Picture this: You’ve invited some friends over for dinner. You dreamed up a menu, composed a playlist, and imagined a flawless evening. The company will be delightful, the vibe relaxed, the food unforgettable.
You thought you’d planned the perfect amount of time to pull it off — and yet as your guests arrive, you’re still stuck in the kitchen, sweating over a sauce that won’t thicken, with fresh burns on your forearms, pawing through the fridge for the block of pecorino that you swear you remembered to buy. And — oh, is that the smoke alarm?
It’s time for a dinner-party intervention.
The real key to hosting and enjoying yourself? Prep as much as you can ahead of time so you can be relaxed and present once your guests come knocking.
With that in mind, we planned this menu’s make-ahead elements and the accompanying timeline to restore some sanity to your next soiree. Your friends will be able to enjoy more of what they really came for — time with you.
Your Dinner-Party Prep Plan
Appetizer: Pecan- and Goat-Cheese-Stuffed Dates
Salad: Sweet Potato and Seared Brussels Sprout Salad
Main Course: Dijon-Sage Braised Short Ribs Over Quinoa Risotto
Dessert Chocolate-Dipped Mandarins With Pistachios
Two Days Before
Roast the sweet potatoes, cool. Shred the Brussels sprouts in a food processor. Store covered in the refrigerator.
The Day Before
Make the stuffed dates and store covered in the refrigerator.
Make the chocolate-dipped mandarins and store covered in the refrigerator.
Peel and cube the winter squash and store covered in the refrigerator.
The Day Of
10 a.m.: Prep and start cooking the ribs in the slow cooker.
5 p.m.: Sear the Brussels sprouts and finish the salad. Let sit at room temperature until it’s time to serve.
5:30 p.m.: Preheat your oven to 200 degrees F. Make the risotto, cover, and place in the oven. Turn off the heat and keep in the warm oven until time to serve.
6:15 p.m.: Finish the ribs and the sauce, cover, and place in the oven with the risotto until time to serve.
6:30 p.m.: Allow the stuffed dates and mandarin slices to come to room temperature. Fry the sage leaves and allow to sit at room temperature until time to serve.
Pecan and Goat-Cheese-Stuffed Dates
Makes six servings
Prep time: 20 minutes
4 oz. soft goat cheese
2 tbs. chopped pecans
1 tsp. orange zest
18 large Medjool dates
The day before: In a small bowl, mash the goat cheese, then stir in the pecans and orange zest.
Use a paring knife to slice along one side of each date and pull out the pit. Scoop a heaping teaspoon of the goat-cheese mixture and stuff it into each date, then gently press the date closed around the cheese. Place the dates on a serving platter. Cover and refrigerate for up to 24 hours.
The day of: Remove the dates from the refrigerator about 30 minutes before serving to allow them to come to room temperature. Place a bowl of toothpicks alongside them. Garnish with herbs, if desired.|
Sweet Potato and Seared Brussels Sprout Salad
Makes six servings
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 25 minutes
2 lb. sweet potatoes
8 large garlic cloves, peeled and halved lengthwise
3 tbs. extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 ½ tsp. sea salt, divided
5 cups Brussels sprouts
3 tbs. fresh thyme leaves, chopped
1 ½ tbs. maple syrup
1 ½ tbs. fresh lemon juice
3/4 cup toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped
Two days before: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Peel the sweet potatoes and cut into ½-inch-thick planks, then cut those into ½-inch strips like long French fries. Cut the strips in half and place in a 9-x-13-inch baking pan. Add the garlic cloves, 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, and half the salt. Toss to coat and place in the oven to roast for 20 minutes. When the sweet potatoes are tender and browned, cool in the pan on a rack, then transfer to a large bowl and store covered in the refrigerator.
While the sweet potatoes roast, trim the Brussels sprouts, then use the slicing blade in your food processor to shred them. Store covered in the refrigerator.
The day of: Place a large skillet over medium-high heat for about a minute, then add the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Swirl to coat the pan, then add the Brussels sprouts and thyme. Stir frequently until the sprouts are tender and browned, about three minutes. Add the maple syrup and lemon juice; stir. Remove from heat and add to the sweet-potato mixture. Toss to mix and allow to sit at room temperature until serving.
To serve: Top salad with toasted walnuts.|
Dijon-Sage Braised Short Ribs
Makes six servings
Prep time: five minutes
Cook time: eight hours in the slow cooker, plus 25 minutes on the stove
1 small onion, minced
1/2 cup Dijon mustard
1 tsp. sea salt
1 cup dry white wine
4 lb. beef ribs, English cut (cut parallel to the bone)
1/2 cup fresh sage leaves, divided
1 tbs. olive oil
The day of: In a medium bowl, combine the onion, mustard, salt, and white wine. Chop 2 tablespoons of the sage and add to the sauce. Stir to mix well.
