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Our Easy, Go-To Dinner Party Recipes…Plus Playlists!

Do you hesitate to have people over because you don’t know what to make?  When we host a dinner party we like to prepare things that:

  • Taste good (duh)
  • Are relatively healthy
  • Aren’t TOO much work, and ideally
  • Can be made ahead of time!

While we do like to try new things, these are some of our ‘go-to’ recipes that work time and time again.  And as Jo says below, it’s the people that count, more than the food. So just light a bunch of candles, have good drinks, have a good playlist and HAVE FUN!

Note: We’ve linked to the recipes wherever possible (those are the ones that are in orange type) and written out those that aren’t linkable.



Note: I don’t eat beef, so these are chicken or salmon-based main courses.


Basil Lime Chicken

This comes from my friend Jen V. who served it to me one night and ever since it’s been my #1 prep-ahead dinner party meal! You can marinate it for 1-2 days so it’s super moist and it tastes great! I make the sauce ahead of time as well. You can even grill the chicken ahead of time as it’s really good cold and gets better as it sits in its sauce/juices. Make extra for leftovers!

Serve with the fennel salad below or with the sesame noodles.


  • 4 Limes (juice and zest) divided
  • 3 T olive oil
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (I don’t use this much…I eyeball it)
  • 3 T dijon mustard
  • 3 T worcestershire Sauce
  • 3 T soy sauce
  • 6 green onions chopped, divided
  • 4 cloves garlic minced, divided
  • 1/4 cup chopped Basil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 lbs chicken breasts
  • 1 jalapeno, diced


  • Combine the zest and juice of 2 limes, olive oil, mustard, Worcestershire, soy, 3 onions, 2 garlic cloves, salt and pepper, and mix well.
  • Cut chicken into even cutlets and place in a gallon-sized baggie.
  • Pour marinade over the chicken and marinate for 2+ hours (I marinate overnight)
  • Preheat grill or grill pan
  • Place chicken on the grill and grill for 7 minutes.
  • Then flip and cook until the internal temp reaches 170.
  • Remove from the grill and let the chicken rest.
  • Meanwhile combine juice and zest of 2 lime with extra virgin olive oil, 3 chopped onions, 2 minced garlic cloves, jalapeno, and basil.
  • Slice chicken into bite-sized pieces and pour sauce over top.


Arugula Fennel Salad:

Good with the basil lime chicken and ‘fancier’ as it’s a different sort of salad than the usual fare. No specific amounts noted – just put in as much as you want of each item. Simple but delicious salad! Make the dressing and pre-chop everything (except avocado) ahead of time. Then just toss the salad when ready to serve.


  • Chopped fennel (check on YouTube the best way to do this! Super easy)
  • Chopped celery
  • Chopped green onions
  • Arugula
  • Avocado
  • Pepper
  • Sea salt
  • Red wine vinegar
  • Jar of Merideth Dairyfarm Goat and Sheep Cheese in olive oil  (they sell this at specialty stores like Draegers). Reserve the olive oil. Cut/break the cheese up. If you can’t find that brand (it’s SO good) then use good goat cheese.
  • Pine nuts


Combine red wine vinegar with as much of the olive oil that comes in the jar of goat cheese/sheep cheese. If you use just regular goat cheese, add regular olive oil.


Sesame Noodles:

This one comes from FabLister Dianne C!  I usually double this easy one as the noodles last for a few days and get better as the flavor soaks in. Good for a big, hungry crowd and it can be served alongside pretty much any main dish. After serving this to a group of 20+ year-olds this holiday, they all asked for the recipe!


  • ½ cup olive Oil
  • ½ cup sesame oil
  • 2 tsp crushed red pepper
  • ¼ – ½ cup honey
  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • ⅓ cup chopped cilantro
  • ½ cup chopped peanuts
  • ½ cup green onions
  • 1 pack angel hair pasta (I use Barilla Plus Protein pasta)


  • Cook noodles.
  • Heat olive oil, sesame oil, and red pepper in a medium saucepan for 2 minutes. Careful not to scald. Add honey and soy sauce, stir, and remove from heat.
  • Pour over noodles, mix well and put in the fridge for at least an hour.  When ready to serve, add cilantro, peanuts, and green onions and mix well.  Serve at room temperature or cold.


