What do you cook for non-chowhounds?
Having a house guest arrive in a few hours who is a "meat and potatoes" person to the point that they eat the same breakfast every morning and won't try anything that’s not “American”. So I’m naturally at a loss on what to cook for my guest. I’m sure I’m not the only one out here with some non-chowhound friends/family. What do you do try to serve them? Do you try to introduce them to new foods/cuisines? Or just throw up your hands and save the truffles and goat cheese for people who appreciate them? :)
As an example...I had a friend take a beautiful bolognese and dump two cans of red marinara sauce into it because she "likes it saucy."
I had this dilemma the other night. We had a guest over for dinner who does not consume vegetables. He just won't eat them- or so I thought.
I grilled steaks (he ate it), made mashed potatoes with carmelized onions (he ate it), braised red cabbage with apples (didn't go near it), shredded sauteed brussell sprouts (ate it, loved it, asked what the hell was that), and roasted cauliflower with chili powder (ate it, asked if it's a new type of potato). At the last minute I panicked and heated up a bag of frozen onion rings.
I would cook simple recipes with chicken. Chicken is meat. Hamburgers too. Potato salad, mashed potatoes. Roasted or steamed vegetables. Pasta with red sauce. Ceasar salad. Macaroni and cheese. Corn bread muffins from a box mix. Garlic bread. And cookies and ice cream for dessert.
I was just curious if anyone else comes up with the same situation Im put in with this side of the family. One of the eaters is so picky, he wont even touch bread unless its plain white bread. My DH made homemade buttermilk biscuits and he looked disgusted by them.
I tried a new approach and let them cook a soup because they wanted to. It was the worst thing Ive eaten in a long time.
Oh and when I asked what they like to eat (for examples) I was told "Plain food." Whatever the heck that is. And no cheese. ;) Oh well!
Now, that's extreme! When I know they're coming, I'd tell them "please surprise us with one of your special dishes" so that I know they'll have something to eat and I won't have to be a puppet on a string trying to satisfy them.... Now that I think of it, I do know some who won't eat other breads i.e. wheat, sourdough, etc. but they will eat biscuits (we live in the south!)
I love cooking all sorts of things, and I take my cooking seriously, but I always want my guests to be comfortable and happy to be in my home. So I don't try converting anyone. Not anymore, anyway. I love food, but I don't want it ever to be an issue for my guests.
For this reason, holiday meals are never my favorite to prepare. I have to make so many accommodations to family members and traditions that the meal can never achieve the balance of ingredients, flavors, texture, and color that I crave. But I have come to realize that it is more about the company than the food when not everyone *sigh* shares my culinary principles or desires.
Once I know the allergies, aversions, religious restrictions, etc.--and experience has taught me that it's important to ascertain this when one doesn't know these things already--I go to my list of things that almost anyone likes to find something that will fill the bill, or belly, of the fussy eater. Other hounds have made great suggestions. Here are a some of mine:
Roast chicken--I've never known anyone (who wasn't vegetarian) who wouldn't eat it. And the easy sides that go well with it are endless (potatoes, peas, green beans, corn, risotto, wild rice, buttered noodles).
Risotto--even people who've never heard of it, much less had it, tend to love the simpler preparations--one made with just stock and parmesan or one made with mushrooms or shrimp.
Grilled steak w/potatoes and salad: you can hardly go wrong.
Beef pot roast or brisket, again w/easy sides.
Beef stroganoff always seems to be a crowd pleaser.
Almost everyone likes lasagna. Or baked ziti.
Pork roast: when everyone at the table will eat pork, this is probably my most frequent fallback. You can be creative with the marinade or seasonings. Goes well with numerous, familiar sides: potatoes, mac 'n cheese, creamed spinach, corn, peas, cabbage, asparagus, risotto. You might get adventurous and serve it w/black beans or a layered sweet potato gratin.
Pasta carbonara--I've found even the pickiest small children will gobble up this!
When I'm serving the fussy eater, I might get a little creative with the salad. Or one of the sides. I love to serve a subtly spiced Indian lentil dish--that everyone seems to love--as a side, but I don't mention that it's "Indian" as so many people I know are *certain* they don't like Indian food b/c it's "too spicy."
For before-dinner nibbles, I might offer two different bruschettas, for instance, one "safe" and one that offers something a little different. The guest can choose and if he/she eschews both, there's always a dinner to come.Or I'll just go with the always safe plate of cheese and crackers w/grapes.
Just as long as there's something the guests can eat happily, I'll be happy. If they pass on a side or salad or whatever, I don't let it bother me.
The flip-side of the meat-and-potatoes eater is the vegan, one of whom has recently entered our orbit. For me, lover of all things dairy (not to mention seafood and meat!), this will indeed be a challenge. But I'm (kind of) looking forward to cooking outside my comfort zone and seeing what I can come up with.
Being relaxed, whether guest or host, is, I think, the key.
