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Easy Dinner Party Ideas for Five?

I'm crabby. I've been a bit hoodwinked into hosting a dinner party the evening before I am leaving for a 12 day cruise. The long story doesn't matter really, because I will still be crabby and will not want to work too hard. I need to pack - no big deal, BUT will have to clean the kitchen after they leave. I can't possibly leave things soaking for 2 weeks!

Plus, my hubby is not here...so there will be 5 of us.

Do you have any suggestions for a knockout main dish that is easy and can be prepared in advance? I was going to serve Marcella Hazan's lasagna, but won't have time to babysit the sauce. I am thinking of purchasing bolognese from a local restaurant, along with pre-ground parmesan and homemade bechemal...Quick noodles a 'la Cooks Illustrated 'no boil' noodle tips.

I'm feeling guilty. Any suggestions?

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  1. On a similar theme and you can make it (and bake it) a day or two in advance and gently reheat, would be a gourmet mac and cheese using an aged guyere ... then drizzle with truffle oil to serve.

    1. If you've been hoodwinked, I say make it as easy as you can...or is there some reason you need to impress these people with amazing cooking skills? If not, I would go with the best you can find already made and go with it. For dessert, serve banana splits with your favorite vanilla and coffee ice creams, the best chocolate sauce you can find and a great selection of toasted nuts--macadamia, beer nuts and pecans--with large dollops of whipped cream. Why knock yourself out when whatever you do will be forgotten in days and you'll still be annoyed if it made you grumpy on the cruise. (Lately, I've seen women knocking themselves out on elaborate meals for no good reason.)

      1 Reply
      1. re: escondido123

        Good point and exactly right! I WILL be forgotten in days. These are not foodies, but ARE very nice people - hoodwinked or not - and will likely be very appreciative. Or maybe they will bash my food, and decor, when they leave! LOL - Why do we knock ourselves out on elaborate meals? And by 'we', I mean 'I'.

      2. Quiche is very easy to make in advance; any kind of savory tart or pie that doesn't exude a lot of sauce would give you a nice easy clean up. You can buy pre-made crusts and just concentrate on the filling. Side with a nice salad of pre-mixed greens and a bought dessert. Voila.

        1. i would make a simple baked chicken dish like this chow recipe for honey mustard chicken


          with a simple veg side or salad, and a rice pilaf type of starch. keep it simple and cheap&cheerful w not a lot of prep or cleanup. serve a sorbet & fruit dessert, or ask one of your guests to bring a cake, pie or cookies. another guest can bring the wine.

          1. How about a really great stew? I just made one with root veggies and grass fed beef from the farmers market and it seems to be getting better and better the longer it sits around. I think a nice stew with maybe some warm bread would be appealing to guests this winter and will leave you with barely anything to clean
            Enjoy your cruise!

            1. I was also thinking stew, salad and store bought cookies and ice cream for dessert. Another thought was chili (also could be made in advance, and just reheated that night). Both are easy to make in advance, clean up, and then just have to reheat that night (and they taste even better on the reheat).

              If you want to do a pasta dish and are set on lasagna, you can probably do that in advance as well. Are the guest big foodies, will they know the difference between a labor intensive lasagna and something a bit simpler (with restaurant/store bought marinara etc). If they won't then don't sweat it. Or you can do a baked ziti?

              1. Giada's Chicken Tettrazini is fantastic. I prep it all ahead of time, (except for cooking the pasta) a day or two before I serve it. About 2 hrs before serving, cook the pasta, leaving it chewy (I use penne), and assemble. I also buy a Rotisserie chicken from Costco and cut the meat in large bite size pieces.
                A nice salad, bread and wine and it's a great meal to entertain.
                Cleaning up? Either use a disposable pan, or 9 x 11 pyrex dish. Most of it should be eaten. If not, wrap the "near empty" pyrex dish in foil and throw it in your freezer. :) Deal with it when you get home.
                Enjoy your cruise. :)

