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Please review menu for large family dinner

My husband and I will be hosting 17 people in 6 weeks. I want to get organized and hopefully make and freeze at least a few dishes beforehand so that I don't go totally insane. :)

We've hosted smaller dinners for our parents and wedding party since we've been married almost a year ago, but this is our first big one for close extended family members.

I'm a little nervous because I'm used to hosting parties for 8-10. I hope it won't be too overwhelming.

The menu is Mediterranean with a strong Italian influence. I'm going for a warm, yet elegant atmosphere. It will be buffet style.

Here is our plan so far:

Guests will be greeted with a bellini (I'm thinking pear or cranberry flavor), and we'll be passing around stuffed mushrooms and prosciutto-gruyere-pesto pinwheels.

We may also have a dip on the table and I was considering Ina Garten's barefoot contessa cookbook sun dried tomato dip.

The rest of the menu:

Homemade rosemary focaccia bread

Cheese platter w/ asiago, a smoked cheese, and a blue cheese

Osso Bucco (mario batali's)

Orzo Salad with roasted veggies

Arugula, Radicchio, Frissee salad with shaved parmesan and lemon vinaigrette

Beet-Orange-Feta salad with orange vinaigrette

Spinach-Ricotta Canneloni

I think I should add a side dish with shellfish like baked clams or something with shrimp...any ideas? Or could I add shrimp to the orzo salad?

For dessert I may default to tiramisu and panacotta because I know they would be crowd pleasers, but I'd like to try something more creative. Any ideas?

We'll be playing music from our wedding playlist. :)

Thanks in advance for any and all input!

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  1. You are doing fine! In fact you sound like a brilliantly organized cook.

    To answer your specific question, I would be inclined to simply add some marinated shrimp to the orso salad (because any hot seafood brings in last-minute stress and you don't need that).

    For dessert, why not add a gelato? If you have an ice-cream maker, do it yourself...if not, a good lemon gelato and some fresh fruit would balance the richness of the tiramisui and panna cotta.

    Espresso and biscotti, maybe? some roasted chestnuts and gorgonzola cheese?

    35 Replies
    1. re: LJS

      Thanks! I am super organized (annoyingly so, probably) but I'm still a bit nervous.

      I love the roasted chestnuts and gorgonzola idea.

      I don't have an ice cream machine yet, but I've always wanted one and maybe this is a good excuse to go ahead and get one. I could do tiramisu and a gelato flavor instead of the panna cotta.

      1. re: LJS

        I can't freeze the canneloni? would it really affect the taste that much?

        1. re: eviemichael

          It would affect the texture more than the flavor.

          1. re: pikawicca

            :-/ There's no way I can do all of the cooking on Friday night to Sunday morning. I'll have to freeze that dish.
            Would it be better if it was lasagna rather than canneloni?

            1. re: eviemichael

              If there's a strong cheese component, the texture will suffer if frozen.

              1. re: pikawicca

                sorry for the millionth question...could i make the tomato sauce and bechamel and freeze that head of time?
                then a few days before the party, mix the ricotta-spinach together and assemble everything?

                1. re: eviemichael

                  I disagree with pikawicca. Ricotta should freeze just fine, think of all the frozen ravioli and lasagnas you can buy (and I do at home). I am not sure about bechamel though, wondering if it would separate once you reheat it. Here is a post that might help you decide. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/826164
                  The tomato sauce you can absolutely freeze.

                  1. re: cleopatra999

                    I freeze tomato sauce all the time, and I googled the topic of freezing bechamel. It seems as long as it is reheated slowly while whisking constantly it's OK. Nevertheless, making it all in advance and freezing it would be a ton easier! I do want the flavor to be great though....so you freeze your lasagnas with ricotta cheese and it always tastes OK?

                    1. re: eviemichael

                      freezing lasagne with ricotta is just fine.

                      when i read your menu, though it sounds just fabulous, i'd love to see a hearty italian sausage and ricotta lasagne on that buffet table. rarely does someone not like/love lasagne.

                      delicious, it freezes well, serves many…so it fits the bill!

