Party Planner

How to: Plan the perfect party

Style at Home
Party Planner

How to: Plan the perfect party

You probably know her as the chic and with-it host of Party Dish (HGTV Canada), but Trish Magwood is more than just a party gal par excellence. When she's not helping some hapless would-be event thrower pin down a theme, tabletop decor scheme and dream menu on her show, she's usually busy with one of her numerous side projects, the most recent of which is her new book Dish Entertains (Harper Collins, 2007). It continues the party planning and cooking theme (as well as offering up everyday dish suggestions to entertain your family with), but what makes it better than many other books of its ilk is the fact that Trish, like many, is a busy mom to two young kids. Her dinner ideas are not only chic, they're do-able for real people with busy lives. No doubt, many of her dishes were tested first at her Dish Cooking Studio in Toronto, worth a trip for a class, or just a browse, if you're ever in the neighbourhood. Styleathome.com caught up with Trish to chat about food, family and – what else? – partying like a pro.

Style At Home: Can you tell us a bit about your new book Dish Entertains?
Trish Magwood:
The book is a collection of my favourites, from pre-Dish catering to Dish cooking classes and catering favourites, as well as party dish recipes. The book is full of inspiration from our talented Dish chefs as well as other Toronto chefs and is packed with tips and photos to help inspire. It's divided into everyday simple meals for mid-week, time-pressed cooking and special occasion dishes that are more 'labours of love' for weekend entertaining. Entertaining to me is really just about sharing and gathering around food which could mean mid week at the kitchen counter with your spouse!

SAH: The whole premise of your show is demystifying the process behind throwing a great dinner party. Besides the food, what makes a dinner party memorable?
TM:
Setting the scene and the tone to fit your style, your home, your guests. Small homes and jean wearers: keep it casual; it's not the formality but the style that counts. The host sets the tone, if you are relaxed and enjoying yourself, your guests will too. Get friends involved – let them pass the hors d'oeuvres. Kick off the night with a signature welcome drink. Lighting and music helps set the scene. And open the doors and get outside if you can. All these little touches will have guests saying, 'that was a great party' without really knowing why.

SAH: What's the magic number for a good dinner party? Any other tips for ensuring good chemistry and conversation among dinner guests?
TM:
If it's sit-down for eight people, try family-style service, bringing food to the table [to have guests serve themselves]. This keeps it casual and interactive (‘hey, pass the potatoes!'). Warm rustic bread to accompany a big pot of mussels and allow guests to go for seconds guilt-free. Trying new wines and sharing newfound knowledge is fun. It's also fun to move to the couches for dessert or have a fun digestif drink like Port to follow the sweets. Think about a cheese table or cheese board for a quick and indulgent dessert alternative.

SAH: What are ways that people can cut down on some of the work the day of a cocktail party?
TM:
Design the menu to fit your schedule and plan your shopping and prep time to keep the stress at bay. Make ahead, freezable favourites include soup shooters – the only same day task is warming the soup. Set up a self-serve soup bar and have guests help themselves. Set up glassware bar the night before and pull out all your platters so you are ready to go. Room temp hors d'oeuvres like smoked salmon breadsticks keeps you away from the stove. Limit choices to make-ahead warm up items only, like our baked figs with blue cheese: a few minutes in the oven and you can get back to enjoying your party.

SAH: What are some of your family weeknight meals like?
TM:
We have barbeques when we can: ribs, burgers, steak, and pork tenderloin with grilled fruit, where we all eat the same food. Midweek, if it takes longer than 20 minutes to prepare, it's a disaster. Quick chicken curry or risotto are also hits and take under 20 minutes. Some nights we eat together as a family, other times it's one meal eaten at two different times, and others still, it's may be two totally different meals. I rely on our Tuesday afternoon neighbourhood farmer's market for dinner produce. It's just a quick family trip.
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Party Planner

How to: Plan the perfect party