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Cooking for the parents?

I'm meeting my boyfriend's parents for the first time later this week, and I have been delegated to make dinner for them. My Bf has told them about all the great and 'fancy' dinners I've made for him, and I'm afraid his parents are expecting something really impressive. Suddenly, my cooking confidence has dissipated.

He's not told me much about what his parents like, other than they tend to eat 'basic' food. My cooking style is very fresh, everything from scratch, and I always like to put a unique twist on things. Presentation and originality are important to way I cook.

Any ideas on how to take basic, everyday American flavors and make them a little more... impressive? I've already decided that I would like to make my cucumber tomato salad and a loaf of fresh French bread is a must, but I am completely lost on the main dish. I don't eat pork, and I don't cook with beef much, so any beef recipes must be rather foolproof. As far as I know, the parents have no dietary restrictions.

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  1. Now is not the time to experiment. Pick something that you do often and do well - and just execute it to the best of your abilities. Even simple is good when done well.
    And try to pick something that doesn't have a lot of last-minute work or timing issues. Keep it familiar and low-stress!! Good luck!

    4 Replies
    1. re: tacosandbeer

      I totally agree. This is about spending time with your boyfriend's parents, not to impress them with your cooking chops. Pick a meal that can be mostly prepared ahead so you aren't harried or worried. If they are nice people, what you cook won't matter.

        1. re: tacosandbeer

          Absolutely. Your BF is impressed with what you usually do, certainly his folks will be too. If you feel you must do something basic, no one I know ever didn't like a roast chicken with salad and bread and a seasonal vegetable. Go all out on a fabulous make-ahead dessert if you want... Leave time to get to know them!

          1. re: tacosandbeer

            I couldn't agree more. And you will be better company (and happier!) if you're not totally stressed out.

          2. First thing I'd do is clarify with BF about what they'd like. Do they really want something impressive or would they be more comfortable with something somewhat familiar, perhaps kicked up a notch? Personally, if I were the 'basic' food eating parents, I'd want something delicious but not so fancy that I felt uncomfortable. Also, something that allowed you, the cook, to focus on the visitors, not the stove.

            What about a roasted chicken with mashed potatoes, roasted broccoli, plus your salad and the bread? Or meatloaf. Or you might be interested in the recipe for salisbury steak I just made from the Chow site. It turned out to be delicious and was simple and attractive. We invited a neighbor over at the last minute and he loved it:

            http://www.chow.com/recipes/11438-sal...

            1 Reply
            1. re: tcamp

              Really be clear on what basic is. I would have shot myself in the foot with a typical basic meal for my in-laws when I first met them.

            2. Ditto on Tcamp's recommendation of roast chicken as the main course if they like "basic" food -- practically fool-proof to make and it doesn't require a lot of attention and last minute work. You can gussy up the meal to meet their expectations of "fancy" with the sides -- maybe something like potatoes Anna rather than just mashed taters. And assuming that your "fancy" cooking skills extend to desserts, make something special for dessert -- tarte tatin maybe?

              5 Replies
              1. re: masha

                I have never understood why people say a roast chicken is foolproof. If it was why would people always be asking for how to make the perfect one? You need the right bird, the right seasoning, the right temp, the right timing, the right resting, the right sauce and then the ability to carve it properly. I think that's why it is sometimes given as a test for a prospective chef, no?

                1. re: escondido123

                  It is the one cut of meat I haven't managed to screw up. Tastes basically the same every time I do it no matter what method.

                  1. re: melpy

                    Agree, I don't think I've ever made a "bad" roasted chicken. But pull up a chair and I'll tell you about overcooked pork loin...

                  2. re: escondido123

                    For a self-described accomplished cook like the OP, a roast chicken is pretty easy. The fact that there are threads on this board devoted to how to make the "best" or "perfect" one doesn't contradict this. You can fall short of perfection with a roast chicken and it still will taste excellent, especially if you are a decent chef.

                  3. I agree - don't experiment.

                    A perfectly roasted chicken would be easiest and no fuss in the kitchen while your guests are there. You could pre-make a pan gravy by roasting some chicken wings and making a stock.

                    1. yes yes and yes to all the other comments.

                      keep the fresh and 'from scratch' elements, but spend your energy on making it look completely effortless (even if that means doing backflips in platform heels backstage)

                      presentation? sure why not? I've found 'basic' food types are easily intimidated by ingredients/techniques, not plating and you would prefer to screw up the 3rd impression rather than the first, right?

