3 Fresh Dinner Party Themes – Appy, Entree, Dessert AND Playlist!

By Shallan Grisé

Even the most seasoned dinner party hosts find themselves stumped for ideas now and then. Here, we refresh your repertoire with three unsuspected themes to impress your guests.

#1 Classic Steakhouse

Having friends over for steaks is a pretty common weekend routine. Why not take a ho-hum steak dinner to the next level with an authentic steakhouse theme? Think wedge salad and blue cheese dressing, twice baked potatoes and a tangy garlic mustard sauce. Your guests will love the sophistication and amazing steakhouse flavours even more when they can retire to the living room and enjoy their lemon layer cake with their feet up!   

Playlist

These modern piano instrumentals will give an authentic steakhouse ambiance.   

Appetizer

Sweet and Salty Wedge Salad with Blue Cheese Dressing – Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 4 slices of Thick Cut Bacon
  • 2 Shallots
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon Butter
  • 1/4 cup White Wine
  • 1/4 cup Walnuts
  • 1 tablespoon Maple Syrup
  • a dash of Salt
  • 1/2 cup sliced Grape or Cherry Tomatoes
  • 1 head of Boston Lettuce
  • 1/4 cup Crumbled Blue Cheese

Instructions

  1. Heat your oven to 375 degrees. Place the bacon on an aluminum foil-lined baking sheet, and bake until crispy. This will take about 15 minutes. Place the bacon on a paper towel to blot any excess grease.
  2. While the bacon is cooking, prepare the shallots and walnuts. Slice the shallots without making them too thin. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a skillet over medium heat. Once melted, add the shallot. Season with salt, and let saute for 1 minute. Then add the white wine, and let saute for about 5-6 minutes, until the white wine has been absorbed and the shallots have a light golden color. Set aside.
  3. Rinse the lettuce, and then slice it into four evenly sized wedges. Place on a towel to soak up any excess water.
  4. To toast the walnuts, melt a teaspoon of butter in a skillet over medium heat. Once the butter melts add the walnuts and toss in the butter. Add the maple syrup and a sprinkle of salt, and stir. Let the walnuts cook for about 2 minutes, until they start to smell toasted.
  5. Now that the bacon, shallots, and walnuts are ready it is time to assemble the salads. Place the wedges of lettuce on plates. Spoon blue cheese dressing over the wedges. Chop or crumble the bacon and add it on top of the wedge. Then add the tomatoes, shallots, walnuts, and crumbled blue cheese. Serve immediately.

Blue Cheese Dressing

Ingredients

  • 1 cup of crumbled Blue Cheese
  • 1/2 cup Sour Cream
  • 1/4 cup Mayonnaise
  • about 1/2 cup Buttermilk
  • 2 tablespoons Lemon Juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon Garlic Powder
  • 1 clove of Garlic
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground Black Pepper
  • a dash of Worcestershire Sauce

Instructions

  1. Whisk the sour cream, mayonnaise, and 1/4 cup buttermilk together. Either very finely chop the clove of garlic or use a microplane to break it up. Add the garlic, garlic powder, lemon, black pepper, and Worcestershire sauce, and whisk to combine.
  2. Now start adding the crumbled blue cheese. I added about a cup, but you might want to add less if you don’t want your dressing to be super chunky. If the dressing becomes too thick, just add some buttermilk. The dressing will thicken as it sits, so add more buttermilk as necessary.

Recipes from thekitchen.com

Entree

Steak with Garlic Mustard Sauce – Serves 2

Ingredients

  • 2 Beef Tenderloin Steak
  • 1/2 tsp. Salt
  • 1/2 tsp. Ground Pepper
  • 2 tbsps. Butter
  • 2 tbsps. Stone Ground Mustard
  • 2 small Cloves of Garlic, minced
  • 2 tbsps. Heavy Cream
  • ¼ tsp. Thyme

Instructions

  1. Pat the steaks dry with a paper towel. Season the steaks with the salt and pepper, and rub it into the beef. Melt half the butter in a pan over high heat. Place the steaks in a hot pan and cook for 3 1/2 minutes.
  2. Add the remaining butter to the pan, and flip the steaks and cook for another 3 1/2 minutes. Remove the steak from the pan, and let it rest for 5 minutes. You want the steak to reach 130 degrees. You can check the temperature by inserting a meat thermometer into the middle of the steak. The temperature of the steak will rise about 5 degrees as it rests, and 135 degrees will give you a perfect medium rare steak.
  3. Keep the drippings from the steak in the pan, and add the stone ground mustard, garlic, heavy cream, and thyme to the pan.
  4. Whisk the sauce together and simmer slowly for 5 minutes while the steak rests, then serve the steak with the sauce.

