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Comfort Food Dinner with Friends

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It's been a while since I've been here but I need help...

I'm having friends over for dinner next Friday after work, and I want all comfort foods, great for a chilly winter night.

My dilemna:

I've decided on cottage pie, but I'm back and forth on a side. I found a recipe for apple-carrot slaw that seems nice...but then I go back to just serving a green salad, then I think that's so ordinary....don't know...

Next...what about apps? I'm thinking a few 'old school' items like stuffed mushrooms and deviled eggs but then I see a recipe for avocado fries with chipotle dipping sauce or mac and cheese bites and I can't make up my mind!! Should I go with 2 or 3 different items...more?

I'm also going to have fresh biscuits and/or corn bread on the table with the main, but then I start thinking: should I serve soup? I can't imagine having a dinner party and not having soup(apple butternut or sweet potato), but this all seems like a lot of food, I want everyone to enjoy themselves, not be too full to move.

Obviously it's going to be a light dessert, I haven't figured out what yet, but I'm not worried about that.

Clearly I need help!! So jump in and tell me what you think. Thanks. : )

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  1. re: green salad, as long as it's good, it's not "ordinary" - don't worry about that - after all, this is a 'comfort food' dinner among 'friends' - i'm sure everyone'll love it. tho you might be worried that soup is too much, i feel like a hot, thick soup is just the right way to start a comfort food dinner with friends - especially with fresh biscuits or rolls on the table.

    1 Reply
    1. re: ahuva

      I've served soup in small Chinese soup bowls in the living room and people seem to enjoy that.

      If you're want "chilly winter night" food, I'd replace the salad with a hot vegetable. I'm currently eating kale a lot. Depending on how many people, sautee some bacon cut in thin slices with shallots and mushrooms, cut the kale in slices and saute with the above. Add a little liquid (I like chicken broth but even water is alright), cover and cook down. S&p.

    2. I wouldn't serve a soup with cottage pie, personally, since I think of it as sort of a glorified stew. Instead, do your green salad as a first course with toasted goat cheese rounds to make it a little more substantial (I love goat cheese rolled in crushed nuts and served with a sour cherry vinaigrette over greens). The apple and carrot slaw sounds like a nice side for the cottage pie - something fresh to cut the richness. Instead of biscuits or cornbread I'd go with soda bread or even just a good baguette (with salad and main).

      As far as apps go, I don't think you need much with the hearty dinner menu you have planned. I'd do some nuts and olives, plus one of your app choices (I'd do the deviled eggs) - that will be plenty for people to nibble on with cocktails and won't ruin appetites for the main event.

      1. Two very good, but diferent views. Thanks for commenting.
        I like the goat cheese/sour cherry vinaigrette salad idea. I think I will lighten up on the apps, at first I was thinking only a cheese/olive tray..but to me, apps are the best part of a meal, I could make a meal of those alone, actually but I just want to have the variety for my guests.

        So main will be the slaw with the cottage pie.


        I also like the point about the hot soup being a good start...I want it to be a night about comfort, which makes me think soup, but I don't want anyone to be uncomfortable by being too full.

        Usually I wouldn't stress so much, I'm normally quite confident in these things, but a couple that's coming host dinner parties quite often and, I swear, she should be on 'Come Dine With Me' or one of those shows...she thinks of everything and her nights are always so lovely. So, of course, I want to equal her efforts.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Aeval

          I love soup, I always serve it in the winter. If you are worried about it being to much, just dish up a smaller amount and don't do a heavy soup like potato.

          Here is a soup I have been making for company lately, it is earthy and creamy, with slight tartness (I used gala apples for it)
          Apple Celery root

          Also consider throwing some beets into your salad, either roasted or raw shredding. Such pretty colour, and seem very wintery to me.

        2. Personally, as a guest I would love to be presented with a bowl of steaming hot soup -- a kind of reward for braving the cold :). One way to cut down on heaviness is to serve mini portions of the soup, but don't skip it entirely. I'm wondering if you could somehow include it in the app part of the evening ...?
          If you serve the apple carrot slaw, probably better not to have apple in the soup.

          1 Reply
          1. re: almond tree

            I was just going to suggest this - if you are married to a soup, serve it as an appetizer, in "shooter" portions. You might even try hollowing out miniature rolls and filling them with soup. An artichoke/leek soup would be nice, or maybe butternut squash/fennel.

          2. with cottage pie and biscuits on the table, even a small portion of starchy, creamy soup can be overkill. creamy/cheesy apps tend to deaden the palate. a light, but intense broth, either chicken or veg, with a smattering of colorful veggies in pretty shapes and a big hit of citrus will warm the soul and not be too rich. if you want something more, a roasted red pepper soup with a chicken stock base would work too and add color to the meal.

            the apple/carrot slaw sounds so good. i'd probably add some fennel. :)

            13 Replies
            1. re: hotoynoodle

              I wouldn't add fennel as many people don't care for it.

              1. re: hotoynoodle

                Good point about the cheese. I read recently that really cheeses (in that person's opinion) should rarely be served pre-meal. Too heavy. Serve at the end as a cheese course. I never thought of it that way and I agree.

                1. re: c oliver

                  even though i am american, i never understood the american preponderance for cheesy/creamy apps and starters. even in small amounts it's very rich, and yes, utterly dulls the palate.

                  it's the food equivalent of starting the meal with port instead of champagne.

                  warm creamy soups have their place at a winter table, but not before a heavy meaty meal.

                  1. re: hotoynoodle

                    What would you suggest for appetizers?

