What's the quickest, cheapest, most impressive meal you've ever cooked?
June 2, 2013 1:00 PM   Subscribe

I'm cooking a meal for 4 tomorrow. Snowflakes about the eaters inside but this tin reads: What should I feed us for dinner?

I'm cooking a meal for 4 people tomorrow. Here's who's coming to dinner!

-- An overly picky 8 year old. Likes white meat, potatoes, and pizza rolls. He also likes some vegetables but not typically green ones.
-- An older guy meat and potatoes type guy. Will probably turn his nose up at overly fancy things he cannot pronounce.
-- 30 something dude that is a chef (and a good one, to boot). Works in an Italian restaurant so I'd like to not make pasta (something I excel at) if I can pull that off.

I'd like to feed these boys something fairly healthy, delicious, and relatively quick. I'll have about 2 hours to cook and I'd like to spend under 50 bucks but if you've got a delicious idea, I'll spend more. I live in a rural area so things with crazy ingredients are out -- I just won't be able to get them in time. I'd like to stay away from crock pot recipes too, if I can.

So Mefites, have you any ideas? What's your go to meal when you want to impress friends that might meet my criteria above? I'd like to make meat-something -- I'd like to make a meat something and we love chicken so I thought I'd do a Gordon Ramsay roast chicken but I wanted to make sure y'all didn't have a better recommendation first.

Tell me about the time you threw a great little dinner party with wonderful food that was delicious, won't you? All stories / recipes are much appreciated!
posted by youandiandaflame to Food & Drink (29 answers total) 46 users marked this as a favorite
I think your plan for a roasted chicken is a great one - it's impressive, everyone on your list will like it, and it will be super delicious. You can do cubed potatotes (maybe white plus sweet) in a layer under the chicken - they will cook in the chicken fat and get really, really yummy. Add a salad on the side with a homemade lemon-y vinaigrette and you're golden. :)
posted by rainbowbrite at 1:08 PM on June 2, 2013

Seconding roast chicken. It's totally the way forward. Do It with gravy made with white wine and either roast or mashed potatoes. You could serve a bitter leaf salad or asparagus if you wanted to elevate it a bit. Or maybe buttered greens.
posted by rhymer at 1:14 PM on June 2, 2013

Made this for Christmas dinner one year for the two of us. Kind of spur of the moment as I hadn't planned on doing anything special, but it made for a surprisingly nice meal for very little time and effort:

Roasted pork tenderloin with honey mustard glaze

Steamed carrots with honey butter

Garlic mashed potatoes
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 1:14 PM on June 2, 2013

Bacon wrapped cream cheese chicken breasts.

Chicken breasts
Green onion\chive cream cheese

Take boneless chicken breast. Make some 2 to 3 inch slices about a half inch deep.

Liberally sparkle the cracks with the cream cheese.

Starting at one end, secure a piece of bacon with a toothpick and proceed to mummify the chicken breast. Use as many toothpicks as you need. For a largish chicken breast it takes About 4 pieces of bacon.

Bake at 350 til done. Maybe like 45 minutes. Might want to cover it for the first half to keep it juicy.
posted by ian1977 at 1:18 PM on June 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Roast the potatoes under the chicken and everyone will be happy.

I don't know any chefs personally, but every chef memoir I've read talks about how wonderful it is to have someone else cook a nice homey meal for them and how bummed they are when people assume they expect stuff to be fancy, or that they need to be impressed.

Here's a pic and simple recipe from Bittman.

Make a fruit crostata or batter cake for dessert to celebrate the start of stone fruit or berry season!
posted by fingersandtoes at 1:20 PM on June 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

Side-dish-wise, how about duchess potatoes, a simple soup -- saute celery and onion in a lot of butter, add a bunch of whatever veg, cook, add stock/milk and puree, and a tomato salad?

The most simple soups are what get raved at when I have people over. As above with leek, as above with carrot, etc. Even picky kids have been seen going for seconds.

Nice to have: good bread, pitcher of ice water, beer/wine, non-alcoholic non-water something, little meal-accessories like lemon wedges, minced herbs/herbed butter
posted by kmennie at 1:27 PM on June 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

This is the most requested dish I've ever made:
Prepare linguine according to package directions.

Meanwhile, heat a jar of Classsico Spicy Red Pepper Pasta Sauce.

Just before serving stir in a some chopped cilantro and grated lemon zest. (Just play around with quantities, starting with small amounts of each to taste.)

