Making Menus


Do Your Own Thing

When it comes to assembling a meal, I’m not a stickler for the usual  conventions. Eat what you like, I always say. This approach can be a boon for beginners—who have enough to worry about anyway—which is why the recipes in this book focus on single dishes and not menus or anything other than basic serving suggestions.

But that said, a little guidance in the menu department can be helpful, especially when you’re entertaining and cooking big-deal meals. The combinations here give you some ideas to get started.

Whether we think about it or not, nutrition is the core of eating, so you should pay at least some attention to assembling so-called balanced meals that include a variety of foods. But you don’t have to be a dietician to eat well. As long as you keep an eye on mixing flavors, textures, and colors—brown included—and start with mostly fresh, minimally processed ingredients, you’ll get what you need and enjoy what you eat.

One key point I can’t mention enough: It’s okay to serve dishes warm or at room temperature. For more about this, putting together menus in general, and entertaining.


Weekend Breakfast

Focus on one dish. Maybe add meat on the side. Cut up some fruit.


Blowout Brunch

If you make the banana bread, cut the pineapple, and prep the peppers and onions for the sausage the night before, you can sleep in and pull everything else together midmorning.


Lunch at Home

You can’t go wrong with “something” and salad. (Or just a big bowl of salad or soup for that matter.)

or . . .

Lunch for a Crowd

For new cooks especially, a lunch party can be a lot less stressful than having a bunch of people over for a fancy dinner—but no less impressive. All of these dishes—even the slaw—can be made up to a day or two ahead and reheated as necessary. Then serve this meal sit-down or buffet-style.


Picnic for Two

All you need for a good picnic is a cooler. If you’re not going far, you don’t even need that. I like to keep it casual, but nice, so bring real plates, glasses, forks, napkins, and a tablecloth or blanket for the table or ground. Leftovers are the way to go for a small impromptu picnic. If you don’t feel like cooking up this entire menu, substitute what’s handy and enjoy what you’ve got.


Lunch at the Office

Bring leftovers. Nothing better than that.

Everyday Dinner

Doesn’t have to be much fancier or involved than lunch. Maybe add dessert.


Everyday Vegetarian Dinner

A lot of people try to skip meat at least one night a week. It’s easy, really.



Indoor Barbecue

Nothing like filling your house with summertime smells in the dead of winter. Invite some people over and make it a party.


Pasta Party

Salad isn’t my favorite way to eat pasta since the texture can be sort of chewy when cold. But some pasta dishes are excellent served at room temperature, so this menu is great for entertaining. Here’s the strategy: Bake the cookies up to several days in advance. Assemble the lasagna and prep all the vegetables up to a day ahead and keep everything in the fridge. Take the lasagne out about an hour before guests are supposed to arrive; cook the mushrooms then pop the pan in the oven. While the lasagna bakes, prepare the other pastas and toss the salad. Then serve the lasagne hot, as the centerpiece, with everything else as “sides.”


Family Fish Fry

Perfect for Saturday night—or any night really. The Asian flavors make this meal fancy enough for company, too.


Restaurant-Style Dinner Party

You have some options, starting with the most complicated: Serve in courses, plated individually. Serve family style. Or set out a buffet.


Cocktail Party

A buffet of predominantly make-ahead food is by far the easiest approach, and the number of dishes is flexible. Let the serving size help you estimate how many people you can feed: Double, triple, or quadruple recipes if you need to, then add the serving quantities for all the dishes together so you get a total that is slightly more than the number of guests. (For example, if you’re inviting 20 people, figure a total of 30 servings.) No need to make enough of each thing to serve everyone. If you’re feeling ambitious (and like to stay busy), do something that keeps you in the kitchen so folks circulate everywhere.

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