I think it depends on the personality of the guests. I know lots of non-chowhounds, and most are the type that don't usually go outside of their comfort zone, but they will if someone recommends it or serves it to them. Then there's always a few that will look at a spinach and bechamel sauce lasagna and say they aren't eating gross green lasagna.
My in-laws only have one cookbook in their house (Better Homes & Gardens, with the gingham cover) and think my husband and I eat weird food, but they've liked pretty much everything I've cooked for them, and my father-in-law asked for the recipe for a shrimp risotto.
I'd probably just cook what I would normally cook for guests, but maybe lean toward meals that at least look familiar.
Now is not the time for conversion methods. If you know what they like to eat, go from there. When my dad comes to visit it's meatloaf, mashed potatoes and green beans, ham sandwiches and bacon and eggs. If you don't know what they like ask them and make it to the best of your ability.
I have two appraoches. The first one is to find out what thier favorite thing is and then make it for them in the best way I can (super fresh ingredients, plussed up techniques, etc). The second way I go is to make the meal a potluck and ask them what they would like to bring, which goes a long way towards opening someone up to food because they have to think about how to share their tastes with everyone. Either has led to a lot of fun dinner parties.
Make yourself a wonderfully creative meal. Serve some meat loaf and fried potatoes with Harvard beets. (or you could serve the guest oatmeal). Save a bit of what you're having. When the guest sees what you're having and inquires about it, give the guest sample. He'll develop an interest in good eating.
Family & friends know that I'm the one to cook "gourmet" (as they call it) food so while I'll make some things "normal" other things will be out of the norm...like for breakfast, I might make an egg dish that they've never had before because eggs can be done 1000 different ways but I'll have the usual accompanying meats & breads etc.
At a afternoon or dinner meal, I'll make the meat the surprise with some familiar items for sides...unless I'm cooking for clients then I'll make a themed meal which they love...
I had a roommate who frequently hosted a backgammon dinner. I've never seen a crowd who was so discriminating about booze be less concerned about food!
The very first one I made coq au vin. They ganged up on me while I was in the kitchen making dessert and said the chicken was great but they'd love to try my "chicken fricassee." The next dinner I re-created the mess that I remembered from school lunch program cafeterias. They loved it (?!) I ended up making a slightly more gourmet version (a few herbs, some wine) that we could agree on.
Meatloaf, tuna-noodle casserole, spaghetti and meatballs, and roast beef sandwiches (medium, mind you) were all on the menu. I gave them the recipes, but they'd come back saying "it just wasn't like yours." Eeek.
How I sympathize with that. I've spent many an afternoon preparing a particularly festive supper for my community--nothing terribly exotic but a bit labor intensive--and I never get the response a turkey noodle casserole produced last week that took ten minutes in prep time to throw together.
Stick to comfort food, kicked up a notch by using especially flavorful(but not exotic) ingredients.
Meatloaf and mashed potatoes
Potato salad or scalloped potatoes
Baked potatoes with the works
Mac N Cheese
Steamed fresh green beans with butter
Baked beans casserole
hamburgers, done the way they like ( i.e.: well-done if necessary)
Good quality sausages, grilled
Pie--apple, berry, coconut or banana cream
Ice cream & brownies
snacks like hot popcorn or carmel corn
Their beverage of choice
ps.s: Susan Hermann Loomis' "The Farmhouse Cookbook" has loads of tasty recipes from 'American working farms' kitchens. Highly rec it for yourself and for non-adventurous guests. Food raised in the U.S. and cooked in the farmer's kitchen for family.
As counterintuitive as it may seem, we always cook exotic when non foodies are coming over. Our house has become known within our circle of friends and family as the place to go to try new things. Even our kids who have young friends come over almost always find they like something they had never tried. We get the odd scaredy cats and we just lie to them - it is all "chicken":-). We have friends of our children who remember when they were afraid to come over and now they relish it. It is all part of the ongoing education of those around us. Our "crazy food night" are very popular these days.
Our mantra is that there is no food you don't like...only ways of having it you don't like.
Teach your children (and their friends) well and they will start to lobby for an invite....bon appetite!
It is rare to have someone not try and like our offerings...we show them excellent food. Whether it is an odd meat like musk ox or kangaroo or an odd prep (for them) such as carpaccio or Moroccan, people trust us to excite them and we usually do.
Meatloaf was my first thought as well.
If you have a 'trashy' favorite, now's a good time to break it out. I grew up eating mac & cheese from the blue box, and today I still have my own way of dressing it up on occasion ...
No one can accuse either of these of not being American! Pot roast, sloppy joes ... grilled cheese with smoked cheddar.
Make sure you have plenty of things for your guests to eat that they're comfortable with. If you're going to try to expand their culinary horizons, do it in a way that they can avoid the "weird" stuff without skipping the meal or its major components.