Serve over pasta. You can also add any kind of cooked protein you want; grilled shrimp is very good.
I came up with this years ago trying to duplicate something I had in a restaurant and this is everyone's favorite dish, including the snobbiest foodies I know. You can adapt this easily-peasily for a child or picky eater by portioning out some pasta or some sauce to customize, too.
posted by Room 641-A at 1:39 PM on June 2, 2013 [11 favorites]

My goto great meal is a potato-zuchini(or squash) frittata. To make it great, I use lots of bacon and cook the potatoes in the bacon grease. Use the best quality eggs you can get (mine come from pasture kept chickens from a friend) and cook the bacon S-L-O-W-L-Y by roasting at 200 deg in the oven to get the most bacon grease out and ensure the bacon is tender. You can mix in whatever you like-its a great clear the fridge meal when you aren't trying to impress anyone. Occasionally I even manage to make it out of only stuff from my garden (and the eggs and cheese) which tends to impress people also.

This is pretty close.

Almost everyone likes this (its the bacon I am sure). I even got a very picky 18mo to clear her plate.
posted by bartonlong at 1:40 PM on June 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Nthing a whole roasted chicken. I like the Thomas Keller recipe - simple,quick, delicious, idiot-proof.
posted by gnutron at 1:48 PM on June 2, 2013

Everybody likes taco night. I'm just saying.
posted by BlahLaLa at 1:49 PM on June 2, 2013

I came to recommend the Zuni Cafe chicken and bread salad on Smitten Kitchen that snickerdoodle recommended. The chicken itself is unbelievably good and the bread salad, well, what can I say, "meat and potatoes" red blooded carb loving American types just love it. It's very tasty.

If not the bread salad, I would get some lovely local asparagus or brussels sprouts if they're available to you and roast them until the tips/outer leaves are crispy, along with some garlic and lots of sea salt and fresh cracked pepper.

Very much seconding that chefs would rather eat your quotidian food than something fancy you do just for them.
posted by telegraph at 1:56 PM on June 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Nobody turns up their nose at roast chicken. Throw a few cloves of garlic (unpeeled), a lemon cut in quarters, and some rosemary into the cavity.

Or, turn it into a pan roast - get some chicken thighs (bone in), marinate for an hour or so in lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, hot pepper, and rosemary. Pour a little of the marinating liquid in a baking pan, put down a layer of potatoes cut 1/2" thick, then a layer of chicken thighs, then the rest of the marinade. Cook about an hour at 375.

A great variant, but one I wouldn't try on a fussy 8 year old, is bluefish instead of chicken, and the potatoes sliced thinner. Cook the potatoes for 15 minutes, add the fish, and cook 15 minutes longer.
posted by mr vino at 1:58 PM on June 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

You didn't mention dessert, but tarte Tantin is easy and super-impressive.

1 sheet ready-made puff pastry (find in the frozen food section, defrost ahead of time)
5 or 6 apples, peeled and cut in half horizontally and cored
4 or 6 tablespoons butter
about 1/2 cup sugar, maybe a little more
splash of vanilla

Put the apples flat side down in a 12" cast iron pan. Crowd them, because they will shrink as they cook. Throw in the butter, sugar, and vanilla. Cook over a med-high heat until the butter and sugar caramelizes and the apples are soft, about 1/2 hour. Some color on the apples is good; and don't flip them.

Put the puff pastry on top and put in the oven. Follow the directions on the pastry box in regards to temperature and time. Should look like this when done.

Carefully tip onto a plate, pastry-side down, and serve warm. Looks like this (except for the one really dark apple because of our crappy stove).

If you want to get fancier, and have something for the kid to eat, serve with a little scoop of some really good vanilla ice cream.
posted by Specklet at 2:04 PM on June 2, 2013 [4 favorites]

Roast the chicken with whole small new potatoes and make pasta with a white sauce and fresh herbs.

snap peas are good right now, barely steam them and they will b amazing.

for dessert, grill some fresh peaches or nectarines. cut them in half, pull out the pit, grill open side first... 3-5 minutes then flip over and drizzle a little good balsamic vinegar or brown sugar on them...

3 minutes on the skin side, one lat 30 second flip and then drop those bad boys on some vanilla bean ice cream
posted by bobdow at 2:06 PM on June 2, 2013

Response by poster: snickerdoodle: I want SOOOOO badly to try that Zuni Cafe recipe but after a quick jaunt to my local grocery, finding a chicken under 5 pounds is going to be impossible. Also, they don't carry fresh herbs.

Seriously guys, I live in the sticks. My grocery is a joke.

