The holiday season is the perfect time to throw a fete. Yes, there’s work involved, but on a positive note, your house will be clean for at least a week, you’ll have wonderful foods in your fridge and hopefully everyone will bring you a smart bottle of wine as a hostess gift and you’ll be set for the rest of the season.
Pulling off a dinner party doesn’t have to be daunting, nor do you need to take a gourmet cooking course to qualify. All you need is a guest list comprised of people you really want to spend an evening with, some food that you know how to prepare and lots of candles.
For novice dinner party throwers, here’s a checklist to follow to pull off a soiree that your friends will be talking about for years -- and in a good way.
The numbers game
Keep the guest list numbers doable–this means that just because every episode of the BBC Television show Upstairs Downstairs had at least 12 people sitting down to sparkling silverware and a roasted pig doesn’t mean that you have to.
Depending on the size of your table and how many chairs you own, keep the numbers to a smart six, anything bigger than that is called catering. Decide who those lucky four guests will be. An evening together isn’t a lifetime commitment, although it may seem so if your guests aren’t well-suited. Be sure to choose compatible guests and then send out the invite. I like calling, but an e-mail is okay, as well.
Menu planning and the shopping list
Once you know you who’s coming, call back to see if anyone has any food allergies or dislikes. There is nothing worse than serving a roast to a vegetarian. Then plan your menu. I love poring over my cookbooks to create a new menu. For rookies, choose tried and true recipes that won’t have you freaking out in the kitchen the entire evening.
I start with dessert and work backwards. All my desserts are recipes that I can make the day before. And I plan all of my meals, dinner parties included, around local seasonal fare–better on the bank account and the whole shopping mission. There is nothing worse than planning an entrée around something you can’t find. Since fresh raspberries in December taste like cardboard anyway, try a recipe that uses frozen Product of Canada Raspberries instead.
Here are some menu-planning tips:
Keep the meal simple. A salad, a main with rice, pasta, or potatoes, and two different coloured veggies, plus a dessert is great.
Choose recipes that can be made ahead of time – this will save you from missing all the fun when you’re flambéing frog legs, making a soufflé or preparing a risotto that you have to stir every three minutes. Sure they’re all fabulous foods, but they’re all labour intensive.
I don’t serve appetizers or hors d’ouvres – I do put out a small plate of olives, artisan cheese and walnuts to serve with drinks before dinner. The last thing I want is for my guests to fill up on the warm-up band and be too full for the main event.
I like a salad as a first course. This allows me to plate it in the kitchen and then have it on the table when my guests sit down.
Write out your shopping list including alcohol and wine per course. You can always take your menu to the liquor store to ask for help with pairings.
Check to see if you have enough candles and serviettes. If not, put them on your shopping list.
Make sure to include a bouquet of flowers. I always buy myself a really fresh bouquet three days early so I can enjoy them ahead of time.
Make sure your tablecloth and placemats are clean.