Kitchn Cooking School

Two Sample Menus for Your Final Cooking School Assignment

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Credit: From left to right: Quentin Bacon; Joe Lingeman

If you’re throwing a multi-course dinner party, you want to select the right combination of dishes and carefully plan out the steps to creating them, so they’re all ready to serve at the proper time, with a minimum of last-minute rushing about. That’s what we’re showing you how to do in the final day of Cooking School, but here are two sample menus — one for omnivores and one for vegetarians — along with a game plan for each. We’ve chosen dishes that will taste delicious together, but are also easy to plan out and prepare in advance. You can use them as examples to make your own menu, or simply make this your next dinner party menu!

Credit: Joe Lingeman

An Omnivore Dinner Menu

This is a big, impressive-looking meal that saves a lot of work by getting the bulk of it done the day before. The brisket cooks completely ahead of time, and just needs to be reheated. You can put it back in the slow cooker a couple of hours ahead of time, or just use the oven since it’ll already be warm (that’s the way we went with our game plan). The garlic butter potatoes should still be cooking as guests arrive — which will fill the house with a delicious smell while guests help themselves to the appetizer and drink. This whole thing should be easy to pull off, but feel free to cut back further on effort by asking guests to supply the drink or salad instead.

Omnivore Dinner Game Plan

The Day Before 

Cook the brisket completely in the slow cooker. This will take six to eight hours so start it in the morning. Whip up the chocolate mousse. Just leave a half-cup of cream to whip for the topping tomorrow. Make sangria: This pitcher drink only gets better as it sits. Make the brown butter dressing for the Brussels sprout salad. Leave it on the counter so it doesn’t solidify. Toast the nuts for the salad as well. Cool, and then chop. Reserve extras for topping the mousse. Boil the potatoes for the hot smashed potatoes. Cool slightly, and smash while they’re still warm. Then put them in the fridge. This will make crisping the potatoes tomorrow easier. Move the finished brisket and all its delicious juices to a large baking dish. Cool for 30 minutes at room temperature and then cover and store in the fridge overnight.

The Day Of 

3+ hours before: Pull out your serving dishes and set the table. (You can do this the day before if you don’t need the table.) You want a big platter for the appetizer, a large serving bowl for the salad, and a heavy/insulated dish for the potatoes (a nice ceramic casserole dish works well for this). You can serve the brisket directly from the slow cooker. A pitcher for water at the table is a nice touch — just don’t forget to fill it tomorrow when guests arrive.

3 hours before: Remove the puff pastry for the tart from the freezer to thaw. Slice the butternut squash and shallot and assemble the tart. You can refrigerate this while you get a few other dishes and the oven started. 

2 1/2 hours before: Whip cream for the mousse and refrigerate until ready to use. Then take a quick shower, if you need to, and put on your party dress (or a nice shirt).

1 hour before: Remove the fat cap from the brisket, and slice it (this is easier while it’s cold), then put it in the oven, covered, to reheat at 375°F while the pastry cooks.

45 minutes before: Bake the puff pastry tart in the oven. Shave the sprouts and apples, assemble the salad. Dress the salad and add the nuts. The salad will be delicious if let to set at room temperature. 

15 to 20 minutes before: Remove the tart and brisket (let it set, covered), heat the oven to 500°F and crisp the potatoes (it is more than okay if they are still baking when guests arrive). Cut the tart and set it out for guests to nibble. All of the actual dinner prep will be well underway, so you can pour yourself a glass of sangria, fill the water pitcher for guests, and relax for a few minutes. Flip the potatoes and set a timer so you don’t forget them once guests arrive. 

After dinner, while everyone is chatting: Remove the mousse and whipped cream from the fridge and dollop each serving with whipped cream and sprinkle with hazelnuts. You can let the mousse sit at room temperature while you make a pot of coffee or offer guests an after-dinner drink before dessert. 

A Vegetarian Dinner Menu

The dishes served here are easy to make ahead of time, and still impressive. We chose three small appetizers, which can be set out ahead of time for grazing. The olives basically marinate themselves and only need to come to room temperature the day of, and the cashews can be made ahead and just warmed right before guests arrive. Plus your kitchen will smell like brown butter and sage! Store-bought pita chips and hummus can be put into their own bowl and cut way back on some of the work. We like the thinner pita chips, which will help keep guests from filling up early. The eggplant is a crowd-pleaser (cheesy and comforting) but much easier than traditional recipes. And the kale salad (which can be served alongside the main, or as a first course) can be made ahead and only tastes better. One note: It only serves four, so plan to double at least if you’re serving a bigger crowd.

Vegetarian Game Plan

The Day Before

For the appetizers, start at least 24 hours in advance by marinating olives. Then prepare and roast the cashews. For the main dish, thinly slice the mozzarella, grate the Parmesan cheese, make the breadcrumb topping, and store it all in the fridge. For the salad, wash, dry, and chop the kale; grate the cheese, juice the lemon, and store it all in the fridge. You can make the dessert in its entirety! Let it cool, cover it with foil, and keep it on the counter.

The Day Of

3 hours before: Set the table. Everyone will need a dinner plate, a napkin, a water glass, a wine glass, a knife, and a fork. Set aside a stack of small plates for dessert. Pick out the bowls you want to use for appetizers — you’ll need a shallow bowl for hummus, a big bowl for pita chips, a small bowl for olives, a small bowl for cashews, and a smaller bowl for olive pits. 

2 1/2 hours before: Whip some cream to soft peaks. Store in the refrigerator. Fill a pitcher with water and store that in the fridge, too. Make sure any bottles of seltzer you’ll be serving are chilled. Then take a few moments to freshen up! Grab a shower if you need to, and put on your party dress (or a clean shirt).

1 1/2 hours before: Make the eggplant Parmesan in its entirety. It will take you about an hour to make (you have to roast the eggplant before assembling the dish), so it should go into the oven about a half-hour before guests arrive. That will mean it will be ready to serve about a half-hour after they arrive (it bakes for about 50 minutes, then should rest out of the oven for 10) — which gives everyone time to enjoy appetizers and get settled. Right when the eggplant Parm goes into the oven, toss together the salad and let it sit at room temperature. Take the marinated olives out of the refrigerator and allow them to come to room temperature. 

15 minutes before: At this point, the eggplant Parm is bubbling away in the oven and your salad is already made, so you can turn your attention to the appetizers. Finish the cashews and strain the olives (reserve the oil). Scoop the hummus into the shallow bool and swoosh the top, then drizzle the reserved oil from the marinated olives over top. Place the olives and cashews in their bowls, and pour the pita chips into a bowl. Don’t forget to set out the small bowl for pits. 

After dinner, while everyone is still chatting: Just before serving dessert, give the whipped cream a few sturdy whisks to perk it up. Dollop it over slices of cake.

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