How to: Host a perfect dinner party
Cynthia David is a Toronto-based food writer, who regularly travels the world. She invites friends over as often as possible to test new recipes. Cynthia's writing has appeared in Canadian Living, The Toronto Star, and Food & Drink magazine. We asked Cynthia to share her best entertaining advice and here's what she had to say.
Q: What are your best recommendations for preparing a dinner party?
A: I love to pick a theme, from French bistro to Spanish tapas, and make it as authentic as possible. This may mean travelling around the city for a few special ingredients, such as Spanish Serrano ham, but I know my guests love trying new things.
Make to-do lists several days before. Do as much cooking as possible beforehand so you can sit down with your guests. Set the table the night before and set out wine glasses ahead of time so you know they're sparkling clean and you won't be hunting for them when guests arrive.
If you're entertaining friends, don't be shy about asking them to bring a dish.
Q: How would you describe entertaining in your home?
A: I am forever bringing home new acquaintances. Occasionally I invite all my tai chi friends over for a Sunday brunch and warn them that they're guinea pigs for new recipes.
Q: Do you regularly include special place settings or centerpieces on your table? What are some occasions that would warrant such settings?
A: Whenever I'm in France, I bring home a gorgeous printed cotton tablecloth. With simple white china, it creates a spectacular look on its own. Add platters of tempting food in the center of the table and you won't need a centerpiece.
Q: How would you suggest getting guests involved in the dinner party process?
A: For a Vietnamese dinner, I provided a stack of softened rice paper wraps along with platters of barbecued lemongrass beef strips, vermicelli noodles, bean sprouts, basil and mint. Guests can roll their own dinner.
Q: What are some tips for entertaining guests with children?
A: Set up a separate table for the kids in the kitchen. They'll have much more fun. For young kids, take a cue from kid-friendly restaurants by covering the table with heavy paper and giving children crayons.
Q: Can you offer some interesting invitation ideas?
A: In these e-mail days, a pretty mailed invitation makes a lovely surprise.
Q: What are some common entertaining mistakes? What suggestions do you have to help people overcome these mistakes?
A: Cooking a bunch of new recipes for guests creates a lot of stress and extra work. It's easier to mix tried-and-true recipes with one or two new items.
Plan as many make-ahead dishes as you can, so you can sit down and enjoy the party. There's nothing wrong with a wonderful one-dish stew and it will taste even better when made a day or two before.