                      1. re: alkapal

                        Do you think I should replace the spinach ricotta lasagna with the sausage lasagna instead? Since I already have one meat dish I thought another meat wasn't necessary...

                        1. re: eviemichael

                          you're right -- i'd forgotten about your osso buco. i love spinach anything, so spinach ricotta lasagne would be fine. i'd probably do spinach-artichoke instead of spinach alone as the veg, just because i love that combo. it would be like the dip, but in lasagne form -- so: spinach, artichoke, ricotta, maybe mascarpone, garlic & parmesan…..

                          ooooh, look at this recipe i found! doesn't it sound dreamy? http://www.food.com/recipe/Spinach-Ar...

                          1. re: alkapal

                            I would love that, but my husband is absolutely disgusted by artichokes. He doesn't even want to see a picture of them! Oh, well. My MIL loves them, so sometimes I bring artichoke dishes to her house to enjoy after we leave. :-) Maybe I'll make that recipe for her next, thanks!

                            1. re: eviemichael

                              haha, a funny reaction to artichokes -- disgust to the point of not even wanting to see a picture! there's gotta be a good back story there. ;).

                              ok, what if one left out the artichokes in the recipe? it sounded like a good, savory ingredient combo even without them….

                              just thinking out loud for myself in the future…

                              hmmm, now i'm wondering how sunchokes would be in that??? i wish sunchokes were more easily available here…fresher and cheaper.

                              1. re: alkapal

                                the recipe looks good, but i was going to make this one: http://www.finecooking.com/recipes/sp...
                                I've made it before and I know it works well, so I'm comfortable with it.

                                I think my husband has hated artichokes ever since he was little...maybe there's some childhood trauma that he's blocked out!

                                1. re: eviemichael

                                  yours looks like a savory recipe as well. question: what are the red flecks in the lasagne? (it seems colorful).

                                  1. re: alkapal

                                    When I make it, it doesn't have that, so I'm not sure! I never noticed that before...Maybe the tomato sauce? But the tomato sauce isn't supposed to be spread on the top. Weird.
                                    I'm so relieved you guys have said it's ok to freeze. I'm trying to be Ina-Garten-Zen, I really don't want to stress!

                                  2. re: eviemichael

                                    I love this recipe! I might use it to stuff giant shells and freeze them. I have had good luck baking them frozen in sauce.

                        2. re: eviemichael

                          I freeze my lasagnas often, with no ill effects (before cooking of course). I personally like your ricotta/spinach, I think that there is enough meat, but I don't like heavy meat meals.
                          Especially in a primi, with a heavy osso bucco afterwards.

                        3. re: cleopatra999

                          Have you actually done this? I have, and it was not pretty: grainy and watery. Homemade ricotta, though, maybe commercial would perform better. Commercial lasagnas have all sorts of stabilizers in them to prevent this.

                          1. re: pikawicca

                            evie, you wouldn't need to freeze it at all if you made it a couple of days in advance even, and just covered it and kept it in the coldest part of your fridge. that also would eliminate the need for thawing guesswork.

                            1. re: alkapal

                              I'd really rather freeze it. I work during the week, and Saturday is my only full day to cook. On Friday I was planning on doing the limoncello tiramisu after work and the lasagna would be too much in addition to that. Saturday all day my hands will be totally full with other parts of the menu.
                              I would be using commercial ricotta, so hopefully it will be OK!

                    2. re: eviemichael

                      I've never frozen cannellini, but I sure have frozen lots of lasagnas! I think you can freeze the cannellini. Just reheat it from frozen. OR you could freeze the cannellini uncooked, and the day fo teh party bake it off -- again, from frozen.

                2. re: LJS

                  You're right about the baked clams, that would be too stressful.
                  Maybe I could serve cold shrimp salad in endive leaves?

                  1. re: eviemichael

                    shrimp a la greque… on a **bed** of endive. not plating/fiddling individual leaves, right?

                    1. re: alkapal

                      Initially I was thinking individual leaves but that was just temporary insanity! :-/

                      I may just do cold shrimp around martini glasses. Is there a good alternative sauce to cocktail sauce?

