Dinner & Drink for the Insecure Epicure
September 22, 2010 3:26 PM   Subscribe

What's for dinner? I am a reasonably skilled home cook whose skills fall into that grey area between "velveeta tuna cassarole" and "foie gras terrine with fermented plum gastrique;" my culinary skill has never failed to impress dates raised on the former, but this weekend I'm supposed to cook dinner for an experienced executive chef and I'm terrified. Suggestions for dinner, dessert, and an accompanying cocktail requested.

-I'd like to do most of the shopping at the Logan Square Farmer's Market, but I'll have a Mexican mercado and White Bread Supermarket for backup. I can find any specialty ingredient on earth in Chicago but it would preferably be something I can throw in my messenger bag and haul to his house on my bike.
-We are adventurous eaters; I don't really want to be cleaning out squid guts or anything but no ingredients are verboten.
-He's got a four-star background but he's currently running a bar that serves primarily pizza and housemade sausage. So, no pizza, or flatbread, or anything that remotely resembles pizza.
-I'd like some unifying thematic element to the menu, even it's just "here's some brill goat tacos and micheladas, viva la raza!"
-I'm cooking at his house and I'm not entirely sure how much equiptment he has; it's safe to assume cast iron/sharp knife/microplane, not so safe to assume tagine/stand mixer/cvap.
-I know he’s thrilled to have anyone else cook for him, especially a cute girl he likes, but my pride wants me to make something reasonably sophisticated. I make bomb macaroni and cheese, but now is not the time.
-Cocktail-wise I tend toward "artisanal mixology" if that term doesn't make you vomit; lots of fresh fruit and herbs and muddling and homemade syrups. I love gin and bourbon, I like everything else, and I dislike having to buy a million expensive bottles of liqueurs and bitters to make one drink.
My signature drink is the Gin-Gin Mule with homemade ginger syrup and I'd love recipe selections that would pair well with a spicy gingery drink, or suggestions for other drinks I would love.
TL; DR I am looking for recipes for dinner and a cocktail pairing utilizing seasonal ingredients that is sophisticated enough to serve to a chef but not so ambitious I’m going to totally embarrass myself cooking it.
posted by Juliet Banana to Food & Drink (57 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Whatever you make, either make sure you're familiar enough with the ingredients that you're not risking lessons learned on the night. Or do a practice run a few days before.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 3:33 PM on September 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

FWIW, my friend who is a chef said he actually hates it when people go crazy all-out and get freaked about food because he's a chef; he prefers to come over for a pot of grandma's chili and good conversation.

My advice would be that if you're going to go fancy, go fancy in one part of dinner -- I go fancy in dessert or salad -- but otherwise do something you make really well and, you know, make it really well. Don't worry about how fancy it is.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 3:36 PM on September 22, 2010 [10 favorites]

If I were you, I would make some good old fashioned home cooking that you're very comfortable with based around what's in season. Comfort food.
posted by synecdoche at 3:39 PM on September 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

Make your bomb mac and cheese. The lesson I've learned is to always stick to what you do the very best in this sort of situation.
posted by Zophi at 3:39 PM on September 22, 2010 [4 favorites]

I disagree, I think now would be exactly the right time to pull a bomb mac 'n cheese out of your back pocket. Go with what you know you do well and is delicious!

You can pair it with a salad that is sophisticated (lots of yummy fresh vegetables and make your own dressing) and save your wonderful sounding cocktail for after dinner when you want to just lounge around and enjoy each other's company.
posted by warble at 3:43 PM on September 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

Ooh, what an excellent question! I passed it on to my aforementioned brother, who has been the chef in this situation.

If I recall correctly, one good strategery is to focus on simple recipes with fantastic ingredients. Let the flavors shine and do the work for you. On the flip side, if there is a dish that requires a little advance prep or just thinking ahead, that might be kinda cool, too. (Nothing crazy, just things like soaking beans overnight or something like that.)

Also, do you have a particular affinity for dishes related to your heritage, or where you grew up? That might be a little too personal, but it could work especially well because a) maybe he's not from that area? and b) you could always wave off any issues with a "Well, that's how my GRANDMA made it" (and if he criticizes that, he is not fit to grace your table again!).

Recipes that would go well with a gingery drink: Jamaican or Costa Rican tico food, including my absolute favorite thing in the world: fish tacos. Do some fresh guac and maybe some mango salsa... OMNOMNOMNOMNOM.