Place the ribs in a large slow cooker and pour the sauce over the ribs. Turn to coat.
Cover tightly and cook for eight hours on low.
When the ribs are very tender, use tongs to transfer them to a casserole dish. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees F.
Pour the liquid from the slow cooker into a medium saucepan. If desired, skim the fat from the sauce with a spoon. Place the saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil, then reduce to medium to boil vigorously for about 15 minutes to thicken the sauce. Pour sauce over the ribs and turn carefully to coat. Cover with foil and place in the warm oven until time to serve.
In a small frying pan, heat olive oil over medium-high heat and fry the remaining whole sage leaves until crisped, about three to five seconds each. Keep at room temperature until time to serve.
To serve: Sprinkle fried sage leaves over the ribs.|
Quinoa Risotto With Toasted Pepitas
Makes six servings
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 40 minutes
4 cups vegetable stock
2 tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, diced fine
2 cups cubed butternut or other winter squash
1 tbs. chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 cup white or red quinoa, rinsed
3/4 cup arborio rice
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 tsp. sea salt, plus more to taste
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
1 cup toasted pepitas
The day before: Peel and cube the squash, cover, and place in the refrigerator.
The day of: Pour the stock into a medium pot, place over low heat, and bring to a simmer. Preheat oven to 200 degrees F.
Place a large, oven-safe sauté pan over medium-high heat and add the olive oil.
Add the onion and stir for about one minute. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring frequently for about five minutes, until the onion is tender and clear. Add the squash and rosemary and stir until the rosemary is fragrant, about two minutes. Raise the heat to medium-high and add the quinoa and rice. When the rice is hot, add the wine and salt, and stir until the wine evaporates, about 30 seconds to one minute. Begin stirring in the stock, about ½ cup at a time. When the pan starts to look dry, add more stock, stirring frequently.
Continue cooking and stirring for about 25 minutes. When the rice is tender, add about ½ cup more stock (or water, if the stock is gone) — enough to make a creamy risotto with a little extra liquid. Cover the pan and place in the warm oven until time to serve.
To serve: Stir in the Parmesan cheese and grind fresh black pepper over the risotto. Garnish with toasted pepitas.|
Chocolate-Dipped Mandarins With Pistachios
Makes six servings
Prep time: 30 minutes
4 large Satsuma mandarin oranges, or other mandarin oranges
1/2 cup unsalted, shelled pistachios, toasted and coarsely chopped
4 oz. 80 percent dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
The day before: Peel and section the mandarin oranges, gently removing the white pith with your fingers. Pat dry if necessary.
Place the pistachios in a medium bowl. Line a serving platter with parchment paper.
Melt the chocolate in a microwave or double boiler. To microwave, place chopped chocolate in a medium bowl and heat on high for one minute, then use a fork to stir. Repeat in 45-second increments until the chocolate is melted completely. For a double boiler, put an inch of water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low. Place a metal or glass bowl on top of the pot and add the chopped chocolate. Stir every minute or so, until the chocolate is melted completely. Place the bowl on a folded kitchen towel on the counter.
Dip the outer part of a mandarin slice into the chocolate and then into the pistachios, making sure it’s covered in nuts. Place on the parchment-lined serving platter. Repeat with all the sections.
Refrigerate uncovered until the chocolate is hardened, then remove the parchment liner and place the mandarins back on the serving platter. Cover and keep in the fridge until time to serve.
The day of: Let the mandarins come to room temperature for about 30 minutes before serving.
Makes 4 cups syrup
Prep time: one hour, plus 24 hours to infuse
3 cups water
1 cup organic sugar
1 large lemon, zest pared off in a strip
3/4 oz. fresh thyme, leaves and stems
1 ½ cups fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup mineral water
1.5 oz. vodka or 1/4 cup Chardonnay
Lemon-Thyme syrup, to taste
Fresh thyme stems for garnish
Two days before: In a small pot, combine the water and sugar. Bring to a boil over high heat. Stir until the sugar is dissolved, about 30 seconds. Remove from heat and add the lemon-zest strip.
Place the thyme in a quart-size, wide-mouth canning jar. Pour the hot syrup over the thyme. Let the syrup cool uncovered until it reaches room temperature, then cover and let steep at room temperature for 24 hours.
The day before: Place a fine-mesh strainer over a pitcher or bowl and pour the syrup through it. Use a large spoon to press on the contents of the strainer and get as much syrup out of it as possible. Stir in the lemon juice. Place in a quart-size canning jar and refrigerate until time to serve.
To serve: For each spritzer, measure ½ cup mineral water, 1.5 ounces vodka or ¼ cup Chardonnay, and thyme-lemon syrup to taste over ice. Stir and garnish with fresh thyme stems.