                      1. Try not to think about this too hard. Whether they love it or hate it they will (if they are a smart) rave about your cooking anyway. So you will never really know anyway. ;)

                        1. Cook a dish that was popular in their era. Otherwise I would agree to roast a perfect chicken. Put your stamp on the side dishes, and WOW them with your signature dessert.

                          1. I'm going to buck the trend here and say no to a whole chicken- too many issues around who wants what part, portions, etc. with people you haven't eaten with before. Plus, a roast turkey only looks nice until you cut it up, then it's a carcass on the table, not pretty. Not to mention nothing special if it's something she makes anyhow- not everyone makes a great roasted chicken but most standard American families make it. Also, with Thanksgiving coming up I don't think I'd do a roast chicken so close to a turkey (assuming their being basic means they will be having turkey.) Don't get me wrong, I love a good roasted chicken and make them often, I just think you can do something more interesting with little effort.

                            Stuffed chicken breasts are easy and can make a nice presentation- if you cut a slit in the side and stuff it with a mix of softened cream cheese and herbs (or whatever you think you can get away with, I've used leftover spinach dip and leftover crab dip,) and then flour, egg wash and coat in panko that you've seasoned, fry them until they're the perfect golden brown and finish them in a low oven if need be(on a rack on a pan so they don't lose their crispiness.)

                            1. Thank you for all the replies! Right now I'm thinking a baked chicken cordon bleu, garlic herb hasselback potatoes, and the cuke/tomato salad. baking the chicken and potatoes will cut hack a lot on the fuss, and the salad can be made prior. I've also got a cranberry-coconut pie in the oven right now that always manages to impress.

                              9 Replies
                              1. re: blackinkstyle

                                Everyone said chicken, but a beautiful big pc of roasted salmon can be great for an impressive easy dish.
                                I love this potato recipe, the touch of green in there is also very appealing:
                                http://prod.bonappetit.com/recipe/cru...

                                1. re: Ttrockwood

                                  The potatoes look very good. Have you made them? I would be tempted to put the crushed potatoes under the broiler for a few minutes to get a bit of crisp on them before mixing in the cheese. Salmon is also a great idea.

                                  1. re: tcamp

                                    I did make them! They were a huge hit- the broiler idea is great, i'll totally try that next time. I may even use a little less cheese, or different kind too....

                                  1. re: blackinkstyle

                                    Glad you're going with dishes you are comfortable with, sounds like a great meal. Don't worry about impressing them, just spend time with them and I'm sure they'll be happy.

                                    1. re: blackinkstyle

                                      Sounds delicious! And something that you are familiar with

                                      If they are good people, and you are a good person, then you should be able to serve them boxed macaroni and still have a fine time. The fact that you can cook well is just an extra.

                                      1. re: blackinkstyle

                                        Looks good. The cranberry coconut pie sounds awesome (might be worth sharing on the Homecooking Board), but coconut seems to be one of those love it or hate it flavors. My only suggestion is to have some ice cream in the freezer or cookies for a back up dessert.

                                        1. re: viperlush

                                          Cranberry is also polarizing.
                                          I happen to like both :)

                                          1. re: viperlush

                                            You are definitely right about the coconut.

                                        2. Lasagna. With a salad and the afore mentioned french bread. Looks fancy/complicated, but only as difficult as you make it to be fore yourself as the cook. And there is something special about a lasagna that just says "welcome" as a food item.

                                          As an aside, my parents have very simple palates, so don't go crazy. Let this be a simple, Hi, I'm the girlfriend, have some food, and see how your dish goes over so you can plan accordingly in the future.

                                          1. I'd do short ribs.... you sound like a great cook and you could do them in advance.

                                            If you want to cook on the spot. Salmon mashed spuds and asparagus is my go to... it would go great with the salad as well.

                                            1. I second a suggestion like lasagna, or any make-ahead dish--like beef shank-braise or chicken cacciatore, both better the next day--and I also second those who say avoid the whole chicken.

                                              Meeting parents for the first time, the last thing I'd want to deal with is last minute prep, worrying about timing and internal temperatures, rushing away to the kitchen constantly, etc.

                                              Soups are another good resource when planning a meal where you'd like to maximize the attention you pay to your guests even right up close to sit-down time.

                                              1. I think lasagna is a great idea, but ultimately i just think you should go with something you are confident in and like to eat.

