Monday, September 19, 2011

Dinner Party Guidelines

Growing up in a bed & breakfast/restaurant, I quickly learned what it takes to entertain dinner guests. With a little preparation, you’re party is sure to be a success. Here are my tips to help you be the hostess with the mostess.

Plan ahead. Even while hosting, it’s easy to enjoy the party while preparing food.

If I’m serving an hors d'oeuvre, I always make something I can prepare ahead of time – either something cold I can pull right out of the fridge (like a cheese plate or pinwheels) or something hot I can put in a small crock pot or have baking when guests arrive (like cocktail weenies in BBQ sauce, bacon-wrapped water chestnuts, baked brie, or stuffed peppers).

For the main course, let’s say the menu includes twice-baked potatoes, stuffed pork loin and baby carrots. Earlier that day I would’ve prepared the potatoes and have them on a baking sheet ready for the oven. For the pork loin, it would be stuffed, seared, seasoned and in a baking dish ready for the oven. The carrots would be in a pot on the stove, covered in water and ready to boil – the butter and seasonings would be nearby. The trick here is timing. The potatoes will take the longest – put them in the oven first. Since the pork is already partially cooked from searing, it won’t take long to finish. Generally it works to put the pork in the oven and boil the carrots at the same time. The takeaway  everything should be ready together. 

Offer a drink. Often guests will bring a hostess gift of wine, but always have something on hand. If you offer wine, plan for one or two glasses per person (knowing my friends, I plan for three or four). My husband and I keep a well-stocked liquor cabinet and make sure our guests know they’re welcome to anything they’d like. We also keep mixers on hand and offer a yummy recipe for whatever alcohol they choose.

Play music. Good food and good friends are a great place to start when having a party, but setting the atmosphere with music can take it to the next level. The music (and its volume) can set the tone for the evening – it’s important to take both into consideration. In my experience, mellow, upbeat tracks at medium volume work great for a casual get-together. Here’s some of my go-to dinner-party playlist.

Everything’s Right – Matt Wertz
Make You Feel My Love – Adele
Down By The Water – The Decemberists
Electric Bird – Sia
Your Song – Elton John
Cry Me A River – Diana Krall
1234 – Fiest
Green Screens – Sleeping At Last
I’d Rather Be With You – Joshua Radin
Let Go – Frou Frou
She’s Mine– Brett Dennen
The Way I Am – Ingrid Michaelson
Love and Some Verses – Iron and Wine
Miss Magnolia – Matt Costa
Orange Sky – Alexi Murdoch
Skinny Love – Bon Iver
Come Away With Me – Nora Jones
1901 – Phoenix
I Have and I Always Will – Dave Matthews
Home – Edward Sharpe & The Magentic Zeros
You Are The Best Thing – Ray LaMontagne
I Won’t Back Down – Tom Petty

What do you do to make your dinner parties special?

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