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Dec 13, 2010 04:30 PM

Pleas help with my holiday dinner party

Hello! I will be serving 11 people a holiday dinner on the 22nd and I am having trouble deciding on my menu. I have to work that morning and I have a 2 year old with me all afternoon so I wanted to do the bulk of cooking/prep the night before. I have not decided on apps yet (I want to establish my main deal first).
I was thinking of trying this lamb shank and orzo recipe:

anyone try this? I figure I can make it the night before- I also would prefer the gravy to have some of the veg etc. still in it- do you think I should strain the sauce and add freshly sauted veg or keep the ones that braised with the meet?
I also need something else to go with this- chicken, seafood etc. Any reccomendations? I was thinking maybe a shrimp marinara type deal with crusty bread (no pasta)- I was going to serve family style with salad, bread etc.
Any suugestions?
Thanks in advanced- also if you think you might have a better dish I should try please feel free to share...

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  1. I love lamb and orzo together. But are you planning a buffet with more than one main dish? You'd be hardpressed, I think, to make that recipe for 11. Shrimp without pasta is going to take alot of shrimp for a group that size. I can see your not wanting lamb with pasta and shrimp with pasta but how about some kind of shrimp rice dish? There are a gazillion things you can make. With your schedule, I'd be inclined to go with one big or two medium sized casseroles of some type. With salad and bread.

    4 Replies
    1. re: c oliver

      Thank you so much for your advice. I was thinking I could tripple the recipe (12 lamb shanks) but that might be unreasonable.... any suggestions?

      1. re: gastronomy

        Do you have one (or two) pans big enough to hold them? I adore all forms of lamb but not everyone does. Do you know if all your guests like lamb?

        1. re: c oliver

          Per c oliver, there are indeed some logistics to consider, though this does look like a delicious treatment for shanks. Fridge space overnight is one - how much room will you have available for storage? And I'm going to go ahead and assume that there are no vegetarians since you didn't mention it. Prawns might be something to consider for your appetizer instead; you'll need much less and could still do a Scampi dish without overpowering your mains. I'm voting for you to consider something different unless you're deeply attached to this idea; like maybe a couple herbed pork tenderloin roasts and apple chutney; and some chicken roasted with cloves of garlic and served with an unusual cranberry sauce. Both could be made in very little time, take up little space when wrapped, and could be reheated at the same time, with a little extra time at higher heat to crisp the chicken skin. Then, the day of, you could make a pasta dish or an orzo - maybe vegetarian, just in case or for someone who'd rather eat lightly. Enjoy the holidays! Let us know what you decide! And definitely try that recipe as written, for a smaller group of Known Lamb Lovers someday soon.

          1. re: mamachef

            @OP: mamachef cooks for a large group almost every day so I'd listen to her. I'm just fumbling my way around :)

    2. If you have your heart set on lamb you could do a leg. Slow cook it so it can cook all day (and not be taking up fridge space). Serve some nice roasted veggies with it (potatoes, sweet potatoes/yams, onion, butternut maybe some red pepper...) prep them the night before, stash them in a ziploc with oil, spices and garlic and then dump them in around the roast an hour plus before dinner. You could still serve orzo - throw some herbs and butter in with it at the last minute. You could make a spinach salad or some other salad for before. Maybe some green beans with dinner. For an appetizer - I say this today and thought that looked elegant, holiday festive and EASY! You could then serve some cold app to go with it - maybe something with crudite. If you are going Greek ish - you could do a broiled feta app. I will post that later if you want it. I have to get my stuff off the stove.

      Good luck!

      1. I'm going to disagree with the others: I think the lamb shanks would be wonderfully different. You've obviously read over the recipe and decided you have enough fridge space and pans large enough to handle the dish. I would go ahead with it, cooking nearly til done the day (slightly undercook to allow for reheating) before then refrigerate it. If you're worried about fitting it in the fridge, place them into zip loc type bags so they'll fit. Skim the fat off the liquid once chilled down then proceed with making your gravy from what you already have and refrigerate. Next day, put the shanks back into the oven with a little broth or water and finsh them off with the gravy. They should be nice & tender.

        The something else you need - are you referring to an appetizer or something to accompany the main? Also are you saying that the only side dish is going to be the salad? I like the idea of shrimp but IMO, the marinara will clash with the main...why not consider something like this: You can roast these instead of grill and if you're not into the heat thing, leave it out.

        10 Replies
        1. re: Cherylptw

          wow- Thank you to everyone- I do know that everyone likes/eats lamb however I see all points about cooking for a large group and agree I should maybe think of something else... I do like the idea of leg of lamb- I really do want to keep it to something I can cook the day before or have fully prep and only need to slide into the oven type deal. Sal Vanilla- and leg of lamb recipes?
          Oh and Cherylptw- would you mind re posting the link? I Could not get to it... thanks!

          1. re: gastronomy


            Here's an old recipe from the Frugal Gourmet that I've been fixing for about 20 years and always love it. I cube the lamb (1+") but otherwise follow exactly. Brown the meat really well in batches. You could double it for your crowd. Either one large DO or two smaller ones.

            1. re: c oliver

              Thank you so much!! Sounds yummy and easy!

              1. re: gastronomy

                Good and easy are two of my favorite words when it comes to cooking! Just had this a few nights ago.

                1. re: c oliver

                  Oh man!!! So I live in the Bahamas and I just called my two places I get meat from and finding lamb shoulder or bone in leg of lamb will be next to impossible over the next couple of weeks.... something to do with shipments not coming in and only working with what we got! :(
                  Now I have to start all over again :( I can get chuck and I was looking at this pot roast from Ina Garten

                  I was thinking I can make a veggie side disg that could also stand alone as a meal for those who dont want meat (Im thinking a veggie parm casarole or butternut squash lasagna). I would make mashed potatoes for the meat.

                  what do you think???

