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Dinner Party Dilemma

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My roommate and I volunteered to host a Holiday dinner party, and we're having issues deciding what to make. We were invited to a Thanksgiving dinner party and wanted to reciprocate, but the girl that made the Thanksgiving feast is a fabulous cook, and we're feeling a little intimidated. I also like to cook a lot, but there are a lot of different palates that will be attending, and some serious limitations. My family usually makes lamb for Christmas, but the majority of people attending won't touch it. One person doesn't eat ham, and another won't touch roast beef. I am thinking of doing a pork roast or cornish hens (although I've never made cornish hens before, they seem festive and everyone would eat them). Also, vegetables are a sticking point in this group- one person doesn't like beets, one doesn't like brussels sprouts, and one girl hates onions. Any suggestions for a vegetable side dish other than a green salad?
Would it be considered rude to simply serve multiple vegetables that I was aware some people didn't enjoy as long as there was something that each person would eat?
Thanks for your suggestions!

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  1. Unfortunately, not everyone likes everything but no worries; now that you know what people don't like, the rest is easy. Cornish hens are a great idea, as is chicken and pasta. If only one person won't touch roast beef, perhaps you might consider doing it up buffet style and do two mains, such as the beef and something else so that your guests can take what they want. Cornish hens are easy to cook by the way...

    Other vegetable options include roasted winter squash with shallots & dried cherries(butternut or acorn), sauted chard or other greens like spinach; cabbage cooked with red or sweet potatoes, corn pudding, apple cider glazed carrots, broccoli with lemon butter sauce, or peas with pearl onions. There is nothing wrong with serving multiple dishes; after all, holidays are about excess....

    1. It is definitely not rude to serve multiple side dishes that some people might not like as long as there is something for everyone. On the other hand, it's a lot of work. Cornish hens are a great idea, you could serve with mashed potatoes (pretty universally liked) these carrots and a fancy green salad and it would be pretty and I'd think everyone would love it. http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo...

      1. It is good of you to concern yourself with what your guest likes and dislikes are, but don't worry yourself too much. You must also like to cook the food you decide to present. And I always have 2 meats and a pasta dish when serving larger parties. Have two warm veggie options and a seasonal salad. And I have this friend who always says he doesn't like this or that and then he eats it at my house and loves it. I would do a roast beef and either the hens or stuffed pork chops. Don't stress. Just give yourself plenty of time and things will work out well for you.

        1. hmmmm... No lamb, no ham, no beef. Tough one. What about coq au vin? It's considered a festive dish (even though it's just basically "chicken stew), and the great advantage in this particular case is that it tastes even better warmed over, which means you can make it a day or two ahead of time. Tons of recipes on the web. Depending on how traditional/old fashioned you want to be, coq au vin is made with red wine, so the chicken is stained dark when served, and traditional coq au vin does not contain carrots. Parsley egg noodles (big fat ones) or new potatoes make a nice starch side, then whatever holiday vegetables turn you on. And yes. I'd offer more than one veggie choice. And if you bake, maybe a nice eggnog cheesecake for dessert? Also made in advance.

          Such a menu will pretty much leave you with the day of the party to focus on the table, a fairly simple first course, and relaxing. Be kind to yourself!

          2 Replies
          1. re: Caroline1

            http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/recipe?id=7...

            I was going to suggest Coq au Vin as well. This is a luscious, flavorful, and hearty dish you can just feel the love that went into it.

            I would personally go with Julia Child's version (link above), or Alton Brown's http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/al...

            You really cannot go wrong with this recipe. Plus, be sure to make it at least a day in advance so that the flavors will meld together. And the beauty of it doing it in advance is that you have more time to spend with your guests!

            1. re: Tehama

              I looked over both of those recipes, and offer this one (also from Julia Child) as a more traditional choice:
              http://whatscookingamerica.net/Poultr...
              The problem with that particular Julia Child recipe is that she was cooking in a major network studio, and it looks to me like someone forgot to pick up some tomato paste. The above recipe includes it. I've made coq au vin with and without tomato paste (simply forgot it), and the tomato paste does bring a richness to the sauce that just isn't there without it. And picky picky picky, I don't like Alton Brown's recipe because it has carrots in it. Do use a whole cut up chicken with the skin on, but remove the excess "belly fat" from the cavity, or Alton Brown's suggestion of legs and thighs is far more appealing than using skinned chicken breasts. This is a luxurious full flavored dish and the skin of the chicken, along with both white and dark meat lend a fullness to the flavor that only using specific parts cannot bring to the dish. Enjoy!