Chicken Artichoke Kabobs

My friend Laurie G. made these for us this past summer and I love them! Again, you can marinate the chicken overnight ahead of time and then prep in the morning and just throw on the grill when you are ready for dinner.


6 T Dijon

1.5 tsp pepper

2.5 T white wine (not white vinegar!)

1.5 tsp dried thyme

2 T lemon juice

2 tsp salt

1 C olive oil

To Make Marinade: Mix all items together (except oil) and then whisk in oil.


2 cans whole artichoke hearts (Trader Joes has good ones)

4 boneless chicken breasts

1 large red onion cut into chunks


  • Marinate kabob ingredients for AT LEAST 2 hours  – or overnight.
  • Thread on skewers (if using wood skewers be sure to soak in water first so no splinters!). If items break up/fall off then I just grill those pieces off the skewer.
  • Grill or broil for about 10 minutes.

Serve with salad and rice/grain.

Chicken Marbella

After college I lived in NYC less than a half block from the tiny Silver Palate storefront. They were the ‘inventors’ of this famous chicken marbella recipe. I couldn’t afford to buy it from them then, but now, so many years later, it’s still one of my go-to recipes.

It is so easy to make and I always double it for great leftovers.  Make it the night before as it needs to marinate overnight at a minimum. The flavors are so great and it makes the kitchen smell so good and inviting when it’s cooking.


  • I use skinless breasts instead of whole, quartered chicken
  • They say to add the wine to it when you bake it but I just put it in the marinade
  • I use less brown sugar than they call for
  • I skip the parsley
  • I usually serve with a grain, or recently with Joanne’s amazing arugula salad (see below).


Joanne’s Amazing Arugula and Sweet Potato Salad with Ginger Dressing 

Joanne introduced me to this awesome hearty, healthy salad this past fall and I’ve made it constantly since (and Joanne got the recipe from her cousin Alessandra!). It’s a salad you can make ahead of time and that you can serve as leftovers (just add fresh arugula and a bit more dressing as needed) as the flavors continue to get better.  It’s hearty enought that you can just add chicken to it and it’s a meal in itself. I love this new addition to my ‘cook ahead’ repertoire!


  • I do not use wild rice, as the recipe calls for, as I don’t like wild rice. I cook farrow (from Trader Joes) and toss that in instead, which tastes great.
  • You can use either sweet potato OR also can use butternut squash. Both are good – and if one comes pre-chopped at the store then go with that one!
  • They say you can use syrup or honey in the dressing –  I use honey.
  • If I’m in a rush I use Trader Joe’s frozen ginger cubes instead of fresh ginger. Fresh is better though.
  • For leftovers just add more arugula and sprinkle on some fresh nuts and a bit more dressing. I double the dressing to have more for leftovers, or to put on other salads.

Chicken Coconut Red Curry Soup

I just made this last week and it was a hit and will be on dinner party rotation as, you guessed it….it tastes great and can be made ahead of time. Double it up for a crowd, then serve with a salad and some bread and you’re good to go.

 – If you are in a rush, just shred a roasted chicken from the grocery store and throw that in.
–  I doubled the amount of kale.
–  I roasted some cauliflower and tossed that in as well – you can really add whatever you want to it

Salmon Crunch Bowls

I got this delicious recipe from the Cup of Jo blog and it looks very fancy when in fact it’s easy (a combo I like!). Was a hit with my family and will be a good dinner party option – great for a book club etc as it’s not too heavy.


