I'm planning to have a few friends over in the next couple of weeks for a little pre-Christmas dinner party. The problem is, the only date that seems to work is a Friday night, and I don't get home from work until around 6:30pm. I'd like to be able to serve apps by 7-7:30 and dinner by 8:30 at the latest, so I don't have a ton of time. I also don't want to be stuck in the kitchen the entire time!
So, I'm trying to come up with festive (not necessarily Christmas-y, but seasonal and elegant) ideas that will allow me to at least make the main course and dessert ahead. No particularly picky eaters but staying away from fish/seafood is probably a smart idea. I am considering braised short ribs or another braise that I can just reheat, or possibly something that can be completely prepped ahead and just shoved in the oven the moment I get home - lasagne bolognese al forno, perhaps (if it would keep well in its unbaked state in the fridge for a day).
For dessert, I'm thinking of perhaps a fruit pie/crostata (I could bake it in the morning), the Gramercy Tavern Gingerbread, Ina Garten's Lemon cake, Martha Stewart's chocolate bread pudding (I would make the custard ahead and let the dessert bake while we were having dinner, I guess), etc. This will probably depend on the heaviness of the main course.
All ideas welcome - thank you!