Twice-baked Potatoes

Ingredients

  • 2 large Yukon Gold Potatoes
  • about 2 tablespoons of Butter
  • Salt and Pepper
  • about 1 cup of Sour Cream
  • 1/4 cup Shredded Cheddar Cheese
  • 1/4 cup Cream Cheese
  • Optional: Crispy Prosciutto

Instructions

  1. Heat your oven to 375 degrees. Wash and dry the potatoes, and then rub them with butter and sprinkle with salt. Place on a baking sheet and bake for one hour.
  2. After one hour, remove the potatoes from the oven. They should be soft on the inside – if not you can let them cook a little longer. Slice the potatoes in half, and scoop out about 2/3 of the inside. You want a layer of potatoes to be left on the skin.
  3. Combine the scooped out potato, 1 tablespoon butter, 1/2 cup sour cream, half the cheddar cheese, and cream cheese. Mash to combine.
  4. Then add mix in salt and pepper and some extra sour cream. You want to add a little too much sour cream.
  5. Scoop the mashed potatoes back into the potato skins. Top with the remaining cheese and butter.
  6. Bake for another 25 minutes, and then serve right away. Sprinkle with bacon or crispy prosciutto if you want.

Bonus

Sriracha Parmesan Roasted Broccoli

Ingredients

  • 2 Heads of Broccoli
  • 2 tablespoons Lemon Juice
  • 1 tablespoon Olive Oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon Sriracha
  • 1 clove of Garlic, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoons Salt
  • dash of Black Pepper
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan

Instructions

  1. Heat your oven to 350 degrees, then chop and rinse the broccoli.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine the lemon juice, olive oil, sriracha, garlic, salt, and pepper.
  3. Add the broccoli to the bowl and toss it in the sauce.
  4. Pour the broccoli and all of the sauce into a baking pan. Sprinkle parmesan over.
  5. Bake for 25 minutes.
Recipes from thekitchen.com

Dessert

Lemon Layer Cake with Lemon Cream Cheese Buttercream – Serves 10

Ingredients

  • 3 level cups (345g) sifted all-purpose flour
  • 1 Tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (230g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 1 and 3/4 cups (350g) granulated sugar
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup (240ml) buttermilk
  • 1 heaping Tablespoon lemon zest (about 2 lemons)
  • 1/3 cup (80ml) fresh lemon juice (about 2 lemons)

Cream Cheese Buttercream Frosting

  • 1 cup (230g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 8 ounces (224g) full-fat brick style cream cheese, softened to room temperature*
  • 5 cups (600g) confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons (30ml) fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • pinch of salt, to taste   

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C). Grease three 9-inch cake pans, line with parchment paper, then grease the parchment paper. Parchment paper helps the cakes seamlessly release from the pans.
  2. Make the cake: Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together. Set aside.
  3. Using a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a paddle or whisk attachment, beat the butter and sugar together on high speed until smooth and creamy, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides and up the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Beat in the eggs and vanilla extract on high speed until combined, about 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides and up the bottom of the bowl as needed. With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients just until combined. With the mixer still running on low, add the buttermilk, lemon zest, and lemon juice and mix just until combined. You may need to whisk it all by hand to make sure there are no lumps at the bottom of the bowl. The batter will be a little thick.
  4. Pour batter evenly into cake pans. Bake for around 21-26 minutes or until the cakes are baked through. To test for doneness, insert a toothpick into the center of the cake. If it comes out clean, it’s done. Allow cakes to cool completely in the pans, set on a wire rack. The cakes must be completely cool before frosting and assembling. The baked cakes are fluffy, but they are not thick– about 1 – 1.5 inches.
  5. Make the frosting: In a large bowl using a hand-held mixer or stand mixer fitted with a whisk or paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until creamy, about 2 minutes. Add the cream cheese and beat until completely smooth and combined. Add confectioners’ sugar, lemon juice, and vanilla extract with the mixer running on low. Increase to high speed and beat for 3 minutes. Add more confectioners’ sugar if frosting is too thin, more lemon juice if frosting is too thick, or add a pinch of salt if frosting is too sweet.
  6. Assemble and decorate: Using a large serrated knife, slice a thin layer off the tops of the cakes to create a flat surface. Discard (or crumble over ice cream!). Place 1 cake layer on your cake stand, cake turntable, or serving plate. Evenly cover the top with about 1 cup of frosting. Top with 2nd cake layer and evenly cover the top with about 1 cup of frosting. Top with the third cake layer. Spread the remaining frosting all over the top and sides. I like to top mine with homemade whipped cream
  7. Refrigerate for at least 30-45 minutes before slicing. This helps the cake holds its shape when cutting.
  8. Cover leftover cake tightly and store in the refrigerator for 5 days.
Recipe from Sally’s Baking Addiction

#2 Retro 70’s Cocktail Party

The 70’s were all about Hawaiian fare – think grilled pineapple, which makes this theme perfect for hot summer nights.  If you are hosting a casual summer get-together, and the vibe is more of a mix and mingle, the entree can also be served as an appetizer.

