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Picky People Coming for Dinner, What to Make?

I know one of my friends that is coming doesn't like onions. I briefly mentioned that I might make tacos and I got a lukewarm response. (I make a killer taco bar with homemade salsa and Emeril's recipe for taco beef but I'm afraid if I go through the effort, they won't like it.)

We've had dinner with these friends before and we've always had pizza. I'm thinking hamburgers but I don't have a grill. My grill was on its last legs last summer. I threw it away and haven't replaced it.

I know they like mushrooms and most vegetables (carrots, peas, peppers) but not onions. I know they like hot wings.

Do you have a recipe for a baked pasta without onions? The recipes I love for lasagna and ziti have onions.

Any other main course suggestions for a casual dinner party/game night? Something for somewhat picky eaters and to feed seven people? Can I bust out my George Foreman and make hamburgers on it or will that be lame? There will be four adults and three growing boys.

Thank you.

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  1. Just leave the onions out of your pasta recipe.

    1 Reply
    1. re: sunshine842

      Yes. Good idea. I'm thinking of doing this. Not sure if would compromise flavor too much. Thank you.

    2. Do you mean that when you make a baked pasta dish, you add onions as a separate element? Or are you talking about the onions that may have gone into your sauce?

      In either case, leave them out.

      I know that's difficult when they're an element in a sauce. But if you substitute diced carrot and celery -- if you're making Bolognese, you're already using diced carrot and celery, obvs -- your sauce will be wonderful. You will probably be the only one who notices the missing onion.

      Oh, my favorite baked pasta dish consists of half-cooked cavatappi, Bolognese, and Besciamella with a lot of Parmigiano-Reggiano. Mix, then bake for half an hour.

      5 Replies
      1. re: Jay F

        Jay, could you give me proportions for four servings please? As you may remember, we're visiting our 'kids' and I'm thinking about this for dinner one night. Thanks.

        1. re: c oliver

          I don't know that I've ever made it for four, c, but you might halve the sauce recipes and use 3/4 of a pound of pasta. She says each sauce recipe makes enough for six people.

          I'd be more inclined to make a full recipe of each sauce, use the whole pound of pasta and lots of Parmigiano, and feel confident that anything left over won't last long.

            1. re: c oliver

              You're welcome. I look forward to hearing how they liked it.

            2. re: Jay F

              Esp. a couple with a toddler and a five week old!

        2. Unless they have an allium sensitivity you can still use onions, just use a purée so no onion is visible and don't over do it

          1 Reply
          1. re: scubadoo97

            So you think they won't still taste it?

          2. I agree with sunshine - a big baked pasta sounds perfect for this kind of affair. Just leave the onions out of your lasagna or ziti. Add a salad and maybe an antipasto platter, and you're set. Burgers on the George Foreman are not something I'd serve to company, even casual company.

            4 Replies
            1. re: biondanonima

              but make sure the cipollini onions are right in the middle of the antipasto platter.

              (no, I'd never really do it, but my inner 6-year-old would want to)

              1. re: biondanonima

                I agree with both of you guys. Make a lasagna without onions, a big green salad, and antipasto platter. I think that is an excellent lineup.

                1. re: biondanonima

                  I've fixed burgers many times on the CI skillet, turn and then into a hot oven.

                2. For game night I don't think you need to go crazy. Why not to make a sub/sandwich bar instead of a taco one. Good rolls, assorted meats and cheese, lettuce and sliced tomatoes. You could whip up some assorted flavored mayos, maybe a pesto and a few mustards. Sides could be as simple as chips or you could make coleslaw. I recently made a kohlrabi slaw that was really good.

                  Instead of burgers you could do spaghetti and meatballs, add some garlic bread and big salad since you know they like all kinds of veggies. However if you are in the deep south that might be too steamy for a summer night. Then again you could do meatball subs w/ cheese and still do the salad.