                        1. re: alkapal

                          Yeah, I'm still not sure how strictly I want to stick to the Italian them. I'm even thinking of getting only Italian wines.

                          1. re: eviemichael

                            your menu looks really good…

                            one teeny, tiny french-creole aberration would be forgiven by the strict! LOL

                            1. re: alkapal

                              Thanks!

                              I know I'm the only one who is even going to notice the theme and the details, but all the crazy little details make me happy. :-)

                              1. re: alkapal

                                How about a homemade lemon aioli for the shrimp? Or would remoulade be more flavorful?

                                1. re: eviemichael

                                  very similar, but the remoulade has more aromatics, and to me more flavor.

                                  1. re: alkapal

                                    thanks, good to know. What do you think of this Emeril recipe?

                                    http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/em...

                                    1. re: eviemichael

                                      emeril knows his way around louisiana cooking. he is a very good chef, and while i have not tried this particular recipe, it seems spot on.

                                      1. re: alkapal

                                        Great, I'll probably go with this one then, thanks. :)

                      1. re: eviemichael

                        You can put together the baked clams the day before--that's what I do on Christmas eve. I put the clams on the halfshell on a cookie sheet, fill them with my breadcrumb mixture, cover with plastic wrap and put in the fridge till the next day.

                        Your menu sounds great, with or without baked clams!

                    2. Looks like the:

                      Osso Bucco

                      Orzo Salad with roasted veggies

                      Spinach-Ricotta Canneloni

                      Tiramisu and Panacotta

                      Can be made in advance but, I would only refrigerate not freeze.

                      For a shrimp option, I'd roast with tyme and EVOO and serve with a dip sauce.

                      Even with the advance prep, you're going to have your apron full!

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: treb

                        I agree with the roasted shrimp!

                        1. re: LaLa

                          That's what I'm leaning towards. :-)

                      2. That is a lovely feast. I agree about adding shrimp to your orzo--or possibly marinating some shrimp to serve cold. Baked clams, while delicious, would require last-minute timing. But to be honest, you have a lot of lovely food planned and you don't really need anything else.

                        An orange-almond cake might be something you could consider for dessert.

                        Lucky guests!

                        26 Replies
                        1. re: nomadchowwoman

                          Agree with the orange almond cake. Maybe as something extra special caramelize some persimmons to go on top. You definitely don't need a dip between the mushrooms and pinwheels and cheeses. I doubt you would need to add shrimp. Also, you may want to do a spinach-ricotta lasagna instead of canneloni to streamline things. But that's because I find stuffing things to be challenging. Other than that, this is an amazingly balanced menu. Good job!

                          1. re: Dcfoodblog

                            Thanks! Maybe I will make the lasagna instead, that may be quicker and easier.

                            1. re: Dcfoodblog

                              Thanks for the input. I was planned on adding the roasted chestnuts to the cheese plate, not in addition to it, but I see that yes there is still a lot of cheese!

                              Should I just remove the cheese platter altogether? I don't really want to do that, but i don't want it to be overwhelming.

                              I like the idea of adding another veggie course, but with two salads on the table is it really necessary? There isn't much feta in the beet-orange salad. It's a pretty refreshing salad.

                              Great point about the no-texture desserts. I'll either change one of mine, or ask my aunt to bring something complimentary.

                              I'll change the green salad vinaigrette to a parsley-dijon one maybe? Any other ideas for the green salad?

                              1. re: eviemichael

                                oops sorry, i meant this is a reply to cherylptw!

                                1. re: eviemichael

                                  Hi...I misunderstood the chestnut dish, I think they would be great with the cheese platter. If you have your heart set on the platter, then go for it. I would just have cheese in one more dish, either the cannenoli or a salad but not both and that's just my preference. I also like the risotto dish in place of the orzo, it will go well with the osso bucco. I suggested another hot veg dish because 1) it will complete your entree 2) your other veggies are cold and/or salads and 3) since you say you're not going to make the orzo, you won't have those vegetables that went with the dish.