                                                As people have said already the important thing is the company, so go with something where you prepare something in advance instead of spending the night in the kitchen. Your cooking might impress them, but it's not why they are there. :)

                                                1. I have found Julia Child's lobster thermidore to be crowd pleasing and actually easy to make when done in stages.

                                                  Cook the lobsters ahead of time and prepare the shells. Add your filler, I prefer monkfish or bluewater shark, so everybody gets an over flowing presentation. Bake for 30 minutes, sauce, and serve.

                                                  Add kale and spinach stuffed ravioli, roasted parsnips and rutabagas, and green beans cooked in butter. Mixed salad with bread for the first course. Not everybody likes cukes. Cream cheese cake or pecan pie you cooked a couple of days previously. With the option of ice cream, vanilla and your favorite.

                                                  You are supposed to be relaxed, witty, and charming. Not stressed out and in need of a shower and a trip to the salon when you greet them at the door.

                                                  When all else fails, you can always serve hamburgers on artisanal buns.

                                                  4 Replies
                                                  1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                                                    IRF, I want to "meet the parents" at your house! Yum! Unfortunately, I don't feel soem of that menu screams basic.

                                                    It also sounds like the boyfriend has oked the tomato/cuke salad.

                                                    1. re: melpy

                                                      How to you make the salad? It sounds good, but not something that is usually part of danish cuisine :)

                                                      1. re: SigneGT

                                                        It isn't my salad. It was the OP's.

                                                        Here we would slice or chop tomato and cucumber or onion or any combination of the three. Drizzle with olive oil and red wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar. Season with salt and pepper and maybe some type of herb either dry or fresh depending. For me this is a decidedly summer/warm weather dish. Not sure o the OP's location so I assumed these items were in season.

                                                        1. re: SigneGT

                                                          The salad is ridiculously simple. I switch it up every time, but the basic staples are tomato, cucumber, onion, and some type of vinaigrette. This time, I did tomato, red onion, fresh corn, and a homemade Dijon basil dressing and served it inside of a cucumber, but the possibilities are endless, and the ingredients are usually cheap enough to be able to experiment a lot.

                                                    2. y'know what? second thought = scratch it all and go out for something simple. dazzle them later.

                                                      1. Hi There,
                                                        I only registered on here to respond to you. I say go for the Lasagne but with a twist.

                                                        I have recently played around with minced chicken and cured ham. As a replacement for beef in a lasagne. It doesnt taste or look as horrible as it sounds.

                                                        Basically get some chicken breasts, depending on how many you are feeding for, shove it in your food processor until it is all minced together.
                                                        Get some cured ham lardons and fry them off very slowly (no butter or oil) in a non-stick pan.
                                                        That way you are rendering off the bacon fat,. Once the lardons are quite crispy and the fat is mostly off them, remove the lardons, but keep the fat in the pan.

                                                        Fry the minced chicken in the pan with the bacon fat ensuring you break up teh chicken as you stir it so it looks similar to minced beef (ground beef, i think is the american term for it).

                                                        Now treat the chicken and ham cooked meat as beef mince for your lasagne.

                                                        Very tasty and a nice alternative to beef.

                                                        1. Wow, so many helpful opinions! Dinner was last night, and it turned out much better than expected. I was able to get everything done ahead of time and only had to throw it all in the oven once bf's parents arrived. I ended up going with baked cordon bleu with a sweet mustard sauce, whipped up some roasted garlic basil butter for the potatoes, a quick green bean/, shitake saute, and served the salad in hollowed out cucumber cups for the presentation element. I shifted gears for dessert and whipped up some caramel apple blondies last minute, which were a huge hit. His parents raved about the food, and the actual meeting went very well.
                                                          Thank you so much for all the suggestions and recipes! I'm definitely going to be trying them out and hopefully adding them to my repertoire. Btw, I'll be sure to post the recipe for the pie. I didn't use it because its so far from a 'basic' taste, but its still fabulous if you like cranberry and coconut.

                                                          3 Replies
                                                          1. re: blackinkstyle

                                                            blackinkstyle - well done! Sounds like a great "first meet" dinner, and you definitely lived up to your bf's raves. :-)

                                                            1. re: blackinkstyle

                                                              Good job! Sounds like a delicious meal and I'm sure they parents loved you.

                                                              1. re: blackinkstyle

                                                                Thanks for reporting back. Glad the meal was such a success and that you hit it off with the parents.