                  Speaking of pesto you could make a Pesto lasagna. I'm not home but this recipe is pretty close to what I make. Add a big salad and dinner is done

                  1. the "picky" people probably eat onions in things all the time without knowing as they are such a big part of the flavor base for many soups, stews and sauces. but whatever - just humor them - leave the onions out - dish may be a bit less flavorful but it will work.

                    sounds like they are plain food folks keep it simple

                    you can make a killer hamburger in a skillet you could even saute mushrooms in the fat and then take advantage of the fond to deglaze with wine and make a nice pan sauce for said burgers - i imagine sliders would be nice done this way.... but now i am getting fancy ;)

                    my menu for this event

                    Baked Mac n' Cheese - do a bechamel sauce and breadcrumb topping - you can prepare in advance and just bake to warm and brown before serving

                    Skillet grilled hamburger sliders with sauteed mushrooms and other topping options customizable for fussy eaters

                    Crudite of carrots, celery, peppers, tomatoes with ranch dip (IME most fussy picky eaters love ranch dip and baby carrots - go figure) since its game night dont serve a salad they are a PITA and often just go uneaten and wilted but the munch-able veggies tend to get picked on all night

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: JTPhilly

                      Onions and garlic are such an integral part of flavor development. I have a friend that gets really bad gastric upset when anything has the smallest amount of onions or garlic in it. Leaving them out is a challenge and I will sometimes make two versions of the dish if he's eating with us since the flavor is significantly altered when they are left out

                      1. re: JTPhilly

                        I think I dittoed a lot of your post in my reply. great minds and all that.

                        1. re: JTPhilly

                          Yup, I'd do a mac n' cheese too - I'm in New England so if I feel like it (and know folks will eat them) I might do a lobster mac n' cheese.

                          For the protein at these sorts of casual gatherings I've done maple-glazed ribs (marinate then bake in oven on sheet pan; couldn't be easier) and chicken wings (various marinades, again baked in oven - we've finished them on a charcoal grill for a nice char but it doesn't sound like an option for the OP).

                          Not sure if the Foreman grill can handle sate (aka satay); in my experience most people love it and you can make a selection of chicken, beef or pork. The peanut dipping sauce can be made ahead of time, and the skewers themselves cook up easily enough so you can do them in batches (or have your guests pick and grill their own).

                          Crudites-wise, I've also found that picky eaters seem to love hummus :)

                          Dessert could just be pound cake (easy enough to bake if you're so inclined) and fresh strawberries (fresh cream optional) or brownies (again, a snap to make) and ice cream.

                          Hope it turns out well, and that you'll get to enjoy your own party!

                        2. My wife is of Italian heritage and often makes a pasta meal correctly called 'olio e aglio (oil and garlic).' If garlic is also an issue, exclude it.

                          Cook a long pasta like linguine (little tongues) or spaghetti the usual way. Drain it and plate it adding good olive oil and top with grape tomatoes halves sliced lengthwise, fresh broccoli florets, and sauteed bell pepper slices.

                          If you prefer short tubular pasta can used instead of long pasta. Hamburgers are not lame if the growing boys are fussy eaters when vegetables are part of an entree.

                          As an aside, once when a professional conference I had dinner with 2 Chinese couples and their young boys. One of the boys was sitting next to me and complained about eating Chinese food in a Chinese restaurant. I said to him sotto voce,"I bet you would prefer a hamburger." He had a beaming smile on his face.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: ChiliDude

                            I love the eye-yoyo idea (that's how I thought it was spelled when I was a kid). I always use angel hair and lots of Parmigiano-Reggiano, and I love ChiliDude's vegetable suggestions (well, except the broccoli, but that's just me). I add basil this time of year, also.

                            I don't think anyone has ever turned this down when I've made it, and it is simplicity itself.

                            1. re: Jay F

                              Glad you added the 'basilico.' We have it growing in large pot outside. My mother-in-law called the pasta dish made with oil and garlic 'ughi a' in the dialect of Petilia Policastro, in the then province of Catanzaro in the region of Calabria.

                              Every person of Italian heritage that I ask if he or she ever heard of 'ughi a' did not know what I was talking about.

                              I miei antenati non erano italiani, ma i nonni di mia moglie erano italiani (my ancestors were not Italian, but my wife's grandparents were Italian). Sto italiano per matrimonio (I am Italian by marriage).

