I absolutely love throwing dinner parties. Or breakfast parties. Or BBQ’s. Or pizza parties. Eating + friends + my living room (preferably with a little drink thrown in for good measure) is one of my most favorite things. I know it’s super stressful for a lot of people, and I’ve talked more than one friend through it. So I thought I’d tell you all my secrets for blissfully stress free entertaining. *cough*
The biggest piece of advice I can give you is this: your friends said yes to your invitation not because they are expecting a delicious meal, but because they want to spend time with you. So this is one of the best possible situations to apply KISS. Keep it simple, stupid. (Not that you, or your dinner party is stupid. It’s just a saying.) I personally think it’s far more impressive to have mediocre food that magically appears without a hitch, then to have tricky gourmet food that is stressful or not timed well.
So without further adieu, here are my 7 Easy Steps to a Knock-Out Dinner Party. Why 7? Because it’s lucky! Actually that’s a lie. I started with 5 but couldn’t make it to 10. But every dinner party can use a little luck anyway!
Martha, eat your heart out:
1. Queue up some good music. Don’t have anything good on your iPod? Check out Pandora and make a custom channel.
2. Have fresh flowers on the counter in the kitchen. Obviously you are an absurdly on-the-ball hostess if you’ve had time to grab fresh flowers (while you’re at the market already anyway) and fill a vase with water. My favorite pick? Tulips. They are not expensive, usually available year round, and are the only flower that keeps growing after they’ve been cut so they last longer than most flowers.
3. Light a candle. You could transform any dank dungeon a sexy locale with a few votives. If you’re looking for an excuse to spend an obscene amount of money on (albeit gorgeous) votive holders, check out local Seattle glass blower Glassybaby.
4. Beer or wine is great, but serve one cocktail or mixed drink. Pick something super simple that goes along with your dinner, and mix up a pitcher of it. Mixed drinks impress people. (PS, drink one before your guests come and you’ll be relaxed with rosy cheeks. Or, you’ll be drunk – so take it easy if you’re a lightweight.)
5. Use cloth napkins. I know I’m going to get some flack for this one, but they make a huge difference and will elevate your party from backyard BBQ to elegant swank. Go buy a half-dozen or so generic colored ones that don’t need to be ironed, and toss them in the laundry at the end of the night. Bonus points for being eco-friendly.
6. Settle on a menu that can be done 90% ahead of time. Better yet, entirely before. The very best part of the party is spending quality time with your friends. Quality time rarely involves them staring at you while you worry over the stove.
7. End the night with something sweet. Skip the added stress of a fancy dessert and opt for a few slices of seasonal fruit and high quality chocolates instead. A few bites won’t overwhelm your guests but will be a nice end to the evening. My absolute favorites are Fran’s salted caramels. They’re a Seattle company, but you can find their chocolates at most Whole Foods.
Now you just need the perfect menu. Here are some of my favorite easy, flexible dinner party favorites. Throw together a salad (ahead of time!) and you can spend time with your guests, not in the kitchen:
Beef Tenderloin with Chimichurri Sauce
Herb Pork Tenderloin
Steak with Anchovy Butter
Roast Chicken (Make sure your oven is clean for this one though, the high temp has a tendency to smoke up really dirty ovens…)
Get one or two dinner parties under your belt and you’ll be a pro in no time. I say that with such nonchalance, but seriously, focus on how much fun you’re having with your friends, not how the meat could have used more salt. As I type this though, I have to admit that I frequently lie in bed wide awake once all the guests have gone home, wondering if anyone has food poisoning. Of course depending on how well I’ve followed Rule #4, I dwell on this sometimes longer than others. Ha! I guess that means I should add a Rule #8: use a meat thermometer so you know when the roast is done Have fun!
What are your dinner party tricks? Leave me a comment with your favorite way to impress guests!