I shall report back with any suggestions from my brother.
posted by Madamina at 3:47 PM on September 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Also, if he is a 4 star chef, then cooking him something fancy/sophisticated will most likely fail in his eyes as whatever you are attempting to prepare won't be nearly as good as what he can do. I know, I've been in that situation where a girl has tried to cook for me before. It didn't turn out well.

If you want to impress him, stick with what you know, mac and cheese, and make it from the heart. If you are trying to impress him, this will be the best way to do so. Giving a cook the day off from cooking means more than anything you could actually produce.

I don't mean to berate or insult you, or any of you fine "home chefs" out there, but it's his livelihood, it's his life, let him cook for you. Reciprocate with your passion, what you do the best (obviously it doesn't have to be what you do for a living).
posted by TheBones at 3:47 PM on September 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

Yeha I agree, a friend of mine dated a chef, and his first attempt to cook for her was to try to make something fancy ... she told him flat out that it wasn't really what she wanted.

You need to bring your A game for sure, but your A game is something you've made a LOT of times before and can do in the kithcen while chatting, laughing, flirting etc... not while stressing out about a new technique you've not tried before that isn't working.

If your A game is cabrito tacos and micheladas, then andele... make that.
posted by Admira at 3:47 PM on September 22, 2010

People under pressure tend to bomb when straying from what they know well - and anyway, if he's a working chef with chef friends, he's got plenty of access to foofoo stuff. You'd probably make a bigger impression with food that has a great story rather than food that has a fancy pedigree.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:49 PM on September 22, 2010

Response by poster: I did mention that no ingredients are forbidden, including meat.

I actually do want to cook something somewhat interesting; this is something I do for fun all the time at home. I am actually a pretty good cook, just not a chef, and I'm only nervous because I like him.

I want to cook him something interesting because we both really enjoy interesting food. I'm not looking for anything pretentious or crazy complicated or LOOK I'M A CHEF TOO. But we're sounding all day at the Farmer's Market and cooking. I want to bring my A game, y'all.

Normally I love searching out recipes for ideas and creating my own version on the fly but my brain is short-circuited by the crush I have on this dude and I need a little help coming up with ideas.
posted by Juliet Banana at 3:51 PM on September 22, 2010

Agreed on the simple and ethnic dishes that you know well for the main -- just do one flashy dish.

Tuaca Zabaglione with Sauteed Vanilla Pears is fairly easy to make (and boozy) -- just practice heating the yolks and sugar over steam prior so you know how not to overcook them. It does require a mixer though.

An alternative is to try finding some weird fruits that he hasn't tried yet -- mameys, jackfruit, cherimoya, etc., and eat them with whipped cream and a little sugar. Simple but if he's into interesting food he'll dig it.
posted by benzenedream at 3:57 PM on September 22, 2010

Coq au vin. It's easy. It's French. It's awesome. You can go with the traditional 4-day-or-whatever preparation or, as Julia Child herself presents, a much shorter one.

The only trouble I can see is that pairing something with it other than wine might be difficult, but I possess no authority whatsoever about mixology.

An old rooster is not manditory, but if you find one tell me where.
posted by cmoj at 4:02 PM on September 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

A girlfriend of mine started dating (and then quickly married) a chef earlier this year. He was THRILLED that someone else cooked for him.

So how about making 2 small individual bomb mac-and-cheeses as a first course with an interesting salad? Because seriously, if it's bomb, you should make it. Plus: easily made ahead and baked to crunchy goodness at his pad. You can add "interesting" to the other courses, and mac-and-cheese would go nicely with ginger cocktails. (Wine for the main.)

It's autumn, so maybe a shaved fennel/apple salad garnished with, I dunno, Mexican spiced walnuts? You can't go wrong with pork, unless he's a vegetarian or follows a non-pork religion.
posted by cyndigo at 4:03 PM on September 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

How about a slight gussying of the mac and cheese? I've been to a place that adds duck to theirs both for the cachet of anything with duck on a menu, and to be all "hah look at us we're so anti-snob that we put fancy meat like duck into something as base as Mac and cheese!"
posted by slow graffiti at 4:06 PM on September 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

My two favorite things lately. Pinapple, shrimp, vegetables cooked in soy sauce. On top of orzo. Second is rice, black eyed peas (which really should have been a different bean but I had them in the pantry), and kielbasa that had been cooked in hot sauce.

I'd go with the shrimp. It's hard to go wrong with shrimp. But as you can probably guess, I love shrimp so ymmv.
posted by theichibun at 4:07 PM on September 22, 2010

What about focusing on really social food for a first date? Maybe Ginger Marinated Beef, steamed pork balls and a shredded salad? It's very sharing, feed-each-other type of food and really, really cocktail friendly. Also if you want to do the "chatting and cooking together in the kitchen" thing you can give him the ork balls job as a discreet task.

