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Dinner party menu ideas and advice please!

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I'm having a couple friends over for dinner and was looking for some advice about what to serve. I don't really know much about how to pair foods and courses. Seafood and lamb are off the table but those are pretty much the only restrictions.

I'd like to keep it simple. For some reason I keep thinking of this white bean spread on a crostini for an appetizer (I think I saw it when I was researching Xmas menu ideas and can't stop thinking about it) but if it doesn't fit the rest of the menu I can ditch it.

I want to do some kind of braised meat with veggies. Or roast chicken. Both guests like potatoes and cheese so maybe some niced mashed potatoes or potato gratin. Also, my kids (5 & 2) would like this kind of thing.

And for dessert I'd like to make something in a 9in springform pan that isn't a cheesecake. I know this sounds insane but I have this pan that I paid too much money for when I made pumpkin cheesecake for Thanksgiving. I really want to use the pan so I feel like I'm getting my money's worth but I'm nervous about making cheesecake for this.

Any advice from the experts that hang out here would be appreciated.

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  1. That white bean crostini--maybe with a little fried sage on top--would be the perfect start to an Italian meal, though you might want to make it part of an antipasto with veggies and such. If you want to skip the first course and such, you could then move on to beef braised in Italian red wine--Bugialli has a wonderful recipe. Potatoes would be a typical accompaniment--maybe mashed with Parmesan? And for dessert how about a rice pie?

    3 Replies
    1. re: escondido123

      I love the idea of Italian and those suggestions - antipasto and beef braised in wine - are wonderful. Thank you.

      1. re: escondido123

        I love roasted garlic mashed potatoes.....cut the top off a head of garlic, drizzle just a little olive oil over the top of the head, sprinkle with salt and pepper (I use fresh ground), wrap the whole head of garlic in aluminum foil, and roast at 350 for about 30-45 minutes. Let cool. Pull peel off and mash the soft cloves of garlic. Cook red potatoes (or you can really use whatever potatoes you want, I just like red ones, because I like to leave the skins on. When the potatoes are cooked, scrape the mashed garlic on top of them. Add some butter to your taste, and salt and pepper. Mash the potatoes with a masher (not a mixer.) when they are the mashed, add a little sour cream, some chopped chives or scallions, and about 1/2 cup (or more if you want) Parmasean cheese. I just served these at a dinner party for a few friends and family on Sunday, with meat loaf, and everyone loved them.

        1. re: sunflwrsdh

          I find that roasted flavor a little strong and sweet so I just put a good number of peeled cloves in with the boiling potatoes and mash them along with everything else. I thin it may take less time too though it is a different flavor.

      2. You certainly can't go wrong with roast chicken, mashed potatoes and a green veg or salad. Or if you want to go the braised route (nice because you can make it the day before), osso bucco or "porkobucco", which is osso bucco made with pork shank instead of veal shank -- pork being quite a bit cheaper and IMO equally delicious. Don't leave off the gremolata in either case, it really makes the dish. Or a friend made this braised short ribs recipe for me recently and it was really really good: http://www.finecooking.com/recipes/br... Mashed potatoes go well with any of these, and maybe a simple arugula salad. Can't speak to dessert -- no sweet tooth!

        1 Reply
        1. re: GretchenS

          No sweet tooth! I'm so jealous. Thank you for the suggestions. I will definitely consider short ribs and a salad is what I was leaving out.

        2. What about roast chicken and then using the dripping to make these crash hot potatoes, instead of the oil? I add garlic to the roasting pan, too. Oh, and when the potatoes come out of the oven, the last time, I added shredded gruyere and it melted on top--so good.

          http://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/20...

          Add a side salad.

          For dessert, you could do this chocolate mousse cake (so simple and decadent):

          http://www.chow.com/recipes/11244-cho...

          Or galleygirl's pear tart. It's always a big hit, much better than you think it'll be from the basic ingredients.

          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/2836...

          3 Replies
          1. re: chowser

            I'm surprised to see a link to pioneerwoman. I love that site and I've used it a lot since I've been teaching myself to cook - her photos of each step have been so helpful to me. I haven't seen her mentioned here so I'm glad you did and can't wait to check out that recipe. And the pear tart sounds awesome. Thanks!

            1. re: chowser

              I was thinking about the crash potatoes.

              1. re: wekick

                Yeah. they're even better than you think they'll be, and easy to do, plus IRL not many people have seen them so they can't get over how good they are when I make it.

            2. I agree, I think the white bean starter is great as an idea, so roll with it. From there, into roast chicken or (love this as suggested below) braised short ribs. I am a potatoes a gratin person and know that holds well, as well as being a fantastic leftover.

              You can make a titramisu in a springform, if chocolate mousse as suggested is a non start, not all folks love or can eat it.

              Congrats on this new step into entertaining!