I agree with all of Chrissie’s prerequisites!  I have a galley kitchen so I need to make sure everything is ready to go before people arrive because there isn’t room in the kitchen!  That said, the backbone of my entertaining philosophy comes from the book The Party: A Guide to Adventurous Entertaining by Sally Quinn. Her book took the pressure off entertaining with its simple and humorous advice, some of which is:

  • Don’t worry about the food – people just want to be together – it’s ok to order pizza.
  • The most crucial element of the party is the people. . . . If the guests are awful, the party’s awful.
  • Salty snacks, alcohol, and low lighting are key.
  • Don’t worry if you have a small house/kitchen – belly to belly and butt to butt makes for a good time.

And now for my favorite recipes.  I’m going to include desserts – Chrissie doesn’t eat dessert.  I’m not sure how we are friends.

Lasagna with Sausage Ragu

Sunset Magazine January 2007

6-8 Servings

This is an easy and lighter lasagna than most with layers of ragù and creamy, nutmeg-scented béchamel instead of the traditional ricotta/mozzarella layer.  The ragu recipe by itself is yummy and great on spaghetti!


  • About 7 tbsp. butter
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup onion, cut into 1/4-in. Dice
  • 1/2 cup carrots, cut into 1/4-in. dice
  • 1/2 cup celery, cut into 1/4-in. dice
  • 1 pound bulk sweet Italian sausage (or 1 lb. sausage links removed from their casings)
  • About 1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 4 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 can (28 oz.) whole tomatoes, including juices, finely chopped or crushed with your hands
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 12 ounces lasagna noodles (see Notes)
  •  1 cup good-quality grated parmesan


  1. In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt 2 tbsp. butter in oil over medium heat. Add onion and cook until golden, about 5 minutes. Add carrots and celery and cook for 5 more minutes. Add sausage and 1/2 tsp. salt, breaking up meat with a wooden spoon, and cook until meat loses its raw color.
  2. Add 1 cup milk and cook over medium heat, stirring, until completely absorbed, 10 to 12 minutes. (The milk will appear quite curdled at this point; don’t be alarmed.) Add wine and cook until reduced by half, about 3 minutes. Add tomatoes, bring to a boil, lower heat, and gently simmer, uncovered, 2 hours. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  3. After the ragù has cooked for 1-1/2 hours, make the béchamel by melting the remaining 5 tbsp. butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Add flour and cook, stirring constantly, until it turns light golden brown, about 5 minutes. Slowly drizzle in remaining 3 cups of milk, whisking constantly. Bring to a simmer and continue to cook, whisking, until thickened, about 10 minutes. Season with remaining 1 tsp. salt, nutmeg, and pepper to taste.
  4. Preheat the oven to 375°. Cook lasagna noodles according to package directions, being careful not to overcook. Drain and lay flat on dish towels, making sure the noodles do not overlap. Butter the bottom of a 9- by 13-in. baking dish and coat with about 1/2 cup of ragù. Add a single layer of noodles (for most brands this is 4 sheets per layer). Spread on 1/3 of the béchamel; top béchamel with 1/4 of the remaining ragù, then 1/4 of the parmesan. Repeat layering two more times, covering the final layer with remaining ragù and parmesan.
  5. Cover lasagna with buttered aluminum foil and bake for 20 minutes. Uncover and bake an additional 10 minutes, or until the top browns slightly. Let sit 15 minutes before serving.

Notes: Imported, commercially produced dried lasagna noodles (the kind you boil first) work well in this recipe, but if you can find fresh noodles at a specialty shop, try those instead. Just boil the noodles a few at a time for 2 minutes, plunge in an ice bath, and dry before assembling.


Jerry’s Chicken Curry (Sarah Lee Chase, Nantucket Open House Cookbook)

Makes 4 to 6 Servings:

FabLister Catharine J. gave me this cookbook and I make the Chicken Curry and the Rainwater Chili (see below) probably too often!


