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Make-ahead holiday dinner party menu?

I'm planning to have a few friends over in the next couple of weeks for a little pre-Christmas dinner party. The problem is, the only date that seems to work is a Friday night, and I don't get home from work until around 6:30pm. I'd like to be able to serve apps by 7-7:30 and dinner by 8:30 at the latest, so I don't have a ton of time. I also don't want to be stuck in the kitchen the entire time!

So, I'm trying to come up with festive (not necessarily Christmas-y, but seasonal and elegant) ideas that will allow me to at least make the main course and dessert ahead. No particularly picky eaters but staying away from fish/seafood is probably a smart idea. I am considering braised short ribs or another braise that I can just reheat, or possibly something that can be completely prepped ahead and just shoved in the oven the moment I get home - lasagne bolognese al forno, perhaps (if it would keep well in its unbaked state in the fridge for a day).

For dessert, I'm thinking of perhaps a fruit pie/crostata (I could bake it in the morning), the Gramercy Tavern Gingerbread, Ina Garten's Lemon cake, Martha Stewart's chocolate bread pudding (I would make the custard ahead and let the dessert bake while we were having dinner, I guess), etc. This will probably depend on the heaviness of the main course.

All ideas welcome - thank you!

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  1. a roasted veggie soup, pureed, can be stored in the fridge and reheated, then finished with some cream for dinner. a mixed green salad, with chopped apple or pear would work too.+1 on the short ribs or perhaps duck confit. polenta could be a side that could also be prepped ahead and chilled overnight.

    the lasagne sounds frightfully heavy.

    1. Assuming you live in the part of the world that is cold right now, that lasagna sounds good and rich to me. You could start with an antipasto with lots of vegs and then end with the crostata for an Italian feast.

      1 Reply
      1. re: escondido123

        I live in NYC, and it's FINALLY getting cold, which means I've started craving lasagna and other rich/hearty dishes. Vegetable antipasto should be easy enough to throw together, too - thanks!

      2. You've got the right thinking. I'd only add a nice salad to start and a side dish of a vegetable puree (not potato) - something like parsnip, rutabaga, or cauliflower which can be heated easily.

        1. I love the lasagna idea, and yes, you could make it a day before & kept uncooked in the fridge. A platter of roasted & pickled veggies and perhaps a few breadsticks wrapped with proscuitto and/or salami presented in a tall glass would be a great starter that you could assemble in the morning or night before (breadsticks done prior to serving). I've been making overnight pickles with fresh green beans and carrot chips for the past year. The addition to a veg tray is well received.

          I'm going to assume that you will be serving bread with the meal, so I would forgo the bread pudding and perhaps do roasted apples with custard or ice cream or even individual lemon custard trifles with crushed biscotti and a dollop of whipped cream would be nice.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Cherylptw

            I will be serving bread no matter what I make for the main, so you're probably right about the bread pudding being too much (although I really, REALLY need to find an occasion to try that recipe, it has been calling my name for months!). Something fruity would be a better counterpoint, for sure...

          2. Why not crockpot it?
            Brisket :) i made a really great one for Rosh Hashannah that was a riff on one I found on Epicurious. if interested i can post my version.
            Roast some veggies aforehand. Maybe do some brussel sprouts with caramelized onions.
            Bake some potatoes ahead. Then fill and make twice baked when you get home.
            Bake off some popovers, and you're done.

            For apps, some spiced nuts, stuffed endive leaves, marinated olives and artichoke hearts, etc.

            For dessert, why not do something no bake, like a Trifle, or Tiramisu... or serve fruit over ice cream with a reduced balsamic syrup...

            have fun!

            1 Reply
            1. re: Emme

              The crockpot is something I hadn't thought of - a brisket might work well, actually! Thank you!

            2. Ina Garten recently did a show addressing exactly the problem you describe. Everything she made can be made ahead and stored in the fridge until you get home from work on Friday. Then they can go in the oven or on the stove.

              Here's the link:

              http://www.foodnetwork.com/barefoot-c...

              1 Reply
              1. I always make brisket the day before and chill overnight (in the cooking bag I don't use slow cooker). It slices so beautifully when cold and fat is easy to remove. After slicing, pour sauce of choice over (I usually use BBQ) and cover and reheat.

                Good bread & butter or cheese broiled.

                Twice baked potatoes as suggested up thread.

                A veg or salad and your fruit crostada.