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Quick menu review for a dinner TOMORROW. Needs to impress with what I have.

I've not usually been in need of menu advice, but I have a last minute business dinner tomorrow that needs to go well. I've on-the-fly come up with what I could, and might need to have some opinions on what I'm missing-not-thinking-of-being-obtuse about. All allergies and food-averseness has been addressed, so we're okay on that. My husband will be arriving from work with the two guests. I need to be as ready as I am able to be to start serving.

Here's the menu as it stands:

Apps: olives, hard salami, and glasses of the gazpacho we've got in the refrigerator.

Main, served family-style (I am told this is a casual group, so I'm running with it.):

14/16-ish oz. NY strips on the grill (I love that my neighborhood butcher counter will cut thick steaks for me if I ask at the last minute; both guests are steak-centric, so this helps)
Patatas bravas, or in that realm - I've got a ton of new potatoes, a lot of garlic and my sweetheart-forevermore: pimentón. Something crispy sounds good.
Some sort of chopped salad that uses up the pile of zucchini, tomatoes, onions and herbs that the garden is belching forth. I'm thinking on a bed of spinach, with the aforementioned diced and dressed. I always go for a vinaigrette, but can entertain the notion of other mayonnaise-type dressings

Dessert: A cheese plate with local apples and local honey. The cheeses in house right now are a 3-year Gouda, chèvre, and a two year Tillamook white cheddar.

So: what am I missing here? What missteps might I be making that I am not seeing? Any add-on that is readily gotten with zero-ish time? These are garden writers, and my cooking/prep time is going to be truncated with my yard-readying time for a dinner outside in the garden. Baking is not on the table for dessert, as I am still relearning baking due to gluten-free issues.

Any tweaks you CH folks can give me to make this work on the fly? I usually have much more time to come up with biz dinners, and I'm feeling a little blindsided by this one. Any suggestions welcome, as this is one I don't want to shrug off.

Thanks all,

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  1. I think it sounds fabulous as is, within your parameters.

    Since you're leaning towards sort of Spanish-y, might you have the fixings for Sangria in the house?

    4 Replies
    1. re: Violatp

      Oh, I am skewing as I often do toward Spanish and I do have the makings for sangria. Pluots it'll be for sangria! What a great idea. Thank you!

      1. re: cayjohan

        I made this white peach sangria recently and it was lovely, taste wise and eyeball-wise :)


        1. re: c oliver

          Sounds so refreshing for what we need...thank you for the inspiring link!

          1. re: cayjohan

            My pleasure. When Maria Lorraine speaks, I listen :)

    2. Everything sounds good. But ONE POUND steaks? And STRIPS? That sounds awfully big and personally I'm no fan of strips. Just a thought. Oh, wait, that was two :)

      4 Replies
      1. re: c oliver

        Yep. BIG meat eaters at the table tomorrow. Hub wanted porterhouse, but I prefer serving boneless steaks. Well, to strangers with whom I have not gnawed bones With F&F who want to gnaw, I'm okay. Both guests have housekeeping suites and can take leftovers back with them, but I don't think that would be a problem with one, from what I hear. Btw, the strips are amazing looking. Please dawgs, I do them justice!

        1. re: cayjohan

          Personally I'd go for boneless ribeyes. And as violatp said below, sliced and served family style really sings.

          1. re: c oliver

            We've already got the beautiful strips (our butcher does a wonderful job with them, so we roll with it). But oh, c oliver, how we love our butcher's boneless ribeyes. I'm still struggling with the serving, and I may lose this battle: my hub knows the guests' preferences and I do not as much. Sliced sounds good for me, and how I like to serve strip, but whole seems like what I will have to serve. But...a whole strip would not be bad, right?

            1. re: cayjohan

              IMneverHO, the chef makes the rules. Tell him to step aside :) Y'all could go to a steakhouse and have the same ole same ole. As a friend said "my roof, my rules." What you do will stand head and shoulders above a restaurant!

      2. A cheese plate is not a dessert that appeals to a majority of Americans. I would add some of the cheese to the appetizer plate (and crackers or nuts if you have them) and rethink dessert. I suggest baked apples or using the apples along with honey, dried fruit, and wine to make a compote. The compote works just as well in the microwave as the oven.
        If you make baked apples, you can dress them up a bit by making a caramel sauce to drizzle over, or melt vanilla ice cream as an instant creme anglaise.

        15 Replies
        1. re: greygarious

          Ya know, I've kinda surprised myself a couple of times by how well a cheese dessert as gone over with folks I might not have thought would love it. Is that a confusing sentence?!?

          1. re: c oliver

            I love cheese for dessert because I'm not a big fan of sweets particularly with some sliced meats if you need something for variety although I have noticed some don't really associated savory with post-dinner eats.