I'd assume there's a food processor to hand but you can always make the marinade ahead of time - just seal it in a bottle or tupperware dish and bring it.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:16 PM on September 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Another vote that yeah, you're not going to beat this guy at his own profession, so bring on the bomb macaroni & cheese and the best dessert from your family recipe files (I don't know from cocktails, so can't help you there). Comfort food, just like grandma used to make. It's probably something he doesn't get to eat very often!
posted by Quietgal at 4:19 PM on September 22, 2010

I'm kind of with everyone on the just make the best thing you make camp, but it's you dinner, so if I were pairing with something with a kick like a moscow mule or a dank n' stormy I'd want something rich and luscious and tongue-coating. I'd do something like traditional carnitas or pernil, then maybe salad with nopales (cactus leaves) and maybe chiles en nogada?

I confess I only learned about the later through the Paupered Chef's recent series on his trip to Mexico (lots of cool snacks in there as well), but authentic Mexican is coming into fashion, and these seem like they'd be exotic and unique without being unduly taxing, and you'd have some kind of succulent pork for your main, which is not necessarily difficult but is motherfucking delicious.
posted by Diablevert at 4:49 PM on September 22, 2010

Nthing the crowd above: simple and delicious is the way to go. One of the most delicious things I've ever made (and now I make it A LOT) is the following:

Thomas Keller's Family Meal Roasted Chicken (via my memory of a TV program)

1 chicken
Some herbs (if you want)

Dry the chicken thorougly, inside and out. Salt and pepper thoroughly, inside and out. Put a few sprigs of fresh herbs inside (if you want). Truss the legs together. Fold the wingtips back underneath the breast. Set the chicken in a roasting pan that is just big enough to contain it. Put it in a 425°F oven until it's done. No foil, no basting.

Serve this with something equally simple, like a wilted seasonal green vegetable and rice. NOM.
posted by AkzidenzGrotesk at 4:51 PM on September 22, 2010

Oh I forgot to mention: Cooking something simple, or at least something where you can do 90% of the work during prep, frees you up to impress your heart's desire with your awesome cocktail-mixing and flirtation skills, which is a Very Good Thing. Mrs. Grotesk and I did exactly this with each other during a long series of courtship meals. I won't say that I decided to marry her based on her boeuf bourgignon, but it definitely didn't hurt.
posted by AkzidenzGrotesk at 4:59 PM on September 22, 2010

You could go for gourmet versions of your go-to dishes: homemade pasta and a home cheese sauce made from some daring cheeses. Homemade ice cream with fresh interesting fruits and melted ginger-chocolate drizzle (that dessert was my biggest hit anywhere ever). Add or substitute a daring ingredient in an otherwise comfortable dish.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 5:00 PM on September 22, 2010

Do you have access to a whipped cream charger? You could make a custom gin using this technique. Look at the rest of the site for good infusion ideas.

Your mac and cheese but with lobster and a truffle compound butter. A dandelion greens salad or other spicy lettuce salad along side.
Coconut curry with chicken topped with small rounds of fried sushi rice and radish sprouts. Then a green papaya and mango salad.
Pork ear ragout over buacatini or rigatoni. A mini caprese salad.
Ceviche, Peruvian style potatoes, and lima beans.
Turkish eggs but over homemade hummus topped with a garlic red pepper browned butter and a greek salad.
Sashimi and stir fry.

Can you make icecream/sorbet? Can you make a granita? Maybe a panna cotta. Or just some berries with a little sugar.

You two could look around the market for what's fresh and cheap and good that day and figure out a way to work in your favorite parts. You both get to be creative and daring and if it doesn't work out then you can drink and make french fries or something.
posted by JackarypQQ at 5:01 PM on September 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

Another vote for your awesome macaroni & cheese, maybe jazzed up a little.

