15 Easy Dinner Party Dishes You Can Make in Advance


If the idea of hosting a dinner party frightens you, you are not alone. I still remember the trauma of my first one. By the time you shop for ingredients, clean your house, and cook, that makes for a fairly exhausting day. However, if you choose one of the menus below (either casual or fancy), you can do some, or all, of your preparation ahead of time. (See also: Feed a Party of 6 for Under $20)

1. Crab Cakes With Remoulade

Sounds fancy, eh? I love the way "remoulade" sounds. It just rolls off of your tongue. Well, it rolls off of the tongue of the guy in that link, anyway. Sauce Remoulade will really dress up a crab cake. Further advantage: You can make both the sauce and the crab cakes ahead of time. I like an Asian Coleslaw (non-mayonnaise dressing) and a scoop of rice on the side.

For dessert? Melona (melon) popsicles.

2. Chili

I think I could make this chili in my sleep, I have made it so often! In fact, we pulled a container of it out of the freezer last night and heated it up. It is best made at least a day ahead, making it a great choice for a party. We like ours with tortilla chips, but I have also served it with cornbread. When it's party time, I like to set out bowls of salsa, sour cream, chopped avocado, onions, and shredded cheese so that guests can choose their own toppings.

Dessert? Vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce.

3. Boeuf Bourguignon

Yes, this is Julia Child's beef bourguignon recipe, and I am fond of it because it was an early newlywed success. Those were far and few between so the winners really stuck with me. I especially love the reference to a "young and full-bodied red wine," which I interpret as "cheap red wine," always available in my wine cellar. In a box. But I digress. This recipe serves six, which I think is a dandy dinner-party size. Serve with a crusty French bread and a simple tossed salad. (See also: How to Make Cheap Cuts of Meat Taste Expensive)

Because this is a heavier entree, try a Peach Melba for dessert.

4. Jambalaya

Jambalaya (go ahead, sing along) has a festive air to it. Off the top of my head, I can think of three different families who make it either for Christmas or New Year's. It's great year-round, and it's a fun party food. There are many variations, but I really like Emeril's jambalaya because it goes together so quickly. It's a little spicy, so serve a coleslaw on the side.

Lemon Icebox Pie is a pretty and delicious dessert. I cheat and buy the ready-made graham cracker pie crusts.

5. "Chicken Curry"

My mother-in-law made delicious "Chicken Curry" for most special family occasions. I think she favored it because it is very child-friendly. Put a scoop of warm rice on a plate, add some sauce, and let everyone choose their favorite toppings. We like: Chutney, chopped peanuts, pickles, hard-boiled eggs, sliced avocados and tomatoes, bacon bits, and grated coconut. This is also a very frugal recipe, as you can use things up. For instance, you might have a few tortilla chips left in a bag, a box of raisins, or a can of mandarins. Be creative! My father-in-law would put a little of ALL of the toppings on his rice; some of the kids would have rice and grated cheese. Everyone, however, goes away happy. (See also: 15 Chicken and Thigh Recipes)

Coconut Ice-Cream Balls are nice for dessert (skipping the liqueur for the kids, of course).

6. Manicotti

It was a struggle whether to recommend a make-ahead lasagna or manicotti. I opted for manicotti for a couple of reasons:

  1. Manicotti seems a little more interesting; and

  2. I think it is easier to reheat more evenly.

True, it's a little trickier to assemble, but presentation-wise, it's also sportier. Toast some garlic bread, toss a salad, and dinner is served.

For dessert, Tiramisu Brownie Bars are pretty on a plate that has been dusted with powdered sugar.

7. Crab Casserole

This is a very rich casserole, containing crab, artichoke hearts, cream, and cheese. Because fresh crab is quite expensive, I have substituted canned, and it is still delicious. It also makes 10 to 12 servings, so it's a good party dish that can be made a day ahead. Side dishes should be very simple, like a tossed salad and rolls. To my taste, Fetzer's Sundial Chardonnay (buttery, crisp, and affordable) is perfect alongside.

