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My First Dinner Party for Anyone Other than Family - and on a Budget

On Thursday I was be having a dinner party at my new apartment with 5 people and this will be first time cooking for a group indoors other than my family. I am pretty much at a loss as far as the menu - all I know is that I would like to stay away from ethnic food since I do not have much experience preparing it. I am in Boston and not completely sure about what veggies are in season here right now. I would like to serve 1 appetizer (possibly an antipasto plate) a main dish (considering pork or chicken) with a starch and veggie side. I am on a fairly tight budget but might be willing to splurge for the right item. It is very cold here right now so the grill is not an option. Any suggestions or direction would be very helpful!

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  1. Assuming that you do not consider Italian food "ethnic," I would suggest Chicken parmagianna for the main course, served with a side of pasta and some sort of green vegetable or salad. Instead of an antipasto starter, you might start with a soup based on in-season vegetables, such as butternut squash. This would be a fairly inexpensive meal and easy to prepare largely in advance, so that you can spend time with your guests.

    1 Reply
    1. re: masha

      Like the butternut squash soup idea as well - I actually made a huge batch this weekend that is currently in the freezer I was planning to save it but it may be a perfect time to use!

    2. Are you comfortable with roasting a chicken? That is a relatively inexpensive way to serve a crowd. You can add potatoes and root veggies (carrots, parsnips etc) to the roasting pan as well.

      Since you are in Boston( I am too), I will also suggest my favorite inexpensive meal- Mussels! Mussels are so cheap here and easy to find. A big pot of steamed mussels in garlic parsley and wine with crust y bread is a fun, informal meal . You can get enough mussels for five people for less than ten bucks.

      2 Replies
      1. re: cassoulady

        I have never roasted a chicken before - and will only have about an hour after work so not sure if that is enough time or if it takes longer. I do love cooking mussels but wasn't sure that this was a good time to buy them, will keep this in mind as an idea.

        1. re: thegirlwholovestoeat

          skip the chicken if you have not done it, it sound like you will be on a tight schedule. Mussels, salad, bread and a simple dessert might work then.

      2. Is there something that you have made a few times before and are confident making? Especially something that can be wholly or largely done ahead? Your guests will enjoy themselves the most if you are unstressed and able to thoroughly enjoy the evening, much more so than a razzle-dazzle meal and a frazzled you.

        Veggies in season in the Boston area are greens (kale, chard, etc), cabbage, turnips, squashes (acorn, butternut, etc), potatoes, sweet potatoes, leeks, parnips, carrots. Also pears, pomegranates, apples, cranberries.

        A lovely fall meal could be the World's Best Cabbage recipe from Molly Stevens' All About Braising (linked below) with lots of extra carrots, a boneless pork loin (not tenderloin) brushed with Dijon mustard and roasted in with the cabbage, and mashed potatoes or wild rice (which has the advantage that you can cook it earlier in the day and gently reheat with a little chicken broth before serving). I love the idea of butternut squash soup to start. Or you could do a salad with mixed greens, pomegranate seeds, crumbled goat cheese and toasted pistachios. Apple or pear crisp for dessert.

        1. I have made this Alton Brown chicken with 40 cloves of garlic for friends and family on various occasions and it is always a big hit. You can even partially make it the night before and when you get home from work, just stick it in the oven to finish cooking. I have done that several times and I can let you know how if you are interested.

          You can serve it with rice, orzo pasta (I sometimes make it with lemon orzo), couscous or mashed potatoes -- basically any starch. And then a vegetable.


          2 Replies
          1. re: valerie

            I would like to hear how to prepare partially ahead of time and then finish in the oven the next day. Thanks!

            1. re: thegirlwholovestoeat

              In a dutch oven, I brown the chicken on both sides and then arrange it back in the dutch oven. Let it cool and then refrigerate overnight. Next day, add the garlic, oil, thyme and bake in the oven for about an hour or until chicken is cooked through.

          2. I you want to do chicken, this dish can be prepared the day ahead, then reheated slowly. you can then make some veggies and a salad http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo...
            Easy and always a hit and I think comes in at a low price point ( stock, cream, lemon and chicken and taragon is all you need)

            1. Root veggies are in season - so perhaps a roasted chicken, mashed potatoes and roasted brussels sprouts?

              Ahhh - read further upthread that you have about an hour after you get home...are you planning to serve dinner as soon as people get there? Or will there be additional time for appetizers, drinks, etc. and would give you more time to finish things in the kitchen?

              What about roasting individual bone-in/skin-on chicken breasts? They wouldn't take a full hour to cook - perhaps 40 minutes or so. Mashed potatoes could be done the day before and slowly reheated in the oven.