              4 Replies
              1. re: Quine

                Thank you for the feedback on the white bean starter, I was afraid I was barking up the wrong tree with that one. I've never made potatoes gratin and it sounds wonderful so this would be a good opportunity (and I have time to test it out before the dinner date). Also, tiramasu is mine and my husband's absolutely favorite dessert so I might have to make that. I never thought of it. Thank you!

                1. re: ursalita

                  Great that you have time to test!!! I wanted to suggest that.. I always think I should be the guinea pig of my experiments! A good way to introduce new things to your children as well, before the Big Day.
                  Nothing offsets a dinner party so much as a toddler screaming "No Mommy don't make me eat that!" Actual experience! I have no idea if Mom was feeding child dinner food (I was a guest and could only hear that exchange, as said child was not a dinner guest)
                  Relax, have FUN, enjoy your guests, they can't enjoy if you can't!

                  1. re: Quine

                    I can't imagine my children screaming that at the table. Especially since the main part of the meal will consist of some type of meat, potatoes and cheese - can't go wrong with that. They always eat with us and if they don't like it, there's always bread and butter or something similar to fill them up. I've been making their food since they started solids, In fact, my youngest has never had jarred baby food. Sorry to go off on a tangent, I've just always included my kids at dinner parties (in my home) and at restaurants and stuff. It doesn't always work out perfectly but they have to learn sometime.

                    1. re: ursalita

                      Fantastic!!! Tiger Mom of food! I applaud you!
                      My folks had the attitude(after baby food jars-stuff. But I am an old geezer. Dr Spock ruled, tis a shame) of this is what we are eating, you can eat it as well, nor not. This meal is not going to change, we will not let you starve. Yes, you must honestly taste some. I think my brother lived on mashed potatoes for years! Stubborn sort, folks won.

              2. Somewhere I have a recipe for a spinach lasagna made in a springform pan, which I haven't made in years but which I remember being very tasty and impressive-looking. If you want to kill two birds with one stone, I can try to dig it up for you.

                1 Reply
                1. re: darklyglimmer

                  Go for it glimmer! I am sure more that the OP would love to see it!!!

                2. You can do a potato gratin in a springform pan (put a sided baking sheet under it before going in the oven). Once it comes out of the oven, cover it with foil and allow it to rest for five minutes or so then loosen & remove the sides. Cut into wedges.

                  I have a great recipe for a dessert using a pouch of dry sugar cookie mix and espresso (or other coffee) infused pastry cream. It's easy (make the pastry cream the day before) then bake the cookie mix in a springform pan; split & fill and garnish with fresh whipped cream, caramel & crushed toffee. If you're interested, I'll post the recipe.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Cherylptw

                    I'd love the recipe for the dessert, it sounds awesome!

                  2. This potato gratin is very easy and really delicious. It can also be made the day before, refrigerated, brought to room temp and gently reheated in the oven. So few ingredients, yet impressive.

                    http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo...

                    19 Replies
                    1. re: valerie

                      Oh wow, these look awesome! I am torn between these and the crash potatoes. Decisions, decisions!

                      1. re: ursalita

                        A quintessential winter meal to me is roast chicken, crash potatoes and roasted brussel sprouts. It's perfect winter comfort food.

                        1. re: chowser

                          I'm starting to lean towards chicken since I like the idea of the crash potatoes. The last couple of times I made a chicken I roasted it in a cast iron skillet and it was the best chicken I'd ever made. The drippings made a really awesome gravy. However, I am a novice cook and I struggle with meat thermometers. And while I'm getting better at carving, it's still quite rough.

                          When I make a 4lb chicken in this manner, my family (4) eats almost the whole thing with enough left over for the dogs and maybe one sandwich. If I went with the chicken should I get a larger chicken, roast 2 or hope everyone fills up on appetizers and potatoes?

                          1. re: ursalita

                            I would get two as the bigger the chicken gets, it is older and tougher.

                            1. re: wekick

                              Agree with the 2 bird idea. I can't remember from which cooking program I heard this, but they recommended doing 2 every time. You have the oven going anyway and the leftovers are so versatile so that the next week's meal planning is easy.

                              1. re: KatoK

                                What a great idea. And the timing is the same, right?

                                1. re: ursalita

                                  It should be fine. There is more mass in the oven, which will initially lower the temperature, but it will come back to the tempurature you specify by the thermostat so overall cook time shouldn't be too much longer if you keep the door closed.
                                  That said, I read your post about thermometers, I'll bet if you go back to Whole Foods, the butcher can show you the right spot to test on a chicken which was always my challenge.

                            2. re: ursalita

                              My go-to recipe for chicken is Zuni chicken so I'd go for two small ones if you go that route. Plus, it'll cook faster (and twice the drumsticks). You go through a lot of chicken for your family! We eat slightly more than half of a 3 lb chicken for a family of four but do have those crash potatoes that people fill up on and lots of vegetables.