A tray of seasonal fruit is a light, pretty dessert.

8. Split-Pea Soup

Split-Pea, to me, is another of those soups that is really better on day two. This one has ham hocks in it, but I have also made a vegetarian version, leaving them out, and just adding a little smoke flavor (I use the Colgin brand). It also freezes well, if you really want to get ready for your get-together way before the date. Pair with some whole-wheat rolls for a very healthy, yet comforting, cold-weather meal.

Old-Fashioned Lattice-Topped Apple Pie for dessert, anyone?

9. Stratas

Not only can a strata be made ahead of time, but it must be. The bread cubes need to soak up the egg-and-milk mixture. You might think of them as a breakfast meal, but they work equally well for dinner. They also appeal to my thrifty soul, as they can be tailored to any theme. For instance, leftover mexican cheese, or chilis? Mexican strata. Small bits of mozzarella or pepperoni? Italian strata. You get the picture. Lastly, they can be made meatless for your vegetarian guests or for Meatless Monday. Toss a bagged salad for a side. (See also: 25 Breakfasts for Dinner)

Keep the "layered" theme going with this Layered Chocolate Pudding (my neighbor, Dale, passed on the recipe). This stuff is fantastic and you can also make it ahead of time.

10. Baked Spaghetti

I have made baked spaghetti three times in the last six months. It freezes so well! It is a Bobby Deen recipe, and he lightened up his mother's version. Serve with breadsticks, an antipasto platter, and a tossed green salad.

Dessert: How does Cannoli Cream With Fresh Fruit sound?

11. Sauerbraten

This is another recipe that will force you to get your dinner party ready ahead of time. A Sauerbraten has to marinate for two to three days before cooking. It serves eight, so this is good for a large party. I love red cabbage with it, and this recipe has apples in it, which makes it really delicious. I cheat on the spaetzle, though, and use packaged egg noodles. Serve with a Rhine wine.

Dessert? Black Forest Cake, of course (the easy version).

12. Chicken Kiev

These Chicken Kiev rolls can be made ahead of time and sit in your refrigerator until you are ready to bake them. Yes, fried is the traditional method, but we're all watching our fat intake and these are healthier. They have a crispy coating, just like the fried ones, using my favorite crumbs, panko. Start with a small cup of borscht as an appetizer and serve with noodles and a creamy cucumber salad.

I have had a variation on this Ukranian Apple Cake (using plums) and it is quite easy, so it is my dessert suggestion.

13. Fajitas

The flank steak needs to marinate, which will give you the rest of you day to chop up peppers, onions, and get the condiments ready. I love this recipe's step-by-step instructions and the manner in which the fajitas are served. These are great with a side of beans. (See also: Healthy Black Bean Recipes)

Dessert? Vanilla ice cream with caramel sauce.

14. Chicken and Stuffing Bake

I have never known a man who didn't like stuffing. My friend Nancy Jo's sister-in-law served it right out of the bag at Thanksgiving once, and it still got eaten. There are many variations on this recipe for Chicken and Stuffing, but this one is darn easy. I get it ready to the point of adding the stuffing. Do that when you are closer to getting the chicken into the oven. Serve with steamed broccoli (toss with butter and lemon juice) and rolls.

This is comfort food, so keep that theme going with pudding (sure, out of a box) that you can make ahead. Shoot a little whipped cream on the pudding for glamour.

15. Baked Ham

But wait, don't you have to bake the ham? Sure, but do it the day before, and then serve it a' la Marla's Grandma, aka cold. Grandma sliced her cold ham and served it with deviled eggs, rolls, carrot and celery sticks, potato salad, and trays of olives. Bam! She was no dummy, and she fed an army with this combo. My husband chimes in: "Dessert was pie and cake." Yeah, I miss Grandma. This is a kid-friendly meal, too, and my aunts have adopted this Sunday dinner tradition.

All right now, I am afraid you are out of excuses about why you cannot entertain.

What are your favorite make ahead dinner party recipes?

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