It seems like the consensus is a roast chicken, though. Since I won't be able to find one small enough to brine overnight :(, does anyone have any other delicious recipes?
posted by youandiandaflame at 2:23 PM on June 2, 2013

Pot roast? I don't have a specific recipe to recommend because all the ones I use require considerably more than two hours, being day-long crock pot recipes, but it may be possible to track one down that will fit within your window.
posted by XMLicious at 2:39 PM on June 2, 2013

I just wanted to put a plug in for cauliflower gratin. My friend makes it and it is insanely delicious. I think it might be this recipe. It might appeal to the non-green-vegetable-eating 8-year-old.
posted by loveyallaround at 3:02 PM on June 2, 2013

Here is Julia Child's roast chicken recipe. It is AMAZING. I roast with extra lemon and am very liberal with the butter...
posted by bjharl at 3:03 PM on June 2, 2013

The first thing I thought was roast chicken too. Thomas Keller's is my go-to recipe. I too fill the bird with salt, pepper, lemons, and rosemary. His fried chicken is also fantastic. You could make potatoes dauphinoise for the side, which seems impressive but is so easy.

Chicken paprikash with homemade spaetzle is also great. If you don't have a spaetzle maker, just pour the batter into a colander or pasta strainer, place it over the boiling water, and push the batter through the holes with the back of a spoon. You can add some mustard or horseradish to the batter for more flavor.
posted by theuninvitedguest at 3:08 PM on June 2, 2013

Roast the chicken with simple seasoning. I like rice or baked potatoes. Cubed roasted is good too.

You can feed people nice simple food and they'll just be happy in your company. Don't worry about wowing people. Roast chicken is yummy and a salad and potatoes are comfort food.

Enjoy your company, and your dinner will be delish!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 3:09 PM on June 2, 2013

how about chicken piccata? i rarely cook but i made it with small red skinned potatoes and it was absolutely delicious. you could serve something pre-made for dessert like ice cream or fancy cookies like mint milanos. oh, probably need to throw a veg in there too.
posted by wildflower at 3:12 PM on June 2, 2013

I roast chicken using Marcella Hazan's lemon method: take a chicken, rinse and pat dry, salt and pepper outside and the cavity. Take a couple of lemons and roll them on a cutting board to break up the interior, then pierce each one 15-20 times with a thin knife or awl. Place them in the cavity (if they're small lemons, you might be able to get 3 in). Close the cavity (I use a few toothpicks and cooking string), and tie the ends of the drumsticks so they can't separate too far. Roast according to your preferred method (I do breast-down for 30 minutes at 350 degrees, then flip the bird, roast another 30 minutes, and then turn the temperature to 400 until the bird is done. There's no need to baste, because the lemon juices keep the bird moist. If you closed the cavity carefully and the skin doesn't crack, the bird puffs up slightly from the lemony steam.

I now do my Thanksgiving turkey the same way, and guests rave about it. But that's got to be in part the free range turkey that I buy, as well as the method.
posted by brianogilvie at 3:26 PM on June 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

When I serve roast chicken when there are children and or gravy-eating-men involved, I buy lemons, some parsley and tarragon (dried or frozen is fine), butter and cream.
Also potatoes (at this time of year, new potatoes), and frozen peas (finest type), a fine lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumber.

First of all, make a cucumber salad. Slice half the cucumber very finely, and salt it. In a saucer, heat up 1/4 cup of vinegar, 1/4 cup of water, whole pepper-corns, bay leaf. When this has boiled for five minutes, rinse the cucumber slices in cold water, pat them dry with kitchen paper, place them in a bowl and pour over the vinegar-mix.

I season the chicken by rubbing it thoroughly with salt and pepper, inside and out. THen I wash my hands. Then I put a lot of parsley and not as much tarragon in the cavity. Then I scrub the lemon, and put that in the cavity whole.
I place the chicken in a dish that fits, and then I put pieces of butter all over it. This is important. I read a scientific reason, but I forgot - the main point is that it needs to be real butter, not oil or margarine and placed (or rubbed) all over the chicken for great skin crunchiness. If you don't eat the gravy, it isn't fattening - the butter gives off it's crunchy properties and then goes to the pan (but not eating the gravy seems like waste to me..). Then I cook the chicken till the juices are clear, preferably on the interval grill setting (if you have that?) at a medium heat. If you don't have the interval setting, cook it slowly for 1 hour (up to 75 minutes, depending on size), and then give it a blast for the last 10-15 minutes, again depending on your oven and the size of the chicken.

Keep an eye on the chicken when it begins to look finished. You want the legs done, without the breasts being overdone. The whole lemon helps keep the breasts juicy, but only to a point.

Meanwhile, boil the potatoes as gently as possible. There is a recipe where you only bring them to the boil and let them finish in the cooling water. It's genius when it works, but it only does every second time for me. I suppose you need very fresh new potatoes. Place the peas in a sieve over the potatoes to steam them.

When the chicken is finished, put it on a board to rest. take the juices and fat into a saucer, and add cream. Bring to the boil and turn down to a simmer. Normally, this tastes great right away, otherwise season. I use a drop of food coloring to make the this into a brown gravy. It tastes better when it looks right. But it's not strictly necessary.