            1. re: fldhkybnva

              I like cheeses with some honeycomb and maybe some kind of little fruit paste.

              1. re: c oliver

                Maybe a walnut or an almond...

                I remember way back when, the first time I ate, all at once, Gouda, dried apricot, and walnut.

                It was a revelation!

                1. re: Violatp

                  Or a walnut or an almond. Maybe especially a Marcona almond! I never knew you could eat honeycomb til I was presented with it.

              2. re: fldhkybnva

                I never knew I loved a cheese and fruit plate until I had one. I think it's a great idea!

            2. re: greygarious

              You know, I'd be perfectly ok with a cheese plate, too!

              And, for the steaks, I'm picturing them served pre-sliced on a big platter, surrounded by the potatoes. 8 ounces, give or take per person?

              1. re: Violatp

                Ah, yes, that presentation for the steak totally works.

              2. re: greygarious

                Good idea on the compote! I'm heating up the kitchen anyway, and the warm apples/cold apples/cheese would be very nice. Thank you for jogging my thinking! Our guests are cheese lovers by all account, and I am hoping our mix will be good, but I LOVE the melted ice cream idea for the compote. Easily accomplished during timeline; thank you!

                Thank you all so much for the input!

                1. re: greygarious

                  I disagree. We serve cheese often as dessert and people are always thrilled.

                  1. re: greygarious

                    This sounds like a fairly sophisticated group that would enjoy the cheese plate. In my opinion baked apples are a very autumnal dessert It depends where you are, here it was 98 degrees today, its still summer everywhere no matter what the temperature.

                    1. re: greygarious

                      i dislike serving or eating cheese as a starter -- it dulls the palate and is very easy for people to overeat, leaving less room for the main event.

                      while sliced steak looks nicer, it makes the meat cool off far too quickly and i don't like that. a compound butter with garden thyme would be nice over top though.

                      baked apples or any kind of compote seem terribly autumnal to me. don't know where the op resides, but it's over 90 degrees in my hood today. it does sound like the op has stonefruits (at least pluots) available, so i'd offer those sliced with some cream to those who want sweets and still do a cheese platter for those who don't. (like me.)

                      1. re: hotoynoodle

                        Agree re the cheese. You're the one who pointed this out to me a while back and I've been pleased with that. I now do a little tapenade, maybe some nuts, etc. Just enough to tide people over while having a cocktail and finishing up prep for dinner.

                      2. re: greygarious

                        I've been amazed with how well cheese plates have gone over as dessert when I've served them. Even with my more "I must not eat any differently than I was raised" friends.

                      3. "Any add-on that is readily gotten with zero-ish time?" Especially since these are garden writers...
                        Do you have fresh mint leaves? I bet you do. They make a cheese plate look so pretty. And especially if you're drizzling with honey, the leaves are very handy for mopping and enjoying. :) I went and picked extra mint one night just for this purpose and we kept adding honey to the cheese board. It was great! I like dried apricots as dippers, too, but that's just me. Have fun!

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: kattyeyes

                          kattyeyes, you make me think, um, fresh thyme, maybe. I, in a fit of madness over mint-overlords, unearthed the 20 feet of mint I had ten plus years ago since...it was Just Too Much. Poor me. <grin> But I've got thyme aplenty, and that sounds spot-on with honey (buckwheat).

                          1. re: cayjohan

                            I'm much more the thyme, tarragon, etc. than mint. Got all the mint out of the 30'+ planter but will never get it out of the grass so just mow it down. Use it occasionally in a G&T. Not much else.

                        2. Here's an idea for the salad... http://www.recipething.com/recipes/sh.... I think I would skip the cheese and add onions and an herb that compliments the steak and potatoes. I love zucchini done this way!

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: firecooked

                            I think I am indeed going to go for the ribbons, is for no other reason than the aesthetic. I tend as a matter of course for a standard chopped salad for expediency, but I think this is a good idea. Helps me with prep tomorrow. Xxxooo for that thought.

                          2. If you have any fruit you could grill to go with the cheese platter, that would be a nice addition (nectarines, peaches, pluots, even the apples).

                            Something on the steaks -- herb butter or chimichurri?

                            But it all sounds fabulous -- stay as stress-free as possible!

                            1. What time should I show up? I think your menu sounds perfect. I wouldn't change a thing...and the addition of the Sangria is just the cherry on top.

                              1. for dessert, when we were kids and fruit was in season, my mom would serve us chilled stone fruit, sliced up and with some fresh heavy cream poured over the top. it looks really pretty if you serve it in glass goblets/bowls, and ducks the gluten issue. my favorite was peaches or nectarines, but i guess it would work well with berries, plums, pluots, etc as well (or any combination!)

