Good chances are, if you’re on this blog, you’re planning your first dinner party menu and you’ve come across one of two problems:
You don’t really know how to cook.
You’ve discovered a decent menu will take you away from your guests.
Lucky for you, you’ve come across our drag-and-drop dinner party menu that will solve both of your problems. Simply choose a couple of entrees, a main and a dessert and voila, you are in the running for host of the year, 2020. And yes, every recipe is beginner-cook friendly.
The Easiest Dinner Party Menu of 2020
5 Easy Dinner Party Entrees
1. Antipasto Grazing Board
It’s easier than it looks to create one of the trendy grazing platters from Pinterest. The trick is to balance sweet and salty, soft and crunchy, fresh and preserved, and heights and colours. Once you’ve learned how to make a basic, all-round board, you can start playing with your own signature platter.
- A selection of deli meats, such as ham, salami, prosciutto, cabanossi, smoked salmon.
- Dippers or carriers, like crackers or bread twists.
- Hard and/or soft cheese.
- A dip or two, preferably a thicker variety, like a hummus.
- At least two different fresh elements, such as a berries, celery or carrot sticks, nuts, grapes and other fruits.
- Fillers and garnishes, like mini pretzels and herb sprigs.
- Other antipasto elements, like sun-dried tomatoes and olives.
How to create an antipasto grazing platter:
- Clean and dry your board or platter, and a couple of small clay pots, jars or bowls. A cute tip for jars is to tie a few rounds of burlap string around the rims of your jars.
- Decant your dips into your holder of choice. If you have more than one, place them at opposite ends of the board, an inch or so away from the edge.
- In your other holders, place your loose items, like olives and sun-dried tomatoes. Again, space out your holders.
- Starting on the outer edges of your board, spread out rows of crackers, grapes and other larger items to create almost like a wall to prevent smaller items from rolling off.
- Cut wedges or cubes from one quarter of each of your cheeses. Place the larger piece on the board, placing a few of the smaller cuts on top and around.
- Next, take your deli meats, folding each slice in half and in half again, until they look like triangles. Place on top of each other in a row.
- Begin to fill the larger spaces with your other ingredients, saving your garnishes for last. When garnishing, use them to add colour or texture to small gaps or areas that look a bit boring.
2. Rice Paper Summer Rolls
While simple, a rice paper summer roll looks quite cool and tastes absolutely delicious. When you pair them with a good sauce selection, they’re a super refreshing entree for those warmer summer months.
These summer rolls do tend to be better fresh, however, can be made in advance and stored in the fridge to be brought out when they’re needed.
- Warm water for soaking rice paper sheets.
- Rice paper sheets.
- Vermicelli noodles, prepared to instructions on packet.
- Cabbage, sliced.
- Carrot, peeled and julienned.
- Red capsicum, de-seeded and sliced.
- Avocado, peeled and sliced.
- Large lettuce leaves, like romaine.
- A protein, such as pan-fried marinated tofu, cold garlic prawns or cold chicken.
- Sesame seeds.
- And, any other fillings you want.
How to make rice paper summer rolls:
- Prepare all your fillings, including noodles before you begin making your rice paper rolls. Have them ready to add.
- Read the instructions on your rice paper sheets to see how to prepare. However, most will recommend you wet a tea towel and lay it flat, before soaking a sheet for around 30 seconds to be laid flat on the towel. You want the sheet to be soft but still a little firm.
- On the bottom third of a prepared rice paper sheet, add a lettuce leaf.
- Next, top the lettuce leaf with one or two slices of each filling and a small handful of your vermicelli noodles.
- Now you need to wrap your roll. Using a firm but gentle hand, pull on the edge of the sheet running horizontally with your fillings, wrapping it just over the top of the ingredients.
- Taking one side at the vertical edge of your fillings, pull them slightly over the fillings to close the ends.
- Continue to firmly roll the sheet horizontally.
- Sprinkle a few sesame seeds over the roll and continue to make the rest of the rolls.
Note: Make a few test rolls as it does take a little getting used to when making them look as good as they taste.
2. Baked Camembert & Brie Fondue
People always seem to be both impressed and absolutely thrilled when they see a baked brie or camembert. With how easy it is to actually make this classic dinner party entree, you’re going to love it just as much.
One of the best things is, you can use the least expensive brie and still get great results, so don’t be concerned with a tight budget. It does make it easier if you can get the cheeses that come in a little wooden box, but you can simply use a small, shallow oven-proof dish, if not.
- A package of brie.
- A package of unpasteurised camembert.
