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Summer dinner party ideas

We are having a weeknight dinner party... friends are in town from Europe, and a Tuesday evening was the only date we could find. There will be 8 adults, 4 teenagers, and 3 younger kids.

I'm looking for menu ideas...
1) that will be easy enough to pull together in a few hours on a weekday evening (or that can be prepped ahead),
2) that DON'T involve grilling... our grill is broken :(
3) that are still elegant and impressive (these are foodies, French and Spanish nationality, so they know good food)
4) that ideally would work for adults, teens, and kids. But I'd be willing to make a big pan of homemade mac and cheese for the kids if need be.

Thanks for any suggestions!

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  1. I should also say that I'd love to incorporate some fresh, local produce from the farmer's market.

    1. A big pan of home made mac-n-cheese might be a hit with everybody!
      Why not go "All-America?" and do some traditional/soul food? Mac-n-cheese, fried chicken, other local/regional specialties....

      2 Replies
        1. A friend of ours hosted a weeknight party as well for friends visiting from out of the country. She made it a potluck as she works full-time and there were 12 of us and cooked one of the two mains, a moussaka. The moussaka can be made ahead to a certain point. I made a chicken enchilada casserole with salsa verde (very refreshing for Summer dinner).

          Started dinner off with a cheese platter, then salad and mains, and couple of people had brought different desserts (I'd suggest key lime pie or berry trifle). With lots of wine flowing & "catching up" chatter, evening was fantastic!

          ps. I brought some of the leftover moussaka home and my teenage girls loved it.

          2 Replies
          1. re: ceekskat

            Thanks, ceekskat. Moussaka is a great idea for a crowd. I would just feel badly about asking the out-of-town guests to bring food. I'll keep Moussaka in mind, though.

            1. re: kristen3

              Didn't realize they were all out of town guests :) No, we didn't make our visiting friend cook either...just the local ones!

          2. This time of year (summer) I go for produce as well.

            I would do a big pasta dish with lots of veggies - could add a protein (chicken?) - and big curls of parm regg - fresh basil. I like a medium sized tube shape for this (any of them are good).

            I find everyone likes it and it is easy for people to "pick around" a specific veggie if they don't like it (thinking kids).

            All chopping and even cooking the chicken can be done ahead - you could even blanch the veggies the night before if you really wanted to do that.

            1 Reply
            1. re: thimes

              That's a good idea. Maybe even a couple of different sauces to choose from, hopefully something for everyone, and they can sauce their own pasta?

            2. white gazpacho
              ratatouille napoleons
              whole baked fish en croute or in parchment
              peach and honey ice cream

              5 Replies
              1. re: charlesbois

                Do you have a recipe for the ratatouille napoleons? Sounds intriguing!

                1. re: kristen3

                  nooo, no recipe. I just wing ratatouille but I can give you approximations, you'll have to scale up though. The nice thing is ratatouille can definitely be made a day or two in advance. Then you just cut sheets of puff pastry and bake, then assemble the napoleons. You can even layer with some whipped herbed ricotta for a sort of deconstructed lasagne affair.

                    1. re: charlesbois

                      But do I dare make ratatouille for a French lady? LOL

                      1. re: kristen3

                        I think if you stay true to a classic recipe and don't puff it off as authentic, they will appreciate it! And might be intrigued by the twist of putting it in another context. Have you thought about serving American wines and/or local beers?

                2. Prosciutto, melons and fresh mozz for aps. Summer rolls to take advantage of herbs. Pulled pork (can be made two days ahead). Pasta with fresh pesto sauce.

                  1 Reply
                  1. If me I'd get that grill fixed ASAP.

                    I often do marinated or rubbed flank steaks or skirt steaks and side of your choice (and mac and cheese sound good right now) and usually a ensalada a'la caprese with basalmic vinegar and olive oil since I am up to my chin in tomatoes and basil right now.

                    I can't imagine doing stuffed pork tenderloins in teh summer but that is my winter "in a hurry" whip it together for company dish.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: jjjrfoodie

                      Yeah, I wish it was as simple as a fix... I think we need a new grill :( I'm hoping they'll go on sale as we get towards the end of the summer.

                    2. Summer screams light & seafood

                      Greek style chopped salad with feta
                      Roasted vegetables or Ratatouille
                      Roasted Garlic Bread

                      If you want a starch do a baked orzo with goat cheese or make a baked orzo and vegetable dish.

                      Dessert would be fresh fruit/ watermelon boat or light sorbet.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: RetiredChef

                        Good idea. There's a great cioppino recipe on epicurious.

                      2. This capellini with salmon in a lemon dill vodka cream sauce is very popular - the only way I like salmon! http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo...

                        If you go this route I can tell you the ways that I've come up with the shorten the time and make it ahead of time. I've been loving the peas at the market these days and that would be a lovely addition, espcially with sliced marinaded tomatoes on the side.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: katecm

                          Looks delish! I'll hold onto that recipe :)

                          1. re: katecm

                            Speaking of salmon, my mom does an excellent dish for company that's a salad topped with salmon and dill cream dressing. She spreads dijon on a salmon filet and bakes it; the salad is lettuce, tomatoes, cukes, slices of hard boiled eggs, red onion, sometimes blanched & chilled green beans. It's really nice in summer.

                            It's been so hot in the northeast that salads as a main are appealing; if not the salmon salad then maybe a big Cobb salad. Then round it out with sides like the mac and cheese.

                          2. How about fajitas? You could prep all your sliced veggies (onions and peppers) the night before, along with marinating the meat of your choice (chicken or beef). You could grill everything rather quickly on an indoor grill pan if you have one, or saute your veggies in one pan and cook your meat in another. All of your other condiments could be store bought (a good salsa, sour cream) or you could make a fresh salsa the night before. You could make a corn and black bean salad as a side and serve some fresh fruit for dessert. Your corn, veggies, and fruit could all come from your local farmers market. My local farmers market has a cheese vendor. If yours does, you could probably pick up some cheese for the fajitas there as well. Everyone can make their own and they are great for all ages.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: dordalina

                              I like that idea! Thanks! Fajitas are easy to prep ahead, and a fun way to serve a crowd. I could offer chicken and/or beef, and a veggie mix. Hopefully something for all palates :)

                            2. Thanks for all the suggestions. Now I need to schedule several dinner parties to try out all these great ideas :)

                              I'm also thinking about a large main dish, that could be served somewhat casually for a crowd, like the fajitas, or a paella, or thimes's pasta idea.

                              1. This summer, my "dish" is chicken in aspic, also called chicken jello. Poach chicken in chicken broth until done. Cool, and remove chicken from bones, etc. Soften gelatin (1 envelope per 2 c of broth) in ~1 c. broth and melt with a bit more broth over heat. Return to broth aimed at final dish (there will be more) and season with salt, pepper, zest of 1 lemon, and juice of 2 or more lemons. Add dill & scallions (or tarragon or parsley) to taste. Mix all together and chill. This has alarmed a number of non-aspic familiar people, but all who have had it have pronounced it delicious. Kind of a chicken salad without mayonnaise. You don't want it rubbery.

                                1. Chicken Marabel without all the sugar.