So, for example, don't serve pasta with pesto. (My sister-in-law was appalled at the idea that anybody would eat green spaghetti.) But you can accompany the meal with garlic bread toast rounds and smear pesto on some of them. Your guest may find a new favorite dish, and might even figure out that the stuff would be good on noodles.
By the same token, if you're a fiend for Indian food, don't serve a biryani. Make a plain roast chicken and accompany it with, say, Gujerati-style green beans. That way your guests can decide on their own comfort zones.
By all means bring out the goat cheese. Just serve it alongside a nice farmhouse cheddar.
When I have guests similar to the ones you describe, I prepare "American" foods but may add a little twist. The guests will still enjoy the foods they know/think they like - such as steak, chicken and pork - but in a slightly different way.
Here are a couple of my favorite recipes you may want to try ....
Pan Sauteed Chicken and Mushrooms with Garlic Spinach
serves 4 - 5
2 tablespoons butter, divided
3 large boneless chicken breasts, sliced lengthwise into 2 thin cutlets each
2 cups sliced baby portebello mushrooms
2 bunches of baby spinach, washed and drained and paper towels
3 large cloves of garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon flour
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup chicken stock
squeeze of lemon juice
Heat a large saute pan to medium high and drizzle with olive oil and about 1 tablespoon of butter. Season chicken cutlets with salt and pepper and dredge in flour. Saute for 3 - 4 minutes per side until lightly browned. Remove cutlets from pan and cover with foil to keep warm.
In the same pan, drizzle a little more olive oil and add the sliced mushrooms. Saute for 5 - 7 minutes until they begin to brown slightly. Remove from pan and keep warm with the chicken.
In the same pan, drizzle a little more olive oil and add the spinach in 2 batches. Cook each batch until the spinach is wilted and most of the water has cooked away. Remove spinach to a plate. Add garlic to pan and cook for 1 - 2 minutes until it just begins to brown. Add more olive oil if the pan seems dry. Add back the wilted spinach and a pinch of salt and pepper and toss to combine. Remove to a plate and cover with foil to keep warm.
In the same pan, melt the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter. When it just begins to bubble, whisk in the 1 tablespoon of flour. Cook for about 30 seconds. Whisk in wine and stock and cook for 2 - 3 minutes or until the sauce thickens slightly. Add a squeeze of lemon juice and season with salt and pepper. Turn heat to low and keep sauce warm.
To serve, place Garlic Spinach on a large platter. Top with the sauteed chicken and mushrooms and drizzle with the wine sauce. Serve.
Beef Kebobs with Roasted Red Pepper Dipping Sauce
1-1/2 pounds boneless beef top sirloin steak, cut 1 inch thick
1 teaspoons coarse grind black pepper
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon sweet paprika
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 jars (7 ounces each) roasted red peppers, rinsed, drained, finely chopped
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons tomato paste
3/4 teaspoon dried thyme leaves, crushed or 2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme
1 cup ready-to-serve beef broth (I subbed 1 tsp. beef bouillon in 1 cup water)
2 teaspoons cornstarch
Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat until hot. Add onion and 3 cloves garlic; cook and stir 2 to 3 minutes or until onion is tender.
Add red peppers, wine, tomato paste and thyme, stirring until tomato paste is blended. Combine broth and cornstarch in small bowl, mixing until smooth. Stir into pepper mixture; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer 10 to 12 minutes or until slightly thickened, stirring occasionally. Keep warm.
Meanwhile cut beef steak into 1-inch pieces. Combine pepper, salt, paprika and garlic in large bowl. Add beef; toss to coat. Thread beef pieces evenly onto six skewers, leaving small space between pieces.
Place kabobs on grid over medium, ash-covered coals. Grill, covered, about 7 to 9 minutes for medium rare to medium, turning once. Serve with dipping sauce.
Raspberry Hoisin Glazed Roast Pork Loin
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 pork loin, about 2.5 pounds
1 cup red onion, chopped
2 tablespoon soy sauce
1/4 cup hoisin sauce
1/2 cup seedless raspberry preserves
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
In a large, oven proof saute pan, heat about 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Season pork with salt and pepper. Sear pork loin over medium high heat on all sides until golden brown. Transfer pan with seared pork loin to the oven.
Meanwhile, in a small saucepan over medium high heat add 1 tablespoon olive oil and red onion. Saute, stirring occasionally until just beginning to brown, about 5 - 6 minutes. Add soy sauce, hoisin sauce and raspberry preserves and stir until the glaze is combined. Turn off heat and leave sauce on burner.
Roast pork loin in oven until the thickest part of the roast registers 135 degrees on a thermometer, about 45 to 60 minutes. About 10 minutes before the pork is done (it will register about 110 degrees on a digital thermometer), brush with the pork with some of the glaze. You will have extra glaze to serve with the pork.
Remove roast from oven and place on a cutting board and tent with foil for about 10 minutes. Slice the pork loin and serve with the extra glaze. Rewarm the glaze if it gets too thick.