Help me find a recipe to knock peoples' socks off!
October 7, 2007 8:10 PM   Subscribe

I've had this wish for a long time to have one self-prepared food item that is just extraordinary. Can you help me find a recipe that I can make that will 'wow' anyone I make it for?

The requirements are simple...not too hot (I love heat, but my wife doesn't care for it, and we have a toddler who should enjoy this too, if I'm lucky), not too cheesy (I am lactose intolerant but can handle some level of dairy with the help of lactase pills), I don't really want this to be a cook-all-day thing, and I would prefer not to have a monstrously huge number of ingredients (12 would be about the most, I guess), or ones that are impossible to get in western Canada in a smaller city.

Things my wife doesn't care for: eggs (will not eat, at all, if in any way detectable), tomatoes (doesn't like the slimyness but is moderately ok with sauce), peppers (unless hard to detect), onion (ditto)

Things I don't care for: umm...cranberry sauce? I really like just about anything.

If at all possible please post or link to a recipe. Remember though, I want this to be fricking amazing, not just "yeah that's pretty good".

posted by Kickstart70 to Food & Drink (24 answers total) 226 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Are you looking for a main dish, party food, side dish, or all of the above? To serve at home or take to other places? Are you looking for exotic or traditional? Also, you have to be realistic enough to realize that people's tastes vary enough that nothing will wow everyone, but you can impress a lot of people. In general I would suggest sticking with simple but quality ingredients thoughtfully prepared. The answers to the above questions will narrow down the suggestions, but given what you have already said, learning how to really cook a good steak might foot the bill. This recipe is a good starting point; I often add a generous dusting of paprika for a little extra flavor. It works with other cuts of beef and even good (shashimi quality) tuna; in fact, tuna steaks are another avenue worth exploring, especially if you are willing to serve them really rare.
posted by TedW at 8:22 PM on October 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This recipe for dhal soup has wowed everyone I've made it for, especially when served with grilled naan (which you can buy frozen in lots of supermarkets) and/or jasmine rice. It's got just the right blend of spice (not hot spice, just flavorful), creaminess, and heartiness and has a flavor that seems to trigger intense cravings (at least, in me).
posted by tastybrains at 8:23 PM on October 7, 2007 [11 favorites]

Best answer: Indonesian Ginger Chicken
(from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook)

Serves 4 to 6

1 cup honey
3/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup minced garlic (8 to 12 cloves)
1/2 cup peeled and grated fresh ginger root
2 chickens (3 1/2 pounds each), quartered, with backs removed

Cook the honey, soy sauce, garlic, and ginger root in a small saucepan over low heat until honey is melted. Arrange the chicken in a large, shallow baking pan, skin side down, and pour on the sauce. Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil. Marinate overnight in the refrigerator.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Place the baking pan in the oven and bake for 1/2 hour. Uncover the pan, turn the chicken skin side up, and raise the temperature to 375 degrees. Continue baking for 30 minutes, or until the juices run clear when you cut between the leg and the thigh and the sauce is a rich dark brown.

Serve with rice.

This is FREAKING AMAZING as you have stipulated.
posted by spec80 at 8:28 PM on October 7, 2007 [20 favorites]

Best answer: One simple thing that I like to cook, which always gets a great response is very simple - roast potatoes. Golden, super crunchy but light and fluffy inside.

Peel and chop some potatoes into large chunks, say 2-3 chunks for one potato. Put them in cold water and bring it to the boil. You want to boil them until the outsides are soft but the insides are still hard, so that a fork just pierces the outside easily.

Now, drain the water. Once the surface moisture has evaporated, add either butter, or olive oil and stir gently with a broad flat spoon. What happens now is that the cooked outside turns into a mash with the oil, and adheres to the outsides of the potatoes. Add salt to taste (I like them pretty salty).

Into the oven for about an hour at 180C (350F). I cook by colour most of the time, so when they are suitably golden they are done.

The end result is extremely crispy and flavoursome, but nice and soft on the inside. You can also add garlic or herbs to the pot as you stir them.

Every time I cook them, people are very impressed, and it's such a simple recipe that it surprises me how few people know about it.

Oh yes, part of the trick is finding a good potato for the purpose. Colibans work well, the waxy potatoes like Desirees are not quite as good.

I like this recipe also because you need very little in the way of ingredients, and it's the sort of thing you could whip up at someone else's house if they have the very few ingredients you need.
posted by tomble at 8:44 PM on October 7, 2007 [18 favorites]

Best answer: Baklava is very impressive and surprisingly easy to make. You can use margarine or olive oil instead of butter without sacrificing too much.
posted by lorimt at 8:45 PM on October 7, 2007

Best answer: Roasted Chicken with lemon and croutons.

