satisfaction, after having gotten this together in so little time--and you even remembered re the pork in the nick of time. ;-)

                    Well done, doughreme, to you *and* your obviously thoughtful and helpful child.