          2. Don't be intimidated. Just keep it simple and within your limitations with everything well seasoned, and I'm sure your dinner party will be a success. First, Cornish hens are a great idea, easy to prepare, and indeed are festive. They take the same prep as roast chicken. A rice pilaf or roast potatoes, and a green bean simmered with tomatoes (a la Provençal) are a tasty accompaniments. I used to make a green bean and red bell pepper sauté along the same lines till even I got tired of it. Good Luck and have fun!

            1. If you want to do a pork roast, this is a wonderful crockpot "winter pot roast." I put onion in it, but you can leave that out for your friend (maybe sub some garlic instead?). Throw everything in the crockpot and cook on low for 6-7 hours:
              1 pork roast
              Cubed butternut squash or yellow squash (peel skin if using butternut)
              Chopped red apple (I leave the skin on)
              Fresh rosemary
              Optional: salt, pepper, garlic
              1/2 cup apple juice or cider
              1/2 cup water

              If no one is opposed to pasta, I make a pecan chicken fettuccine that is my husband's favorite. You can set it up as a build-your-own if you sautee all the ingredients separately in olive oil (I usually throw them all together but you don't have to):

              Rotisserie chicken, pulled off of skin and bone (shred it into bite size pieces with your hands as you go)
              Chopped pecans
              Sliced or quartered mushrooms
              Chopped green onion

              Cook fettuccine and a homemade alfredo sauce (cream, butter, salt, parmesan whisked together over med heat), and let everyone put their dish together.

              For veggies:
              * zucchini casserole or zucchs roasted with garlic, red pepper flakes, and olive oil
              * spaghetti squash with pesto
              * roasted artichokes (if you can get nice sized ones right now) with creamy parmesan dressing for dipping
              * green beans cooked with butter, brown sugar, garlic, and bacon if most like bacon
              * scalloped potatoes are nice, but I wouldn't serve them with pasta.

              A festive colorful salad that I plan to make for Christmas is romaine lettuce, shredded Swiss cheese, avocado, garbanzo beans, and grape tomatoes (I also put green onion, but you can leave that off for your friend who doesn't like onion). I am generous with the toppings so it's not "just a green salad." I serve it in a huge silver bowl and arrange the toppings in concentric circles from outside going in, with the tomatoes in the middle, for a gorgeous presentation. Serve with a variety of dressings for guests to choose from.

              1 Reply
              1. re: starbucksbrew

                Hey starbucksbrew, I have a few questions for you regarding your Winter Pot Roast recipe. You mention a pork roast but what type of roast and approximately how many pounds? Also, I assume you put the squash in at the beginning of the cooking time, does it stay in cubes? What side dishes do you serve with this, if you don't mind sharing? Thanks for your help, this recipe looks great and I can't wait to make it this week!

              2. So many great ideas already presented, but...

                I agree that Coq au Vin would be a nice option, but even simpler, and one of my favorite things to serve is Roast Chicken. (I do a variation on Ina Garten's, and it always turns out perfectly.)

                For veggies, maybe do a few - one simpler, one more complex, and the other... Roasted veggies (cauliflower, carrots, asparagus, broccoli, etc.) with a little parmesan, garlic and parsley or herb of choice go over well. For Thanksgiving, we had a corn souffle off of Epicurious that was well received. And to me, what would roast chicken be without a potato dish of sorts -- perhaps a Gruyere or Asiago gratin if you want to go fancier, or even a simple prep with garlic, herbs, and butter. I also love to do a saute of wild mushrooms (normally with onions but you can totally omit) with butter, olive oil, marsala and parsley added at the end.

                For dessert, I was going to suggest an Eggnog Cheesecake or Eggnog Creme Brulee as well. I also recently did a Lemon Raspberry Cheesecake with ladyfingers as the base that was very popular at the dinner party.

