10 Dinner Guests (and what to cook them)

Ten types of people that you'll probably have over for dinner at some point, plus some ideas on what to make for them!


10 Dinner Guests (and what to cook them)

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It turns out that if people discover you run a semi-successful food blog, they want to eat at your house.

I imagine that chefs have a similar problem.  The main distinction, of course, is that I’m not a chef!  I don’t cook for people for a living and so I still get a bit stressed out when I have dinner guests over. I know that expectations are high.

That said, having people over for dinner is one of my favorite things to do.  It’s one of the reasons why I learned how to cook in the first place!  Seeing the smile on someone’s face after a great meal is really awesome.

Over the years, Betsy and I have had a lot of people over for dinner and most of the time it goes off without a hitch (unless I start a fire).  But a lot of the success depends on who is coming for dinner.

I plan (and cook) completely different things depending on who is knocking at the door.

So I thought it would be fun to breakdown 10 different kinds of dinner guests that you might want to entertain at some point in your life.  For each dinner guest type, there’s a few recipe ideas to get your planning started!

The In-Laws

Once you have found that special someone in your life, eventually you will have to interact with their family.  This can be stress-inducing so the key thing to remember is to stay calm.

I’m lucky in this category because Betsy’s family reads Macheesmo pretty regularly and they save recipes that I post.  When a visit comes around, they request specific meals which makes my life very easy.

The key thing to remember when cooking for in-laws (in my opinion) is to keep it simple.  You don’t want to come off as flashy or try to over-impress.  Just cook something that you know you can nail.

Here’s a few ideas:
Sesame Chicken Noodle Salad – This is a simple dish and almost impossible to screw up but it tastes kind of exotic and different.  It’s also quick to make so you can focus on the conversation.

Olive Bread – A good loaf of bread is a fantastic way to start a meal or serve as a side to some simple pasta.  Your in-laws will be impressed by your baking skills and this recipe is about as easy as it gets.

The First Date

Maybe this isn’t technically a first date because I think most people like to go out for a first date (easier to escape if need be).  But if you like cooking, you’ll eventually want to cook for them.

These would be on my list for first date meals.

Persimmon Risotto – A very light risotto (for risotto).  It seems exotic, but is actually really straightforward.  It’s almost guaranteed that your date hasn’t had this before and won’t complain about it.

A Date Night Spread – Betsy and I did this last year and it was a wonderful date night.  Basically, it’s just a spread of a bunch of fun tapas style things that you can largely prepare in advance.  This gives you plenty of time to chat with your new crush.

The Boss

Cooking for the boss might be the most stressful thing.  I mean, after all, your job could be on the line!

Actually, if you get fired because you messed up dinner, you would probably get fired eventually anyway.

When cooking for the boss, I think it’s important to make something impressive, but almost impossible to screw up.

Bourbon Cured Salmon – If you are having people over for a quick happy hour, make this a few days before.  Your boss will be impressed.

Roasted Pork Rib Roast – I cooked this for my actual boss a few years ago.  I believe that it was a success!

The Vegetarian

Cooking for vegetarians isn’t really hard for me because Betsy and I eat a lot of vegetarian meals.  I also feel bad for vegetarians when they go to dinner parties. I feel like they frequently get something frozen while everyone else is eating something grand.

These are two recipes that will smack your vegetarian friends across the face with flavor and have them knocking at your door for more.

Charred Eggplant Curry – The curry is spicy. The eggplant is smoky and flavorful.  I guarantee you that you won’t miss the meat in this recipe.

Beet Burgers – I feel especially bad for my vegetarian friends when it is grilling season.  Frozen veggie burgers suck.  Make these next time you are grilling for veg-lovers.

The Drop-In

Sometimes you don’t have time to prepare for dinner.  Maybe it’s an old friend who happens to be in town and have a free night or maybe you just plain forgot about something you scheduled weeks ago.

Both have happened to me and these are two meals I recommend!

Quick Carne Asada – A quick rub on a flank steak and a few minutes on a very hot grill and your impromptu guests will be loving life.

Thirty Minute Chickpea Stew – I love this stew. The flavors would make you think someone was slaving away for hours.

The Old Roommate

When an old friend is coming through town I like to make dishes that are pretty low maintenance so I can focus on catching up.

Enchilada Lasagna – A really fun change on a standard lasagna and a lot less work than real enchiladas.

Three Chile Quesadillas – I actually made these for an old roommate back in the day.  He also happened to be vegetarian so I made a beef and a mushroom version.

The Gluten Free Guest

The Gluten-free diet is all the rage these days so it’s a good idea to have a few great gluten-free meals in your back pocket in case they are requested.

The key thing about these meals is that they don’t rely on any weird frozen gluten-free stuff.  They are naturally gluten free and really delicious.

Summer Soba – I’m not trying to eliminate gluten from my diet, but if I was trying I would eat a lot of soba.

Spicy Maple Tofu – Also a good recipe for the vegetarian or just someone who loves spicy and tasty food.

(Note: Be careful to inspect all of the ingredients you are using for gluten when cooking for gluten-free guests. Both of these recipes have soy sauce in them, for example, which can have gluten. Be sure to get a gluten-free version.)

The New Friend

When Betsy and I moved to Colorado we tried to have a lot of people over for dinner so we could get to know them.  It’s rare that someone turns down a homemade meal.

For people that I don’t know well, I like to cook with simple flavors that have a little twist on them.

Salmon Tacos – Quick and easy, these will impress.  Also, you can show off your skills by making salmon skin chips!

Gin Penne Pasta – It looks like a simple pasta, but has a great herb flavor.  See if your new friends can guess the secret ingredient.

The Couples Crush

Sometimes Betsy and I crush out on another couple.  We totally want to date them and be friends with them 4ever.

