Planning A Dinner Menu

Good morning! Like my bed-head? That’s me at this very moment trying to plan tonight’s dinner menu. I’m having a few friends over this evening and I’m in Phase One of the process: figuring out what I’m going to make. Usually I keep this process to myself but today I’ve decided to share it with you in the hopes that maybe you’ll get something out of it. By the end of this post, I’ll have my menu set.

Here are some factors:

– In my kitchen right now, I have a few things left over from Monday’s trip to the farmer’s market: two kohlrabis, two sweet potatoes, a bowl of sugar snap peas. I also have half a baguette, two lemons, some olives, and a bunch of cheese I was sent from the nice people at Sweet Grass Dairy in Georgia.

– Chloe, my neighbor, recently pointed out the edible flowers in her garden which she’s welcomed me to use: Nasturtiums and flowering sage. I kind of want to take her up on that.

– As usual, I need to make things I’ve never made before (breaking my own rule) so I have stuff to write about on the blog next week.

One thing that’s on my mind is this Cauliflower Soup from Food52 that Eliza pointed out in the comments of my Cauliflower Gratin post. I’m thinking if I make that ahead, I could serve it chilled with Chloe’s edible flowers on top. Maybe I can even have my guests snip their own flowers to make the soup more interactive.

If I start with that soup, I’m thinking the entree shouldn’t be a braised dish (even though I love making braised dishes for dinner parties) because then everything will be soft like baby food. My first instinct is to make my spicy spatchcocked chicken over cous cous with salsa verde, though that breaks my “already made it” rule which might be ok to break if I have the soup and an interesting dessert to write about next week.


What’s great about the spatchcocked chicken is once you season the chicken and set it on the cookie sheet, you can refrigerate it and bring it to room temp an hour before you want to cook it. The cous cous is fun because you can dress it up however you like (maybe I can make use of those olives and, oh, also I have some preserved lemons) though now I’m getting bored with the idea of making an entree I’ve already made before.

This baked pasta, also from Food52, is on my mental list but something doesn’t feel right about serving baked pasta after creamy, subtle cauliflower soup. Feels weird.

I could drop the soup and make a salad with that kohlrabi and the sugar snap peas and then do a baked pasta. That might be more of a crowd pleaser than the cauliflower soup; I could always make cauliflower soup with edible flowers sometime over the weekend.

But, seriously, does my blog need another pasta recipe? Ummm.

Here’s the best way to go about this: what am I excited about making? What am I craving?

One pairing that seemed nice was the cauliflower soup at the start and Amanda Hesser’s almond cake for dessert with something that bridges those two things in the middle.


(Several minutes pass)

(I’m sitting on the floor listening to Taylor Swift’s RED)

(Jake Gyllenhaal, what did you do to Taylor to get her so angry?)

That thing is:

Socca from Lidia Bastianich’s Lidia Cooks From The Heart of Italy! What is it? A casserole of beef, cabbage and potato topped with fontina cheese. That seems like the perfect solution; a hearty foil for the simple cauliflower soup followed by the lightness of the almond cake.

Our menu is set. Now wasn’t that easy? Note: the menu is very much subject to change based on what I find at the store. But this is a good place to start. Now it’s time to get cooking.

10 thoughts on “Planning A Dinner Menu”

  1. Great post! This is almost exactly how I plan menus (minus Taylor Swift and the Gyllenhaal-hating). I can’t wait to hear how the menu evolves next week.

  2. I’m LOVING your more-frequent, more off-the-cuff blog posts! Not that I don’t love everything you blog, but it’s fun to have more of you. And your personality really shines through in these more casual posts. Keep it up!

    1. Second this opinion! It seems there are a zillion online recipes posted each week, but few bloggers who share their food/life related stories in a captivating manner.

  3. Yes! Menu planning is probably the best part of the cooking/entertaining process – so much excitement and just opening yourself up to different flavors and ideas. It’s imagining all the potential without the 4 hours of work and aching feet. I have an idea for the kholrabis if you still want to use them – and it would pair perfectly with the cauliflower soup as a starter: kholrabi & sweet potato fritters. I made the recipe below but used sweet potato instead of yukons. They are nice and crispy and are delicious with soup and you can serve them with a sour cream & herb dipping sauce too. Have a nice evening!

  4. One of my biggest menu-planning challenges is balancing all you mentioned with limited range/oven space and cookware/bakeware. I’d love to hear your thoughts on how you approach this challenge as well!

    1. Good question. I start by making dessert, clean up everything from that, then work on the first course, clean up everything from that, then do the entree last so I can clean up before guests come. Luckily, I can spread it out throughout the day; it’d be harder if you didn’t work from home.

      1. Good question by jkr and thanks for replying on it, Adam. To add to the above challenges I also have very limited counter space.

  5. Great menu! And I know you’re a big fan of Amanda’s almond cake (as am I) but have you tried david lebovitz’s? Just sayin’…. I can’t go back to Amanda now.

  6. Love this post and seeing how others go about planning their menus. It’s nice to know that you also have ideas that get rejected when the individual dishes don’t seem to go together.

    One of my problems in dinner party planning is that I think I’m influenced by what I’m craving, so that element of it ends up several of the dishes (e.g., lemons). I’m not sure if it’s too much of a good thing or it provides a nice through line.

    Your menu sounds delicious and I can’t wait to hear how the dinner came out – particularly the soup! I personally like it hot better. The soup really does thicken as it sits, but a little more water takes care of that. It will be so pretty with the flowers on top and I think the peppery nasturtiums will provide a nice contrast.

    Oh, for another spatchcocked chicken recipe you might want to try is Jacques Pepin’s Roasted Split Chicken with Mustard Crust. Super easy, fast, and very flavorful. Just what you’d expect from Jacques. (

Let's dish!

Scroll to Top