As far as cocktail pairings go, I really love a Negroni with mac & cheese; the bitter component from the Campari really cuts through the sweet unctuous nature of the dish well.
posted by dfan at 5:03 PM on September 22, 2010

I definitely vote for the bomb mac and cheese, but if you're dead set against it, you could make something I make that's pretty quick and very delicious:

Scallops a la Maisie

1 lb fresh sea scallops (big ones, like 10 count), patted dry
flour, salt and pepper for dusting the scallops
butter (1/2 a stick maybe?)
2 leeks
3 shallots
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup vegetable broth (or you could use a good white wine for this step)

1. chop and clean leeks (you probably already know how to do this, but in case you don't, chop the leeks and then put them in a big bowl of cold water. Swish them around a bit and then lift them out. The dirt and crud will sink to the bottom of the water.)
2. melt butter in a big-ish sautee pan and add leeks
3. chop shallots and add to leeks
4. saute leek and shallot mixture until leeks are wilted to your liking
5. meanwhile, mix together flour salt and pepper, dump it into a ziploc bag and then add the scallops
6. toss the scallops around to coat; remove scallops and pat off any excess flour
7. when the leeks and shallots are wilted, push the mixture to the sides of the pan and add the scallops
8. cook the scallops for a minute or 2 and then flip them and cook for another minute or 2 on the other side
9. remove the scallops from the pan to a plate and keep them covered
10. turn up the heat and add some vegetable stock or wine to loosen up the yummy scallop juices (just eyeball it; 1/4 cup may be too much or too little, but if you cook a lot, you'll know how you want it to look)
11. turn the heat down and then add cream (
posted by Maisie at 5:09 PM on September 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

uh, sorry, I wasn't done.

12. let the sauce thicken for a few minutes and then add the scallops and their delicious juices back into the pan
13. serve over rice or pasta and bask in glory

Good luck!
posted by Maisie at 5:11 PM on September 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I do, in fact, know how to make many dishes besides macaroni and cheese well. It was just an example of the type of bland homey Midwestern fare I'd rather stay away from.
posted by Juliet Banana at 5:13 PM on September 22, 2010

nthing the 'do whatever you do best' posts, but if you're really not keen on that: it's fig season!

If you can find some nice ripe figs, one of my favourite salads is to cut fresh figs into flowers (i.e., quarter them from top down, but don't cut all the way through), and stuff each fig with a bit of good goat cheese. Drizzle with honey, crack black pepper over it, and pop it in a 375-degree oven for 5 or 10 mins. (Just enough to get the cheese warmed and a bit gooey).

Served on mixed greens with a basic vinaigrette (I like to use fig-balsamic, olive oil, honey, dijon, S&P), it's one of those fancy-but-not-trying-too-hard kinds of starters.
posted by miss_kitty_fantastico at 5:21 PM on September 22, 2010 [9 favorites]

Just an idea but does he have any recipes that he developed that you have access to or know about?

He might find something like that flattering and talking about the recipe would give him something to talk to you about. I haven't really thought that out though so I don't know what the potential pitfalls might be.
posted by VTX at 5:34 PM on September 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've got nothing on the food front, but... If you love bourbon and are into your gin-gin mule, I think you might like a Kentucky Colonel.

Ginger Beer
Fresh squeezed lemon

You can probably figure out your perfect amounts. I tend to be heavy on the bourbon.

I've made a variation that utilizes ginger simple syrup to create a "Colonel-tini".
posted by waitangi at 5:37 PM on September 22, 2010

It would help to know what's been looking good at Logan's Square Farmer's Market, if you're looking to use fresh local ingredients. Otherwise, I'm tempted to suggest Chicken Tetrazzini, particularly if he's a fan of The Soup.
posted by wondermouse at 5:44 PM on September 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Also, if you've got any Asian cooking techniques up your sleeve - particularly how to stir-fry stuff and when to add sauces and so on - I've been dying to try stuff from this Thai website. I'm looking at this dish right now and it looks awesome. I'd recommend trying this only if you can get some real Thai fish sauce and Thai oyster sauce, as well as the Thai chilies. I find Thai food to be a lot of fun to cook when I can get my hands on the right ingredients.
posted by wondermouse at 6:04 PM on September 22, 2010

Back when I was a single lady my go-to for wooing whatever dude I was into was the following meal handed down to me from a french/sardinian/can't remember what else friend. It's all pretty simple to make. There is nothing exotic about it, but people tend to dig the flavors and the decadence of the cream.

Appetizer: make a paste of garlic, parsley, olive oil, salt, pepper and maybe some lemon juice. Layer with anchovies and put in the fridge for a day. Serve with toast or crackers.

Meat: use chicken or pork tenderloin. Sautee the meat in garlic, butter, salt/pepper. Add oj/lemon juice (3:1) and creme fraiche. Finish with a touch of cointreau. Additionally saute orange slices in butter to garnish the dish.

Taters: slice thinly and make a gratin using salt, pepper, maybe nutmeg, some of that creme fraiche and comte cheese. Bake.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 6:05 PM on September 22, 2010

If sausage isn't totally out because of his current work, I love Pan-Grilled Sausages with Apples and Onions. You could pick up local sausages and apples at the market, plus some fresh bread. It would go well with the ginger cocktail and the fig/goat cheese appetizer miss_kitty_fantastico suggested.

