How do you impress your dinner guests?
November 27, 2005 5:06 AM   Subscribe

Dinner Parties! I'm looking for impressive recipes. How did you last knock your guests' socks off? A few minor restrictions and links to previous great threads inside.

My ideal dinner party recipes would involve minimal last minute rushing around, so while simple-yet-elegant dishes like seared fish or sauteed chicken breasts would seem like a good plan, in fact they are a pain if you have six or eight guests. But I also want dishes that look good. The last time I had people over I made a traditional coq au vin, which was insanely good and involved no last minute work at all, but didn't look very pretty no matter how much parsley I sprinkled.
I found great ideas in previous answers about starters and puddings, chipotle dishes, ginger recipes, Seattle fish recipes, special dinners for two, favorite recipes to impress, Christmas dinner for grandparents and vegetarian entertaining. Looking for more - how did you last make your guests ooh and ahh without spending all evening in the kitchen instead of having cocktails with them?
posted by CunningLinguist to Food & Drink (18 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I saw a great link in the Blue yesterday: A la carte, which has all sorts of information, recipes, menus, tips. and lore about French cuisine. One in particular should be interesting for you - le plan de repas or dinner plan.
posted by mikel at 5:42 AM on November 27, 2005 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Squab roasted or seared. It's as easy as chicken but cooked correctly is mindblowingly good and a bit of a talking point. Simple, elegant and not run of the mill. Plenty of recipes on google, although it may take some practice to get it right.
posted by fire&wings at 5:58 AM on November 27, 2005

Best answer: Roast rack of lamb with rosemary and honey & redcurrant jus, served with pommes dauphinoise and green beans never fails to impress. Email me and I'll send you the recipe if you like.
posted by cbrody at 7:15 AM on November 27, 2005

Best answer: My surefire "impress people with minimal effort, most of which takes place in advance" recipe:

Salmon en croute.

For 6-8 people.

2 tail fillets of salmon (skinned).
A large bunch of watercress
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
1 beaten egg
1 oz pine nuts
2 oz soft butter
1.5 lb puff pastry

Heat oven to 400. Wipe and season fillets. Blanch watercress and drain well. Gently grill (broil, as you're American!) pine nuts until just golden. Chop watercress and mix well with pine nuts, butter, lemon, salt and pepper. Roll out enough pastry to sit under one fillet; put one fillet on it, skinned side down. Spread the watercress/nut/etc stuffing evenly over the fillet. Lay other fillet over this, skinned side up. Brush pastry edges with beaten egg, lay another piece of rolled-out pastry over the top so that the fish is fully encased; pinch it down to the bottom layer to seal, trim the excess.

Decorate with pastry remnants. It's fun to make the whole thing look like a fish: tail, fins etc. Get creative, if you like silly, anyway. Brush the whole thing with more egg, stick it on a lightly greased baking tray and give it 35-40 minutes in the oven. Pastry should be beautifully golden.

Serve on a big plate surrounded by watercress and cherry tomatoes. Dress it with hollandaise sauce (if you're feeling lazy, as I usually am) or make a good fishy white sauce of your own out of stock and white wine( I can give you a nice recipe for this too if you like).

You can make the beast look very impressive with a little care on the presentation. I usually serve it with simple new potatoes and butter and a simple salad, or maybe an uncluttered, crisp veg like green beans. But the central piece usually makes 'em ooh and ahh satisfactorily. Oh... and it tastes great.

You can prepare the thing before your guests arrive (and it really doesn't take very long even then) and just stick it in the oven 45 minutes before you want to eat. Minimal time in the kitchen is then required before dish-up time.
posted by Decani at 7:26 AM on November 27, 2005 [4 favorites]

For dessert, either creme brulee or flourless chocolate cake. Trite, maybe, but damn tasty nonetheless.

Pasta fagioli or any other soup is always good. Combine it with a decent salad and some crusty bread and you have a great, attractive meal that requires almost no last minute work.

Any stew will work. Beouf bourgignon comes to mind. Consider Indian dishes, especially pilafs.

On the pasta side there's lasagna, four cheese pasta, pasta matriciana and on and on.