Playlist

Set the mood with Van Morrison, The Bee Gees and Fleetwood Mac here.

Appetizer

Rumaki Appies – Makes 14

Ingredients       

  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup chili sauce
  • 14 whole water chestnuts, drained
  • 1 can (8 ounces) pineapple chunks, drained
  • 7 bacon strips, halved

Instructions

  1. In a small saucepan, combine the brown sugar, mayonnaise and chili sauce. Cook and stir over medium heat until mixture comes to a boil; set aside.
  2. Place a water chestnut and pineapple chunk on each piece of bacon; roll up bacon and secure with a toothpick. Place on a broiler pan. Broil 4-5 in. from the heat 4-5 minutes on each side or until bacon is crisp. Serve with sauce.

Entree

Polynesian Meatballs

Serve these over rice as an entree, or as an appetizer with a toothpick. Makes 6 dozen.

Ingredients

  • 1 can (5 ounces) evaporated milk
  • 1/3 cup chopped onion
  • 2/3 cup crushed Saltines
  • 1 teaspoon seasoned salt
  • 1-1/2 pounds lean ground beef

Sauce

  • 1 can (20 ounces) pineapple tidbits
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/2 cup cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar

Instructions

  1. In a bowl, combine the milk, onion, Saltines and seasoned salt. Crumble beef over mixture and mix well. With wet hands, shape into 1-in. balls. In a large skillet over medium heat, brown meatballs in small batches, turning often. Remove with a slotted spoon and keep warm. Drain skillet.
  2. Drain pineapple, reserving juice; set pineapple aside. Add enough water to juice to measure 1 cup. In a bowl, combine the cornstarch, pineapple juice mixture, vinegar, soy sauce, lemon juice and brown sugar until smooth. Add to skillet. Bring to a boil; cook and stir until thickened, about 2 minutes. Add meatballs. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Add the pineapple; heat through.

Recipes from Taste of Home

Dessert

Classic Boston Cream Pie – Serves 10

Filling Ingredients

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 14 cup cornstarch
  • 12 tsp. kosher salt
  • 12 vanilla bean, seeds scraped and reserved
  • 6 eggs yolks
  • 1 12 cups milk
  • 4 tbsp. unsalted butter, cubed and chilled
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 4 oz. 60-percent bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1⁄2 cup heavy cream

Cake Ingredients

  • 12 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened, plus more for pan
  • 1 12 cups flour, plus more for pan
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 12 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 3 eggs
  • 2⁄3 cup buttermilk

Instructions

Make the cake: Heat oven to 350°. Grease and flour a 9″ round cake pan; set aside. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl; set aside. In another bowl, beat butter, sugar, and vanilla on medium-high speed of a hand mixer until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each, until smooth. Alternately add dry ingredients and buttermilk in 3 batches, beginning and ending with dry ingredients; beat until just combined. Pour into pan; smooth top with a rubber spatula. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Let cool for 15 minutes, and then invert onto a wire rack; let cool completely.

Make the filling: Whisk together sugar, cornstarch, salt, and vanilla seeds in a 4-qt. saucepan; add yolks, and whisk until smooth. Stir in milk, and place pan over medium heat; cook, stirring constantly, until thickened, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat, and add butter one cube at a time, whisking until smooth; stir in vanilla extract. Transfer pudding to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap; chill until firm, at least 2 hours.

Make the glaze and assemble cake: Place chocolate in a bowl. Bring cream to a boil in a 1-qt. saucepan over high heat; pour over chocolate and let sit for 1 minute. Slowly stir chocolate and cream until smooth and shiny; set aside to cool for 10 minutes. Using a serrated knife, split cake horizontally into two layers so that the top layer is slightly smaller than the bottom. Spread chilled pudding over cut side of bottom layer and cover with top layer; pour chocolate glaze evenly over cake, letting it drip down the side of the cake. Refrigerate cake until glaze is set, at least 30 minutes. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Recipe from  Saveur

Bonus

Spiked Pink Lady Cocktail (Because what’s a cocktail party without a cocktail?) 

Ingredients

  • 8 cups pink lemonade, divided
  • Sugar, optional
  • 1-3/4 cups vodka
  • 1 cup frozen unsweetened strawberries
  • 4 cups lemon-lime soda, chilled

Instructions

  1. Pour 4 cups lemonade into ice cube trays; freeze until set. Rim glasses with sugar, if desired.
  2.   Add  ice cubes, vodka, strawberries and remaining lemonade to punch bowl. Slowly stir in soda.
  3. Serve immediately in prepared glasses.

