When chef Jimmy Bradley has friends over for dinner, he wants to keep things hassle-free. That's why he relies on a menu of simple, delicious dishes, served family-style.

Jimmy Bradley, the chef and owner of the Red Cat in Manhattan, is a very social guy. But the demands of running his restaurant have taken him a bit out of the dinner-party circuit: He's usually at work from 10 a.m. to midnight. So when he is able to entertain, it's truly a special occasion. Still, he believes that preparing a memorable meal needn't be a long, complicated affair. Although his relatives came over for dinner every Christmas Eve, for instance, his mother often decided what to make at the last minute. "There were a lot of great cooks in my family," he says, "and they didn't put their egos into the food." Nor does Bradley see dinner parties as a place to show off. "What's important is spending time with your friends," he says, "not trying to impress them with your culinary prowess."

Though Bradley certainly suffers no lack of prowess, his dinner-party menu is traditional and straightforward, the essence of home cooking. "I took a bunch of ideas from some of my relatives—flavors from my childhood growing up in an Italian family in Rhode Island—and adapted them." The result is an elegant menu that can be prepared in about four hours. Bradley sets out the ingredients for the Red Cat's signature Cricket Ball Aperitif in advance so he can have a glass with his guests when they arrive. Meanwhile, the main dish—basil-rubbed leg of lamb with caramelized red onions—and the side dish of winter root vegetables are roasting in the oven. For added efficiency, Bradley likes to use pans that are pretty enough to double as serving dishes.

After a half hour of mingling, Bradley returns to the kitchen to remove the lamb from the oven and make the dried-cherry sauce that goes with it. Before retreating, he brings out a Polaroid camera and invites his friends to make their own instant place cards, which also serve as mementos of the dinner. When it's time to eat, he sets the dishes along his open kitchen's countertop. There's no shame in serving buffet-style, Bradley says: It's important for the cook to eat with the guests—and not to be too exhausted to enjoy it. Indeed, when the recipes are as quick as Bradley's, it's possible to go from "Wouldn't it be nice to have some people over tonight?" to "Who wants seconds on bananas with caramel?" all in the same day.

—Kimberly Y. Masibay