Beef Tenderloin with Red Wine Sauce.

Both are recipes from two of my favorite cookbook authors. Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa, and Pam Anderson.
posted by LoriFLA at 8:47 PM on October 7, 2007 [3 favorites]

Best answer: If a snack counts...the pickled carrots referenced in this great article (scroll) never fail to get a wowsarific response. They're an awesome snack, no fat, even picky eaters love 'em. I keep a batch in the fridge for most of the summer and early fall. Variations are endless and practically fail-safe.

(Note: the onions won't bug your wife...they don't make the carrots oniony, just give a hard-to-explain depth of flavor. For her comfort, just strain them out after the mixture has sat at least overnight.)
posted by desuetude at 9:11 PM on October 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Mussels meuniere is my go-to wow recipe. It's simple, quick, and tastes amazing when you can get fresh mussels and a good dry white wine. The preparation is rustic yet looks elegant on fine white china. It's just as fun to make for a large group of friends as it is intimate for a setting for two.

Here I'm cribbing the recipe from Anthony Bourdain's book as I now make it by taste.

112g butter
2 shallots, thinly sliced
450ml dry white wine (~1/2 bottle)
2.7kg mussels, scrubbed and debearded
4 spring of flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
1 loaf of country bread

Heat the butter in the large pot over medium-high heat. Once melted, add the shallots. Cook for 2 minutes, until the shallots are soft and beginning to brown. Add the wine and bring to a boil (crank it up). Season with salt and pepper.

Dump the mussels into the pot and slap on the lid. Cook until all the mussels are open all the way (about 10 minutes, no more). Shake the pot, keeping the lid firmly pressed on top, then add the parsley and shake again. (You can toss in an additional knob of softened butter at this point, swirling it into the sauce for a nice, emulsified, enriching boost.) Pour the whole glorious mess into the warmed serving bowl and serve with a slice of bread.

The recipe is also very adaptable to different flavors. Make it with slab bacon, white button mushrooms, heavy cream, and brandy (instead of white wine) for a French Norman take. Try it with chorizo sausage, garlic, and cilantro for a Portugese flavor. Or add in some lemongrass and bit of coconut milk and red curry for a Thai twist.

The key is to get good, fresh mussels and to serve it right away piping hot with warmed bread.
posted by junesix at 9:14 PM on October 7, 2007 [7 favorites]

Best answer: TUNA NACHOS

It's an appetizer, but it will BLOW YOUR MIND.

Cut wonton skins into quarters. Deep fry, pan fry, whatever, just make them crispy. Pat oil away.

Take an Ahi tuna steak. Pan sear with salt and white pepper. Make sure it's rare. Cut into slices that almost cover the wonton skins with each piece having a fair amount of seared exterior.

Put a small dollop of wasabi mayo (from an Asian market, not Kraft or something like it) on each skin.

Place piece of tuna on top of that.

Drizzle with the tiniest amount of sesame oil you can manage.

Add one sliver of pickled ginger.

Top with a few pieces of super finely minced scallion.

Arrange on tray, this is finger-food.

Minimal Heat. No dairy.

If you serve this socially, you will get laid. If you serve this to family, yours will be the only name mentioned in the will. Seriously.
posted by sourwookie at 10:02 PM on October 7, 2007 [10 favorites]

If you go with tomble's roasted potato recipe, you can toss in other vegetables with almost no additional effort. Pretty much anything works: sweet potatoes, parsnips, turnips, shallots, carrots etc., as long as its cut to the appropriate size. And if you have a few sprigs of fresh thyme or some fresh rosemary leaves, toss those in too.

If you're pressed for time, you can skip the boiling, cut the vegetables into smaller chunks (1-2 inches), and roast at a higher temperature (425-450). It will still take about an hour in the oven, but you can avoid a bit of prep work.

If you are trying it at someone else's place, and aren't sure about the oven temp, you can add a bit of water and turn the temp down if the vegetables start to brown before the insides are soft, or broil for a couple of minutes if the insides are soft before they start to brown.
posted by suncoursing at 10:43 PM on October 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