                  1. re: gastronomy

                    I think this is a great idea. Only thing I'd say is that I wouldn't do potatoes AND a pasta dish. How about a risotto - good main meal for those who don't want meat, but it would also make an excellent bed for the meat. Maybe a butternut squash risotto? Then have some veggie on the side, like balsamic glazed sprouts or sherry mushrooms.

                    1. re: katecm

                      Brilliant!!!!!!! Thank you for that great idea!!! :)

                    2. re: gastronomy

                      I just gave a work friend the chicken marabella recipe link and she made it over the weekend for 8 people (from Long Island NY and Lebanon) and it was a really big hit! I think she subbed out the wine with grape juice because there were some practicing moslems. She made it the night before and cooked it in a crockpot while she was at work.

                      1. re: gastronomy

                        How about "Will Owen's (and the LA Times) pork shoulder roast"?


                        I've done this sooooo many times in the last two years. It's easy and delicious and people absolutely rave about it. And I always do it the day before.

                2. re: gastronomy

                  Here is one that is very very close to what I do. Simple, easy, long roast for really tender, incredibly delicious legalamb: We are garlic hounds. We poke garlic into those holes and not just a mixture, but the mixture would be lovely. You could skip making your own sauce and just do mint jelly (which you can buy at the grocery). If you are serving older folks - they often especially prefer the jelly because that is what they are used to. Younger ones too for that matter! But the point is - well seasoned, low and slow and fuss free deliciousness. It is foolproof. - no opening and closing the oven door all day long.

                  Have fun and relax with your loved ones!

              2. If you want a side to go with it, and that goes excellently with the Mediterranean style of lamb and orzo, here's a great recipe for a tomato-bean side dish called Gigantes Plaki. It's nice to have the actual Gigantes, but extra-large lima beans will do nicely, and they're very hassle-free.


                Fasolia Gigantes Plaki
                SandyCat's note: Add fresh, roughly-chopped dill and mix it in before serving. For some reason, this recipe doesn't have it, but definitely add a loose half-cupful of dill; most recipes call for it, and it will absolutely transform the dish into pure, beany deliciousness.

                1 large sweet onion, coarsely chopped
                2 large carrots, coarsely chopped
                3 large cloves garlic, minced
                1½ teaspoons Greek oregano
                1½ teaspoons thyme
                2 ounces of Greek olive oil, divided
                1-28 ounce can plum tomatoes
                1½ teaspoons salt
                ½ teaspoon black pepper
                2 teaspoons sugar
                Crumbled feta and flatleaf parsley for garnish

                Note: There is no absolute cooking time for these beans, so your teeth will have to tell you when they are cooked through without becoming mushy. Once they have attained the right texture, they will hold that throughout baking in the red sauce.

                If you follow directions below and bring presoaked gigantes to a soft boil in about 15 minutes, the shortest cooking time from that point will be 50 minutes. After that, you’ll want to bite-test a bean every ten minutes; when the bean’s flesh gives all the way down with no hard bit in the middle, your beans are cooked to perfection.

                Soak the gigantes: Soak beans overnight in cold water to cover by an inch or more. Minimum soaking time: 8 hours.

                Cook the gigantes: Drain the soaking water and replace with cold water to cover by an inch or more. Over medium heat, with a lid half cocked over the pan, bring the water slowly to a boil. This should take 15 minutes.

                Boil gently with the lid partly covering for 50 minutes, at which point you want to test the beans every 10 minutes for doneness. Most beans I have cooked are done in about 1 hour and 10 minutes, but I have encountered a few batches of beans that, for one reason or another, take more than 1½ hours to reach tenderness. Beans are cooked when you can bite through a bean without encountering resistance in the middle. [SandyCat's note: I didn't need to cook my beans for the full 50 minutes; your mileage may vary


                Once beans are tender, strain off the water, sprinkle with olive oil and salt, and set aside.

                Make the sauce: While the beans are cooking, simmer the onion, carrot and garlic in 1 ounce of olive oil over medium heat in a large frying pan or skillet. Sprinkle with some of the oregano and thyme.

                After 10 minutes, when the onions are translucent and slightly brown at the edges, add the juice from the tomatoes. Chop the tomatoes (I do this with kitchen scissors in the can) and add to the veggies. Add the sugar, the salt and pepper and let simmer for at least 30 minutes, stirring as necessary to keep from sticking. Add ½ cup water and continue at a bare simmer until ready for the next step.

                Assembling the casserole dish
                For baking in a conventional oven: Preheat oven to 400°

                Assemble the casserole: Coat the bottom of a 9” x 12” lasagna pan or similar casserole dish with 2 teaspoons of olive oil. Spread first the gigantes and then the sauce as evenly as you can. Drizzle on any remaining olive oil and sprinkle with the remaining herbs.

                Put the uncovered casserole 12 inches from the fire and leave the door open just 1” to keep the flame down. Turn casserole after 20 minutes.

                The beans will be ready when most of the liquid from the sauce has cooked away or been absorbed, 40 minutes to an hour depending on the heat of your oven.

                For baking in a conventional oven: Put the casserole on the center rack of your oven. Turn the temperature down to 375°. Bake for 50 minutes or until most of the liquid has cooked away or been absorbed.

                Serve gigantes hot, garnished with crumbled feta cheese and flatleaf parsley.

                1 Reply
                1. re: SandyCat

                  This all sounds really great thank you- I think Im going to go with the pot roast and butternut squash risotto only beacue I have made before and I get nervous trying out new things on company.... I am bookmarking the pork shoulder and beans recipe though to give a try on my family first... thank you!! (oh and as soon as i get my hands on that lamb I am going for it!!).