Make a simple salad of lettuce and small tomato and cucumber squares, with an oil and lemon dressing.

Now you are ready, roast chicken, potatoes, gravy, with peas, cucumber salad and lettuce salad.
I've never met a soul who weren't happy to eat this.
But remember - it's not at all the same without the butter.
posted by mumimor at 3:51 PM on June 2, 2013 [4 favorites]

An herb crusted rack of lamb is shockingly easy to cook and really impressive when cooked to medium rare and presented attractively.
posted by nathancaswell at 3:57 PM on June 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

I came in to tell you about Marcella Hazan's roast chicken -- brianogilvie has already revealed it above. My comments: the chicken breast comes out nice and moist if you DO start the chicken breast side down at 350, turn it over after 30 minutes, and half and hour later aise the temp. It's not hard to do if you have a long wooden or other kitchen spoon to put in the cavity and help you turn the chicken. You could also wad up some paper towels and pick the chicken up by hand to flip it. Lemons are optional, but give delicious results. Tying the legs is optional as well.

My change to Marcella's recipe is that I spread a thin coat of oil all over the chicken before cooking, and then I salt the outside. Olive oil is good, but so is any vegetable oil you happen to have.

I wouldn't roast the chicken on top of potatoes, unless the chicken is on a rack and the potatoes are underneath. If you put the cut-up potatoes around the chicken they'll still get the benefit of the drippings and they'll be done when the chicken's done, plus they'll have browned.

By the way, I'm friends with two chefs and they're easy to please because they like any simple food that's home-cooked. They'd be perfectly happy with grilled cheese or scrambled eggs done right. The other adult guest is the one you have to worry about.
posted by wryly at 5:17 PM on June 2, 2013

Two comments:

This roast beef recipe of mine got sidebarred a few years ago. It's great.

The 500 degree roast beef recipe is even easier, and also delicious. Just don't use a glass roaster.

And lastly, I've recently learned a new way to make roast chicken that is without a doubt the most amazing chicken I've ever had. It's also the easiest. Step one, don't buy a giant chicken. Buy 2 regular ones if necessary. Rinse them. Run your fingers up from the cavity under the breast skin. The idea is to separate the skin from the meat without tearing it. Now, dry them. No, really seriously dry them. Like, take a hair dryer/fan/(I use a heat gun from far away), and make her DRY. I can't express how much you want the breast/wings/legs to be dry on the skin. If you feel like it now, truss the bird. I don't usually bother.

Now, salt. A lot of salt. 1-2 tablespoons. Fresh ground pepper. A fair amount of thyme. Thyme really makes this recipe, don't skip it. Sprinkle so that there is some thyme on every major part of the chicken you can see---breasts/wings/legs.

Now here's the kicker, roast him at 425. Not 350, 425. Yes that's hot. Preheat the oven for a while first. If you want it to be extra amazing, roast him in a cast iron skillet and preheat the skillet in the oven before you put the bird in. Cook him for between 1 hour and 1 hour and fifteen minutes. I've never actually had it take over 1 hour for a ~3 lb bird.

This will be the juiciest, crispiest-skin chicken you've ever eaten. Seriously, juicier than one of those rotisserie things you buy at the grocery store. So much yum. Do not add moisture, do not use foil.

(Boil some potatoes while it's cooking, use your drippings to cook some flour, deglaze with cheap wine, add some more broth or milk to make killer pan sauce/gravy, maybe add some mushrooms, eat.)
posted by TomMelee at 7:03 AM on June 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

Okay, my idea for something basic but a tiny bit different is... well, I don't know if it has a name. Basically, you roast a chicken and put some sausage under the skin.

For extra-tasty chicken with crispy skin, dry-brine it first; if you're pressed for time, 12 hours in the fridge is fine. Just rub salt, about a teaspoon per pound of chicken, all over the bird, and refrigerate it, preferably uncovered, so the skin dries out. All of the salt should be gone from the surface of the chicken by the time you take it out. If not, wipe it off with a dry paper towel.

Cut the chicken down the back and remove the backbone, if you're going that roasting route. Then carefully loosen the skin, separating it from the meat. Into that space, slide some loose Italian sausage. Season (thyme, rosemary, sage, lemon zest, pepper, or whatever else you'd like, but no more salt) and roast as you like. Maybe reduce some balsamic vinegar and brush it on toward the end.
posted by houseofdanie at 4:48 PM on June 3, 2013

Here's how to spatchcock/butterfly a chicken. The chicken will roast in a lot less time than usual and all the skin turns out crisp because all of it is "on top."
posted by houseofdanie at 4:55 PM on June 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

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