                                another fun one is frosted grapes. take fresh grapes, rinse them, divide into serving-sized bunches, making sure they are still a bit wet. sprinkle with confectioner's sugar; freeze em. sprinkle with a bit more sugar right before serving. it's effortless, refreshing, and looks mighty fancy!

                                1. Cay, report back when you can! :-)

                                  1. Okay, here goes with the follow-up:

                                    I'll first say that we haven't had rain in a month. Yesterday? When I was organizing a garden dinner on the fly? And doing my best to set an enchantingly beautiful table? Yep. Rain. Thankfully (for my immediate purposes only; I'm pretty sick of drought) the rain lasted only long enough to frazzle my easily-frazzled self and Plan B of indoor dining did not have to be deployed. Plan A had some hitches, but went forward.

                                    Apps went great while hub fired up the grill. The olives were just olives; nothing special. The salami was delicious, especially since I had the presence of mind to let it come up to temp ahead of time. I'm not a big issuer-of-plugs for product as a rule, but this was the Salamini from Northern Waters Smokehaus in Duluth, Minnesota. It is just plain excellent and I stock up every time I go near. They ship; here's a link: http://www.northernwaterssmokehaus.co... . With the gazpacho, it was a nice set of flavors. The sangria didn't quite go as envisioned, as the hub had taken all the pluots I thought I had for work snacks. So we had a cobbled-together sangria-ish beverage of dry Riesling, apples and some cava. Very well received.

                                    The universe was kind to me in the form of a neighbor who dropped some fresh corn on my doorstep, so the salad became corn+orange bell pepper+red onion+cubed zukes. Dressed in a thyme vinaigrette. I couldn't bring myself to dice the gorgeous tomatoes (Green Zebras and "Aunt Ruby" along with some reds) we have right now, so they were sliced alongside. All over a bed of spinach on a big platter.

                                    Potatoes? So much variation in size, so I didn't want to risk roasting and getting some shriveled littles, so I slow-poached the whole lot in olive oil with a copious amount of garlic, then finished in the oven until crisp, dusted with pimentón and s&p, and boom: they were great. (If I were made of money, I think I might just slow-poach every freaking thing in olive oil, really) The infused garlic flavor really worked.

                                    While rummaging around in the refrigerator, I found some cucumbers. Why not make a tzatziki? I did, and with the potatoes it really worked. One guest practically drooled over that sauce. It was a good call.

                                    And the steak? My Hub is mostly-hit-sometimes-miss with grilling, but he knocked these out of the park. If everything else on the table had been a miserable fail, the steaks would have carried the day. I sent my butcher a nice note this morning to thank him (have I mentioned how much I love my butcher counter?). You'd have thought we invented meat, by the reaction. Perfect crust, perfect medium-rare. High-five to my Hub. The gentleman guest polished off the pound of strip, and quite excitedly accepted my offer of the half-plus that I could not finish as a take-away.

                                    Dessert was a cheese plate along with dishes of apple compote. I scrapped the honey drizzling, as after a pretty bug-free summer, the gnats were out in force, and, well, you do what you can. So: the Tillamook and the TJ's 1000 Day Gouda it was. I never made it to get ice cream, so I whisked some sugar and vanilla into some Greek yogurt to top the compote. That simple sauce was another surprise hit of the evening. I was just a little embarrassed to say what it was, because of the simplicity.

                                    Both guests were enthusiastic about having a door-prize of leftovers to take along.

                                    The best in all of this? I often host strangers-to-me (I jokingly call my heavy-hosting duties Corporate Wife Syndrome in *mostly* good humor), and you never know what you're going to get. These were two of the Best Guests Ever. Truly gracious and convivial. Around midnight ("school night," after all), the Hub drove them back to their hotel. Everyone had a great time, including yours truly, who can get a little pissy about these things at times. May you all have the surprise of wonderful strangers which whom you like to linger on a Tuesday night.

                                    I earned major "points" on this one! And since I have no knowledge of what keyboard strokes delineate such a thing, you helpful folks will just have to imagine <<Cay strewing those points out to you-all>>. I sometimes crash ideating menus, and your help was greatly appreciated. I learned during the course of the evening that one of our tablemates had spent many years in the restaurant biz. So glad I didn't know that going in, frazzled-self n'all. The enthusiastic response to the meal was then doubly appreciated (I try to tamp down my ego, but we all know how that goes), and I'd be remiss if I didn't share that appreciation with you who helped me sort it all out.


                                    21 Replies
                                        1. re: cayjohan

                                          I've not oil poached potatoes - how does that all work?

                                          We pulled a bunch of fingerlings from our garden this year and I can never figure out the correct technique for getting them roasted crispy. I have a bunch that are slightly larger than pea sized that I think would be fun to get crispy but can never make it work!