- Extra-virgin olive oil, maple syrup or honey for drizzling.
- Sea salt and pepper.
- Fresh rosemary.
- Sides to dip.
How to bake brie and camembert:
- Preheat your oven to 170 degrees celcius fan-forced.
- Place each of the cheeses into their own box or shallow dish for baking and serving.
- Using a sharp knife, score the tops of each cheese several times. If you don’t like the rind, you can cut the top layer off completely.
- Strip some rosemary leaves from the stalk and sprinkle over each.
- Drizzle one of your toppings (extra-virgin olive oil, maple syrup or honey) over the top of each.
- Bake the brie and camembert for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the top of the centre feels soft to touch as if it were going to collapse.
- Add each to a platter and surround with sides to dip into the gooey cheeses, such as firm crackers, toasted chunks of bread, pear slices or anything else you fancy.
Tip: Don’t be tempted to keep baking either cheese past when they’re soft to touch. The cheeses will go back hard and be pretty much impossible to soften up again.
If you’re following a traditional three-course meal with soup as a starter, you’re going to love how simple this recipe is! An added bonus is that you can cook up the vegetables the day before and then whack them in the pot with the ingredients below when it comes time to serve.
We’ve left the portion sizes (like all these recipes) open to how much you need. Normally 1 tray of roast vegetables will make enough starter-sized bowls of soup for a good 6 people, but it depends how thick or thin you like your soup.
- Sebago or other roasting potatoes, washed and halved or quartered, depending on their size.
- Sweet potato, peeled and cut into potato-sized pieces.
- Carrots, chopped into thumb-sized pieces.
- Butternut pumpkin, skinned and cut into potato-sized pieces.
- Onions, peeled and quartered.
- Capsicum, cheeks sliced in half.
- Whole garlic bulb, knot cut off and whacked with a heavy object to slightly separate.
- Extra-virgin olive oil.
- Rosemary, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, salt and pepper.
- Vegetable stock.
- Full-fat sour cream, if desired.
How to make roast vegetable soup:
- Preheat your oven to 180 degrees celcius fan-forced.
- In a bowl, add all your chopped up vegetables.
- Drizzle with oil, a good helping of salt, pepper, paprika and some garlic and onion powder.
- Pour your ingredients out flat on a lightly oiled baking sheet.
- Place in the oven for 60 minutes, or until all vegetables are cooked through, soft with darkened, but not burnt, edges.
- Either put straight in the pot to prepare straight away or store in an air-tight container until needed.
- When ready to finish preparing, tip all the vegetables into a tall pot.
- Add enough vegetable stock to fill the pot until just below the top of the vegetables.
- Using a stock blender, go in and blend until smooth.
- If you’d like your soup thicker, add more potatoes or some sour cream.
- For a thinner consistency, add more stock.
- Serve with fresh crusty bread.
5. Slow-Cooked Chilli Tortilla Bowls
With this dinner party entree, you can have your bowl and eat it too — literally! To be honest, this entree can be made in larger portions for a main meal, but also is great at getting those tastebuds kicking and rearing for the next course.
You could also stick to the theme of this dish and have all Mexican dishes as your dinner party menu.
- Chucked beef, cubed.
- Yellow onion, roughly chopped.
- Garlic, finely diced.
- 100% crushed canned tomatoes.
- Canned kidney beans, rinsed.
- Beef stock.
- Dark brown sugar.
- Distilled white vinegar.
- Salt and pepper.
- Smoked paprika.
- Onion and garlic powder.
- Ground cumin seeds.
- Plain flour.
- Grapeseed or olive oil.
- Sour cream, Mexican-mix grated cheese and chopped spring onions to top.
How to make slow-cooked chilli tortilla bowls:
- In a pot, heat olive oil to low-medium and add onions.
- When onions become translucent, add your garlic and cook through for a moment.
- In a bowl, mix plain flour, salt, pepper and a little smoked paprika.
Toss your cubed beef in the flour, before putting in the pot with the onion and garlic to brown.
- When browned, add your drained kidney beans, canned tomatoes and spices.
- Add the beef stock until just covering the contents of the pot.
- Add a little dark sugar and white vinegar to taste. More can be added as needed.
- Cook on a low heat until beef is tender and falling apart.
- Before serving, create your tortilla bowls by brushing each tortilla with a little oil and placing over a ramekin or small bowl.
- Hold the tortilla in place to the bowl with some aluminium foil and bake in an oven for on 180 degrees celcius fan-forced for about 5-minutes, or until lightly crisped and the bowl holds in place.