                                  In reference to your change in dressings, I think it will go well with the earthy/bitter greens. I'd even consider skipping the parmesan in this salad and subbing thinly sliced bartlett pears and adding oven dried proscuitto chips sprinkled over the top. Your dijon dressing would then take this salad over the top. You could slice the pears a couple of hours before your guests arrive in a bowl of ice water and a bit of lemon juice to keep them from browning then drain well before adding to the salad.

                                  My last suggestion would be if you're thinking of shrimp instead of a dip, why not just make them simple like Ina Garten's oven roasted shrimp or something along those lines? Making them simple will allow the flavor of the shrimp to shine, just season them well. If you must, serve a remoulade or cocktail sauce or something on the side if you feel you need to.

                                  With a few changes, I think your menu would be balanced and pretty delicious.

                                  1. re: Cherylptw

                                    I could saute warm wild greens easily (I live in Greece so everyone loves that as a side dish).

                                    I always put pears in my green salads which is why i didn't want to do that again (for those who have been to my previous smaller parties recently) but maybe I'll go for it again.

                                    I've made Ina's shrimp recipe before, but would it be OK once it got cold? I was thinking if I do shrimp to just have it cold around a martini glass.

                                    Thanks for the help!

                                    1. re: eviemichael

                                      Warm wild greens sounds delicious! Sliced fresh apples would be a nice sub for pears in your salad, figs would be great too; both would go with the other ingredients and the dressing. If you have a dehydrator, drying the apple slices with maybe a sprinkle of cayenne is a nice addition to a salad. I would have no problem serving Ina's shrimp at room temperature.

                                      1. re: Cherylptw

                                        Apples in the salad sounds good.
                                        I was thinking of dehydrating pears (in the oven- I don't have a dehydrator) for the champagne cocktail that has some pear nectar in it. I wonder if it would sit neatly on the rim of the flutes...probably not!

                                        Thanks for the tips. :)

                                        1. re: eviemichael

                                          What about bruleeing your pears? I did this with pineapple, it worked well. I cooked them in the oven on parchment with some sugar on top. They sort of turned into chips.

                                2. re: eviemichael

                                  I'm glad she suggested it too, the risotto was just what the menu needed!

                                  The prosecco punch recipe looks great. Is it more appropriate for the holidays rather than the end of February though?

                                  1. re: eviemichael

                                    @eviemichael, I think of it as less of a punch and more of a cheat's bellini/mimosa, much easier than having to pour juice/nectar in individual glasses and topping up with Champagne/Prosecco. I mix up the juice, nectar and orange liqueur in a big glass pitcher and keep in the fridge, as soon as everyone arrives I add the bubbly and pour it into flutes.

                                    If it used cranberry rather than pomegranate then yes, it would seem more Christmassy and, more importantly, that photo on the Martha Stewart recipe is misleading, the colour is a very pale pink, not red!

                                    1. re: Athena

                                      Ok sounds good! I should double the recipe for 19 people, right?

                                      1. re: eviemichael

                                        At the very least! Maybe do a trial run and see how many flutes one recipe fills - I was so busy pouring I didn't pay attention - that will help you figure out how many bottles of bubbly to buy. I found 12.5 oz bottles of pomegranate juice = the amount called for in the recipe, the only pear nectar I could find were litre tetra paks from Egypt (!!), not sure if you're planning on making your own or have more selection than I do in Bermuda.

                                        1. re: Athena

                                          I was going to make my own nectar, it doesn't look too difficult. I'm planning on this being just an aperitif and then we will serve wine with the meal, so I imagine a doubled recipe would fill 19 flutes?

                                          1. re: eviemichael

                                            That should be fine, your guests are probably way more civilised than mine and won't be looking for multiple refills....:-D

                                            1. re: Athena

                                              Maybe I'll triple it so that I can have multiple refills in order to keep my cool throughout the day!

                                  2. re: eviemichael

                                    What about doing the cheese course the French style after dinner and before dessert. It might be fun to "retire" to the living room with the cheese, fruit and nuts and then to have the dessert course as the cap to the evening.