                1. >>>is a fabulous cook, and we're feeling a little intimidated.

                  Don’t be – I would be happy that you took the time, energy and money to prepare food for me.

                  Several key pieces of information is missing to give intelligent answers

                  Is this going to be a plated event or a buffet?
                  How many people?

                  >>>I am thinking of doing a pork roast or cornish hens

                  Cornish game hens are actually trickier to cook than most people realize, they go from being juicy and moist to dry and overcooked in about 5 minutes, when done correctly they are delightful.

                  At a party I usually have 2 -3 protein items so people can choose. What I do is vary the cooking styles of each. (Roast, sauté, grill, smoke, poach, etc.)

                  What about seafood? Quick easy can be plated or served banquet style and many people really enjoy it? Make it fancy Lobster, shrimp, scallops, people will ohhh and aww. Mussels in the classic wine and cream sauce and then shock the people and serve it with traditional homemade French fires the Belgium way.
                  Duck, very festive
                  Goose, traditional holiday fare
                  Rabbit, for some reason I always think rabbit around the holidays.

                  >>>Also, vegetables are a sticking point in this group- one person doesn't like beets, one doesn't like brussels sprouts, and one girl hates onions. Any suggestions for a vegetable side dish other than a green salad?

                  If it’s a buffet I usually have several vegetables to choose from but I stay away from beets and brussels sprouts because most people do not like them.

                  Winter season bring a panoply of winter squashes, I think you would be remiss to not feature one of the superb squashes that are available.

                  Roasted root vegetables are also very traditional along with green beans. Something different broccoli raab

                  The world of food is your canvas so go create, take chances cook a Cornish game hen tomorrow and see if you like it, if its awesome, do them.

                  Whatever you do have fun and don’t stress, people like food but are coming to your party to be with family and friends.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: RetiredChef

                    I say stake out your own territory. If your Thanksgiving host made a blow-out meal, what about you making a down home comfort food meal? What about individual pot pies? Easy to make ahead and freeze. Also easy to customize. You can make a chicken one, vegetarian, and a fish one. Because you've got the starch and the protein all you need is a green vegetable like haricot verts or sugar snap peas. Then go earthy on dessert with an apple crisp.

                  2. My suggestion is for you to make what you are most comfortable in the end. Some may not like the selections, but it does not mean they will not try or eat the sides/dish. You may want to consider taking the track of a Catering facility for formal occasions. Hosts, often limited by budget constraints, choose a beef and chicken selection for the menu, but have fish available for those who do not eat meats......Rather than build a menu to include seafood, choose shrimp or fish and make bake in parchment parcels with a simple vegetable medley. These bake in 15 minutes or less. Pre-make say 4-6 portions and use as necessary. If some are not needed, you have dinner for the next day.

                    1. Making dinner for a buncjh of picky eaters would irritate the hell out of me. There are two solutions: a) make 15 dishes so everyone is covered and get more irritated or b) make three dishes to make sure everyone is covered and have an easy day. Gues what I'd do? Roast pork, cold blanched green beans served with miso-lemon, steamed plain rice, and an apple crisp.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                        Just want to second this menu. Picky eaters piss me off, too, and half the time, they think they don't like something until they have it prepared by someone else (esp. if they don't realize what they are eating). Food allergies are another category all together, of course.

                      2. Another nice idea for main is chicken marsala or chicken saltimbocca. They work well for sit down or buffet. It's sounding like maybe 10/15 people? I love doing dinner parties and I would start with a few simple apps (mostly bought) like olives and cheese and good bread. Then for the main the chicken marsala, or chicken saltimbocca, or pork tenderloin with rosemary. (I like boneless meats if buffet style for ease of eating on laps) and a pasta, perhaps something with an olive oil/garlic sauce or a lemon sauce. Then for sides a salad, roasted cauliflower (chop, coat in olive oil and salt, squeeze lemon, roast for 40 min till tips are brown) and perhaps sauteed spinach.

                        Dessert, I like a good cookie buffet!

