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prep ahead dinner for 8 help!

Hi. I've got dinner for 8 tomorrow night at my house. Not only do I have a 3 and 1 year old, but my kitchen is open to the dining area so I'd like to do most of the work before everyone arrives (today or tomorrow day) as I can't stand feeding people while staring at the giant mess I've made. I don't want to do something super casual like tacos or pizza... I'd like it to be somewhat refined. Any suggestions? There are no dietary restrictions and I have a moderate budget.

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  1. What I would do:

    Chili (I usually make it with a chuck roast, which I cut into 1/2" cubes, and ground ancho chile; you can do it with ground meat to save some time), with cheese, cilantro, diced raw onion served on the side, plus a salad. Buy dessert: ice cream and good brownies.

    Or substitute pasta with Bolognese for the chili. I use a combo of ground beef and ground pork.

    You could serve a cheese platter with crackers and some nuts, or a more complete antipasto, before people sit down to eat. Then you won't need a seated first course.

    1. Braises can be made at least a day ahead of time, and benefit from it, too! With the weather getting chilly, it would be terrific to serve, say, a brisket or pork roast with roasted squash.

      1. What about chicken and artichoke hearts braised in white wine and herbs with a large oven pilaf for the main? You could start with easy tomato and pesto bruschetta (toppings and bruschetta bases can be made ahead, as can the braise, and the pilaf can be timed to be coming out of the oven as dinner is called), then moving onto a good green salad? And then buy a tart or chocolate dessert or two at a good patisserie.

        1. I do dinner for 8 every week, and have an almost 3 year old and a 19 month old. It's totally do-able. My advice, either use your crock pot or your oven, or both.

          If the weather is cool-ish, I use my oven. A nice roast, or even roast chickens (you'll want 2), roasted veggies, and potatoes (baked, mashed, or roasted) are great.

          This week, I'm making a leg of lamb, roasted brussel sprouts with apples, and rice pilaf. The lamb goes in 2-3 hours before everyone arrives, the brussel sprouts 45 minutes before dinner is served, and the rice gets cooked ahead of time, then reheated in a frying pan with some oil, stock, and almonds.

          Oh, and I'll have baked my bread earlier that morning.

          Dessert is store-bought. ;)

          2 Replies
          1. re: tzurriz

            That sounds great. I can do a good roast chicken but have never tried to roast 2. What temp and how long? I love to cook, but am at my worst when I have to have a plan! lol!

            1. re: kbpacer

              Do 2 chickens exactly the same as you do one, just use a bigger pan or 2 pans. No need to adjust time or temp. :)

          2. You could even keep up with the Cookbook of the Month for this one...I have 2 young kids as well and work full time, so I am a pro at the prep/cook ahead and this meal works well.

            Barefoot Contessa's Indonesian Ginger Chicken. You can prep and marinate tonight, just goes in the oven tomorrow.


            Basmati Rice or rice pilaf or couscous, which is super easy and quick.


            Roasted brussels sprouts, or other vegetables. Vegetables can be cut up and prepped today, or tonight as I always do, or tomorrow earlier in the day.

            Or another Barefoot Contessa vegetable dish that I love it Sting Beans with Shallots. The shallot sauce can be made today and tossed with blanced or steamed vegetables (I usually use string beans or broccoli).


            1. When I was in the city with not much time, money or space to spare - a great standby was to roast a few chickens (olive oil, garlic, rosemary, oregano) roasted potatoes (olive oil, garlic, rosemary) and green beans that I steamed in the microwave at the last minute and tossed with a little garlic, soy sauce and sesame seeds - carrots are also wonderful roasted in the oven with a little butter, salt and pepper - a simple salad with homemade balsamic vinaigrette and crumbled goat cheese on top - my vegan friends usually got large roasted portabella mushrooms to replace meat - guests brought the dessert(s) -

              1. It's times like these that lasagna is made for! Easily assembled the day before or early the day of, and held until time to go in the oven. A good green salad or some sauteed broccoli rabe done while the lasagna rests a bit, a good loaf of bread, some olives & brushetta as an appetizer, berries with mascarpone/whipped cream and a drizzle of honey for dessert with biscotti, or a store-bought gelato and biscotti.

                1. Many good suggestions here; if your temperatures aren't prohibitively hot, a braise seems a good way to go--you can get a hunk of pork or lamb shoulder/leg or a bunch of beef short ribs and cook this evening; these are always improved by sitting overnight. These can be pretty economical, but still have a bit of a wow factor. You could do ahead a big dish of a creamy potato gratin or pommes Anna mostly ahead of time. Or some kind of rice pilaf--brown & wild rice w/julienned carrots and peas or parsley stirred in is pretty and goes really well w/lamb and pork. A big green salad w/whatever add-ins you want is also obviously do-ahead. Other do ahead sides that are good (even best) at room temp: leeks in vinaigrette, green or black lentils in vinaigrette w/walnuts and whatever else you might like, beets in orange vinaigrette w/nuts.

                  1. many desserts work well a day ahead. most pies and cakes not containing a dairy frosting like carrot cake or cheesecake will be ok on the counter over night. just cover them well. and even if you do something like that, just fridge and take out a couple of hours before serving.

                    1. Cheese plate for people coming in
                      Arugula salad with shaved parmesan and a lemon vinaigrette
                      Braised short ribs over pureed cauliflower (much easier to reheat than polenta or mashed potatoes)
                      Berries tossed with balsamic vinegar and topped with a dollop of mascarpone

                      1. you could also do a shepherd's pie and bake off tomorrow night. a nice side salad and some braised or roasted veggies and crusty bread. voila! and layer a trifle or tiramisu ahead.