These are surefire winning recipes to woo your couples crush.

Shredded Chicken Hard Tacos – Screw taco shells.  Just make your own on a griddle.

Cast Iron Pizza – Not only are you making homemade pizza, but you’re making it in a cast iron skillet. Delicious and super-hip.

The One

You will hopefully someday meet someone you think is “The One.”  Obviously, you will want to cook them things that they love.  If your One is like my One, then they will like these.

Taco Stack – Betsy is an enormous Tex-Mex fan.  If/When we fight, I just make these and leave it on the table for her.  Problem solved.

Sweetbreads Po Boys – This might be considered more of a test than a treat.  Are they adventurous?  If they are willing to try sweetbreads, they will be rewarded with one of the most delicious sandwiches out there.  Betsy loved these guys.

Add to the list!

Can you think of a type of dinner guest that I left off the list?  What would you cook for them?

16 Responses to “10 Dinner Guests (and what to cook them)” Leave a comment

  1. You forgot the ridiculously picky parents (mostly my mom), which is why I hate cooking when they come or I visit. I have a long list of things that I can’t even attempt to make her, and then everything else has too much flavor. I’ve made fresh green beans, but she’s not a fan and would prefer the weird canned stuff. I have made her risotto before and was told it was “too cheesy.” And on and on. I’ve mostly given up on cooking for her.

  2. A couple quick thoughts on the Gluten-Free guest –

    1 – THANK YOU for actually talking about this, most people are woefully unaware of what you can/can’t eat when gluten-free

    2 – About 95% of soy sauce on the market has gluten, since almost all traditional soy sauces are 50% wheat, and 50% soy. For gluten-free, look for Tamari soy sauce, which is a traditional style that’s 100% soy, and most Tamari brands get their sauces certified gluten-free.

    3 – Be extremely careful with Soba! Most grocery-store Soba is 30-50% wheat, not just buckwheat. Proper Soba is amazing, but read labels!

    4 – My only real criticism…yes, for some, gluten-free is a “diet” or a “fad”, but many, such as my wife, are diagnosed with Celiac disease. This is far more than an “intolerance” to gluten, it is a severe allergy. In many places, such as here in Canada, gluten and wheat are recognized as primary allergens, classed alongside nuts, soy, and dairy. In my wife’s case, even accidentally eating a small amount of gluten causes severe indigestion, headaches, rashes, and flares of joint pain.

    Those who are going gluten-free by choice for whatever reason does help raise awareness for those who must eat gluten-free for medical reasons. However, it can be dangerous to assume that the worst that will happen is that the gluten-free eater will be offended. It may not be as dramatic as a severe nut allergy, but it is still a huge medical issue for many people out there.

    Oh and one last thing…there are a TON of your recipes that are either gluten-free by virtue of not having anything wheat/barley/rye-containing, or can be substituted easily for gluten-free versions (breadcrumbs, etc). And they are all awesome :)

    1. Thanks for the notes John. You’re right for sure. If you don’t know otherwise, you should treat gluten-free as an allergy and not a diet.

    2. Thanks for bringing this up! I was just heading over from Google Reader so that I could comment on the soy sauce and soba.

      Also, thanks for bringing up the difference between a “diet” and a medical condition. As someone who is also legitimately intolerant, I get so frustrated when I am dismissed as just being on a fad diet. It’s hard enough to stay safe and avoid gluten free foods (it’s hidden everywhere!) without friends and waitstaff being offended or dismissive if I ask whether a sauce has flour or soy sauce in it.

  3. As someone with two kids under 3 that is often invited over to people’s houses without kids, suggestions for kid-friendly meals would be helpful! I went to a dinner party this weekend and they served teriyaki chicken wings, potato salad, mixed green salad, and blueberry pie. Yummy for the adults, but was kind of a disaster with the kids.

    1. That can be tough. I rarely have kids over to eat. My friend group isn’t quite in the kid age yet… I would make sure to have lots of colorful, but not spicy stuff. Have some standard stuff like maybe mini-pb&j sandwiches or mac-n-cheese, but also have some fun stuff for them to try that is maybe new: new veggies, etc.

    2. Agreed. My kids ate 8, 6 and 4 (her birthday is today!). Making kid friendly menus has been difficult for me. Hubby and I like spicy and bold. Kids, not at all yet, My girls eat salad, son is eats no greens to my horror. :-) He won’t eat beef either unless its hamburgers.

  4. I appreciate your awareness of a vegetarian’s plight. I don’t expect people to cook for me, and I do my best to “eat around” meat when I’m a guest, but I’ve encountered hosts feeling really bad when there isn’t anything I can eat so I try to let people know that I don’t eat meat, but I don’t expect much either. I am in love with Beet burgers right now, so I’ll be all over that recipe. You are right, frozen veggie patties are kind of a bummer next to steaks on the grill. The bottom line is, it makes you feel cared-for when people go to the effort to put out tasty meat free options. Thanks for putting yourself in other people’s shoes.

  5. When I have fave cousins coming in for just a night or two, I do beef short ribs in the crock pot (BROWNING THEM FIRST OF COURSE) with rich tomato sauce and LOTS of garlic and red wine (we are of Italian descent). You can eat any time you dam well please and it just gets better ! Big salad, and crusty bread. The best meal evah!!!!

  6. Anyone who likes things with O&C onions or crushed potato chips on top. They won’t like anything you make — “What is THIS?” — so forget inviting them. I learned this the hard way with a former in law.

  7. Okay. My husband and I just moved to Colorado and are having a couple over for dinner that we totally have a couples crush on. I never worry about what to cook but started googling and came across your blog post! So funny that you had exactly what I am looking for. Love the blog and can’t wait to show my husband – who credits me for teaching him to cook and is loving it!! Thanks.

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