Friday, February 25, 2011

Planning a dinner party

Sneak peek into this weekend's dinner party prep.

There's been some chatter online lately about the demise of the dinner party. As the author of a blog that hopes to encourage people to cook more, suffice to say, I don't agree. To me, a dinner party is any time you have someone over for dinner. It can be one person, it can be 6. The important part isn't the number of guests; it's that you're opening up your home, inviting someone in to share a meal. It doesn't have to be fancy - heck, you don't even have to cook the actual meal (although that would be great, too).

So what's stopping more people from hosting dinner parties? Is it the usual culprits of time, energy and motivation? Well, if you've managed to find those things in order to cook dinner more often, throwing a dinner party isn't much more difficult. In fact, it's only as difficult (or complicated might be a better word) as you want it to be.

Start simple; host a potluck. Tell everyone you'll make the main dish and ask them to help out with the sides. If you've ever hosted a holiday meal, you've probably already figured this one out. Another great idea is to host a soup and (fill in the blank) party. You make a couple types of soup, maybe even this one and then decide if you want to offer a salad and some bread or rolls.

Or, maybe sandwiches instead. Who doesn't love tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches? Sorry Mom, but some of my best childhood food memories are of my sister Aimee making me that exact lunch on half days home from school. Those sandwiches almost cancel out the image of my sister surrounding herself with cereal boxes at breakfast so I couldn't bother see her.

In keeping with the simple/make-ahead theme, another thought is lasagna or any other baked pasta like macaroni and cheese, manicotti or baked ziti. I once hosted a family birthday lunch for 13 and made it easy on myself by making two lasagnas ahead of time, one vegetarian, one meat. The only tricky part was making sure both were thoroughly re-warmed in my oven, but it all worked out. And birthday cake makes everything better, don't you think?

Or go in the complete opposite direction and challenge yourself to try something completely new. That's one of the reasons I host dinner parties; well, in addition to wanting to see our friends. I know, I know, you're never supposed to try out new recipes for the first time when you're having guests. But since I'm only cooking for two on a daily basis, I don't get the opportunity to make a lot of larger things, like roasts, unless we want to eat it for the entire week. I just make sure to use a recipe from an author I trust - and have a back-up plan, in case things don't work out.

Whatever you decide to serve (and I will happily join you for take-out pizza), remember that your friends and family are there to see you, first and foremost. You don't need to have a perfect house or wait til you have the perfect plates. And in the paraphrased words of my beloved Ina Garten, your friends won't have a better time if you spent all day in the kitchen. Just invite them over! I promise you won't regret it.

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