Dishes I've eaten at friends' houses that have really amazed me often do so because they have really fresh great ingredients for which they have some source other then the tired versions you can find in the local supermarket. Some examples include:
  • homemade ice cream containing lush ripe apricots plucked from the backyard tree.
  • wild chanterelles turned into a pasta sauce with some cream, shallots, and white wine. Even chopped into small bits the mushrooms perfumed everything.
  • sushi quality tuna steaks seared on the outside but raw in the middle. They were brushed with a mild sweetish sauce that may have contained some wasabi.
I don't know what food resources you have in BC 200 miles from the Pacific, but I would guess you can get good apples and trout.
  • I patronize a nearby orchard that grows maybe a dozen types of apples. I've picked my favorite for making apple pies, and yes people can really tell the difference from store-bought apples.
  • one simple way to cook trout is just to throw the whole gutted fish onto a charcoal grill. Cook it on one side. The skin will get black and blistered. Flip it and do the same to the other side. The quality of this dish entirely depends on how fresh the trout is - just caught is sweet and amazing while store bought can be rather fishy disgusting.

posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 10:50 PM on October 7, 2007

Best answer: It's not really a dish, more of an adjunct to real food, but I've found that people are invariably impressed by homemade whipped cream. It's an entirely different animal than the spray-can stuff, and very easy (if slightly tiring on the arms) to make.

1 cup whipping cream
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Combine in large bowl. Whip with a wire whisk until desired consistency is achieved (should hold its shape fairly well, making peaks in the bowl.) Serve with fresh berries. This doesn't store especially well, and is best consumed immediately. During informal gatherings you can whip the cream while you're sitting around with your guests after dinner.

You can play around with the amount of sugar and vanilla until you find a combination you like. I've seen some recipes that say you should whip it for a while first before adding the sugar and vanilla, although I generally don't bother.
posted by fermion at 11:30 PM on October 7, 2007 [3 favorites]

Aged cheese has little or no lactose.

Therefore, you could use a recipe with aged cheese without much worry.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:55 PM on October 7, 2007

Pasta e Fagioli
posted by rhizome at 12:31 AM on October 8, 2007

"A recipe that will "wow" ANYONE I make it for."

I hate to nitpick your words, .. but finding one good simple recipe that will "wow" anyone you make it for is going to be downright impossible. There are alot of great recipes suggested here, but everyone has unique taste in food (and our individual preferences can even change from mood to mood) Its alot like asking "Whats a great song I can play and anyone will like it?... good luck with that :P

Someone tried to tell me once that theres no difference between a "cook" and a "chef"... I say the difference is in how you answer the question above. A cook would look for 1 answer. A chef will create unique individual recipes to suit each particular meal or occasion.
posted by jmnugent at 1:06 AM on October 8, 2007

posted by FidelDonson at 4:08 AM on October 8, 2007

Learn to bake bread.

Nothing amazes people like baking, because baking is so often looked upon as some sort of secret alchemy by people who don't bake.

I started by learning how to turn-out a really simple focaccia and then moved-on from there.

Nothing wows people like a fresh loaf of bread.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:01 AM on October 8, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks all. Since I can't cook all these right away, I've marked best answers for those who answered the question with posted or linked recipes. Now I'll run off to try some :)
posted by Kickstart70 at 8:36 AM on October 8, 2007

Best answer: Two things that really give the wow factor are combining unusual flavours, and presentation. Here is a recipe that you should be able to cook with average cooking skills and plating instructions.

Salmon with Strawberry Salsa on a bed of Coconut Rice

1 salmon fillet (not to thick) per person-- since you are writing from Canada I guess you can get wild pacific salmon.

A can of coconut milk + rice

1/2 lime and a small handfull of strawberries per person.
A bunch of fresh cilantro/coriander leaf (or 2 if they are those small supermarket packets) (for 4-6 people)
A red onion

take the tops off the strawberries and chop them into *small* pieces (the smaller they are, the easier they are to handle when it comes to plating. Place in a bowl. Finely chop the red onion + cilantro/coriander and mix in well with the strawberries.

Now take a piece of aluminium foil at least twice the size of the fillet put a couple of dabs of butter on it. Place the fillet on it skin side up. Now take a serrated knife and cut a lime in two, width ways. Then cut a very thin round of lime and place it on the salmon in the middle. Fold the foil over to make a sealed package. repeat. You will then need to place all fillets in a dish into a hot (200C/375F) oven and cook for 10-20 minutes.

Before you do this, however squeze the limes into the salsa and put the rice onto to boil. (Actually you are better preparing the salsa an hour or so before hand and just putting the slices aside, but no big deal).

You can take a quick breather at this point. The only cooking that remains to be done is to pour the coconut milk into the rice about 10 minutes or so before its cooked.

Now we come to the plating. You are going to need to prepare a little ahead of time by identifying a suitable bowl for the next step. What we are going to do is stuff a small bowl/large cup with the coconut rice. Then you place the plate upside down on top of this. Hold the two together and invert. Give the top of the bowl a quick tap and lift off.

