Dinner party menus and recipes

Mar 13, 2009 at 2:47 p.m. ET

I love giving dinner parties. I enjoy the pre-party planning stage, the preparations and the party post-mortem. While I remain as devoted as ever to the dinner party (as I write this, I'm planning a sit-down for 12 next month), the recent tough times have put me in a mood to simplify. The following dinner party menus and recipes will help you host a great evening, without breaking a sweat.


Dinner menu #1: California cuisine

The hallmark of California cuisine is the use of fresh, seasonal ingredients. The ingredients in these dishes are easy to find and don't cost a fortune.

  • Grilled quail
  • Mushroom risotto (prepackaged in a box)
  • Asparagus with Italian vinaigrette dressing
  • Fresh fruit and cheese platter

Hot hint: One way to ease up on your budget and your time is to serve fewer courses. This menu skips the appetizer and salad servings, but still offers plenty of food to satisfy hungry guests.

Grilled Quail

Serves 6While many people think of grilled quail as gourmet meat, most supermarkets carry or can order these tiny taste sensations. Many butchers will even debone the quail for you at no charge.Ingredients:
6 quail (semi-deboned)
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon oregano
2 tablespoons crushed garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepperDirections:
In a large bowl, mix all the ingredients except the quail. Place the quail in the bowl and rub the marinade mixture into the skins, making sure each quail is covered with marinade. Next, place the quails and the remaining marinade into a gallon-size plastic bag and refrigerate for 2 to 4 hours. Heat your grill to medium-high and place the quails on the grill. Cook for approximately 10 minutes on each side. Let the quails rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Dinner menu #2: New England classic

  • Hearts of romaine salad with blue cheese dressing
  • Seafood boil
  • Ice cream sundaes

Nothing says "New England" more than crab, lobster and shrimp. Marianne Moore, director of catering at the Four Seasons Hotel in St. Louis, Missouri, believes the seafood boil is perfect for easy entertaining since it gives the guests something fun to do and requires little work on the hostess's part.

Seafood boil

Serves 5This easy-to-make dish requires minimal preparation time. Adapted with permission from Moore's recipe for lobster boil.Ingredients:
5 fresh lobsters
5 ears of corn
2-1/2 pounds new potatoes
1/4 pound per person snow or king crab meat in shell
1/4 pound per person shrimp in shell
1 full pouch Old Bay Seasoning in mesh net
1 bottle white wine
1/2 stick butter, meltedDirections:
Place large pot filled halfway with water over a medium flame. Pour in two bottles of white wine, add Old Bay Seasoning, and bring to a boil. Add melted butter, corn and potatoes; cook until just about done, approximately 20 to 30 minutes. Add the lobsters and cook for an additional 10 minutes. Add shrimp and crab; cook for approximately 10 minutes, until they are pink.Unroll waxed paper down the center of a long table, and pour the finished food onto the table. Provide guests with their own tongs and galvanized pail for discarding the shells.