              OR - make a big pot of meat sauce for spaghetti the night before; then all you have to do is reheat that, make a pot of spaghetti, some garlic bread and a salad and you're good to go!

              1. You want to play it safe. You only have an hour and you've never entertained these people before. You don't want to be preoccupied with worrying and cooking and not entertaining your guests. Stick with something like the chicken parmasan. Make it the day before and heat up. For a vegetable, get some zucchinni and/or summer squash. Sprinkle with olive oil salt and pepper and thyme or garlic powder. Roast at 450 for about 30 minutes or so. Make some rice pilaf for a side. The antipasto plate would make a nice and easy appetizer.

                1. I tried out a recipe from Boston.com for pork chops with roasted butternut squash and apples. It is a simple recipe and you could probably prepare the veggies (except the apples because they would brown) ahead of time so you can just throw it in the oven when you get home. This would cover both your main entree and starch. http://www.boston.com/lifestyle/food/...

                  For an appetizer, an antipasto plate would be nice. Whenever I entertain on a weeknight, I usually will do a simple cheese plate with cheese, fruit (grapes, apple slices or dried cherries), walnuts drizzled with balsamic and most recently added fig jam. You could use a simple baguette to slice up with the cheese.

                  And for dessert, I would do something else that is seasonal like a pumpkin cheesecake? This you could make the night before.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: CreativeFoodie42

                    Funny Creative, I thought of this recipe, too, but wasn't sure how well it would work as a do-ahead. It is a good recipe though, I've made it twice already. (It was begging to be deglazed with Calvados as well as broth which I did.) Also, I found you really have to chop up the squash at least as small as they recommend (1 inch) or they take much longer to cook than 1/2 hour. Even then, they take longer. I have had to remove the chops and then put them back in so they don't dry out too much.

                    1. re: pemma

                      I found that the recipe itself didn't take too long with prep and actually baking. I thought the squash cooked well but I also took the pork out and back in for fear of overcooking.

                    2. re: CreativeFoodie42

                      I love pork and I love the sound of that menu. However, I have had trouble with pork chops in the past (tough) and wouldn't serve it to company, just because I am afraid they wouldn't be edible. And I AM a very good cook. But, I think I would try this recipe with pork tenderloins. Any feedback for me? Am I just over anxious about pork chops? Do you get them really tender? Thanks.

                      1. re: mcel215

                        To get my pork chops really tender I first brine them for about 9 hrs (before I leave for work). I then season them however I feel and grill them on the highest heat for about 2 minutes on each side. I have never tried them in the oven, but know that brining has really made a big difference for me.

                    3. how about pasta carbonara--it only takes minutes and is not expensive. a green salad, some crusty bread and a trip to the bakery for dessert. (is mike's bakery still there?)

                      1. Thanks for all the ideas - I think the dessert will definitely come from the bakery since I am not much of a baker. All the ideas about roasting chicken and veggies are really helpful I think I will do something along these lines with a salad (perhaps with the goat cheese and pistachios as mentioned). Still trying to decide between the antipasto and soup to start - will be a last minute decision at the grocery store. I anticipate them arriving at 7:00pm and having appetizers and drinks until around 7:30 and then serving dinner so I am leaning towards the chicken with roasted mixed veggies (brussels, squash (if I dont do the soup) and carrots) thanks again!

                        3 Replies
                          1. re: thegirlwholovestoeat

                            Have you ever cut up a roast chicken before? Roasting a chicken is super simple and an elegant presentation, but if you don't know how to carve it, you may find yourself covered in chicken grease when you try to get it plated. (I'm speaking from a bad dinner party experience of my own, here.) You might want to pick up skin-on, on-bone chicken pieces or a whole cut up chicken and roast it atop the root vegetables. If you have a pretty enough baking dish, you could take it oven-to-table with almost no effort!

                            1. re: mattwarner

                              Will definitely be buying pre-cut chicken, no way am I going to attempt to carve it on my own!

                          2. Pork Tenderloin is fairly inexpensive and paired with the right sauce, it can be a very impressive dish. You could serve with a side of diced roasted sweet potatoes (peel sweet potatoes & chop into cubes, toss very lightly in olive oil & sprinkle lightly with salt, roast at 425 degrees) and some buttered orzo w/ some herbs tossed in.