It sounds as if you need to work on your plating more than anything else. Go to the bookstore or library and browse through any well illustrated cookbook. You should be able to find something attractive that you can emulate.

If you're serving individual plates of food, you're doing a lot of last minute work. Serve the meal family style and just arrange the serving dishes. Let the guests worry about their own plate.
posted by donpardo at 7:32 AM on November 27, 2005

Response by poster: Decani, how do you get the salmon not to make the crust soggy? I made this once and it looked great, but the fish juices made the pastry gluey inside.
posted by CunningLinguist at 7:45 AM on November 27, 2005

Soggy? Never happened for me. You do need to wipe the fillets well to get rid of surface moisture and you do need to get the watercress properly dry (I usually pat-dry it between sheets of kitchen roll). If you do those things carefully you should be okay. Get nice salmon, too. The fresher the better.
posted by Decani at 8:02 AM on November 27, 2005

Oh yeah... I usually lightly dust the pastry with flour, but that's more for ease of rolling/handling than anything else. maybe it helps keep it dry too, but I don't really know...
posted by Decani at 8:04 AM on November 27, 2005

Can't offer a menu tip but I will offer this: Friends of mine hired a helper to serve dinner and clean-up afterwards during a dinner party. It allowed the host and hostess to be so much more relaxed during the dinner and made it more fun for everyone.
posted by sexymofo at 8:17 AM on November 27, 2005

I find Cook's Illustrated to be the single most useful resource for practical recipes. The food is a bit homely, but the recipes work and are geared for simplicity.
posted by Nelson at 8:59 AM on November 27, 2005

Best answer: you can impress your guests with your unique understanding of Classics (they're certainly already familiar with your awesome brain power) by serving them a Coena: in this case Apicius is the go-to manual. some of that stuff is really delicious.
Project Gutenberg for Apicius.
Other recipes here

also interesting:
Eat Like it's A.D. 79
and remember you can always replace garum piperatum with a nice bottle of nam pla -- nobody will note the difference

for something less pretentious, you can also go the Artusi way, that always works.
posted by matteo at 9:40 AM on November 27, 2005 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you have a BBQ with a rotisserie attachment, then a dress to impress dessert is BBQed pineapple (serve over good ice cream). Cut the outside hull off a pineapple and roll it in cinnamon, sugar and a little cayenne pepper, then throw it on the rotisserie for a few minutes. Bring it in, cut the outside slices off over people's ice cream, and throw it back on again for a few more minutes. It's fantastic, impressive and interactice. Most rotisseries will also handle two pineapples at a time, which means the whole thing scales to 12-16 people.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:59 AM on November 27, 2005

Best answer: Nothing's simpler and more impressive (although it can be somewhat time-consuming) than a big, beautiful standing rib roast of beef, carved in front of your guests' eyes right at tableside.

My recipe, adapted from several others...

Preheat oven to 250F.
Rub roast with just enough canola oil to make it shine.
Salt and pepper liberally.
Place in shallow roasting pan, bone side down.
Insert probe thermometer (this is NECESSARY) in center of roast, set alarm for 120 degrees F.
Place roast in over, turn oven down to 200F.
Roast 'til internal temp hits 120F. This can take up to 4 hours for a large roast.
Remove roasting pan from oven, cover with foil.
Turn oven up to 500F.
When over hits 500F, wait another 15 minutes (or until internal temp has hit 130F - 135F), then return roast to oven.
Roast at 500F for 15 minutes or so to give a delicious browned crust to the exterior.
Remove from oven, place on carving board, tent with foil.
While meat is resting, make sauce:
Skim fat from pan, then place over two burners at high heat (this only works well if you have a good, heavy roasting pan).
Deglaze pan with 1 Cup water, scraping with wooden spoon.
Add 1 Cup red wine (a drinkable-but-not-fancy cabernet would work).
Add 1 Cup stock. (Beef preferably, but chicken or vegatable would work)
Reduce by 1/2.
Bruise 3-5 sage leaves between your palms, and add to sauce. Cook another 1-2 min, then strain the sauce into a sauceboat (or pyrex measuring cup).
Remove foil from roast, bring to table.
Carve table-side into slices 1/2" thick.
Serve with whatever sides you like. Roasted fingerling potatoes are always a good choice, and a nice salad can be made in advance.

