There is nothing quite so enjoyable in this world as a good dinner party. Laughing, eating and drinking with friends is one of my favorite activities, and doing it in the comfort of a home rather than at a costly restaurant is truly one of life's great pleasures. However, the joy of dinner parties comes at a cost, the cost of the host.
Cooking dinner for 8 or so people is no small feat, on top of the pressure of wanting everything to be perfect and playing good host when friends arrive, it can, or I should say will, be stressful. This can scare off want-to-be dinner party hosts, and can sour the experience of many who attempt them ill prepared. So here are my tips for throwing a better, more fun, and most importantly less stressful holiday party.
Preparation and Planning
On the night of the party, you want to be cooking as absolutely little as possible. What cooking you are doing should be as streamlined and efficient as possible. You want to be mingling with your guests, not chopping onions in the kitchen. This means that you should be chopping those onions earlier in the day, tying and seasoning that roast pork loin a day in advance (this will even help achieve a better crust while cooking) and baking desserts such as pie, Creme Brulee, and Tiramisu up to two days in advance.
A good plan is also invaluable to you as a host. If you are serving your meal in courses, you need to have at least a rough idea of when you need to start the different elements. If you are serving family style, you still should know which order to start your dishes in so everything is ready around the same time and hot when it hits the table. All you need to accomplish this is a thought-out plan, a loose timetable of sorts, and everything will work beautifully.
Stick to What you Know
The desire to impress is ever present when hosting a dinner party. You want guests to be wowed by your culinary skill, enjoy themselves, and admire you for putting on a great party. I understand this emotion, however, it is important to remember the people you are having over are your friends. They don't require fanciful meals to have a good time, and no matter what happens with the food on the table, they will enjoy your company and thank you for the lovely evening. So choose recipes and techniques you know well, instead of reaching for the stars, and if you don't have recipes that you are confident in, come to The Chopping Block for a cooking class and steal ours (Sunday Roast is one of my favorites)! The dishes you know how to make well will shine brighter than new, untested ones, not to mention the peace of mind that cooking familiar recipes brings. Just put together a menu of your greatest hits, or if you absolutely must cook that new dish, make sure there are no techniques you haven't tried before. A dinner party isn't the best time to try making fresh pasta or cooking via sous vide for the first time.
Stay Calm, You Got This
While my previous points are important, no doubt about it, this one is probably the most sage piece of advice I can give: You got this. Keep calm, the absolute worst thing you can do for your guests is for it to look like their presence is causing stress to you. I have only witnessed it once, but host-zilla syndrome is a real danger. Have faith in your cooking ability, and have faith that everything doesn't have to be pitch perfect for a successful evening. I hope these few tips can help you in your next dinner party, or help you realize that a dinner party doesn't have to be a stressful experience.