Much like training for a 10k, planning a dinner party looks manageable from afar. Decide on the menu the week before, clean on Tuesday, buy groceries on Wednesday, and so on until Friday night rolls around and the party has practically come together on its own. However, just like that first long training run that leaves you huffing and puffing, wondering if you'll ever see the race start, let alone the finish line, more than once I've found myself an hour into the menu planning, surrounded by cookbooks and blogs, having underestimated the feat ahead. This is why I turn to braised beef.
It hits all the crucial dinner party points for me: inexpensive, relatively easy, can be made days ahead of time, and most important, tastes amazing. And there are a number of variations on flavor and presentation based on what herbs and cooking liquid used.
The dish starts with a 2 lb boneless chuck roast, seasoned and seared on all sides. If you're cooking for a crowd, try doubling this recipe with two roasts rather than one giant 4-6 lb roast - it will keep cooking time manageable and you can use two pans if needed. Add sautéed vegetables like onions and carrots, herbs, and a braising liquid (I usually use red wine, beef stock works as well). Cook in a dutch oven until the beef is fork-tender and shreds easily, about 3 hours.
My go-to version is Mexican Braised Beef Burritos. Made in a slow cooker in the morning and left to cook all day, or made 2-3 days in advance and kept in the fridge, it's a juicy and flavorful crowd pleaser. The burrito assembly line gives guests a chance to customize their own burritos and providing a few extra veggies like sautéed mushrooms and even grilled tofu, makes it a vegetarian-friendly main course as well.
At my last dinner party, I omitted the roasted poblano peppers and added carrots and more red wine and served it over creamy polenta, similar to Faith's awesome recipe here. I braised the beef 3 full days ahead, shredded it in its liquid, and kept it in the fridge. An hour before dinner time I re-heated in it the oven at 350 degrees and it tasted even better than the day it was made. What a time saver!
Related: Braising: Best Cuts of Beef for Braised Dishes
(Images: Stephanie Barlow; Faith Durand)