Recipe from Taste of Home

#3 Authentic Mexican

This isn’t Tex Mex. No, this is the kind of spread that tells your guests you’ve been off the resort to eat with the locals a time or two.

This playlist is as authentic as it gets.

Disclaimer: these songs at high volume will signal to all Latinos in the barrio to come to the fiesta at your casa. Better get a few more bottles of mezcal.

Appetizer

Mexican Street Corn – Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 4 ears of corn, shucked and kernels removed (about 3-4 cups)
  • 2 tablespoons mayo
  • 3 ounces cotija cheese, freshly grated or crumbled
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 green onion stalk, finely chopped
  • Handful of freshly of chopped parsley
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Instructions

  1. In a cast iron skillet, melt butter over medium-high heat then add the corn kernels. Spread in an even layer and cook for 10-15 minutes, or until exterior is charred/browned, stirring frequently. Be careful of the popping action of the heated kernels!
  2. Once charred/browned, place into a large bowl then mix in mayo, cotija, paprika, green onions, parsley, salt, and pepper.
  3. Mix to combine then divide evenly and serve warm in a cup for maximum authenticity

Recipe from Table for Two

Entree

Slow Cooker Carnitas

Ingredients

  • 2 kg pork shoulder, skinless, boneless
  • 2 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 jalapeno, deseeded, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3/4 cup juice from orange (2 oranges)

Rub

  • 1 tbsp dried oregano
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tbsp olive oil

Instructions

  1. Rinse and dry the pork shoulder, rub all over with salt and pepper.
  2. Combine the Rub ingredients then rub all over the pork.
  3. Place the pork in a slow cooker (fat cap up), top with the onion, jalapeño, minced garlic (don’t worry about spreading it) and squeeze over the juice of the oranges.
  4. Slow Cook on low for 10 hours or on high for 6 hours.
  5. Pork should be tender enough to shred. Remove from slow cooker and let cool slightly. Then shred using two forks.
  6. Optional: Skim off the fat from the juices remaining in the slow cooker and discard.
  7. If you have a lot more than 2 cups of juice, then reduce it down to about 2 cups. The liquid will be salty, it is the seasoning for the pork. Set liquid aside – don’t bother straining onion etc, it’s super soft.
To Crisp:
  1. Heat 1 tbsp of oil in a large non stick pan or well seasoned skillet over high heat. Spread pork in the pan, drizzle over some juices. Wait until the juices evaporate and the bottom side is golden brown and crusty. Turn and just briefly sear the other side.
  2. Remove pork from skillet. Repeat in batches (takes me 4 batches) – don’t crowd the pan.
  3. Just before serving, drizzle over more juices and serve hot, stuffed in tacos
Recipe from Recipe Tin Eats

Now, it’s important to serve your carnitas in warm tortillas, (preferably fresh corn tortillas, doubled up if they’re thin) with only diced white onions, cilantro and a variety of salsas from your local Latin grocery. This is not the time or place for lettuce, grated cheddar or sour cream. We’re keeping things muy authentic.

Dessert

Flan Mexicano

Ingredients

  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 (14 oz) can sweetened condensed milk
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon grated orange peel
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 cup heavy cream

Recipe from All Recipes

Directions

  1. Place sugar in a heavy saucepan over medium-high heat, and cook, stirring constantly, until the sugar melts and turns a golden amber color, about 10 minutes. Watch carefully once syrup begins to change color, because it burns easily. Carefully pour the melted sugar syrup into a flan mold. Let cool.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
  3. Pour whole milk, sweetened condensed milk, eggs, egg yolks, orange juice, orange peel, vanilla extract, and cornstarch into a blender, and blend for a minute or so, until the mixture is smooth. Pour in the cream, and pulse several times to incorporate the cream. Pour the mixture over the cooled caramel syrup in the flan mold.
  4. Line a roasting pan with a damp kitchen towel. Place the flan mold on the towel, inside roasting pan, and place roasting pan on oven rack. Fill roasting pan with boiling water to reach halfway up the sides of the baking dish.
  5. Bake in the preheated oven until the center of the flan is set but still slightly jiggly when moved, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Let the flan cool, then refrigerate for at least 4 hours. To serve, run a sharp paring knife around the inside of the mold to release the flan. Invert a plate on the mold, flip the mold over, and gently remove the mold to unmold the flan and reveal the syrupy caramel topping.

If you’re like us, you’re having a hard time deciding which theme to take on first! We have one last tip for making your dinner party the best one yet – take some of the work off your plate so you can enjoy more time with your guests. Whether it’s running around to get the party favours, ingredients or decorations, or help with the setup or post-party clean-up, Tadoo can help you delegate some of your workload. Click the video below to see how Tadoo works.