My Favorite FoodNetwork.com Recipes (That I’ve Actually Cooked for Friends)
One editor shares his top tried-and-true dinner party standbys.
What I hate most about dinner party throwing these days, what we used to call "entertaining," is the culinary ventriloquism that’s become inherent in what’s meant to be a simple act: feeding your friends.
The modern, plebeian hosted affair is supposed to be your time to shine, to share with the people in your life what you like to cook, what you like to eat. Not what x celebrity chef lit on fire on that one episode of y.
When I watch others cook for me, I’m always baffled at how aggressively they seem to go out of their way to make things hard on themselves. They juggle seven dishes they've never had before when one or two good bites would suffice — a light salad and a really good stew, maybe, or a simple roast and a rich dessert.
Not for me. No procession of courses, thank you very much.
Apart from learning to levitate and to conjure lattice-crust cherry pies from thin air, entertaining really isn’t that hard. You just have to be organized, and to have some really delicious, straightforward recipes up your sleeve. Recipes that you’ve tested on your own, and feel confident about (even if you’ve only ever eaten them alone, over the sink, in your sad, decrepit kitchenette).
The tried-and-true trick to having friends over for dinner is to keep this repertoire of recipes saved somewhere, like in a Book of Shadows, or in a Recipe Box. That way, when it comes time to cook for others, you'll know how the night will turn out because, well, you've already done it all before!
And trust me on this one: Magic happens when you fry bread in butter and maple syrup.
It’s called clairvoyance, and practice. We do it with everything else in our lives, like postponing jury duty. Why not with dinner?
It helps to start the night off with a pitcher drink you can make a big batch of, like this Aperol Spritz. Bitter, sweet and refreshing, it's the perfect no-fuss cocktail to whet your guests' appetites as soon as they arrive. (It's pretty, too.)
When it comes to appetizers, that first bite, I personally need it to be either sweet or cheesy. You may disagree with the former, but a sweet first bite signals to the pleasure centers of the brain that you’re about to eat something truly delicious.
And trust me on this one: Magic happens when you fry bread in butter and maple syrup. It gets lacquered and candied; and when you use a good bread like sourdough, it stays chewy on the inside. Topped with a soft cheese, it's exactly what your guests will want to eat as a starter with wine.
Soup is always a strong way to start a dinner party — and when it's Ree's comforting tomato soup, everyone's happy. Plus, you can make this the night before so that on the day of the get-together, all you'll have to do is reheat it. This leaves you more quality time with your guests, and less of it in that hot, muggy kitchen you've likely turned into a battle zone, you dirty commoner.
Just because you're feeding friends doesn't mean it has to be anything fancy. In fact, serving something like Ina's comforting chicken stew with biscuits — a sort of fuss-free, big-batch chicken pot pie — is what entertaining is all about: providing sustenance and comfort for the people you love.
Lamb chops sound fussy, but they're actually super quick and easy to cook. A flash fry in the pan is all you need. Plus, your friends will totally think you're fancy shmancy when you serve them on a large platter like this.
Slow-cooked comfort meets fancy-ish French bistro in this regional classic. Chicken portions get braised in a Dutch oven with wine, herbs and garlic — yes, forty cloves — that mellow out and sweeten in flavor. A touch of cream brings everything together at the end.
Anyway, who wouldn't want to be that host who pulls out an entire head of cauliflower, roasted to perfection and oozing with Instagram-worthy cheesiness, from the oven? Aside from the fact that you'll stroll effortlessly over to the weak, flimsy fold-up table you've crowded ten people around, this dish is something we couldn't get enough of.
If you can roast a whole chicken, then you can do anything. Simple and classic, Ina's recipe is a foolproof standby. Be sure to salt the chicken liberally before roasting so it has lots of flavor (it can handle it), and truss the legs so it cooks evenly.
When hosting dinner, it helps to have a repertoire of tasty sides at your disposal. Take, for instance, this colorful orzo salad: It's light and vibrant, our fans are obsessed with it, and it'll make your main course (any of the above) absolutely shine.
It helps, also, to serve a starchy side your guests can fill up on (especially when you're strapped for cash like me). Means you can focus your hosting energy on the details of smaller bites and the main course. These dolled-up mashed potatoes get a homemade Cajun seasoning mix of paprika, garlic powder and cayenne pepper.
Though a bit on the pricier side, scallops are an easy, elegant dinner option when your party is small and intimate. Our fans are obsessed with Ina's recipe, which borrows from the flavors of France.
Though my personal rule for entertaining is to "keep it simple, stupid," I think it's always important to end on something sweet (and more wine). Sometimes it's just a scoop of whatever ice cream I have in the freezer, maybe a few broken up pieces of dark chocolate to go with, fresh berries.
Should you have the time to prep a proper pudding (what the British call dessert): I've been obsessed with poke cakes these days. They're easy to make and satisfying to eat. We develop a lot of them here at Food Network, and for years I was pronouncing it poké cake (with my pinky raised). But it’s just "poke cake." P-O-K-E — as in, the holes you poke into the 9x13 sheet cake to let the gelatin seep through each bite. This turns the otherwise ordinary, classic buttermilk-tender cake into a pudding that, once fridged and set, turns pleasurably dense and chewy.