  • ½ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 3 boneless whole chicken breasts, halved
  • 5T unsalted butter
  • 1 medium onion, minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 green bell peppers, seeded and diced
  • 3T (or more to taste) best quality curry powder
  • 1 can (15 oz) stewed tomatoes
  • 1 can (15 oz) cream of coconut
  • Dash Worcestershire sauce
  • Dash Tabasco sauce
  • ½ cup currants


  1. Season the flour with salt and pepper in a shallow bowl. Lightly coat the chicken with the seasoned flour.
  2. Heat 3T of the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the chicken and lightly brown on all sides.  Remove the chicken from the skillet
  3. Preheat the oven to 350.
  4. Add the remaining 2T of butter to the skillet and melt over medium heat. Add the onions, garlic, and bell peppers, saute until soft, 5-7 minutes.  Stir in the curry powder and cook for 2 minutes longer.
  5. Stir in the tomatoes and coconut cream.  Heat to simmering and season with Worcester, Tabasco, and salt and pepper to taste.  Stir in the currants and remove from heat.
  6. Arrange the chicken breasts in a casserole and pour the curry sauce over the chicken.  Bake covered until the chicken is tender, 45 minutes.


Rainwater Chili (Sarah Lee Chase, Nantucket Open House Cookbook)

Makes 6-8 Servings

This chili tastes like a trip around the world with all the spices + cocoa powder + tequila + beer!  Adapt as you like – I don’t always have all the spices so I improvise.  I don’t typically put in the olives.  And, I alway serve with Fritos.


  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 2 large onions, chopped
  • 3-4 jalapeno peppers, seeded and minced
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and diced
  • 1 green bell pepper, seeded and diced
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • ¼ cup best quality chili powder
  • 2T ground cumin
  • 2T dried oregano
  • 1T sweet paprika
  • 1T hot paprika
  • 2 t. ground cinnamon
  • 1 t. turmeric
  • 1 t. ground coriander seeds
  • ½ t. ground cardamom
  • 3T unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 12 oz. hot Italian sausage, removed from casings and crumbled
  • 12 oz. sweet Italian sausage, removed from casings and crumbled
  • 1 can (35 oz.) tomatoes, undrained
  • ½ cup golden tequila
  • 1 bottle (12 ounces) beer
  • 1 cup pitted Nicoise or Greek olives
  • Salt to taste



  1. Heat oil in a large pot over medium-high heat.  Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes
  2. Stir in the jalapenos, bell peppers, and garlic; cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes.  Add all the seasonings and the cocoa powder and cook, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes longer.  Remove from heat.
  3. Brown the sirloin and sausage in a skillet, crumbling the meat with the back of a wooden spoon, over medium-high heat just until the meat is no longer pin.  Add the meat to the onion mixture and return the pan to medium heat.
  4. Stir in the tomatoes, tequila, beer, and olives.  Season to taste with the salt.  Simmer uncovered over low heat for about 1 hour.
  5. Serve in deep bowls, accompanied by bowls of sour cream, grated cheddar cheese, and diced onions, tomatoes, and/or avocado.


Almond Cake

From the NYT Cookbook.

If you like almond and simple, this is your dessert:


  • 1 cup sour cream, at room temperature
  • 1 t. baking soda
  • 2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
  • ½ t. Kosher salt
  • ½ pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1-½ cups granulated sugar
  • 1 7-ounce tube almond paste
  • 4 large egg yolks, at room temp
  • 1 t. almond extract
  • Confectioners’ sugar, for sifting over cake


  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter sides and bottoms of a 9-inch cake or springform pans; line bottom with parchment paper. Butter paper.
  • Mix together the sour cream and baking soda in a small bowl.  Sift the flour and salt together.
  • Cream the butter and sugar in a food processor, until pale and fluffy.  Pull the almond paste into small pieces and add it, a little at a time, to the butter mixture, pulsing until very smooth.  Add the egg yolks one at a time, mixing until incorporated.  Blend in the almond extract and sour cream mixture. .
  • Using a rubber spatula, transfer the batter to a bowl.  Fold in the flour mixture until the batter is smooth and there are no bits of flour left.
  • Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly.  Bake for 50-60 minutes.  It is done when you press the top and it springs back and it shrinks from the sides of the pan.  Remove from the oven and place on a rack to cool in the pan.
  • When ready to serve, remove the sides of the pan, sift confectioners’ sugar on top of the cake, and slice into wedges.


