Casual dinner date suggestions
I have a few casual dinner dates coming up on the radar, and while I'm told I'm a good cook, I get insecure when cooking for other people. I also don't like going over the top and looking like I'm trying to impress with something too pretentious or cliché - no pork belly cupcake foam or surf and turf, thanks. What suggestions do you have for something that's hard to screw up while talking to your guest, but also delicious and moderately impressive?
Well, first of all, if you're going to invite someone on 1) a date and 2) offering to cook dinner on that date, you will have to go do a little bit of "wow" since you've set expectatiosn that you can cook.
That said, it's a date so no big bold flavors (goodbye bagna cauda and stinky tofu), keep sauces to a minimum, no long pasta and nothing that you eat with your hands. No casseroles.
It's winter so you can consider starting off with a potage or doing some quick meze that you've already prepped ahead. Then the main, then cheese and whatever dessert you want to do.
Pork belly is nice for a main; you can do the prep ahead of time before pressing and slicing. Then all you need is to prep your sides and reheat the belly. Or a fish en papillote (use something like sablefish so that you don't worry about overcooking).
Chicken Francese is fairly easy. And if you want to dumb it down, you could just do some lemon, butter and capers and pass on the wine.
Bacon wrapped filet mignon with mashed potatoes and a veggie.
One of my favorite home meals that isn't fancy, but bursting with flavor is chick peas cooked with chorizo, with a grilled chicken cutlet seasoned with smoked paprika.
And don't underestimate a whole roasted chicken....who doesn't like it. Throw some lemons inside and make some type of grain, like orzo or couscous.
And if you want to impress and do something easy, do some sort of fish in a bag. Simple, but the presentation is impressive.
I make a braise-roasted chicken with root vegetables that's pretty goofproof but very delicious, but homey and comforting. I like the idea of starting off with a great soup - one of my favorites is Carrot Ginger Soup with Candied Walnuts. Again, very simple but tastes impressive without being pretentious. And you can't go wrong by finishing off with Cheesecake Brownies... Yum.
How about a nice mushroom risotto? Wild if they're readily available. You can have a salad already made and have all the risott ingredients ready to go, and all you have to do is stir while you're talking. If you want meat, you can stick a chicken in the oven to roast right before your guest arrives. That would make a dinner that's impressive but not fussy or show-offy, IMO.
For me, the hardest part is just getting the mutual desire for a date established! After that, they're (hopefully) more into you than the food. :)
Is cheese and/or chocolate fondue too cliche/pretentious? Personally, I think it makes for low-stress date prep. Just make your mixture(s) in advance, keep warm in a fondue pot (or even a small crockpot!).
While that's all done and set aside, you can serve a salad as a starter. Depending on how much prepping you want to do at the time, you can slice vegetables/bread/fruit together, or let him/her observe your impressive knife skills at a safe distance....
I'd say that more than what your actual menu is, just having a nice table set (whether it's your coffee table, a dining table, or a picnic blanket), having the kitchen clean, and being organized without being too anal-retentive is what's most important....so the focus can be on each other, not meal prep.
I like a stew or braise because it is better made the day before, can be wonderful ( lamb shanks, maybe) and just the sides need ot be done on nervous day of date. Can make unusual salad, grain and a gorgeous dessert is important, bought if you don't like making dessert. I think chocolate mousse is a great date food .
this may be too casual for you but it got raves.
I made it, the bulk of it, the day before and the potatoes went in next day and it was better than perfect. by doing it mostly up front the pressure of being in the kitchen and not with guests isn't as maddening.
4 lbs London Broil, cut up into just under an inch chunks
6 large carrots, cut up same
2 medium onions, chopped
7 large potatoes, peeled, cut in same above, held in lemon ice water until they go in pot
2 qts beef stock
3 T red wine vinegar, mostly to deglaze
In large dutch oven went 4 T olive oil and 4 T butter then melted.
Seasoned flour using steak seasoning and my house general seasoning.
Put the meat chunks in the flour and shook to coat all, then into the hot pan.
Seared all the meat on all sides and got a good brown crust on it.
In the dutch oven now goes onions & carrots, stir to coat all, then vinegar, stir well to bring up bits on bottom then ample beef stock, stir well, lid on. Very lowest stove burner I have. The potatoes will go in either later today or tomorrow so they won't be mushy or mealy.
I didn't originally post that I had creme fraiche [sp?] on the side for topping if desired. it was desired I found out, took it to a new level.