                                          1. re: Sushiqueen36

                                            The batch of potatoes I had ranged in size from about a nickel's diameter to golf ball-ish or slightly larger. I cut them; the little ones in half, the larger ones into roughly even chunks. They went into a pan with smashed garlic cloves and olive oil to cover. I start these from cold and slowly bring to a simmer. Once tender, drain on paper. Spread out evenly on a baking sheet and pop them into the oven - I went for about 400 degrees - and bake until crisped up. I tossed them with pimentón and salt and pepper. That's it - dead easy. I, too, always had trouble straight roasting the little spuds, especially with different sizes - I always ended up with too many leathery ones by the time the others had cooked through, and they never got crispy. I had really good results with the poach-then-bake, as they're not really in the oven long enough to dry out. The garlic flavor is a nice bonus. The only drawback is the quantity of oil, which can seem a little profligate!

                                            1. re: cayjohan

                                              So I wonder if I could poach in the morning and then let set until dinner... trying tonight. Thanks!

                                              1. re: Sushiqueen36

                                                I poach them in salted water until tender, drain and smash them. When cool I douse them with olive oil and roast at 425 for 40 minutes. It is a fine cooking recipe, roasted smashed potatoes. Perfect every time!

                                            1. re: cayjohan

                                              It all sounds absolutely delicious. Congrats!

                                              I, too, would like to know specifics of oil-poaching the spuds.

                                              1. re: cayjohan

                                                Loved reading about your wonderful evening, thanks for the report! Isn't it great when these social obligations turn out to be really enjoyable.

                                                1. re: cayjohan

                                                  I love the report! And it sounds like a fantastic dinner. Please put me on the next invite list.

                                                  I love poaching in olive oil. Just love it. I, too, wish I had enough $$$ to do it with many many many more dishes.

                                                  1. re: debbiel

                                                    debbiel, have you tried poaching shrimp in olive oil? It's become our favorite method. Never rubbery, and the infused oil (with shrimp I also throw in some hot peppers, like serranos) flavors the shrimp wonderfully. I start with heating the oil and adding the garlic and peppers, then letting it sit awhile to infuse. Then, a slow poach with the shrimp just until they pink-up. The oil is great for mopping up with one's preferred mopping food.

                                                    1. re: cayjohan

                                                      I'm curious about this technique. When I cook shrimp in water, I bring to a boil, add the shrimp, cover, remove from heat and let sit about four minutes. To me, anything else is over cooked. I'd think the 'poaching' would be almost immediate. No?

                                                      1. re: c oliver

                                                        Generally when making shrimp in this fashion, I toss the crushed garlic and peppers into the cold oil and bring it up to a very gentle *almost* simmer, then shut the heat down and let it rest. Sometimes for a shorter time, sometimes for longer...the flavors infuse nicely on the longer end. With shrimp, I generally toss them in the infused oil when the oil it just sort of warmish. Then I just bring it up very slowly again and watch for the change to pink, at which point I pull the shrimp.

                                                      2. re: cayjohan

                                                        I would absolutely try that if I ate shrimp. Just can't find it in my to like any fish or seafood. But you poach on with your shrimp!

                                                        1. re: debbiel

                                                          similarly, i butter-poach shrimp all the time now. vary the seasonings and herbs in regards to different menus, but very delicious and way less spendy than olive-oil poaching.

                                                          bring butter up to low heat/melt. add ginger/garlic/chilis/thyme, etc. add shrimp. cook slowly til pink. fool-proof and is instant sauce for rice, pasta, bread or wilted greens.

                                                          1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                            I might have to reassess my cost with olive oil versus butter poaching. We so rarely use butter outside of holiday baking season, that I don't think of using it in its absence. The butter I use is not that different in cost versus the olive oil I use for shrimp; on my list to try- thank you!

                                                            1. re: cayjohan

                                                              i can get very good grass-fed butter for about $4pp and 4 oz is MORE than enough to poach a pound of shrimp, so pretty cheap in my head.

                                                              oh! and i keep the butter in the freezer so it stays fresh.

                                                              1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                                How does this work? I thought you need food to be completely submerged to poach. Wrong?

                                                                1. re: herby

                                                                  yes, they are just covered and i use a smallish-pan. very low- heat.

                                                                  1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                                    I need to try it - so 1/2 cup butter will cover a pound of shrimp? Do you infuse flavours before putting shrimp in?

                                                                    1. re: herby

                                                                      it depends on the width and depth of the pan.

                                                                      but yes, i put flavor stuff in and let it cook awhile before adding the shrimp.

                                                  2. Was going to comment but then I noticed that you already had your dinner....