What you serve at a dinner party reflects on several different things, but chiefly on how good a cook you are (be honest here) and how calm and coordinated you are when cooking for more than a couple of people. When you design a dinner party menu, avoid making more than one tricky or labor-intensive course - you do not want to spend the entire evening going around the kitchen while your dinner guests are all sitting at the table. That’s not fun for you nor for them. There are particular things to stay away from if you’re cooking fora large number. Risottos are perhaps best left for kitchen suppers with a couple of friends because you have to always be at the pan stirring constantly while cooking. Recipes that need pan-frying or char-grilling likewise become quite elaborated when cooking for bigger parties since the kitchen gets smoky and you have to juggle dinner plates to maintain everything hot.
Be sure your dinner party menu is balanced. It seems obvious, but you may forget when you enthusiastically scan cookbooks. If your first course is rather rich, choose a light entree. For instance, if you are serving foie gras as an appetizer, do not follow it with beef Wellington. Toy with textures and flavors. It is not advisable also to serve soup as an appetizer with stew as a main course or your friends would feel as though they’re dining at a nursing home. Likewise, do not echo the same foods in other courses; do not start with a tomato tart then use tomatoes as a side dish for the main course. Through pudding time you may not feel like trying anything ambitious. Keep things simple, or set up in advance, or buy something special. Tarts with a dollop of creme fraiche or cream are forever a treat, but so are the simplest things. Fresh fruit in season is always good at theending of a meal. Or skip pudding and do a cheese course.
DO your cooking in one pot. A stew, pie, pot roast or anything else that can merrily cook away in the oven cuts back time slaving in the kitchen.
DO give your guests an opportunity to relax during courses, but do not leave really long gaps between -about fifteen minutes is excellent.
DO limit complicated work in the final phases to the starter - guests could be talking over drinks while you set up the food. But if your main course is inevitably labor-intensive, then think of an easy starter: plates of antipasti, for instance, or a hearty salad, or even soup, which can always be prepared in advance (even by a couple of days) and then left to simmer gently on its own, having no trouble at all.
DON’T skimp - if you can not afford to spend plenty of money, plan a frugal meal with cheaper items that you can buy in generous quantities. There’s nothing riskier than not having plenty of everything.
DON’T ever try more than a single course that you have not cooked before.
When all the preparation is done, as a host, DO remember to enjoy the dinner and the company.
As John Frankenheimer puts it, “I have gotten to a point in my life where I don’t want to have dinner with someone I don’t like.”
It’s Just a Dinner Party by Julie Malloy and Ron Malloy
Dinner Party Ideas by Diana Stanley
Come Dine With Me by David Sayer
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