Spontaneous Dinner Party

Thursday, 29 Jan 2009


Spontaneous, as in, “Surprise, honey, I’m bringing home five people for dinner!”  Some of my husband’s coworkers were stranded because of canceled flights and a couple others were just here from out of town, so he invited them over for dinner.  I love having guests and this was a great group of people, so this was a lot of fun.  And I had almost four hours to prepare, so that was pretty good.  That sounds like a lot of time after the fact, but I had to use every minute.  I decided to make Beef Bourguignonne (hereafter known as Beef B.) from Real Simple, Scalloped Yukon Gold Potato Gratin with Fresh Herbs from Bon Appetit via Epicurious and a green salad with balsamic vinaigrette (scaled up for eight servings).  Add some baguettes to the table, some Manchego and Parrano cheeses with cracker and hummus with pitas for appetizers, and done. For dessert I warmed up some of  the Blueberry Coconut Pound Cake Muffins I froze the other day and served them with ice cream.  Here’s a timeline for what I did.

3:40-3:50  Found out people are coming over for dinner.  Found some recipes and figured out what to cook.

3:50-4:30  Shopping for missing ingredients. I ran through the store like I was on some shopping game show.  I gave myself a deadline of 4:30 to get home and start cooking and I barely made it.

4:30-5:20  Preheated oven for beef.  Thawed and trimmed meat; browned meat, combined with red wine, meat, tomatoes, onion, carrot and garlic; put in oven for first hour of cooking.  Set table, tidied up house.


5:20 -6:00 Prepped additional ingredients for Beef B.  I realized didn’t have enough fresh mushrooms, so I put some dried ones into hot water to rehydrate. Thawed pearl onions. Got out ingredients for potatoes.

6:00-6:30  Sliced up baguettes. Set up drink serving area.  Cut up cheese, put out cheese and crackers and hummus with pitas.  Began to prep ingredients for potatoes. At 6:20, added carrots to Beef B. and put it back into the oven for an additional half hour.

6:30 Guests began to arrive.

6:30-7:00  Prepped for potatoes: cut up herbs; shredded gruyere; simmered cream, butter and garlic; peeled and sliced potatoes; prepared baking dish. Put all potato ingredients into dish.


7:00-7:30 Removed Beef B. from oven and put it on stovetop to simmer and reduce.  Skimmed the fat. Heated oven to 400.  Put in potatoes.  Made salad dressing.  Simmered mushrooms and pearl onions to add to Beef B.  During last ten minutes, put bread in oven to warm.  In last five minutes, tossed salad with dressing.  Put out plates for buffet-style serving.


7:30  Dinner ready to serve.

Here are my notes on adjustments I made to the recipes.

Beef B.:  This turned out to have more liquid than I would have expected.  When I moved it from the oven to stovetop to simmer and reduce as the recipe called for, the meat was already really done.  Very tender, but it didn’t need to continue cooking.  I ladled out a lot of the liquid so I could thicken and reduce it more quickly.  It really didn’t thicken much.  The dish tasted ok, but as far as beef bourguignonne recipes, I think I prefer Jacques Pepin’s Beef Stew in Red Wine Sauce.  When I used that recipe, the dish reduced better to a thicker, richer sauce.

Potatoes:  These are extremely rich and decadent, as you might gather from the name — yes, they are both scalloped and au gratin.  The recipe calls for using some sweet potatoes, but I just stuck with the Yukon Golds this time.  The four kinds of fresh herbs (Italian parsley, thyme, rosemary and sage) add a nice fresh touch.  I was happy with the amount of liquid the potatoes came out with — it thickened nicely and wasn’t too runny.  They browned well on top in the cooking time called for in the recipe.  It’s important to cut the potatoes into very thin, uniform slices.  All in all, a quality recipe if you’re looking for very cheesy, creamy potatoes.

Here are a few helpful tips for putting together a quick dinner for guests:

1)  As far as making a lot of food at once, it definitely helps to make a couple of one-pot or casserole-type items with coordinating cooking times and temperatures, or make sure you have enough time to cook two or more dishes sequentially in the oven if they require different temperatures.

2)  It’s a good idea to have on hand some frozen previously made desserts, such as cookies, brownies or cupcakes to bring out if you need something last minute.

3)  It’s nice to have some refrigerated bread dough on hand so you can throw that in the oven in case you don’t have time to pick up bread or make it from scratch.  And it smells really good when you’re baking it!

4)  Have a bottle or two of your favorite red and white wine on hand so you have something you can count on if you need some to serve with dinner or appetizers.

I’m glad my husband decided to invite some friends over for dinner and I hope a good time was had by all.  I had a good time making this dinner.

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