                          2. Mac and cheese. Baked or maybe Kraft on the stove for the growing boys. Little smokies or kielbasa on toothpicks. You could also purchase chicken nuggets or meatballs and serve them with marinara sauce on toothpicks of course. Make like Costco samples.
                            Couple of bags of Caesar salad. Crudites and Ranch dressing. Ice cream sandwiches.

                            1. Hamburgers should do very nicely on a George Foreman grill. Make a chunky veggie salad and have lettuce, tomatoes and some good pickles for the burgers. Sliced onnions could be availabe separately for those who like them. Carbonated lemonade would be good and the adults can add some gin if you like. Fruit salad for dessert. If they turn up their noses at that, cross them off you guest list in the future. Sorry, but I think it is one thing to make an effort to to accommodate food allergies and quite another to be dictated to by people who have confused themselves with rude royalty.

                              1. I don't agree that pureeing the onions will not be noticeable, if its in a dish where the onions are a major player. My daughter does not like onions or garlic if she can taste it. Can you imagine the time I had when she was growing up? No onions in potato salad? None in burgers? I had to separate her portion before finishing it off for everyone else. But she liked it in salsa because I didn't load it in there, just a little to round out the sauce. She ate it in things like chili because it was cooked down. For the most part, I used alot of onion powder and granulated garlic because there was no crunch. It worked and my girl didn't know it was in there.

                                So, make your taco bar and do pickled and or caramelized onions. A lot of people don't like raw onions; change it up. I've got a group I'm cooking for next week that is having my homemade chips & two kinds of salsa; they've had it before and love it but they don't like spice. So I just add a little unseeded jalapeno just to round out the salsa. There are ways to get around things. Besides, those growing boys will love the tacos.

                                1. You can certainly make pasta sauce without onions. One of my favorite "quick" pasta sauce recipes doesn't use onions at all. I think I got it off of "Smitten Kitchen", just gently saute some fresh garlic in olive oil, along with some red pepper flakes and fresh lemon zest until the flavors are released into the oil (don't brown the garlic). Then just dump in a can of crushed tomatoes and season to taste. You can add some fresh herbs at the end if you got it. This is not a long cooking sauce, it only has to simmer just until it's bubbling and warmed through.

                                  You could make it into a baked pasta dish a number of ways. Make a ricotta filling with some ricotta, parmesan, herbs and egg. Then you can spoon dollops of it into some rigatoni tossed in your sauce, and top it all with mozzarella cheese and bake it. Or perhaps blend it with some spinach and stuff some pasta shells with it, before pouring your sauce over them and topping with more cheese and baking.

                                  Perhaps some hand breaded panko crusted chicken parmesan to go along with the pasta? Or maybe some homemade meatballs?

                                  1. What about hot dogs? You could just put a bunch of toppings out and everyone can have what they want. Chips and a salad to finish it up. I like hot dogs because you can really dress them up. Use fresh buns or some gourmet toppings if you like. It sounds like they are simple eaters so maybe just the basics but it certainly will feed a group.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. What about a roasted vegetable lasagna?

                                      I would not make hamburgers for a group on the GF grill.

                                      1. Thank you so much for all of the awesome replies. Dinner is Monday night. We all have a day off on Tuesday. It's still a toss up between pasta/salad/bread and hamburgers. To the person who recommended pesto lasagna -- I have a very good pesto ziti that I make. I may make it because it's a hit and it's easy to assemble and throw in the oven after work on Monday. Thank you so much again for all of the replies and ideas and suggestions!

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: Reester

                                          I work during the week also and know it's a bit tough to prepare a nice dinner some nights. But your menu sounds perfect to me, so I would do the taco bar. Most growing boys (and girls), love tacos. But if it's a lot of work and the parents don't seem crazy about the idea...

                                          Then your pasta dish sounds great too, just leave out the onions altogether in case someone has a real sensitivity to them, (my pasta sauce do not include onion, celery or carrots). Pasta for growing boys and girls is a fabulous choice. That with a salad would be a wonderful and easy meal.

                                          Have fun, whatever you chose to make.


                                        2. I would make hamburgers with all the fixings. AND a big plate of french fried onion rings., I'll bet 4 out of 5 people will munch them down like there is no tomorrow.
                                          Picky people are a pain in the ass. They need to act like guests, smile and eat what you serve.