As the days of summer wind down and we get back to facing the doldrums of daily life, with the kids back to school, the leaves turning and no vacations in sight we have little to look forward to. Don't fret, it's not all bad news. With the arrival of the fall and winter season we still have dinner parties to look forward to. There is something pleasant about inviting three or four of our closest couples over for dinner. It almost feels like a mini vacation, a small break from reality to help us cope with the mundane routines of our lives.
Sadly, for many, with that pleasure there also comes the anxiety of, well, making dinner. After all, it's difficult to host a dinner party without dinner. It never ceases to amaze me how many friends I meet that tell me they are so intimidated to have us over for dinner because I'm a chef. So, with that in mind, here are a few suggestions I can share to help put your mind at ease and hopefully make your next dinner party a success.
1) Relax -- it's just food!
I see so many people get completely stressed out over making things perfect and flawless, but the truth is that something is likely to go wrong at a dinner party. Want a little more truth? Your guests likely won't care. They are there to enjoy time with friends, not to critique their dining experience. I'm a chef and things don't always go perfectly at my dinner parties, but to date no one has just gotten up and left, so....relax!
2) Keep it simple
The night you invite your friends over isn't the night to attempt your first consommé or soufflé. Don't get me wrong, serving a box of KD with ketchup probably isn't going to cut it either, but try to pick a dish that you have at least attempted before, and have an idea of how to prepare. There is nothing more stressful than attempting to prepare a hollandaise for the first time and having it split right as you are about to serve your guests. So as you plan your menu keep your abilities in mind and consider how much can be prepared in advance and how much will have to be finished a la minute or right at dinnertime.
3) Have a plan
The best way to help you relax during your event is to have a clear plan of what you need to accomplish. Once you have a menu it's important to write a detailed grocery list. Think of everything you may need, spices, garnish, ice, mix, limes, you name it. Your life will be that much easier if you only have to make one trip out for supplies. With the exception of really perishable items like fresh baked bread, it's also a good idea to pick these ingredients up a day or two prior to the big day. That way you aren't driving all over town to find that one ingredient on the day of your event, eating into your valuable time. Then put together a task list of what you need to do.
Once you have your groceries, prioritize what needs to be accomplished and tackle the most difficult and time consuming tasks early on. Look for items that can even be prepared a day or two in advance without sacrificing quality. Even the little things can make the difference. If you are serving mashed potatoes, there is nothing wrong with peeling the potatoes the day before and storing them in water, for example. Every little bit of time you can save during the big day, the better.
5) Prepare a Signature Cocktail
This is a trick that I have found really handy lately. If I have a group of guests coming over I put together a pitcher of a really tasty cocktail that no one can resist. So when my guests arrive I simply have to pour, rather than turn into Tom Cruise from Cocktail and whip everybody up something unique. Those that don't want to try your drink will likely settle for a glass of wine or a cold beer.
6) Pick up Dessert
This may seem a little crazy, but unless you're a pastry chef in your spare time, or have an incredible dessert that is a surefire winner, save the baking for the professionals. Find a great pastry shop in your neighbourhood and let them tire over a decadent seven-layer cake rather than you trying to. Often it is the dessert or pastry that requires the largest time commitment, and so often your guests are too full to enjoy it, or more focused on the libations of the evening to partake in sweets. All that work you spent could have been saved!
Now let me share one last tip to keep in mind while planning your next dinner party. Try to put together a menu that allows you to relax and actually take part in the evening. Unless I am mistaken, I would imagine your guests would much rather enjoy your company than stare at the back of your end as you slave over a hot stove. And if it all goes sideways, don't sweat it, order a pizza and have another drink!
For some great inspiration for dinner and cocktails for your next event check out my website at www.chefpaulshufelt.com