Center an autumn or winter dinner party around short ribs braised a day or two ahead.
While I love cooking for friends at any time of year, a nippy fall or winter night makes it especially easy. The season cries out for a meaty, warming braise full of deep, developed flavor, with aromas that beckon when friends walk in the door. What makes this kind of meal even better is that not only can it be cooked ahead, it actually should be. A day or two of resting in the refrigerator heightens and melds flavors—and makes things all the more relaxed for the cook.
Braised beef short ribs are the star of my homey, cool-weather menu. Fall-apart tender, they sit on a bed of mashed potatoes and are topped with a pretty sauté of julienned leeks. The ribs are first browned in a large stew pot and then simmered in a mix of Asian ingredients that include soy, ginger, and star anise. Once in the oven, the ribs braise to succulent tenderness and take on big flavor. Cooking and cooling the braise at least a day before serving helps flavors marry, and it makes degreasing easy.
My fall menu includes a few other dishes that can be done at least a little bit ahead, as you’ll see from the timeline at far right. You can make the lemongarlic mashed potatoes up to an hour ahead and keep them warm over a water bath. The leek topping for the braise can be sautéed ahead, too, and then briefly warmed. The pear gratin can be assembled a few hours ahead, and either slipped into a slow oven just as you sit down