Welcome to my dinner party nightmare: After mulling over the menu all week, getting most of the shopping done early, and somehow managing to leave the office before 5:30—just enough time to get home and fry up those ______ before my guests arrive—something inevitably goes wrong. The store where I was certain I could pick up lamb mince on the way home only has beef; I read the recipe wrong and the fish was only supposed to marinate for 1 hour, not overnight; no one within 5 miles of my apartment has even heard of urfa pepper, let alone knows where I can find some; my fryer is broken and I can’t find a thermometer to fry the chicken the old fashioned way and now the batter keeps slipping off and god help me, I don’t know why.
Sound familiar? No? Just me? (I probably should have visited the Food52 hotline for that last one!)
At any rate, the oh-no-the-guests-are-running-early-and-I’m running-late panic is a place I’ve found myself too often for my own comfort...or ego. Half the time, I can put out any fire before my guests arrive and they’re none-the-wiser. The other half...the doorbell rings when I’m still elbow-deep in lamb mince, apologizing that the salad won’t be quite right because I burned the nuts and couldn’t find urfa pepper. But since I’ve vowed to stop saying sorry for the food I make other people, the only solution to the frantic pre-dinner party shuffle is to make things I know I won’t mess up.
For me, that means something make-ahead I’ve made a million times before, like pasta with broccoli rabe, goat cheese, red pepper flakes, and lemon zest (plus sausage, if I’m cooking for carnivores). Or it means something cozy and make-ahead, like poached chicken and congee cooked in the poaching liquid, with as many toppings as my guests want to pile on top (I’ll take cilantro, sliced jalapeno, crunchy fried shallots, peanuts, and a boatload of sriracha, please!). My third go-to option is something I can easily make in 30 minutes while I’m chatting and snacking with guests, like pan-seared steaks and a simple salad. (Sounds easy, right? Well… that’s the idea!)
In an effort to expand my repertoire of easy-peasy dinner party recipes, I asked all my coworkers: What’s the one dinner party dish you know you won’t mess up? Of course, they had a long list of bright ideas for quick, easy, no-fail, and make-ahead recipes. Check them all out below, and then please do tell: What are yours?
"I am a loyalist to Kristen's Genius Pork Shoulder Ragu for an easy fall-winter dinner party. You have to start it a little early, but it's highly hands-off, and insanely good. Your kitchen will smell amazing, your friends will be impressed and all you need to serve it with is a simple green salad. I usually serve with polenta rather than noodles. Make a lot because leftovers get even better with age." —Kaitlin Bray, social media director
"I always make pizza for dinner parties (starting with this crust). A lot of it is make-ahead—you just have to top and bake off your pizzas once guests arrive—and the toppings are customizable to their tastes. My go-to "impressing guests" topping combo is caramelized onions; peaches, cherries, or pears, depending on the season; and salty, funky gorgonzola to put on top, along with some toasted walnuts or pecans and a handful of arugula once it's out of the oven. But a can of san marzano tomatoes, some creamy balls of fresh mozzarella (or better yet, fior di latte or burrata), and a bunch of basil has never done me wrong, either." —Brinda Ayer, books and special projects editor
"I make this kale salad recipe that I found in a random Men’s Health magazine years ago. It's Lacinato kale cut in small strips, a chopped serrano pepper, chopped mint, and pecorino cheese with homemade croutons. You add the dressing, which is just lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, and a touch of red wine vinegar, ten minutes before serving. It's so easy and there’s almost no prep work. The key is homemade croutons, which are just cubed bread fried in olive oil in batches and then salted. People go crazy for it." —Lizzie Greene, sales director
"As long as it’s a party of meat-eaters (and I can finagle the ~6 hours of cook time at some point on or around the day of the dinner), my go-to dish is bo ssam, or Korean-style slow-roasted pork shoulder. I’ll serve it with the fixings—lettuce, rice, kimchi, ginger-scallion sauce—plus a simple cucumber salad and a bunch of shrimp chips. It’s relatively easy, decently impressive, and a lot of fun to eat. And bonus that the leftovers are pretty amazing." —Joanna Sciarrino, managing editor
"Everyone loves mac and cheese—and Martha's is the best. I make the cheesy-pasta situation a day in advance, refrigerate right in the casserole dish, then top with breadcrumbs and stick in the oven just before everyone comes over. Serve with an oversized, mustardy kale, lots of wine, and that's it. It's crowd-pleasing but, even more than that, it's stress-free for me and my husband. Happy hosts = happy guests." —Emma Laperruque, food writer & recipe developer
"I love making big, help-yourself-style dishes like a couple of pans of Julia Turshen's lasagna or a large pot of carnitas for a dinner party. You can even make the lasagna the day before to really save time (that way you can focus on your guests and not be overly stressed!). The carnitas requires just three simple ingredients and one pot, truly an impressive dish for the short ingredient list. People instantly feel at home when they can grab their own seconds; it makes for a supremely fun and casual vibe." —Hana Asbrink, senior lifestyle editor
"I've already served Anna Stockwell's cold roast salmon at a couple dinner parties since the recipe came out this summer. The ingredients are so simple—just a whole side of salmon, olive oil, salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper—but the slow roasting on low heat is what makes this recipe special. I love that it serves 8-10 people and can be made ahead and served chilled, and so long as you keep an eye on it while it's roasting, it's really hard to screw up. I've served it with the smashed green bean salad and the grilled serrano salsa verde from the same recipe, which were both delicious, but it's incredibly versatile and worked just as well with a simple green salad." —Laura Wolfgang, senior product manager
"I’ve been really
lazy busy these days, so what I like to do is make a batch of the Marcella Hazan tomato-butter sauce, stretch out some store-bought pizza dough into individual rounds (about the size of a quarter sheet pan), top each with sauce and mozz, and bake off right before my friends come over. It tastes amazing every time. Maybe I’ll add a simply dressed arugula salad on the side (or you could even top the pizzas with the salad so you feel less guilty about serving cheese pizza for dinner).
But all you need really is some red wine for anything to feel like a party. It’s the kind of thing I make when I don’t have the creative energy to think of anything fancy, but I want to feed people something that’s guaranteed to be delicious." —Eric Kim, senior editor