It's simple, elegant, delicious, and impressive, and the only real work you do is the 10 minutes or so it takes to make the sauce.
posted by dersins at 12:28 PM on November 27, 2005 [3 favorites]

I also have a great recipe for beef stew cooked in a pumpkin, which is also much more delicious and impressive-looking than the amount of work would seem to warrant. Happy to provide that one, as well, if you want.
posted by dersins at 12:29 PM on November 27, 2005

dersins: can you paste it here anyways?
posted by lpctstr; at 1:51 PM on November 27, 2005

Best answer: Can't cut-and-paste, since it's written out, but I can type it:

Beef Stew in a Pumpkin (from my former fiancee by way of, I think, the Williams Sonoma cookbook, but I'm not sure)

Preheat oven to 350F.
Cut top off 5-lb sugar pumpkin (butternut squash would work, too, although the bottom's not as flat so it might get a little tippy), reserving top to use as lid, later.
Hollow out pumpkin as if you're making a jack-o-lantern.
Place pumpkin on greased or non-stick foil in shallow roasting pan, set aside. (if you've used a butternut squash, you may need to prop it upright with a couple strategically placed balls of foil.)
Heat 1 T (Tablespoon) vegetable oil in large, heavy pot (I use a cast-iron dutch oven, but whatever) over med-high heat.
Brown 1 lb of beef cut up into 1/2-inch cubes (preferably a small chuck roast you've cubed yourself). Browning will take 5 -10 minutes. If you do it quicker, you haven't browned the beef enough. Remove beef to bowl.
Add about a cup-and-a-half of beef (or whatever kind) stock to pot, and deglaze, scraping up the deliciousness with a wooden spoon.
Pour liquid over beef.
Wipe out pot, lower heat, and sautee 3 small sliced yellow onions (or one large sweet one like a vidalia or walla walla) and 3 small peeled, chopped parsnips in about 1 T melted butter until fully translucent, almost carmelized, maybe 10-15 minutes or so.
Return beef and liquid to the pot, stirring to mix well.
Add the following:
1/2 t (teaspoon) freshly-ground cinnamon
1/2 t freshly-grated nutmeg
1/4 (or more) bourbon or rye whiskey. Do not, under any circumstances, substitute single malt scotch, as I did once. Single malts, while delicious, tend to overwhelm everything else. Lesson learned...
Mix well, continuing to cook on med. heat for another 5 minutes or so, then spoon mixture into the hollowed out pumpkin.
Sprinkle a couple of tablespoons of brown sugar over the top, and then put the whole thing in the oven.
Bake 1 1/2 hrs (90 minutes), then place the pumpkin lid in the roasting pan next to your stew.
Bake approx. another 45 min. to an hour, til they stew is done and the pumpkin lid is tender.
Add salt & pepper to taste, place the lid on the pumpkin, and then VERY CAREFULLY (it will be soft) transfer the pumpkin to a serving platter.
Place platter on table, serve stew out of pumpkin.
Serve with warm loaf of crusty french or italian bread, and salad or haricots verts or brussels sprouts or whatever you like.

Please note that cooking times are, of course, approximate. Check for doneness early and often. The beef is done when a fork cuts it like a knife...

Serves 4. To make for 8, double recipe and use two pumpkins, not one that's twice as large
posted by dersins at 2:39 PM on November 27, 2005 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: That sounds great dersins. Thanks for making the effort to write it out.
posted by CunningLinguist at 3:27 PM on November 27, 2005

Response by poster: Since people are still favoriting this thread, I'll add a summer menu that I just made, that involved no time in the kitchen at all for about four hours before people arrived:

Poached whole salmon, poached the day before and well chilled. Mustard dill sauce.
Roast tenderloin, again roasted the day before and chilled. Horseradish sauce.
Cold rice salad, made and dressed the day before, with veggies and herbs added a few hours before the doorbell rang.
Various other veggie salads, (not lettuce obviously) assembled several hours in advance.
Sorbet and berries in chocolate cups for dessert.

Bonus: no extra heat in the apt from using the oven. (We're having a heat wave.)
posted by CunningLinguist at 6:35 AM on July 18, 2006 [1 favorite]

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