It's not a fancy dish but you could make something more challenging for dessert.
posted by atropos at 6:34 PM on September 22, 2010

I really love these Black Bean and Carrot Burritos with Cilantro. They're a bit wacky/different, require a fair amount of prep work (lots of time to flirt while chopping carrots together!), and are delicious. I also think they'd be nice paired with your Gin-Gin Mule.

Oh! And buy some of those delicious tortillas that you can get in Chicago made fresh daily -- Supermercado Morelia used to have really good ones, if I recall correctly.

You could throw together some kind of fancy home-made salsa (I like this recipe for Pico de Gallo but there might be better ones out there) and grab some local tortilla chips (I'd go with El Ranchero, I really miss those -- or even make your own!) to start off with, too.
posted by k8lin at 6:43 PM on September 22, 2010

Try some of these video recipes. They look simple and can be quickly prepared.
You will never go wrong with fresh and good ingredients, simply prepared.
Good wine, olive oil, cheese, chocolate, fresh fruit - all winners in my book.
For appetizers, something like homemade pate+crostini? Perhaps you can make pate at home and bring it with you?. You can also bring dessert, so you can concentrate on the main dish. Otherwise you will just go insane.
I will memail you a good Italian cookbook with nice and elegant appetizers.
posted by leigh1 at 6:52 PM on September 22, 2010

I just made Julia Child's beurre blanc with poached fish as one course of a fancy dinner and the reaction when people tasted the sauce veered into orgasm/coronary territory. Eyes rolled back. There was groaning. The plates were quite literally licked clean.
There is a reason that glorious sauce is what made Julia decide to be a chef.

It's relatively easy to make, but you have to make it just before you serve, and you have to time your fish poaching to coincide with the sauce, but it's not hard, uses few ingredients and vastly worth it. If I had a dude to impress, this is what I'd go with.
posted by CunningLinguist at 7:10 PM on September 22, 2010

Id probably ask this question on chowhound-its the sorta question they get there all the thine and there are some seriously great home cooks hanging out on the home cooking board there.

I don't really know what you're likely to encounter at the farmer's market in your next of the woods, but id probably spend some time on epicurious looking for recipes with those ingredients. I think you'll score making something that really showcases fabulous ingredients.

What about a wild mushroom risotto? I don't have a specific recipe, but I love risotto and I think it's a fun dish to cook with someone else. If you're shopping all day, something long-cooking like beef bourguignon won't work as well.

Another favorite of mine, in a different direction, is Marcella Hazan's bolognese. It's pretty simple but very authentic and far from your traditional american spaghetti sauce. It's a great fall dish.
posted by purenitrous at 7:16 PM on September 22, 2010

One more thing I thought of. If a good portion of the day is based around the farmer's market, I would suggest finding the best stuff there and building your menu around that. I know it's no help here because you are looking for something that you can plan ahead, but that's the great thing about the farmer's market.

This may be the perfect time to bring your special man friend into the picture. Take him to the farmer's market, and whatever you get passionate about, say "I absolutely love these pattypans (sub for whatever turns you on- and, YES, food IS sexy) I wanna make something with these." Then have him help you put together something amazing.

This way you leverage his knowledge about food, and you show him you are engaged and enthusiastic. When you combine these two things, that's where it happens!

As for drinks, I thought of one my uncle made when my wife and I went out to visit them before we got married. It was a hendrick's gin drink with silver sage and a little mixture of orange and grapefruit juice served as a cocktail in a martini glass. I can't remember the exact ratio, but it was good enough for me to remember it 7 years later (I can barely remember what I had for dinner last night).
posted by TheBones at 7:17 PM on September 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Since autumn is coming, I'd pick something distinctly autumnal. Should go well with your ginger drink, too. Mashed turnips are good--boil them, mash them, then add butter, a little bit of brown sugar, cinnamon. I'd probably pair them with some fresh steamed broccoli, and pork chops with apples. I make mine like this:

-Heat 2 tbsp oil in a pan
-cut up 2 apples into wedges (I like to keep the skin on, but you could probably peel them if the skin bugs you)
-Add apples, plus 1/4 cup brown sugar and a dash of cinnamon and nutmeg to pan. Mix, cover, and simmer for a bit.
-Rub porkchops with minced garlic, a bit of sea salt, and fresh ground pepper.
-When apple mixture is starting to look like it's carmelizing, add pork chops to pan. Turn once to get both sides nice and browned, then cover.