- Serve the chili in your tortilla bowls, top with finishes and enjoy.
5 Easy Dinner Party Mains
1. Slow-Cooked Lamb Shanks
It feels like everyone has that one family member who wows people with their lamb shanks. What you don’t know is just how easy a good shank recipe is. Now you can be that friend or family member with our slow-cooked lamb shanks.
For sides, you can never go wrong with a mashed potato or polenta, and butter poached broccolini.
- Lamb shanks.
- Brown or white onion, finely diced.
- Fresh garlic, minced.
- Carrots, finely diced.
- Celery, finely diced.
- Can of crushed tomatoes.
- Tomato paste.
- Red wine.
- Beef stock.
- Worcestershire sauce.
- Fresh rosemary and thyme.
- Dried bay leaves.
- Salt and pepper.
- Smoked paprika.
- Cooking oil.
How to cook slow-cooked lamb shanks:
- Preheat your oven to 180 degrees celsius, fan-forced, or your slow cooker on medium.
- Dry off each lamb shank using paper towels, before coating each with ground salt and pepper.
- In a heavy-based pan, heat your preferred cooking or searing oil.
- Add each lamb shank to the pan until browned on each side, but not cooked through. Roughly 5 minutes for each shank should be fine.
- Place your shanks in your slow cooker or cooking pot.
- In the same pan you used to sear your shanks, add in your onion, waiting until they are slightly translucent to add your garlic.
- Once the garlic is fragrant, add the carrot and celery, cooking the mixture for another 4 to 5 minutes.
- Add the tomato paste, bay leaves, rosemary, paprika and thyme to the vegetables, giving everything a little stir.
- All at once, add in your red wine, beef stock and crushed tomatoes.
- Add the mix to your slow cooker or pot and put in the oven for 2 hours. Your sauce should cover all of the meat of your shanks.
- Check on your sauce at the end of the 2 hours. If the sauce is still quite liquidy, remove the lid for another 30 to 40 minutes.
- You’ll know when your lamb shanks are done because the meat will still stick to the bone when picked up, but start to fall off if shaken. Or, when the meat is tender, if you know how to tell.
- Use the sauce and veggies as is, or strain the veggies out before drizzling the sauce over everything.
2. DIY Pizzas
Turn your dinner party into an immersive experience with a DIY pizza menu! All you need to do is pre-make your dough, chop up all the toppings and put them in little bowls, and let everyone make their own. Then, put your pizzas in the oven until the base is light and fluffy with a slight crunch, and the cheese on top is nice and gooey.
- Lukewarm water.
- White sugar.
- Dry yeast.
- Olive oil.
- All-purpose or bread flour.
How to make pizza dough by hand:
- In a small bowl, add your lukewarm water and dried yeast and sugar, letting it sit for 5 minutes or until slightly frothy on the surface.
- On a cold benchtop, heap your flour and create a well in the centre.
- To the centre of the flour, start adding all your wet ingredients and blending them in with a fork until everything is combined.
- Once combined, lightly flour your benchtop and begin to knead your dough, working for about 10 minutes or until smooth and elastic. If your surface becomes too sticky, sprinkle a little more flour.
- Place your dough in a large, lightly-greased bowl, covered in cling wrap and a tea towel.
- Leave the dough to proof in a warm, draft-free area for 2 or more hours, or until ready to use.
- Slice the dough into the number of pizzas you need and roll out on a lightly floured surface.
- Add your favourite toppings and bake for 20 minutes or until dough is cooked through.
Tip: Dough can be stored in plastic wrap for up to 24 hours or frozen to be used at a later date.
3. Slow-Cooked Beef Stroganoff
You probably wouldn’t think of adding beef stroganoff to a dinner party menu, but once you try this recipe, you’ll understand why we’re suggesting it. Simply add all your ingredients to your pot, cook up some pasta and vegetables when you’re ready to serve and boom, you have a filling, incredibly moreish meal.
- Chucked beef, cubed or sliced.
- Mushrooms, quartered.
- Brown onions, sliced.
- Garlic, minced.
- Tomato paste.
- Worcestershire sauce.
- Beef stock.
- Sour cream.
- Plain flour.
- Smoked paprika.
- Salt and pepper.
- Cooking oil.
How to cook slow-cooked beef stroganoff:
- In a large bowl, mix plain flour, salt, pepper and around a teaspoon of smoked paprika per cup of flour.
- Toss your beef cubes or strips in the flour mix until lightly coated.
