hot pot by Natasha Pickowicz

We often invite friends to stop by in the evenings — whether or not they’re wearing pajamas — and if everyone’s hungry, I’ll usually order pizza or make pesto pasta. But! I’d love to grow my roster of crowd-pleasing meals, so I asked five food friends to share their go-to dinners for friends…

“Year round, this vegetarian quiche is as easy as it gets. You throw all the ingredients in a pan, mix them up, and toss it in the oven. The best part? It’s a delicious way to get kids to eat veggies.” — LaTonya Yvette (of farmhouse fame)

hot pot recipe by Natasha Pickowicz

“Nothing mobilizes my friends faster than when I drop the ‘hot pot at mine?’ text. The meal couldn’t be easier to prepare because there’s hardly any cooking. A few hours before everyone arrives, I’ll duck out for thinly sliced lamb, plumes of leafy vegetables, and bundles of noodles. I whip up a big batch of my mom’s Beijing-style white sesame dipping sauce, the most ‘cooking’ I’ll do all night. Out comes the butane camping stove and a Dutch oven for boiling water right on the dining room table. Everyone cooks their own bites of food in a small wire basket dunked right into the pot of water, which becomes a fragrant broth. Paired with ice cold beer and flaky scallion pancakes, hot pot at home is fun, steamy, burbling, messy, cozy, elbow-bumping magic. You could seat 10 strangers around a hot pot table and everyone would be best friends by the end of the night.” — Natasha Pickowicz (of tator tots cake fame)

“Our friends and their kids all love a sushi bake. Mine is loosely based on a recipe I saw on Alissa Nguyen’s IG @gaming_foodie) — I layer sushi rice, furikake, and roasted salmon (that I mix with a kewpie mayo, sriracha and a bit of cream cheese, soy sauce, and sesame oil), then bake in the oven. I serve it with slices of avocado and a quick pickle of Persian cucumbers (that I toss with rice vinegar and salt). It’s a complete meal baked in one pan, and I like that I can prepare it in ahead of time and bake it right before guests arrive. (I always hear Ina Garten’s voice in my head reminding me to do things in advance so I can enjoy and hang out with my guests!)” — Erin Jang (of hiking and TJ’s breakfast fame)

chestnut risotto by Eric Kim

“My answer is always risotto, with all kinds of fun textural toppings. I’ve done a chestnut risotto with quick-pickled celery, roasted red onions and mushrooms, with lots of dill and sour cream, which is beautiful. People think risotto takes forever, but it’s nothing more than stirring. Since it’s rice, it’s relatively affordable and easy to adjust to different guests’ dietary restrictions. Dairy-free? Skip the butter. Vegetarian? No problem, I rarely add meat. Even if it’s just a basic Parmesan version, it provides great comfort to my friends, and my imagination can finish the thought with the toppings.” — Eric Kim (of first date and movies fame)

Pork ragu is an instant dinner party. You can make it completely ahead, even a day or two before. Plus, it makes the house smell amazing, which, in my opinion, counts for more than flower arrangements when having dinner guests. If there are kids coming over, and they don’t like the ragu, we can usually count on them liking the pasta with a little Parm, so it minimizes drama on that end, too.” — our beloved Jenny Rosenstrach (and here’s her great newsletter)

What do you make for a group? I’d LOVE to hear your suggestions! Thank you so much.

P.S. Trader Joe’s hacks, and the restaurant surprise I’m still thinking of two decades later.

(Top photo by Meghan Marin.)