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Monday, October 4, 2010

fool-proof dinner party

First, I need to say a big THANK YOU for all of your votes for Project Food Blog!  I didn't advance the last round, but there are no tears here.  It was fun, but I'm glad that it's over...it was becoming too much for my sanity and my budget.  I still encourage you to go back each week to look at the contestants and ring in your votes.  I personally am rooting for Paula at bell'alimento (she's like the Julia Child of Italian cooking!).  I was in it for fun, but Paula is in it because she is amazing enough to win.  Go Paula!

Now...on with the show.

Do you throw dinner parties?

I rarely do.  And when I do, they are definitely not luxurious.

Even casually having friends over for dinner stresses me out!  I want the house to be clean.  I want to look beautiful - perfect makeup, lovely clothes, and no cake batter in my hair.  I want my food to be delicious and ready when the guests arrive (but not ready too early...it can't be cold!).  Oh, and I want every dish in my house to be clean.

Is that too much to ask?  Apparently.  My house is always going to have something out of place, I will always have batter in my hair, and my dishes won't all be done.  It's the nature of the beast.

But I have learned that I can throw a delicious and fun dinner party with minimal stress on my part.  It's all about planning a menu that is simple and quick while impressive at the same time.  Here's mine...

Appetizer: Caramelized Onion and Spinach Olive Oil Quick Bread


Entree: Braised Pork Chops with Vegetable Couscous and Oven Roasted Asparagus

 

Dessert: Triple Chocolate Cake


It all sounds fancy, but it's so easy to put together!  I'll be sharing all of these recipes with you in the next few days, but for now take a look at how this all comes together...

  • Night before: Make the cake.  It takes about 5 minutes to mix together and 60 minutes to bake.  Let it cool overnight.
  • 1 1/2 hours before guests arrive: Begin making quick bread.  It takes about 20 minutes to put together.
  • 1 hour before guests arrive: Put quick bread in oven (takes about 30-40 minutes to bake) and make glaze for cake.  Glaze takes about 5 minutes to make and 5 minutes to spread on cake.
  • 45 minutes before guests arrive: Chop vegetables for couscous and prepare asparagus to go into the oven.
  • 35 minutes before guests arrive: Begin couscous and pork chops.
  • 20 minutes before guests arrive: Take quick bread out of the oven.  Turn the oven to broil to prepare for asparagus.
  • 10 minutes before guests arrive: Place asparagus in the oven.  
  • Guests arriving!  Serve them drinks and quick bread while you take the asparagus out of the oven and put it on a serving plate.  Pork chops and couscous should be done (I wait until guests arrive to place on a platter...that way they don't get cold!). 
  • Enjoy your meal.
See?  One and a half to two hours of cooking prior to your guests' arrival is all you need for a fabulous meal. 

Other tips for hosting a dinner party:
  • Do any cleaning the night before and make sure you start the morning off with a clean kitchen.
  • Ask your guests in advance if they have any dietary restrictions or if there are any foods they don't like...it will save you both awkward moments later on (and those of us with dietary restrictions really appreciate it!).
  • Unless you are the adventurous type, avoid serving your guests a meal full of recipes that you've never tried (boy, have I had to learn that lesson the hard way).  It's okay to try a new appetizer or dessert, but I would make sure that the majority of the meal (especially the entree) is something that you have cooked successfully before.
  • Plan a menu by taking into account your cooking space and time.  You only have so many burners on the stove and shelves in the oven.  Plan accordingly.
  • Try to include some make-ahead items.  Examples would be desserts, breads, or salads.  Having these made in advance can take the pressure off on the day of your party.
  • No matter what, enjoy your guests.  It's so easy for the hostess to be so distracted and stressed out that she neglects to enjoy the friendship of her company.  Take a deep breath, forget the burned rolls and the dishes piled up in the sink, and show your guests that they are what matters most.
Some great resources for those of us who need dinner party inspiration are Reluctant Entertainer and Stonegable.  They never cease to amaze me with their endless ideas for decorating and menu planning.

I've given you my advice for throwing a successful dinner party.  What are your tips and favorite menu items?

This recipe is linked to Tempt My Tummy Tuesday , Tasty Tuesday, and Tuesdays at the Table

9 comments:

  1. Love your ideas, I so admire that things would go so perfect! (I don't think that would ever happen in my house, with 4 kids, NEVER). I am not a stressful person, so at least that helps, I just go with whatever, whenever and whatever is done is done. I love love to entertain and I do things very very simple and I do a TON of work the days before. And I also have teenagers that can clean while I cook, (kinda getting two things down and once) It usually works with alot of screaming (on my part). But we are all smiles when it's finished!

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  2. Excellent write up! Planning is the key to successful - and relaxing - dinner parties.

    I love serving chicken- preferrably a baked, whole chicken. Can be made to look impressive, but very easy to make! Desserts & appetizers are my favorite things to play with though!

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  3. Excellent post!!! We entertain a lot and I totally agree with the tips you offered...especially not trying out a new recipe for a dinner party (can be a disaster) and making as many things ahead of time as possible (key to enjoying your own party). I make lots and lots of lists when I'm prepping for a party. The more you entertain, the easier it will become. I don't even bat an eye now when we throw a big barn party for 100 people. Fifteen years ago, however, I would've thought it was an insane idea.

    When entertaining, I like to make things that are rustic and a little different than every day meals: Chicken & Sausage Gumbo, Beef Bourguignon, Smoked Mozzarella & Sausage Lasagna, etc. I do a lot of grilling in the summer.

    Your entertaining menu looks great! I want a piece of your chocolate cake!!!

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  4. Excellent post with some great ideas - and a really good plan!! I look forward to seeing the recipes!

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  5. ooooooo...that couscous looks BEATUIFUL!!! (as does the cake;)

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  6. Kristen,

    What a delightful blog with so many creative and delicious ideas. Thanks for finding me and I will look forward to coming back for more tasty dishes and dinner party ideas!

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  7. Yum, this all looks AMAZING! And that triple choc cake? I am trying to do the "shred", don't tempt with that. lol. /Thanks for sharing with Tasty Tuesday.

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  8. Ah, that was so sweet! THANK YOU! You just made my day ; ) Mwah! I'd be happy to come to your dinner party any day of the week! Great tips and delicious menu!

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  9. Wow! You make it sound so easy! I would be totally stressed out. My tip for a good dinner is to have hubby cook everything. I guess that's not too helpful but you asked! :)

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