- In a heavy-bottom pan, heat up a tablespoon or two of olive oil, or your preferred cooking oil, on low-medium heat.
- Add your onions to the pan, waiting until they’re turning translucent to add your garlic.
- When this is fragrant, add in your mushrooms and give them a quick toss around.
- Pour the onions, garlic and mushrooms into your slow cooker or casserole pot.
- Turn up the heat on your stove to medium-high, adding in some more oil before searing your beef in batches. You only want the beef to be ever so slightly turning brown before pouring into the pot with the onions, mushrooms and garlic.
- Once all the beef is seared, pour the entire contents of your pot back into your pan and add your tomato paste.
- Continue to stir the paste through the beef, onions, mushrooms and garlic mix for two minutes on a medium heat, before transferring back to the pot.
- Shake into your pot some Worcestershire sauce and beef stock, until the stock is just covering your meat.
- Cook on medium-high on your slow cooker or in the oven at 180 degrees celcius fan-forced for 2 hours.
- Upon checking your stew, the meat should be incredibly tender.
- However, if the sauce is still super liquidy, cook with the lid off for a further 15 to 30 minutes.
- Once the sauce has reduced a little more, set aside to rest for 5 minutes.
- When you’re ready to serve, stir in a few tablespoons of sour cream.
4. Whole Baked Fish
For some reason, people are always hesitant to cook fish and leave it up to the restaurants. When you read this recipe, you’ll see just how easy it is and add it straight to your dinner party menu!
To accompany your fish, nothing seems to match it quite like a fresh papaya or Asian-style salad.
- A whole white fish (barramundi or sea bass is perfect for first timers).
- Olive oil.
- Minced garlic.
- Lemon, 1 sliced and 1 for juicing.
- Fresh rosemary and thyme.
- Salt and pepper.
How to bake a whole fish:
- Preheat your oven to 200 degrees celcius fan-forced.
- To prepare your fish for baking, give it a rinse and pat down to dry.
- On an aluminium-foil covered baking tray, overlap your lemon slices in a line down the centre, with a sprinkle of your herbs on top.
- Using a sharp knife, carefully score your fish deep enough to cut through the skin, but not too far into the flesh. About half an inch to an inch in between each slit should be fine.
- Generously oil the inside and outside of your fish with oil, really getting into the slots. You can use a brush if you don’t want fishy fingers.
- Next, season your entire fish well, and fill the cavity and the slits of your fish with herbs, lemon and whatever other seasonings you want to use.
- Cover the tray with aluminium foil and place it in the oven for 40 minutes.
- Uncover the train and return to the oven for a further 5 minutes or until the fish can be easily flaked with a fork.
3 Easy Dinner Party Desserts
1. Sarah’s Award-Winning Nutella Cheesecake
Not to brag, but my Nutella cheesecake recipe won the 2019 Localsearch Bake-Off. To be fair, it is an adaptation of the Nigella Lawson recipe, but with a few of my own modifications, like a thicker base.
The more you make this cheesecake, the more you’ll learn how you like it, including if you prefer a chocolate on chocolate, a cream top, nuts or a little peanut butter added to the mix. For the desserts in this list, we have included ingredient measurements as it is pretty crucial to the success of your after-dinner treat.
A quick tip; go out and buy yourself a hand mixer. They’re much cheaper than a proper stand mixer and will save you and your arm a lot of hurt.
- 400 grams chocolate-coated digestive biscuits.
- 160 grams chopped toasted hazelnuts.
- 100 grams softened unsalted butter.
- 1 jar of Nutella or chocolate spread of your choice.
- 500 grams cream cheese.
- 50 grams sifted icing sugar.
Optional: Additional chopped nuts, whipped cream, strawberries, desiccated coconut, glacé cherries or Ferrero Rochers.
How to make Nutella cheesecake:
- In a processor or using a bag and rolling pin, add your biscuits, hazelnuts and butter. Pulse until the ingredients form a similar texture to damp sand.
- Take a standard springform cake pan and use your fingers to evenly press the biscuit mixture to create a layer on the bottom. Use the bottom of a flat glass to firmly pack the mix.
- Place the pan with the biscuit layer in the fridge.
- Take a large bowl and beat your cream cheese and icing sugar together until smooth.
- Add in your Nutella or chocolate spread and beat until combined and free of lumps.
- Pour the Nutella and cream cheese mix on top of your base and smooth out the top with a spatula.
- Return the pan to the fridge for at least 6 hours, but best left overnight.
- Once set, unload the spring pan and remove the outer edge. Serve immediately from the fridge.