                            I used this recipe a couple weeks ago and it was really easy & REALLY good!
                            It's from Cooking Light

                            Spiced Pork Tenderloin with Bourbon Reduction Sauce
                            1/2 cup bourbon
                            1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
                            1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce
                            3 tablespoons cider vinegar
                            1 1/2 teaspoons bottled minced garlic
                            1/2 teaspoon black pepper

                            1/2 teaspoon chili powder
                            1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
                            1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
                            1/8 teaspoon salt
                            1 (1-pound) pork tenderloin, trimmed
                            Cooking spray

                            To prepare sauce, combine the first 6 ingredients in a medium saucepan; bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to medium; cook until reduced to 1/2 cup (about 11 minutes), stirring frequently. Remove from heat.

                            To prepare pork, combine chili powder, cinnamon, allspice, and salt, stirring well; rub evenly over pork. Cut pork crosswise into thick, but not too thick slices. (I got about 8 slices that were the perfect thickness)

                            Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add pork to pan; cook 4 minutes on each side or until desired degree of doneness. Serve with sauce.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: TinKC

                              I second the Pork Tenderloin and was thinking the same thing to suggest.

                              Your recipe sounds delish, btw!

                              1. re: TinKC

                                I too would suggest the pork tenderloin, they are very quick and go really well with roasted veggies (I've been addicted lately to roasted veggies, all kinds). A nice simple sauce for the pork will jazz it up a bit too. Like this one:
                                RASPBERRY SAUCE:

                                6 tbsp. red raspberry preserves
                                2 tbsp. red wine vinegar
                                1 tbsp. ketchup
                                1/2 tsp. horseradish
                                1/2 tsp. soy sauce
                                1 clove garlic
                                combine all sauce ingredients in small saucepan; simmer over low heat about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Keep warm.

                                Maybe those crashed potatoes by the Pioneer Woman (awesome):

                                Or roasted potatoes, then tossed at the end in a lil blue cheese crumbles and fresh chives.

                                Have fun! I like your antipasto to start.

                              2. As it's very cold in Boston at the moment, you could consider some kind of braise or stew. The added benefit is that it actually tastes better if prepared in advance and reheated. And shin of beef or a similar cut is very inexpensive, and can be bulked out with seasonal veggies. Serve with mashed potatoes and kale or cabbage.

                                I made this recipe last night and it was easy and delicious.


                                4 Replies
                                1. re: greedygirl

                                  Yes, I highly recommend making something ahead of time, such as a stew. Beef stew meat is relatively inexpensive, and I've used it sometimes in recipes that call for short ribs. I also have a mashed potato recipe that you can make the day before, and then reheat for the dinner. Then you could just prepare a vegetable, maybe have simple salad (I'm a big fan of arugula dressed with olive oil, lemon juice, salt & pepper, with shaved parmesan on top.).

                                  When I'm having people to dinner these days, because I have a small kitchen, I really prefer to be able to do as little as possible when my guests arrive. Here's a link to a dish that I make many times - Boeuf a la Nicoise: Braised Beef Stew with Red Wine, Tomato, Olives, and Buttered Noodles.


                                  One of the nice things about it is that it has roasted tomatoes and spinach in it (added at the end) and so you really have your vegetables already. And, if you didn't want to serve it with noodles (I use pappardelle), I think mashed potatoes would still be good.

                                  The first page of the instructions are here:


                                  If that sounds appealing, I'd be happy to post the rest of the instructions. You could brown the meat in the morning, and then cook the stew on Thursday evening.

                                  1. re: MMRuth

                                    I am not able to print that page and would love the recipe for the beef stew Nicoise. Is there another way I can access it? it just won't print from that link nor will it let me copy/paste. sounds delicious.

                                      1. re: MMRuth

                                        wow--thank you so very much!! looks like a lot of work but I'll bet it's good. very sweet of you MMRuth-thanks again.

                                2. This recipe is one of the 1st ones I used to host a dinner party-

                                  Still use it today. It is fabulous. To cut costs:
                                  -the sauce works on other less expensive proteins, like chicken
                                  -plain old white button mushrooms, stems and all, work instead of shiitake mushroom caps
                                  -you can use half and half instead of whipping cream (actually, sprinkle flour over the sauteed mushrooms, cook a little to get the raw taste out, and then add 1% milk....but don't know the exact ratio of flour to liquid. I just eyeball it.


                                  Also, I typically start with half the soy sauce called for and add more if needed.

                                  Serve with sauteed spinach (or any other green vegetables- kale, broccoli, snow peas) sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds (if you can find an affordable source for them) and wasabi mashed potatoes (even plain mashed potatoes are fine, since people will probably be using them to soak up sauce anyway).

                                  For an appetizer, you could go with a light miso soup. Or a green salad with a sesame-ginger dressing. Both are fast to put together.

                                  Sounds like you've got a great dinner plan in place already- so keep this recipe up your sleeve. They're likely going to be asking for another one soon. :).