                        As for those who are picky eaters, I applaud you trying to make everyone happy. Buffet certainly makes it easier to serve multiple dishes.

                        1. We all have our quirks, dietary requirements, and political leanings. Serve what sounds good to you and accommodate everyone eventually. Every dish doesn't have to be vegan, gluten-free, MSG-free, and Kosher. However, for your sanity (since you seem to have the same friends as me, and the same desire to accommodate everyone), just make sure everyone has a few dishes they can enjoy. Carnivores can eat veggies and gluten-free dishes, and beet-haters can eat parsnips with the rest of them. This year, at Thanksgiving, I found out that one of my gluten-free guests didn't even eat my (extra) batch of gluten-free stuffing last year. It was my first year hosting her, and she didn't realize that I had gone out of my way to make EVERYTHING gluten-free, save for a few obvious items. I busted my butt creating GF "French's fried onions" for the green bean casserole and braved Whole Foods on a Thanksgiving Wednesday to buy gluten-free bread for the extra batch of stuffing, and she didn't even eat any of it last year! LOL This year, I made everything GF, except for the desserts others brought, and I announced that everything was safe for her, and she made reference to how long it had been since she'd been able to eat "stuffing"/dressing. Several of us stared and her and said, "umm, it's only been since last year...", to which she revealed that she hadn't eaten any of the GF items I slaved over last year. So, long story short, people with dietary restrictions are often so used to avoiding "dangerous" foods that they are oblivious to your efforts. My friend isn't rude or stupid. She's just so used to eating what she "can" that she ate around everything the first time I made the effort. I must admit that I was thrilled she was able to eat stuffing/dressing for the first time in years at my table.

                          VERY long story, not at all short...make what you want, and if you have enough variety, everyone will get fed. I have friends who don't like mushrooms, onions, or garlic. Every time I think about feeding them, I pretty much freak out, because most of my dishes are heavy on two of the three. My friends all still eat at my house, and not one of them has died. Honestly, I find the dietary restrictions a challenge, and I've found so many new recipes in my attempts to accommodate them that I can't really complain.

                          1 Reply
                          1. It's so sweet of the OP to be concerned that it's rude to serve multiple vegetables, some of which wouldn't be touched by some of the diners. Hey, it's okay! It's your party and you don't have to make like a restaurant and please everybody.

                            Some of my friends say I have a mischievous sense of humor. When I saw the different veggie-haters among the guests, immediately I thought "brussels sprouts au gratin, Harvard beets and creamed onions."

                            Now, down to the practical. If you're enchanted by the idea of doing Cornish game hens, by all means do it. But they are tricky. Be certain to let them get to room temperature before they go into the oven, to ensure even cooking. A probe thermometer, placed in one of the birds, will help you determine the all-important time to remove them. I use a very fast (450 degree) oven.

                            Aww, until you get the hang of doing them in one shot in a very fast oven (the way restaurants get a juicy/crispy-skin bird), I'd suggest lowering the oven to 325, taking a bit longer and basting those birds at least a few times, just to ensure juiciness.

                            Finally, don't be intimidated by the fabulous cook who wowed your group on Thanksgiving. Well-seasoned, well-prepared food, with simple flavors, served simply, has an elegance and classic appeal. Heck, you said you like to cook a lot. Keep cooking and sometime soon *your* Thanksgiving dinner will surpass *hers.*

                            1. Hospitality wise, I think it's best to make a couple of vegetable side dishes and not worry about who likes what. As long as everyone has something to eat you're fine - if you try to prepare a meal where everyone likes everything you'll quickly drive yourself crazy.

                              1. Wow, everyone, thanks for all the replies! Some of the suggestions sound really great- Chicken marsala and coq au vin were things that had not even occured to us as options.
                                It's also good to hear that other people are irritated by so many dietary limitations. I feel a little vindicated in being frustrated and confused.
                                To answer some of the questions that were brought up, there will be 7-8 people attending, and we will be serving buffet style. I love the idea of serving a few different appetizers (I can think of a lot of appetizers that everyone will eat), and that takes a little of the pressure off to please everyone with the main dish. Not that we won't giver everyone something they can eat, but this way we can be sure no one starves :)