                              When I've made rice w/ the Zuni chicken, my husband and son pour the drippings (or chicken fat) over it.

                              1. re: chowser

                                Yeah, the chicken is usually between 3-4 lbs and my older son and husband put away a LOT of chicken. My son's only 5 but it's the bulk of his meal and my younger son throws a lot of the food he's eating to the dogs (it's a phase).

                                I think I will have to google the recipe for Zuni chicken - I am intrigued.

                                1. re: ursalita

                                  Now I feel stupid. I guess I've been making Zuni chicken or something very similar in the skillet. I found my recipe in a cookbook I grabbed from the New Arrivals shelf in my library: A bird in the oven... by Mindy Fox.

                                  1. re: ursalita

                                    With the Zuni chicken, not only is the cooking technique and temp important, but also the multi-day salted, dry brine.

                                    1. re: c oliver

                                      IIRC, the recipe in the book I mentioned specified salting the bird and letting it sit for a day. Something like that. I only salted it right before cooking and it was delicious. I am very much looking forward to following the Zuni recipe as written, I'm sure it will be even better.

                                      1. re: ursalita

                                        Here's the "real" recipe. Salting right before cooking certainly adds flavor but doing it several days in advance gives the tenderizing benefit of brining. And the bread salad is so good.

                                        http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/4401342...

                              2. re: ursalita

                                What problems are you having with a meat thermometer?

                                1. re: c oliver

                                  It's all very embarrassing. I'm not sure if I'm using it right or if it's a good thermometer. The one I have now is from Whole Foods purchased at christmas. The last time I used it for a roast chicken I kept getting readings of a temp lower than what the recipe suggested (whatever the standard is for chicken - I don't have it memorized yet). Finally, the time was way past what the recipe said and it was starting to look dry and the juices were clear so I called it. When I cut into the chicken it was definitely cooked, maybe overdone. So I must be inserting it wrong or something. I'm just dreading having that problem when we have guests. And the timing is critical as well because I want the potatoes to be ready to go...

                                  Now I'm wondering if I should just do a braise because I won't have to worry about these timing/temp things. I'm really new at this and it's showing.

                                  1. re: ursalita

                                    It's a digital one, right? All I know to do is insert it deep enough but not touching bone. I do the breast in a couple of places.

                                    A braise is so good and I sometimes do them the day before and reheat - recently in the slow cooker. There's also an oven-baked polenta that I can post if you want. Talk about easy. Only one stir and it turns out perfect every time. My stepdaughter made it for her "real" mom for a birthday dinner party so you KNOW it had to be good :)

                                    1. re: c oliver

                                      please post the polenta recipe, I'm trying to get the other half to try polenta...

                                      1. re: flfoodie2

                                        Thanks to thew for this. I use the larger amount of water.

                                        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/454690

                                    2. re: ursalita

                                      If you're worried about the chicken, I'd definitely go w/ the braise--much easier to get right and you can have it ready to go, in the oven or on the stove when guests arrive w/out worrying about carving it.

                          2. One of my favorite cakes is a pear & bittersweet chocolate cake that uses brown butter in the batter, and it is made in a springform pan.

                            http://smittenkitchen.com/2009/01/bit...

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: jules127

                              Wow, that looks amazing. Thanks for posting it--I can't wait to try it.

                              1. re: jules127

                                I was looking at this when I searched "9in springform" on SK but I wasn't sure about chocolate with pears. Thank you for posting this, now I know the flavors are good together :)

                                1. re: ursalita

                                  I love the combination of pears with chocolate! But the brown batter alone makes it amazing. I have intentions of making Suzanne Goin's brown butter hazelnut cake as well.

                              2. I can only second all the ideas in the thread and add that I have a wonderful recipe for a (nearly) flourless chocolate torte with raspberries that is made in a springform. I can post it later if you'd like it, although I"m sure a quick search on epicurious would turn up something similar and equally delicious.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: biondanonima

                                  I would love the recipe! Even if I don't make it for this dinner, I will definitely make it for my husband. I don't visit Epicurious much I think I will remedy that.

                                  1. re: ursalita

                                    Here you go! I've never gotten anything other than rave reviews on this. It serves quite a few people, too, since it's so rich.

