When I lived in Italy many years ago, it was all about the dinner party--planned or impromptu. My husband and I were either hosting one or attending one. Having people over for a meal wasn’t something reserved for weekends or special occasions; it was just what everyone did. Some made elaborate meals, others just simple pasta and a salad; some had spotless homes, others, not so much, but mostly it was about putting something together and enjoying it in the company of friends. It wasn't about perfection--which made it all the more perfect. When I moved back to America, I looked for my beloved dinner parties. Where were they? Aside from a small handful of folks, many of my New York people were either too overwhelmed with their lives, too anxious about what to serve, too panicked about mismatched plates, or just frozen in their tracks, generally unable to cope with the whole idea.
For the dinner party-phobic, I offer a few suggestions:
- First of all, if someone has accepted your invitation to dinner it’s because they would like to spend time with you. Yes, they want to eat, and no, they don’t want to eat badly, but essentially they are coming for the company.
- Start small. Four to six people at the most. Once you get past that, bigger proportions and altering recipes can be daunting for a novice. Don’t overwhelm yourself at first.
- Keep it simple. Is your soup terrific? Make a meal of it. Is your roast chicken sublime? Own it and serve it. Experiment later, but for now, stick with what you're good at.
- Prep as much as you can beforehand. Do anything that you'd rather not have your guest see you doing, chop anything that's messy or tedious, wash and dry the salad, set out your ingredients (pretend it's you're putting on your own cooking show if it makes you feel inspired), get pots, pans, platters, and serving utensils ready. Set the table, which brings us to the next tip...
- Stock up on basic dinnerware. The "My plates are ugly, my wine glasses don't match, my blah, blah isn't up to par" whine can only take you so far. Hit places like Ikea and stock up on simple plates, glasses, silverware, tablecloths and napkins. Or you can mix and match artfully with what you have, embrace your eclectic side. That blue plate might be lovely next to the orange one. However, if you have the really good stuff, by all means use it. What are you really saving it for anyway?
- Throw in something pretty, for good measure. A few low candles and small bunches of flowers make your guests feel a little extra special.
- Hit play. I love music playing softly in the background, it just warms the atmosphere. (You can't go wrong with Ella or Billie, I'm just saying.)
- Raise a glass. Or a few. Wine is lovely... If you don't know a Pinot Gris from a Rioja, find a good wine shop in your area and make nice with the salespeople to see what you can learn. Make sure you remember keep something non-alcoholic and festive on the table for those who opt out.
- Have fun! You are with your friends, hopefully enjoying a good meal. The Food Network isn't stopping by to critique your meal. Not this time, anyway.
What are your secrets to a successful dinner party?
Labels: Entertainment, Food, Lifestyle