Chops should finish just around the time the apples get nice and soft.

It's not the most brilliant or complicated recipe, but it's really tasty, and to me, autumn food says "let's hop in bed together and snuggle the winter away!"
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:17 PM on September 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

Ooooh, I just remembered. Smoked cheddar barley risotto a la Smitten Kitchen is one of my favourite things ever. I use smoked cheddar instead of parm, spinach instead of escarole, and diluted white vermouth in place of the white wine, but I'm sure any adaptation would be delicious.

I usually have it as a main (b/c I love it so very much), but having something like this as a side is, to me, really really impressive. Because you managed to make grains and not-meat taste that velvety and luxurious and sinful? And that's just the freakin' SIDE dish? Mega props.

It is a bit time-consuming, but you could make it in advance and reheat at his place, as per the suggestions in the recipe.
posted by miss_kitty_fantastico at 7:20 PM on September 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

The barley risotto is pretty much fool-proof, btw. If you know to use warm liquids only, and you can stir, you will succeed.
posted by miss_kitty_fantastico at 7:23 PM on September 22, 2010

I watched some TV chef whip this up, tried it myself and it impressed. Maybe not quite fancy enough but anyway... I wrote this down as he did it.

* Oregano
* sea salt
* freshly ground black pepper
* handful of raisins
* dry sherry
* extra virgin olive oil
* 4 large, thick pork chops
* trimmed fat from pata negra, and some pata negra offcuts (substitute bacon or pancetta)
* 1 finely chopped peeled red onion
* 1 large red Capsicum\pepper, deseeded, chopped roughly
* fresh rosemar yleaves
* a few fresh bay leaves
* 540g of white beans or butter beans, drained
* 400g spinach leaves

Iin a pestle and mortar pound the oregano, with a small pinch of salt and pepper. Chop and add hte raisins with a bit of the sherry and oil and muddle until it turns into a paste.

With the pork chops, cut a pocket in the sides of them. Fill the pockets with the raisin paste.

Fry the strips of fat from your pata negra or bacon in a medium pan on a high heat for a few minutes, then add the offcuts (or bacon) and a bit of olive oil. Add the chopped onion and pepper, then turn the heat down and cook for about 5 more minutes, or until the vegetables have softened. Roughly chop your rosemary leaves and add those to the pan along with your bay leaves.

Add your beans to the pan with 350ml of water - give it a stir then leave for 20 mins or so.

Season the pork chops with salt, pepper and olive oil. Cook them on a griddle pan that is very hot - for 2 - 3 minutes each side then turn the heat down to low/medium and keep cooking for 10 minutes more, turn as required.

Chop the spinach leaves and add to the pan with the beans. Taste and season as required.

Serve together.
posted by Admira at 7:27 PM on September 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh, and you don't want to eat a huge meal. If you feed me huge steak and chocolate cake and bottle of wine, I just want to go to sleep.
posted by leigh1 at 7:44 PM on September 22, 2010

Okay basically you want Simple Stuff done with High Quality Ingredients. He runs a place that does pizza? Think Northern Itaian - simple, fast, and the quality of the ingredients can shine. I like this, Good Prosciutto over arugula served with pine nuts with good balsamic vinegar on top.

Does he like cilantro? Guacamole, from scratch. Serve with tangerine ceviche, with little mandarin oranges and chili pepper.If everything is fresh you pretty much can't go wrong. It's a nice template.

Tequila cocktails.

Creme du Violet is your friend. The Aviator.
posted by The Whelk at 8:09 PM on September 22, 2010

OK, you want simple and exotic? Well then I suggest ancient Roman food. Surprisingly, has a certain familiarity with its use of fish sauce (garum) but has a certain robustness and honesty. Now don't do weird crap like from Tramalchio's feast but the simpler items of Apicius.

Things I have liked:
Fish roasted with cheese;
Tuna steaks grilled with a date sauce/marinade
Pork with garum and honey (this is a traditional dish in my mom's repertoire)
Lamb marinated in crushed herbs
Wine, delightful wines

Seriously, good times had by all. The ancient Romans believed in freshness so things in season were appropriately related to the food served.

Now remember here is some of the exotic ingredients such as garum, frutum, lovage and extinct syllphium. But seriously, they are either available or substitutes can be had. Take a look at this book.

If you need detailed advice on cooking ancient Roman memail me.