- Before cutting, top with your preferred garnishes, such as more chopped hazelnuts, fruit, whipped cream or your favourite chocolates.
2. Fudgie Sweet Potato Brownies
People are often put off by there being sweet potato in these brownies, but once they try them, they claim they’re the best ones they’ve ever had. This is a denser, fudgier brownie, so don’t expect the gooeyness of a chocolate-loaded one.
We were going to create our own design to put here, but to be honest, the sweet potato brownie recipe by Chocolate Covered Katie is pretty much unbeatable. So, please check out here recipe for your dinner party menu, as you truly won’t regret it.
3. Skillet Gooey Chocolate Chip Cookie
Think chocolate chip cookies, but a little more sophisticated. Why baking the cookie in a skillet makes it more sophisticated, we’re not too sure, but you’ll see when you try it!
- 185g unsalted butter, softened.
- 100g white sugar.
- 200g brown sugar.
- 1 large egg.
- 15ml vanilla extract.
- 350g plain flour.
- 1 teaspoon baking soda.
- 1 teaspoon baking powder.
- Sprinkle of salt.
- 300g chocolate chips.
How to make a skillet chocolate chip cookie:
- Preheat your oven to 170 degrees celsius fan-forced.
- Lightly grease a cast iron skillet with butter, but do not place it in the oven.
- In a large bowl, cream the butter, sugars and vanilla extract together.
- Next, mix in your egg before sifting in your dry ingredients until just combined.
- With a baking spatula, fold your chocolate chips into your dough.
- Turn your dough into your skillets and press in.
- Place your skillet in the oven and bake for about 20 to 30 minutes, or until the top of the centre is just soft still.
- Once done, leave the skillet to cool for 5 minutes before serving.
5 Top Tips for Planning a Dinner Party
1. Organise cleanup at the start.
Whatever you do, don’t leave your cleaning up until all after your guests are gone. Before everyone arrives, ensure your dishwasher is empty and ready to be stacked with plates and cutlery. This way, as courses are finished or you’re done with pots and utensils, you can pop them in straight away.
As you’re about to dish up each course, give your benches a quick wipe down too. Not only will this mean your cleanup once everyone is gone is minimal, it looks good too.
2. Prepare properly.
Who else forgets something every time they go to the shop? Before going shopping for your dinner party menu, break down each recipe by ingredient. Cross off anything you have and what is left is your grocery list.
Ensure you add to your list any garnishes, drinks or utensils you need too. The last thing you want is to discover you need aluminium foil when you’re halfway through a recipe and your guests will be there in half an hour.
Once you have everything you need, chop, slice and prepare as much of your meals as you can. If you’re going to be serving a side salad, mix together all the vegetables and put all the ingredients you need for your dressing together, but don’t combine until serving. Things like this can save you valuable minutes later on.
3. When in doubt, cook too much.
Your food could be prepared by a Michelin Star chef, but if you’re still hungry at the end, it’ll be dubbed a fail. Always accommodate for at least one surprise guest as well as a half serving more for each guest if they did want seconds.
Even if you have leftovers, take them to work for lunch or freeze them for a later date. Too much food is never a problem!
4. Double check for any food allergies or preferences.
Even if it’s your close family and/or friends coming to your dinner party, double check with them if there is anything they can’t or don’t like to eat. If someone does have an allergy, try and exclude this item from your menu altogether, not just leave it out of this person’s dish.
Food allergies can be very sensitive, so you’d need to cook their meal with separate utensils, use different chopping boards and utensils, and in some cases, ensure they can’t smell the ingredient. It’s better to be safe than sorry!
5. Entice all 5 of your guests’ senses.
A dinner party isn’t just dinner at a friend or family member’s house — it’s an experience. An easy way to do this is to remember the five senses; touch, sight, hearing, smell and taste.
The first thing you need to do is avoid harsh overhead lighting. Before your guests arrive, dim your overhead lighting, light some lightly fragranced candles and turn on some soft background music. Nothing with too heavy a beat.
You’ll also want to ensure your guests are going to be comfortable. This applies to when they’re having pre-dinner drinks, during their meals and in-between courses too. If you’re doing a full three-course dinner, you might want to think about getting some cushioned dining chairs, as it’s a long time to be seated.
Of course, the finishing touch for any dinner party is fresh flowers. Your local florist will be able to put together some lower bouquets for the table, as well as a nice fresh arrangement for near your front door too.
If you have no idea where you local florist is, you can find one on localsearch.com.au!