                                    1. re: eviemichael

                                      keep the feta out of your fennel salad. lots of people don't like cheese, or strong cheese (though i adore all sorts of cheese). don't make some dishes "too" busy with multi-ingredients. sometimes, less is indeed more -- and welcomed as a counterpoint to complex or rich dishes.

                                    2. re: Dcfoodblog

                                      I just went over the menu with my aunt, and she had an idea I like: to replace the orzo with a baked mushroom risotto. I have never made risotto in the oven before, but I may test out a recipe beforehand and see how it goes.

                                      I also think I may replace the stuffed mushrooms (which can be a lot of work) to a shrimp dip.

                                      What do you all think?

                                      1. re: eviemichael

                                        I do a very simple oven 'risotto' with mushrooms that is always a hit with guests..

                                        There are a million variations but basically you simply brown a pound of sliced mushrooms in butter, brown 1 1/2 cups of good rice in butter, blend those two in a casserole with a tight lid and add 3 1/2 cups of unsalted beef stock and 1/2 cup of white wine. If you can find mushroom stock, add a cube of that, too for depth of flavour.

                                        Stir in a 1/2 tsp of ground black pepper and a teaspoon of salt and bake, covered, at 325 for 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

                                        Do NOT stir as the mushrooms rise to the top and form an attractive topping.

                                        This will feed 8 so you will need to double recipe and make two (you cannot quadruple as rice, mushroom balance goes off. But I have successfully doubled and two doubled should feed your lot)

                                        Makes excellent leftovers, and reheats beautifully if you want to bake in advance...just resist stirring once it comes out of the oven!

                                        1. re: LJS

                                          This is exactly the kind of recipe I was looking for, thank you! I'd probably add some dehydrated porcini mushrooms and the strained liquid too.

                                          Could I make this in any kind of baking dish as long as there is a tight lid? It doesn't have to be a round cast iron pot or dutch oven, right?

                                          Do you not add any parmesan cheese or butter at the end?

                                          1. re: eviemichael

                                            Yes, the dried porcini work well, too and, by all means add the soaking liquid...the dish is very forgiving and you can add more stock, cook longer and/or at a lower oven temp...it is my go-to dish instead of stuffing at Christmas when my (Celiac) daughter comes and then I simply add onions, summer savoury and sage to give it that holiday-feel.

                                            I have made it in all kinds of casseroles and baking dishes. The only thing to watch out for is that the lid must be close-fitting or it cooks too fast.

                                            Personally, I do not add butter at the end as the original dose is high enough for flavour and "mouth-feel". I think that parmesan would not work well because of the mahoghany-glazed mushroom topping that comes from NOT stirring (this is sort of a low-maintenance version of risotto!. Thre appearance would be rather spoiled by additions post-cooking, prior to serving. But, hey, your buffet, your call!

                                            Happy eating!

                                          2. re: LJS

                                            haha, back in the day, we called this "mushroom rice," and it is delicious! ;)

                                            1. re: alkapal

                                              You got me, alkapal! my mom brought this recipe home from a dinner party in 1962-it called for white rice browned in margarine, tinned consomme and canned mushrooms and pepper, not from a grinder as the average home-kitchen did not grind its own pepper back then.

                                              My version is brown rice (holds up better), good unsalted butter, homemade stock, white wine, fresh/dried mushrooms, well sauteed in butter,salt and masses of freshly ground pepper.

                                              This recipe is very flexible and adapts well and, as I said earlier, works really well as a stuffing substitute for the gluten-free gang at our holiday tables.

                                              No, true risotto it ain't, but it remains a hit!

                                              1. re: LJS

                                                LJS -- well, that is funny! your version sounds a heck of a lot tastier than the original version. as i said, though, even the old school version was still pretty darn good. there is some strange but wonderful affinity between mushrooms and rice. well, to be honest, mushrooms and just about anything!

                                                by the way, have you tried the trader joe's brown rice? i think it is good.

