5 Smart, Inexpensive, Easy Entrées for Entertaining
Are you stressing yourself out to death every time you host people at your home? Dial down the menu, friend. Here’s how to do it—successfully.
I’d like to shout out my fellow overachievers—the ones already polishing their silverware for Thanksgiving, brewing their own cider in advance of having people over next weekend, or working on the google doc detailing the fancy six-course meal for four this Sunday.
Just writing that tires me out, as until very recently, I was one among you. I learned to cook from my mother, who would frantically dash to the shower 20 minutes before guests arrived, emerging with her heart still beating like mad, but with her four courses plated and ready.
I followed in that model until recently, when I decided that hosting can and should be more fun than this. I don’t want to be covered in sweat when guests arrive, and with the new era of pressure cookers and slow cookers upon us—more on those soon—I’m ready to be lazier. I’ll be making fewer high-maintenance appetizers (I’m looking at you, shrimp ceviche) and more make-ahead items. I’m sticking to one big dish whenever possible. And I’m finally open to telling people specifically what they should bring, detailing wine varietals and asking who wants to bring dessert.
And I’ve landed upon a few surefire hits—every time—when it comes to people-pleasing entrées. Here they are:
1. One big sheet pan pepperoni pizza
When you notice how many RSVPs to a pizza dinner are not “Sure” or “Nope,” but are more like “Heck, yes!” you’ll realize you should be doing this more often. There are lots of great sheet pan pie recipes out there, but I’m partial to the recipe published by J. Kenji López-Alt on Serious Eats. You can make the dough in a mini food processor or by hand a day in advance—it’s great no matter which way you slice it—and as long as you seek out good, natural-casing pepperoni, it will be fantastic.
2. Carnitas tacos
Pork shoulder is cheap if you can find the right butcher, and it’s pretty easy not to mess up. I like to plan a bit in advance, cook a big shoulder pernil-style with garlic and citrus till it’s meltingly soft, stash half in the fridge (for Cubanos and banh mi), and crisp up the other half for carnitas. Then I chop up cilantro, white onions, jalapeños, and limes for people to squeeze over tacos. I’ll maybe toast the tortillas over an open flame, but I also might just warm them up in a microwave. For guac, do whatever time and budget permits. Maybe this is the year you simply chop up fresh avocados, or use the store-bought stuff that’s actually decent.
3. Roast chicken with potatoes and greens
Use your favorite chicken recipe. Par-boil potatoes, chop them up, and plop them under the bird with chopped onions and a couple of skin-on garlic cloves in a cast-iron skillet. Roast it up. When you remove the chicken from its bed, plop it directly on chopped kale or lettuce seasoned with salt, pepper, and a tiny bit of oil. Allow the bird to wilt the greens. Serve with potatoes and onions; deglaze the pan to make gravy if you’re feeling it.
4. Caramelized onion tart on store-bought puff pastry.
This Nigel Slater recipe is so delicious, is a success with Taleggio, Camembert, or Brie, and only requires smart use of store-bought puff pastry and a few fresh herbs to knock out of the park. If you feel like that’s not enough food, do a big board of charcuterie and pickles, or a salad with mustard dressing. Easy.
5. Spicy ground pork stir-fry with noodles or rice.
When was the last time your guests had homemade Chinese food? I bet it’s been a while. Find an easy recipe for ground pork, maybe one employing oyster sauce or fish sauce, and serve it plated on fluffy rice or vermicelli noodles.
Bonus: None of these dishes entail a sink full of dirty plates, so you can actually stay relaxed all evening long—making your guests feel that much more welcome.
Watch: How to Makw Garlic-Pork Stir-Fry
Alex Van Buren is a food and travel writer living in Brooklyn, New York whose work has appeared in Bon Appétit, Travel + Leisure, New York Magazine, Martha Stewart Living, Gourmet, and Epicurious. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @alexvanburen.