                                    14 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped
                                    1/4 c. milk
                                    1/2 c. butter
                                    5 eggs
                                    1 t. vanilla
                                    1/4 c. flour
                                    1/2 c. sugar
                                    1/4 c. seedless raspberry jam
                                    2 c. fresh red raspberries
                                    powdered sugar

                                    Grease the bottom only of an 8 or 9 inch springform pan, set aside. Combine chocolate, butter and milk in the top of a double boiler and cook, stirring occasionally, until chocolate melts and mixture is smooth. Cool to room temperature. Beat eggs and vanilla on low until combined, add sugar and flour and beat on high for 10 min. Stir chocolate into egg mixture and pour into springform pan. Bake at 325° for 30-35 min, until the outer 1/3 is slightly puffed. Center will still appear underbaked/jiggly. Cool, then remove sides of springform. Melt jam in the microwave and spread on top, then top with raspberries and sprinkle with powdered sugar. Refrigerate for several hours or overnight. Serve cold.

                                2. <<<<For some reason I keep thinking of this white bean spread on a crostini for an appetizer (I think I saw it when I was researching Xmas menu ideas and can't stop thinking about it) but if it doesn't fit the rest of the menu I can ditch it.<<<<

                                  Sounds delicious.

                                  <<<<Or roast chicken. Both guests like potatoes and cheese so maybe some niced mashed potatoes or potato gratin. Also, my kids (5 & 2) would like this kind of thing.>>>>

                                  Mmmm....roast chicken. Try Ina's recipe in one of the Barefoot contessa books. She roasts the chicken on a bed of fennel, onions, and carrots. I love your potato ideas, both of them.

                                  >>>>And for dessert I'd like to make something in a 9in springform pan that isn't a cheesecake.<<<<

                                  Flourless chocolate cake. My 9" springform has never made a cheesecake in its life. You can use the cake recipe from a 1998 or 1999 issue of Bon Appetit for the flourless chocolate cake that is served at Michael's in Santa Monica. Frost it with Maida Heatter's ganache from her Queen Mother's Cake recipe, which is in her first Chocolate cookbook.

                                  What a great dinner.

                                  EDIT: I have since read your feelings on tiramisu, so I would go with that. You can make the flourless chocolate cake another time. It's a good idea to make things you know you know how to make when company's coming.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: Jay F

                                    I love Ina's recipes. I just watched a show where she did a pork roast over carrots, potato and fennel and that went straight to the top of the list for my main but I thought the fennel might be too strong for my guests since I don't know their taste that well. I will look up that flourless chocolate cake - my husband's 40th is coming up and he LOVES this kind of cake. Thank you!

                                  2. That menu sounds delightful! I really like the idea of the white bean crostini, then the roast chicken. Here's one where the veggies are cooked right in the pot/dish with the chicken.

                                    Braised chicken with olives, tomatoes, and onions (I added mushrooms)

                                    I just discovered this recipe from the chow thread best-of-epicurious. Mmmm. It is delicious. Sooooo. Delicious. Effervescently delicious.

                                    140 reviews for this on epi, almost all glowing! I doubled the veggies, using grape tomatoes (cut in half or quarters, length-wise), 1 cup pitted Kalamata (also in half) two red onions sliced, 2 10-oz packages mushrooms (quartered) and about 9 cloves garlic, sliced. I added one lemon cut into wedges.

                                    For prep, I doubled the garlic and olive oil for the rub, added the 1 tsp herbs de Provence and the juice of a lemon and salt and pepper, and rubbed this under the skin of each piece. I used bone-in skin-on thighs as i like that best for braising and roasting. You could do this one as either a braise or a roast. The recipe calls for a whole bird if you want to do it that way. I did it all in my Le Creuset (uncoverd, though) so it's quite juicy and more braisey, but next time I may try in a shallow baking dish. Mmmm.

                                    First I browned the chicken pieces stovetop, then removed, then deglazed with white wine, threw the fennel in the pot and heated it for a few seconds, then the veggies, the rest of the herbs de Provence, placed the chicken ON TOP, poured a little white wine over and popped into the oven. The chicken is moist with a crispy perfect skin, gorgeous, and the chicken itself tastes SO FLAVORFUL, slightly lemony. Don't skip the lemon. Mmmm. This is amazing. Thanks chowhound for another fantastic find.

                                    http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo...

                                    1. Thank you everyone for all the ideas and advice. I served dinner this weekend and I thought I'd share (if that's ok):

                                      I did the white bean and proscuitto crostini and I made it into an antipasto platter. The white bean spread was fantastic and I have a lot left over and I think I'm just going to eat it for lunch this week. I ended up making Zinfandel Pot Roast from "All About Braising" only because I had a chuck roast in the freezer already. I served it with the carrots from the recipe, mashed potatoes and a simple green salad with homemade dressing (first time I ever did that, I've always used bottles). For dessert I ended up making the chocolate torte and homemade ice cream. The torte was a bit of a belated Valentine's gift for my husband since a sick kid prevented me from baking on V-Day.

                                      I made a delicious ragu with the leftovers from the pot roast last night and I used the olives from the antipasto with my fish tonight. Does anyone have any ideas what I can do with the provolone that I cubed for the antipasto. It was too sharp for everyone and I have a lot leftover.