                                    3. Personally, I think you have too much cheese in your menu...you have cheese in the pinwheels, three cheeses in your cheese platter, cheese in BOTH of your salads and cheese in your canneloni. Now you are considering adding cheese (with chestnuts) for another dish; not sure if you were planning to sub this dish out but IMO it's cheese overload unless of course, it's a cheese themed menu then by all means. If I were serving a cheese platter, I wouldn't add cheese to any other course. On the other hand, if I were serving a veggie & cheese platter (with one cheese), I might add cheese to a main course, salad OR dessert.

                                      You're also serving two pastas: orzo and canneloni, which because one is a small shaped pasta, is not too bad, however, I think you need to add another vegetable to balance out all the cheese and starch. Something served simply like broccoli raab or roasted kale with garlic (or something along these lines).

                                      Both of your salads have a citrus vinaigrette...I would change one to a dressing containing herbs just to break up the similarity. And finally, both of your desserts, while lovely (I adore tiramisu) have no texture. I'd serve either the tiramisu or panna cotta and something else crunchy like biscotti or other cookie or perhaps neapolitan honey balls.

                                      By the way, you can make the cannenoli ahead and freeze; just undercook the shells before filling so that when you cook the dish, it will hold its shape and not be overcooked.

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: Cherylptw

                                        It all looks delicious.

                                        I'm glad your aunt suggested the baked risotto, I was wondering what was going to go with the osso bucco.

                                        Another salad option is chopped raddichio and endive, you can add toasted pecans or hazelnuts and pomegranate seeds (just cut the pomegranate and knock with a wooden spoon, you can add the juice to the salad dressing.)

                                        For that many people, take a look at this: http://www.marthastewart.com/332824/p... -I use Prosecco, not Champagne and I don't put ice in it, I chill all the ingredients. It takes no time to make - just don't be like me in 2011 and underestimate the quantities. Everyone was happy this year :-)

                                        1. re: Athena

                                          I definitely agree with a bitter salad, you have so much rich, it would be great to cut that. Another option would be a farro salad instead of orzo to cut out a pasta, but still sticking with Italian inspiration. And I agree with you to cut the stuffed mushrooms if you are having mushroom risotto. If you do make stuffed mushrooms here is a nice recipe I have used that gets away from the usual crab and cheese stuffing and they can be frozen ahead then popped in the oven frozen.
                                          http://www.browneyedbaker.com/2012/11...

                                        2. re: Cherylptw

                                          agree on the point about too much cheese, and need for veggies on the simple side.

                                        3. If this is a buffet, will people eat on their laps or do you have tables for people to sit at to eat?

                                          11 Replies
                                          1. re: sr44

                                            OP says it is a buffet, but it sounds like tables to me. None of this food is lap food.

                                            1. re: magiesmom

                                              What I meant by buffet is that the food won't be plated and served, people will go to a table to serve themselves and then they will sit at the table. Sorry if my description was confusing!

                                            2. re: sr44

                                              Everyone will have a seat at a table. We can seat up to 20 people at two different tables.

                                              Do my husband and I have to sit apart so that one of us is at each table? Or would it be OK if we sat together at one of the tables?

                                              1. re: eviemichael

                                                This is a family dinner so everyone knows each other, therefore no need to sit separately. Sometimes we move around tables at dessert just to see everyone.

                                                1. re: magiesmom

                                                  Oh good! We'll just make sure to do the rounds during dessert. :)

                                              2. re: sr44

                                                argh, i meant for the above comment to be a reply to Athena

                                                1. re: sr44

                                                  I'm replacing the stuffed mushrooms with either a smoked salmon-ricotta spread or shrimp.
                                                  I'm also replacing the orzo with the mushroom risotto.

                                                  Thanks for the recipe though, I'll save it for another party. :)

                                                  1. re: eviemichael

                                                    go with shrimp, again because of so much cheese. Here is a great shrimp recipe that is easy to prep ahead then just whip under the broiler. serve it up as people are mingling and drinking their belinis. They don't have to be done on the sticks.

                                                        1. re: cleopatra999

                                                          This recipe looks great! But since there is already prosciutto in the pinwheels (the other appetizer) I think I'll just go for plain shrimp in an herb sauce.
                                                          Thanks though. :)