The Best Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

These are SO good.  The dough is even better.  Serve alone or sandwich your choice of ice cream (coffee is my favorite) between two of these, cut into 4, and serve with ramekins of hot fudge.  You’re welcome.


  • 2-½ sticks butter (1-¼ cup)
  • ¾ cup brown sugar
  • ½ cup white sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 t. Vanilla
  • 1-½ c. all purpose flour
  • 1 t. baking soda
  • 1 t. salt
  • 3 cups OLD FASHIONED oats.  Do not use instant oats.
  • 12 oz. chips (1 bag – use any kind, even butterscotch! You can mix diff kinds of chips, m&m’s, etc)
  • 1 cup chopped nuts (optional)


  • Mix ingredients together, bake in a 375 oven for about 8 minutes.  Do not overbake.


Dinner Party Playlists:

Now that you have the recipes for an easy dinner party  you need the playlist to set the mood! Ambiance is key to a fun/’successful’ dinner party.  Here are a few Spotify Playlists we like:

Nancy Meyers’ Kitchen – 470 songs! Aretha Franklin, Al Green, Marvin Gaye, the Supremes, Carole King, Kelly Clarkson, Van Morrison and more. This is a GOOD ONE! And at over 24 hours of play time you won’t have any repeats!

Grandma’s Home – Don’t let the name scare you off. It has 80 great songs that include the likes of Natalie Cole, Dean Martin, Aretha Franklin, Harry Belafonte, Otis Redding and Stevie Wonder.Dinner with Friends –  A bit more mellow option that’s good to play after you sit down at the table vs during drinks and apps. 100 songs, including James Taylor, Billy Joel, Kacey Musgraves, Norah Jones and more you may not be as familiar with.

Jazz in the Background – For a mellow, jazzy vibe this is a good one that has almost 800 songs on it!!!!

Sad 70s – I heard this in a store and asked them what they were playing and used it at my next book club. Yes the 50 songs are ‘sad’ but you can sing along with every single one and they are mellow vs ‘loud’! Fleetwood Mac, Carole King, Hall & Oats and more.



2 thoughts on “Our Easy, Go-To Dinner Party Recipes…Plus Playlists!”

  1. THRILLED to make your list of go to recipes …. you girls ROCK and I am really grooving on ALL of your issues . so practical, and it is CLEAR that you are having fun while doing this. As we used to say at Inc magazine back in the day, Doing well by doing good, double bottom line! Bravo and thank you. Cousin Alessandra (aka Almighty Allah, as Johnny says)

  2. Made the sesame noodles in a flash – super easy and delicious. I had no peanuts, so whisked a tablespoon of peanut butter into the warm dressing, and added a julienned red pepper with the green onion and cilantro for color. Great recipe!

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Joanne & Chrissie

Joanne & Chrissie

Chrissie and Joanne love discovering, curating and creating. They developed FabList as a place to share their favorite finds with you.

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Joanne & Chrissie

Joanne & Chrissie

Chrissie and Joanne love discovering, curating and creating. They developed FabList as a place to share their favorite finds with you.

2 thoughts on “Our Easy, Go-To Dinner Party Recipes…Plus Playlists!”

  1. THRILLED to make your list of go to recipes …. you girls ROCK and I am really grooving on ALL of your issues . so practical, and it is CLEAR that you are having fun while doing this. As we used to say at Inc magazine back in the day, Doing well by doing good, double bottom line! Bravo and thank you. Cousin Alessandra (aka Almighty Allah, as Johnny says)

  2. Made the sesame noodles in a flash – super easy and delicious. I had no peanuts, so whisked a tablespoon of peanut butter into the warm dressing, and added a julienned red pepper with the green onion and cilantro for color. Great recipe!

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