Boeuf bourguignon. Coq au vin. Molten chocolate cake. Fancy-sounding dishes for fancy-sounding meals, right? Whether you're impressing a date or an entire dinner party, there are certain items you can serve that will have the room applauding your culinary skills -- and have you taking it easy in the kitchen.
While the items below might sound difficult to make, every single one of them is deceptively simple to assemble, cook or bake. Get ready to wow your next church potluck supper attendees or just cook a fantastic meal for friends. And you don't even have to tell them that you spent more time on your outfit than on dinner.
1. Homemade Salad Dressing:
Whether you're whipping up a quick vinaigrette or some savory blue cheese dressing, homemade salad dressings are really a no-brainer. Why spend extra money on bottled creations that contain preservatives and icky ingredients like high fructose corn syrup when you likely have everything you need on hand to make your own? What's more, they're nearly foolproof to make. Added too much olive oil? Just pour a little bit more red wine vinegar in to compensate. Even better, you can make just as much as you need for a few servings and personalize the salad dressing to the meal. Serving duck a l'orange? Squeeze some of that orange juice into your balsamic vinaigrette, too, for a memorable meal.
You, too, can have homemade bread in a very short amount time, with no kneading required. Mike Morris first discussed his recipe for beer bread here a few months ago, which only takes a few minutes to prepare and 70 minutes to bake, leaving plenty of time for other activities while your house fills up with the magical aroma of freshly baked bread. This recipe works with virtually any good beer and is even better when shredded cheese is added to the batter.
The French like to make you think their cuisine is much more difficult to prepare than it really is. It's not. French recipes have lasted through the ages because they're both delicious and simple. Crepes are no different. The batter takes only five minutes to throw together and -- like your salad dressing -- is composed of items you likely have on hand already. There is a slight trick to turning the crepes in the pan -- and a thick, hot cast iron skillet is definitely recommended here -- but if you can play a Wii or drive while changing radio stations, you likely have the required dexterity to figure it out in no time. Crepes can be either savory or sweet, but always look stunning.
If there is a trick to risotto, it's this and only this: Keep stirring. Seriously. A monkey could do this. Risotto gets its classic creamy texture from the amount of starch that's packed into the tiny, short-grain arborio rice. Stirring the rice constantly while cooking it down in chicken stock (no water, please!) releases the starches and imparts a rich, silky texture to the entire dish.
5. Puff Pastry:
People who think puff pastry dough is difficult to work with have probably never even tried. Simply roll it out, let it reach room temperature and begin working your magic. To start with something simple, try replacing the top of a chicken pot pie with a cut round of puff pastry. It will look magical after it's finished baking and will taste at least ten times better than regular dough. If that's easy for you (and it should be), try your hand at crafting vol au vents for your next party -- a tad time-consuming, but still as simple as third grade arts and crafts time with construction paper.
6. Roasted Chicken:
The only moderately difficult thing about roasting a chicken is trussing the poor bird. But if you can tie your shoes (you don't still wear velcro shoes, right?), then you can handle it. Once you have a basic roasted chicken recipe down pat -- which shouldn't take more than once or twice -- you can switch it up as you see fit, such as incorporating herbs into a fat chunk of butter and putting that between the skin and the flesh, or stuffing the chicken with fennel bulbs and fresh rosemary.
7. Coq au Vin:
Simple doesn't always mean quick. That's especially true in the case of the classic French dish coq au vin. But although it can be somewhat time-consuming (this isn't a quick weeknight dinner, for sure), the end result is well worth the effort. Remember to blanch your bacon first and it's a nice, steady downhill slope from that point on. This recipe is a great starting point, and the poetically beautiful and simply delicious dish will make your dinner guests feel extra special, especially if you serve some of the same wine that you used for braising the chicken with your meal.
8. Boeuf Bourguignon:
If you can make coq au vin, you can make boeuf bourguignon. The same principle applies here -- braising meat in wine -- and the results are no less spectacular. Although Julia Child's recipe is the standard-bearer in this area, there exists a far easier and faster (yet still tasty) recipe that the New York Times dug up not long ago. Try it out this weekend and you'll fancy yourself a graduate of the Cordon Bleu in no time.
These truffles are so good that they will be consumed -- every last one of them -- within five minutes of putting them out for your company. You've been warned. And if you want to give them the recipe, you can, but isn't it more fun to keep this little secret to yourself? All that's in these delectable little bites are crushed Oreo cookies, cream cheese and melted chocolate (Almond Bark is recommended here). Even your kids can make these, they're so easy. But your impressed dinner guests will never have to know...
10. Molten Chocolate Cake:
It's quickly becoming a staple on restaurant dessert menus, as the sight of chocolate oozing richly out of the tiny cake is impressive to kids and adults alike. But the amusing thing about molten chocolate cake is that it's basically a half-baked cake, which anyone can throw together. This excellent step-by-step recipe from Pioneer Woman Cooks (with photos) shows you how. Serve with a scoop of good vanilla ice cream, and this dessert will be an extraordinary endcap to even the simplest of meals.
What are your favorite easy-yet-impressive recipes? Share them with us in the comments section below.
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.