You should now have a nice neat round of rice. Spoon a small amount of the salsa on top of this. Now having carefully unwrapped the salmon place this on top of the salsa on top of the rice. (A palate knife and fish slice will come in handy).

In theory you should have have a neat mound of food worthy of any restaurant. In practice it won't go quite a smoothly. Don't worry, this isn't a restaurant and people will be seriously impressed by the attempt anyway. I find it useful at this stage to make lots of noise and fuss and look like I'm concentrating very hard in front of people when I do this part. That way they get to see it for the 5 seconds when it looks immaculate, just before it all collapses ;)
posted by tallus at 9:57 AM on October 8, 2007 [7 favorites]

We always called our favorite dish that mom made "Chicken Slop," but I think a nicer name might be something like "Mexican Chicken Casserole." Its super easy and tastes like heaven (on chips).

Ingredients (going off of memory, hope this works):
6 chicken breasts
1 package tortilla chips (we like tostitos)
1 lb cheddar cheese
1 small tub of sour cream
2 cans cream of mushroom soup (you could do 2 cans of cream of chicken, alternatively, or 1 and 1, to play with the flavor)
1 small can green chili salsa*
1 decent sized white or yellow onion

Toss the chicken breasts in a pot and boil them, then skin them off and slice the nice parts up into bite-size strips/chunks/etc. While the chicken is cooking shred the cheese, dice the onion, and line the bottom of a casserole dish (big flat type) with the chips.

Mix everything but the cheese and chips together in a bowl (chicken, sour cream, soups, green chili salsa, and the onion). Pour this over the chips. Cover that with the shredded cheese.

Bake at 350-375 for about 25-30 mins, depending on the shape of the dish and how you like the cheese done, but the casserole is ready when the cheese is nice and bubbly (although a couple light burns give it a little character).

Serve next to cooked corn (on or off cob), spanish rice (i like rice-a-roni's boxed recipe with some stewed tomatoes mixed in), and some extra chips / guacamole is nice too.

*green chili salsa - this comes in a small can and is usually found either next to the regular salsas or in the Mexican food section of most supermarkets, at least west of the Mississippi - when I lived on the east coast I had more trouble finding it. If you can't find it you can substitute regular salsa (try and get a thick-and-chunky type one), but get a hotter one as the kick will be lost in the casserole.
posted by allkindsoftime at 7:10 AM on October 9, 2007 [2 favorites]

oh and if you serve mine socially, you'll get laid by selma hayek, twice.
posted by allkindsoftime at 7:12 AM on October 9, 2007

Speaking of guacamole, that's easy too.

Avacados (3-4 decent sized ones)
Seasoning Salt (I like Lawry's)
Onion (a medium to large sized one)
Lemon Juice

Pit and peel the avos, toss them in a bowl. I like to cut them in half (around the pit), then take one side off kind of like removing an oreo cookie from the cream. Then I shove the tip of the knife into the exposed pit on the other half, and turn it - it will usually pop out of the other half pretty easy. Then you can either take a spoon and scoop the avo out the peel, or just peel it with your fingers. Simple enough.

Add everything else to taste, literally. I never measure it, I just dice up about 2/3s of the onion and toss them in, sprinkle maybe a couple tablespoons of seasoning salt, and the same or a little more lemon juice. Mash it all up with a fork til its nice and goopy. Taste test, add more onion / salt / lemon juice as needed.

This recipe is the only reason AskMeFi isn't the best green thing on the planet.
posted by allkindsoftime at 7:18 AM on October 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

How did I miss the lactose intolerant bit? Sorry.

You could still use my casserole recipe above and just use about half the cheese, plus more chips. Basically, after pouring the mixture over the first layer of chips, add a second (lighter) layer on top, and then sprinkle the cheese on top of that.
posted by allkindsoftime at 12:43 AM on October 10, 2007

(quasi) Ponzu Sauce, for baked or pan-fried salmon or chicken or pork. Serve with rice.

Zest an orange, a lime, and half a grapefruit. Juice all three, combining juices. Separately combine 1/4 each soy sauce and rice vinegar.

Place 1/4 cup white sugar in a dry pan over medium heat and swirl it until all is melted and it starts to turn brown. Add fruit juice (sugar will harden), bring to boil, and let sugar dissolve. Add soy/vinegar mixture and half of zest. Boil briefly. Pour sauce over meat and garnish with more zest.

I have substituted a mild chili vinegar for part of the rice vinegar and enjoyed the heat. The sauce is delicious immediately and better the second day, but I try to make it in front of people when possible because it's sort of showy.
posted by eritain at 1:35 AM on November 3, 2007 [2 favorites]

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