My sister and I are trying to plan a nice birthday dinner for my parents. I'm an experienced cook but have always had a little trouble with meal planning-- what can I serve together? Is there too much meat? Is this an actual meal? etc. Anyone have any tips/recipes/fail-proof menus they use? I want to do something seasonally appropriate, a little bit elegant but simple at the same time. A good meal to be paired with good wine and good people! Any thoughts at all would be helpful.

  • Posted by: amandam1
  • September 22, 2010


pierino September 23, 2010
Well, now that we know you live in the Bay Area you have an abundance of resources to work with from the Ferry Building to Berkeley's "Gourment Ghetto". I would begin shopping at the former. One suggestion would be to substitute a final cheese course for a dessert. Cowgirl Creamery is your place. They make California's best camambert type soft, ripe cheeses such as their Red Hawk. Boccalone offers "tasty salted pig parts" for an appetizer. The Dungeness crab season is pretty much all year but it runs up and down the coast. Another unique opportunity on this side of the country is farm raised abalone from Cayucos---a great example of sustainable aquaculture. Round it out with sturgeon caviar from the Sacramento River.
luvcookbooks September 23, 2010
I would say sit down with your favorite cookbooks and a piece of paper to make a list. Or use post-its to mark recipes you might be interested in. Check your saved recipes in food 52 and check categories/cooks you might be interested in.
I always get into trouble by being overly ambitious. This step is important for me so I can have fun at the party.
I don't serve hors douevres any more (home made, I mean). Or hardly ever.
Something that can be baking unobtrusively in the oven when guests arrive, like lasagna, or bubbling on the stove, like a stew, is good. In SF, maybe something simple on the grill. A big salad (I have vegetable and esp greens envy for your life in san francisco), great bread that you buy, and an all out dessert. For my mom's 80th birthday (in a restaurant, alas) we had profiteroles for dessert. My mom is very elegant and a cake would not have done as well.
MFK Fisher has some interesting meditations on composing a meal in The Art of Eating.
Please post the menu. I am feeling hungry now!!
amandam1 September 22, 2010
Wow, thanks so much for all your thoughtful responses! I live in the SF Bay Area, foodie heaven. Alice Waters is a big inspiration, I'll be sure to take a look at her book. And all the recipes you posted look delish! Now I just have to choose :) Thanks for all the feedback!
pauljoseph September 22, 2010
You can try this easy Indian recipe
Meen Molee (Fish in Coconut Milk) and have with any bread
pierino September 22, 2010
The best advice I can offer is to compose your menu based on the seasons, as in what is fresh now especially if it's local. In other words, don't be shopping for "fresh" tomatoes in January. Melons are strictly for summer. But of course, I don't know where you live. Are you on a coast or in the middle of the country? You might have a look at Alice Waters' "Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook". I doubt that you will cook the recipes but you might get some ideas on matching flavors. Keller's "Ad Hoc at Home" is a wonderful book. It includes a moving account of cooking roast chicken for his father who was terminally ill. I did similar things for my own late parents. My sister who acted as the gate keeper swore that my mother hated beets. As I discovered my mother loved beets, it was my sister who hated beets.
jenmmcd September 22, 2010
Not sure if this is what you're looking for, but for a larger dinner party (20 or so), I try to have 2 main dishes (often 1 fish or vegetarian option), 1 side, a veggie, and a salad, maybe a bread. Pick a cuisine or tastes that go together. For a fall meal, this is a menu I've created in the past (Italian mostly): grilled leg of lamb marinated in balsamic and lavendar, butternut squash and goat cheese stuffed ravioli, green beans, and a fall salad with pears, blue cheese, seasoned pecans. I agree with Bevi -- pic a family favoirte and do it up a special way. Start by picking one dish you really want to make and then choose dishes that will go with it.
liamoran September 22, 2010
My parents' birthdays fall on October 31 and Nov. 1. My sisters and I make dinner and dessert for them every year. Last year, we made Food 52's own, Amanda Hesser's Rigatoni with White Bolognese, from her book, "Cooking for Mr. Latte." It's a rich and meaty dish, which works perfectly for a November dinner. Everyone in our family likes pasta, Italian sausage and mushrooms, which this dish is full of. I am making it again this sisters and parents are already talking about it.
Bevi September 22, 2010
What dishes do you know that your parents like? Maybe you can add your own personal twist to something your parents have always loved to eat. For instance, my dad made a weekly roasted chicken at our summer resort for over 25 years, but this past week, I made him my roast chicken recipe which has sliced onions placed under the skin. He really loved the the difference it made to an old, favorite recipe.
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