Modern times seem to call for people always wanting to host a cocktail party. I get it: the vision of martini glasses clinking, and platters of all shapes and sizes holding perfectly manicured bites of food (not to mention the killer outfits) always looks so chic and fabulous. But that’s the thing – cocktail parties may look chic and fabulous, but behind the scenes, the host is exhausted, cranky, and anticipating the departure of the last guest before the party even starts!
Why? It's because cocktail parties are very labor intensive. First, you have to offer lots of choices in appetizers since it’s often the only meal your guests will eat. Translation? Lots of late nights prepping all of those one-bite wonders. Then, while the party is raging, you’re constantly replenishing platters and picking up small plates/napkins strewn about the house. And we haven’t even begun to talk about the cocktail part! Sure, you can make a pitcher of Sangria, but let's be honest, if people are going to a cocktail party, they are hoping to sip their favorite libation, made to order. So not only have you cleaned, cooked and served all your guests, now you are the bartender too. No wonder you dream of soaking in a hot bath alone!
Now enter the dinner party. You make one meal that everyone eats. If planned well, your work is limited to setting out apps before your guests arrive, offering one signature cocktail, wine and beer during the mingle hour, and then plating the meal right before dinner. You sit at the table with all of your guests for most of the party, and then you offer to move to another room for a casual dessert, or if you prefer to eat dessert at the table – then go for it, and offer to move to another room for an after dinner drink - either way you are leaving the dirty dishes and messy table for the next day.
The key to great dinner parties is to keep it simple. Here are 3 tips I use every time.
Dinner Party Tips
1. Choose meals that are as close to one-dish wonders as you can find. The truth is, people love a home cooked meal, so never discount pot roast, chicken pot pie or even a big pot of chili with a toppings bar as excellent choices for dinner party fare. Let’s take Beef Bourgignon as an example. The name makes it sound very fancy and complicated, it is French after all, but actually it’s simply a beef stew made with a regional red wine. It's one of my go to menu choices because it’s made in one pot, tastes even better when made ahead of time and then reheated which makes entertaining a breeze, and the name gives it panache.
2. Limit your menu to 3 courses, 1-2 appetizers that can be set out before your guests arrive, a main course like the one I mentioned above, and a dessert. This was one of the hardest lessons I had to learn. I came from family that, when we entertained, it was as if the appetizers were the meal. We had so many choices and such great quantity that most of us were stuffed before we even sat down to dinner. Now, I limit my appetizer choices to 2, and I keep the quantity small. Sometimes I will also add either nuts or truffle salt popcorn. The first time I made truffle popcorn as an app, I was shocked at what a hit it was! Now, I can’t take credit for this idea as truffle salt popcorn is The Chopping Blocks signature app for classes and parties, but I would like to share that we do sell the truffle salt in the store. It is a more luxury item, but I have had mine for well over four years because a little goes a long way. I use it any time I want to make a dish extra special, and believe me: starting a party off with truffle anything will wow your guests for sure!
3. Cook one dish in each course and assemble the rest. I have to admit that I learned this trick from the Barefoot Contessa, but ever since I adopted this method, I enjoy entertaining more than ever. An example for appetizers would be to pop fresh popcorn, and then assemble a delicious cheese/charcuterie board for the other hors d'oeurve. A main course idea would be to cook a scrumptious pot roast, and then offer great fresh bread with butter, and a simple salad on the side. And for dessert – I almost always bake something that goes with ice cream, whether its cookies, brownies, even banana bread is delish. Add some sweet sauce options such as chocolate or caramel, whipped cream, nuts and of course a cherry, and voilà you have a sundae bar! Again, since I can make most of it ahead of time, and the rest is merely set out for people to make their own, I have limited my work while having the guests participate – it’s a win/win!
The Chopping Block has so many great classes this next month that could help you create and practice cooking a dinner party menu of your own:
- Deck the Halls: Holiday Entertaining
- Parisian Pleasures
- Baby It's Cold Outside
- Autumn Soups and Stews
And that's just to name a few! C’mon over to the dinner party team; your friends will love the relaxed comfy vibe, and you will love being able to enjoy the party as much as the guests while getting all the credit. Now that’s my kind of party!