                    1. re: Aeval


                      I make something that is always scarfed down. Italian tuna packed in olive oil, with some minced capers, red onion and chopped cilantro, s&p. I add some extra REALLY good olive oil (sometimes my special Meyer lemon flavored one) and a little sherry vinegar. Thanks to Molinar's Deli in SF for this one :)

                      1. re: Aeval

                        pre-soup? it's a rich meal and a weeknight, right? salty nuts and olives, maybe some chilled shrimp. even home-made potato chips work here.

                        a dairy-free puree of red pepper or golden beets for the soup, drizzled with a colorful swirl of basil oil. it will feel rich on the palate but not in the stomach. this can also be made ahead and reheated nicely.

                        1. re: hotoynoodle

                          We were in Barcelona recently and Marcona almonds and olives were a standard. Another good rec.

                          1. re: c oliver

                            these along with giant caperberries and i ate little bites of salty heaven everyday in spain.

                            1. re: hotoynoodle

                              I love giant caperberries and have a jar in the fridge. Great in a martini :) Which also brings up another rec for an app. Go to the olive bar in a lot of groceries and get a great selection of olives, mushrooms, pickled vegetables, etc. I do that quite often.

                              I could live in Spain for the food.

                          2. re: hotoynoodle

                            I'm all over the nuts/olives/shrimp. Classic. In fact, given enough of those, they would be my meal.

                        2. re: hotoynoodle

                          Like the port/champagne analogy. I never thought about it but, yeah, it's supposed to whet the appetite not take it :)

                          1. re: hotoynoodle

                            How about a clear broth soup with some slivers of vegs? Just something to take the chill off.

                        3. re: hotoynoodle

                          MMM red pepper soup, I like that!

                        4. I think it depends on how many people and how much effort you want to put into it. We've had a delightful meal w/ potato soup, toasted bread, a lovely green salad with dressing that I could not bribe the cook to give me the recipe for and apple pie. Everything was done when we walked in (minus the dressing of the salad - I probably should have 'helped' with that task . .It was a party of 25 and I was impressed.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: JerryMe

                            I think that's a fabulous meal and idea!!! Many decades ago a friend of mine did something similar and it was a HUGE hit. When all the ingredients are top notch then the meal can be also.

                          2. Like others have said, I'd keep the apps light and go with a brothy soup - maybe something like this beet soup? http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/golde...

                            I like the idea of a leafy salad with the cottage pie, though. Even a slaw can be pretty substantial and you really just want something to brighten the meal.

                            Serve whichever bread you like, and maybe a seasonal, citrusy dessert? Maybe something like this, minus the raspberry garnish: http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/46...

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: piccola

                              I think that soup would be perfect. And I've save it for myself :) Thanks.

                              1. re: c oliver

                                I've made it with purple beets. I really like broth-based beet soup over puréed ones. It's a much lighter flavour.

                                1. re: piccola

                                  Agreed. And that's why I think it would be wonderful for this meal.

                              2. re: piccola

                                I also agree a good green salad would be better than the slaw. Something light with good fresh vegies and a light dressing as the cottage pie is heavy.

                              3. When I think of comfort food among friends, particularly after working all day, I think simple and hearty. My most recent meal of this kind was potato/leek soup, a salad of tomatoes, mozzarella, olives, cucumber and basil, deviled eggs, homemade rolls, and a lemon pudding cake with crisp cookies for dessert. No starters, since everyone arrived at once and we ate right away. It was buffet style, with everything on the table at once. Soup served in big mugs that were easy to carry around.

                                The older I get, the less patience I have to deal with multiple courses, platings, elaborate garnishes and so on, except at holidays. More and more I go with a few things that I know will be good and people will like, I'm also finding that my friends are eating less for health reasons, and appreciate being able to pick and choose a comfortable quantity and assortment for their needs and likes. For the bells and whistles, we go to restaurants that provide them.

                                1. If you wanted to consider a hot side dish that was going to feel fresher and brighter, what about something on the bitter side? Broccoli-rabe might not be comfort food for US born people, but it is for Italians :). Or maybe oven roasted Brussels sprouts? Those are less heavy.

                                  I do like the idea of serving a hot soup, even a good vegetable soup in a nice beef broth can be a treat (especially if you make the broth or can buy some fresh from a local deli/gourmet shop).

                                  1. I consider Avocado fries a recipe for disaster, or do I mean a disastrous recipe?

                                    4 Replies
                                    1. re: escondido123

                                      I don't even know what they are but for something after work, they certainly sound like they could turn south fast and then you're stuck.

                                      Haven't heard back from OP in a while. Whatch thinkin'???

                                      1. re: c oliver

                                        Yeah, after thinking about it, I guess they wouldn't be a great idea.

                                        You guys are awesome with your suggestions, I really appreaciate all the input.

                                        1. re: c oliver

                                          i've made avocado fries, both deep-fried and "oven-fried". the 1st way was super delish but needs to made last minute and i just don't like frying stuff with lots of guests over. it's fine for just the b/f and me.

                                          also doesn't seem to go with cottage pie?

                                          1. re: hotoynoodle

                                            I also vote "no" to the fries -- too iffy, too heavy and too potato-y to serve w cottage pie. I DO like the stuffed mushroom idea, which can be prepared in advance and put into the oven at the last minute. I make them very light, stuffed with an oo-sauteed mix of minced onions, celery, garlic & mushroom stems.
                                            Do not like the thought of cold salty apps such as olives. For me an overdose of salt tends to kill my appetite, & cold just doesn't go w the comfort food on winter night theme. Ditto for the almonds -- they would be better for nibbling on at the end of the meal, as conversation flows.