I guarantee you that not many people have cooked or eaten Ancient Roman food.
posted by jadepearl at 8:11 PM on September 22, 2010 [6 favorites]

start with a good reposado

add St. John Commandaria, a nice sherry

Carpano Antica Formula

a very good vermouth
a dash of orange bitters

oh, also-

rinse the glass with a splash of absinthe
and rim the edge with a twist of lemon

friend of mine called it the El Commandante
posted by The Whelk at 8:13 PM on September 22, 2010

If foie gras terrine with fermented plum gastrique is really the height of your cooking abilities but still within the range or something you can make then maybe you could make that. It would be familiar to anyone who's had duck with plum sauce. Foie is too expensive but you could do it with chicken liver and some ground duck and maybe some duck fat. Make the gastrique with plum vinegar. Maybe the plum vinegar gastrique gets mixed into an XO sauce. Then just make up some Vietnamese crepes to smear the terrine on and sop up the sauce.
posted by JackarypQQ at 8:40 PM on September 22, 2010

Do you have an ice cream maker? Everybody likes ice cream.
Failing that, you could make a clafoutis.
I agree with all above who say that a professional chef loves nothing more than home-cooked fare. How's your roast chicken? Roasting a chicken actually one of the trickiest things to pull of as a cook. Knocking that out would both satisfy your desire to stay true to your roots and your desire to impress a professional cook.
Is there a grill? Throw some sirloin on it and serve with a potato gratin and a green salad. Or grilled asparagus. Or what about salmon on cedar planks? Salt and pepper, grill, and you're done. Or roast a pork shoulder. The thing practically bastes itself.
I've been helping the Mrs. prepare Sunday dinner for around nine for most of this year now, and we've found that the more homey and more simple the preparation, the better it's received. Stick to what you know, and you'll no doubt impress.
posted by Gilbert at 9:37 PM on September 22, 2010

Late to the party, but my former go-to meal to impress was garlic roasted prawns with portobello (damn, I know I'm writing that wrong) mushrooms sliced into strips, on top of penne with pesto, with a side of steamed broccoli and red bell pepper.

The pesto was pretty simple, pine nuts, black pepper, parmesan, roasted garlic, salt, and tons of basil. The shrimp got shelled, and with the sliced mushrooms, tossed in oil and minced garlic, then broiled in a pyrex pan. Juices from the mushrooms and shrimp can be blended into the pesto. Serve with some fresh (or toasted) french bread and lots of wine.
posted by Ghidorah at 11:38 PM on September 22, 2010

Whatever you make, don't forget about presentation. Use plain white plates and arrange the food conscientiously on it. Wipe the edges with towel. Oh, WARM the plates before you put food on them. Use sharpened knives...this will release better flavor from your foods and enhance the overall presentation in small ways (no jagged edges on meat, herbs, etc.). Also be sure to season things well, using sea salt and good pepper. Focussing on these extra details will leave little room for going big with some new recipe...don't do it. Stick to what you know and do it with love. You'll lessen the anxiety level in the room and have more factors that you can control than not. That's important.

Keep the number of different foods in the meal low - 2 or 3 max, like a simple, fun salad and your bomb mac 'n cheese. Then later, something special for dessert. You don't know enough about flavor profiles to pull off more than that on a plate.

Presentation goes a long way. It doesn't have to be gimmicky, just pleasant and thought after. A while back my ex-bf chef and I made a gazpacho for a potluck. Instead of buying a bunch of cheap cups, we bought cucumbers and umbrella monkeys (those drink pick things). We chopped the cukes in half width-wise and hollowed out the centers. People loved the edible soup cups and it was stupid easy.

Datapoint: ex-bf chef hated when people tried to impress him with elaborate meals. He just wanted somebody to make him a sandwich. But a damn delicious sandwich.

If you have time and money, make the whole meal at your house, the night before, to avoid any pitfalls and learn the rhythmn of this dish preparation. It'll free you up to improve the meal at his house, and be available for light conversation while cooking. And confidence for enjoying the eating with him after.

But above all else, punch your weight.
posted by iamkimiam at 12:17 AM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

A couple of things that I've made for similar dinner parties and which have gone over brilliantly:

Thai style scallop ceviche. Since I was doing this as an amuse bouche I made 1 scallop per person and served it in the scallop shell. Very easy, quick and almost impossible to get wrong.

Soy-grilled quails eggs (half-way down the page). Much of the prep can be done in advance, they're fun to eat, and slightly chef-fy if you aim for that sweet spot between full and half-boiled. I served them as nibbles on individual sticks, with champagne.
posted by tavegyl at 2:20 AM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm just going to jump in here and say, as others have, that chefs like a day off too.