                1 Reply
                1. re: mcel215

                  THIS is what I am going to make! I am on a "Dine from the Cupboard/Freezer" kick right now and have almost everything I need already! I've already taken out 5 frozen chicken breasts (though Costco chicken is the best thing ever invented - I use every usable bit of that bird, including making stock in the crockpot from the carcass, skin, onion, celery, carrots and odd juices at the bottom the container.) I had to buy mushrooms, milk and peas. YESSS!!
                  I'm also going to make her Crusty Garlic and Herb Bread - deliciously fabulous, and a large light green salad. Guess I'll have to buy some bread and lettuce.
                  AND, the banana split idea is great! I have 4 bananas that are ripe, but not over-ripe enough to make a banana cake.
                  Wonderful, I think!

                2. What about Barefoot Contessa's Indonesian Ginger Chicken? You prep it all the day ahead and just have to stick it in the oven to cook.


                  It is very good with Ina's basmati rice, but even plain rice it good too, or even a rice mix from a box, or couscous. It's all about the sauce with this chicken, so anything to mop it up is good.


                  With a salad, you are all set and it's easy and very good.

                  1. I agree with Beef Stew with potatoes and veggies and large can of diced tomatoes. Make it in a crockpot and make the day before. Serve with a hearty salad with good cheese, pears or apples, and toasted nuts with a simple vinegarette. Buy a loaf of artisinal bread, warm when serving, and serve with Lurac butter. Appetizer perhaps simple crudite and ranch dip, popcorn and nut mix (retro?) and booze. For dessert (make ahead) sandwich vanilla bean between tates cookies and roll edges in nuts or small choc chips. Lotys of booze and dinner is done and cleanu-up is miniumal. Make sure your dishwasher is empty after dinner and have your guests help clear the table and load the washer.

                    1. My hat's off to you!

                      I like the idea of a hearty stew. My current favorite is RR's cassoulet soup -- it is really, really flavorful and hearty. If you don't try it now, please do in the future: http://www.rachaelrayshow.com/food/re...

                      Next, I love to make "big" salads with sliced steak or chicken (or shrimp) on top --- big, one dish meal.

                      Last, though this is definitely more work, it is best done in advance so the flavors can meld: Julia Child's Coq au Vin. And, if you haven't made it before, it is not hard (just a lot of steps) and it definitely tastes much better if you make it the day before.

                      Bon appetit!

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: Tehama

                        Coq au Vin was an early consideration, but I had to leave it, as well as the lasagne, due to time and patience constraints.

                        And sexyLAMBCHOPx, " Lotys of booze and dinner is done and cleanu-up is miniumal." is my favorite quote of the month! And I agree with every word!!

                        Thanks you guys. I've been struggling with this menu for the past 2 days. Since I sell Real Estate, and since this is the most difficult market since time began (twice the work for half the money), I have had no time this weekend to do anything except fret...

                        I'm saving the thread because I like a lot of the other suggestions, as well. But, the Tetrazzini just perfectly fit, especially since I have almost EVERYTHING already. And I do like Giada's recipes.

                        I got back home about an hour ago, and the chicken breasts are thawing in the fridge as we speak.


                        1. re: LisainCali

                          Glad you like the quote but ashamed for my lazy spelling! Enjoy the cruise as we get another 6-12 inches of snow! Let us know how your dinner fared!

                      2. My fast and easy dinner is lamb chops or rack of lamb with a bit of garlic, olive oil, and allspice rubbed on them. Serve with salad, cous cous or rice and some red wine. For dessert I will usually serve a nice good quality ice cream with fresh berries and maybe a sauce made with the berries. Takes me maybe 45 minutes for everything. Plus it's easy clean up.

                        Serve manhattans or martini's to start with some easy (read store bought) hors d'oeuvres and you're set.

                        Oh and FYI if you use pyrex dishes be very careful with them if taking from the freezer to the stove http://www.chow.com/food-news/68869/e...

                        1. Where is the cruise to? I say just to be snarky, serve a meal inspired by the vacation that you're leaving for AS SOON AS THEY LEAVE and bask in your martyrdom.