Most chefs I've seen interviewed fetishize simplicity and good ingredients - figs and cheese, good quality ham, fresh tomatoes, oven-warm bread. Food preparation is a technical, not an emotional, exercise conducted under some pressure. On days off, bringing food back to being about bringing people together in a relaxed way is what they crave.

I'm also going to recommend Roast Chicken and Other Stories by Simon Hopkinson. In July 2005, a panel of chefs, food writers and consumers in the British magazine Waitrose Food Illustrated voted it “the most useful cookbook of all time."

Hopkinson's approach is all about what chefs would cook at home. He is a chef, and his recipes are very ingredient and soul food oriented. As per the title of the book, his roast chicken is mighty fine.

Also: don't forget wine. If you're going to introduce complexity and sophistication into proceedings I'd do it with wine and not food.
posted by MuffinMan at 2:44 AM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

You like bourbon? And artisanal cocktails? Why not go for the original cocktail, the Old Fashioned:

Simple syrup
Aromatic bitters (either Angostura, or Fee Bros. - I actually prefer the latter)
An orange

This method uses no muddling so there's no mashed fruit carcass in the drink. Take a rocks glass, pour around a teaspoon of simple syrup in the bottom. (I don't really measure, I basically pour enough to coat the bottom of the glass. With practice you learn how much is too much.) Add a few dashes of bitters. Add ice. Hold the orange over the glass, and using a peeler, strip off a large piece of orange peel, doing your best to aim the spray into the glass. Before adding the peel to the glass, give it a good hard twist, again aiming the spray into the glass. Then pour in a couple ounces of bourbon (or rye) and give the whole thing a big stir. (Do not add water or soda here. Those are only needed if you use plain sugar, which would need help to dissolve. If you start with syrup instead you can leave out the water, which leave the drink good 'n' strong.)
posted by dnash at 7:56 AM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

First, ahoy from Logan Square as well!

Second, I'm actually frequently in this situation with my parents: one of their friends is a CIA grad, executive chef, own catering company type guy who's idea of a simple meal is things seen on Iron Chef. And I am expected to cook for family parties involving this guy. Yikes.

Best advice I ever got from him: simple ingredients, well prepared, and cleanly presented is the absolute best way you can do anything for anyone, regardless of their palette and experience. A simple and humble caprese goes a long way. It's held true for the times I've been in your situation (though he's in his late 50s and I'm straight, so maybe not EXACTLY your situation). Heck, last time he was over, we did a pig roast.

Ruhlman.com is a great blog with good recipes that generally follow this advice, might be worth a look-at.
posted by moitz at 10:06 AM on September 23, 2010

Here's a simple-but-amazing dessert recipe for Cranberry Apple Raisin Crisp. I made this for Thanksgiving last year and it's one of the best desserts I've ever eaten. The mix of sweet and tart is just perfect. Serve warm with a good vanilla ice cream and prepare for orgasmic dessert bliss.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 4:50 AM on September 24, 2010

Coming back late, but I think you might want to just roast a chicken and do some awesome roasted, seasonal vegetables. You can try something like the Zuni Cafe Recipe (which is amazing), or some other one you're happy with. It's not the kind of fare that you seem to want to avoid, but what meat-eater in his or her right mind doesn't love a well-roasted bird with some veggies and maybe some roasted or mashed potatoes?
posted by synecdoche at 6:31 PM on September 24, 2010

Response by poster: Much thanks to everyone to their help! He's still eating leftovers, which makes me think it was a sucess.

I went with the "ethnic food prepared with splendid ingredients" route which was a good attack strategy; big ups to everyone who suggested it.

I made puerco pibil from this recipe with some instruction from Robert Rodriguez. It really isn't that much more difficult than carnitas (which I could make in my sleep) but the banana leaf parcel is pretty impressive.

I pickled my own red onion with cinnamon stick, allspice, black pepper, cloves, and a serrano pepper.

I cooked up a big pot of rice with heirloom tomatoes and varicolored chile peppers from the Farmer's Market and a ton of cilantro and lime. Rice is generally my go-to dish for cooking at other people's houses because thanks to my Mexican heritage I've been cooking rice and beans since I was 8 years old.

He made a salad with mizuna and arugula and sauteed hen of the woods mushrooms and a homemade vinegarette and remarked that it was nice to be the one who just makes the salad.

We drank micheladas. Run a lime wedge around the edge of a glass, rim it in sea salt and freshly ground dried guajillo pepper, squeeze and drop in 3 lime wedges/tablespoon of hot sauce/dash of Worcheshire, fill with a can of Tecate.
posted by Juliet Banana at 8:44 AM on October 1, 2010 [4 favorites]

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