With the weather finally cooling down and the holidays fast approaching, I find myself longing for a warm and cozy gathering with family and friends. Oddly enough, I actually feel like cooking for these psychos. I'm thinking a roaring fireplace, flowing wine, great food and even better times.
Since I don't have a fireplace and my two hanging wine racks are currently filled with empty bottles, it seems like I may have quite a bit of work to do. Fortunately for me, Emeril Lagasse recently provided us with a couple of tips on taking the intimidation factor out of hosting your first dinner party. With some basic Do's and Don'ts, a lot of wine (Spec's here I come), and a wee bit of effort, anyone can throw an amazing dinner party.
Before The Party
Do: Get to know your guests - I mean you're having them over for dinner - so hopefully you do already know these people. Just make sure to ask about any allergies or aversions to food so that you can take them into account when planning the menu. The last thing you want is a trip to the emergency room after your guest's face blows up from your famous Shrimp Pad Thai.
Don't: Let your guests' specifications drive you crazy - So let me get this straight. Megan doesn't like parsley, Ashley you hate corn, Rob prefers dishes without onions, tomatoes or anything green, Marisa only eats foods prepared by way of microwave, and Brian won't eat anything that's not chicken parm. Okay, I think I got it. Anyone have an aversion to foods that are white and start with H? Just checking. Make sure allergies are taken into account, but it's not necessary to drive yourself insane with the minute details. If your guests insist, get new guests.
Do: Plan ahead with a menu that has prep work - Create a menu plan that allows you to do the lion's share of the work ahead of time. When you're guests arrive, you want to be a host, not a maniac covered in gravy running around the kitchen like a chicken without a head.
Don't: Give yourself too much prep work - I'm feeling good. The guests are coming in five minutes and I've just finished mincing the garlic, slicing the onions, toasting the walnuts, cutting the cheeses, rolling the prosciutto, baking the bread, balling the melons, washing the lettuce, mixing the dressing, ricing the potatoes, grating the carrots, and roasting the vegetables. I have the citrus glaze going, the herb butter prepared, the torch is ready to go on the crème brulee. Just have to bake the individual zucchini au gratins, set up the crepe station for dessert and check on the chicken. So I have flour all over myself- who cares? I'll just do a quick wash up and throw on some makeup and...The chicken...I FORGOT THE #*$)@*%'N CHICKEN! Daaaaave - Get me the number for Dominoes stat! They still have that 5 for 5 special right?
Do: Allow your guests to bring something - If they ask, let your guests know they can bring something simple and easy (wine, cheese, cookies, etc.).
Don't: Be a bitch about it - When you get the inevitable phone call from your guest asking what can they bring, don't suggest your favorite bundt cake that happens to be $75 and from a bakery 45 minutes away.
Do: Prepare something you've made before - I know, I know - you just got back from Morocco, but a dinner party is not the time to try your hand at your very first Chicken Tagine.
Don't: Go with the classic hamburger helper solely because it's your specialty - If you're a novice in the kitchen, practice a simple recipe like roast chicken or baked three cheese penne a few times before.
Do: Prepare for about five extra people - It's always better to have more food than not enough. No one wants their guests afraid to take second helpings (flashback to the Thanksgiving my dad did the food shopping and insisted on buying only one turkey breast for about 10 people - everyone put about one or two meager slivers on their plate in an attempt to save enough for the next person).
Don't: Forget to keep the actual number of people that are attending in mind - You're not feeding an army. There is no need to make such an insane amount that you force feed your guests or guilt them into taking home 3 containers of leftovers. Oh and Danielle, I will need that Tupperware back - you can drop if off next week. Thanks, hon - goodnight!
At the party
Do: Loosen up and set the mood - Enjoy a cocktail or a nice glass of wine before your guests arrive. It will ease your tensions and ease theirs, setting the mood for a nice, fun, and relaxing evening.
Don't: Be loose - No guest wants to be greeted by an inebriated host practically humping their leg as they walk through the door. Scratch that - that's totally a lie. If that happened I'd totally find it hilarious, but you get the point.
Do: Serve a few appetizers and pre-dinner cocktails to get the conversations flowing.
Don't : Serve too many appetizers; This isn't a wedding - We've just finished our cream of mushroom soup, fried calamari, spinach and artichoke dip, penne vodka, selection of artisan cheeses, handmade breads and crackers, mini quiches, shrimp bruschetta, and truffled mac and cheese bites. I can't wait for everyone to try the braised short ribs with cauliflower puree and roasted vegetables that I've spent all day preparing - I just know everyone's going to rave....So, why hasn't anyone tried it yet? Something's wrong here. I've never seen Lauren not touch her wine...and Dave looks like he's about to pull a Christmas 2009 and throw up all over the table. Come to think of it, just seeing the short ribs on the table is making me feel a little (runs upstairs to bathroom).
Do: Have plenty of booze - Have fun with it. Pick a theme or stick with a few simple classics. Enjoy wine with dinner and set up a simple and fun pre-dinner cocktail bar for guests to make their own cocktails. The perfect bar includes a few different types of liquor, mixers, and garnish. You can even set out handwritten note cards with popular cocktail recipes right at the bar.
Don't: Stress about having every kind of booze - There's no need to spend your last three pay checks making sure you have every ingredient on hand in case someone wants an Old Fashioned or a Malibu Bay Breeze. Learn how to stock up and create the perfect party-worthy cocktail bar.
Do: Have a great playlist prepared - Set the mood with music. Fill your playlist with your favorites, from classics to the latest pop rock, and play it before, during, and after dinner.
Don't: Forget volume control - No one wants to listen to Eminem's latest LP blasting during dinner. Brooke, this chicken is delicious. What's that Seth? I SAID THIS CHICKEN IS DELICOUS. Yea, I like that album too. FUCK YOU BROOKE. Thanks Seth - love you too.
Do: Serve dessert away from the dinner table - Moving to a new area keeps the mood fresh and alive. Plus, you won't have to clear the table and wash the dishes with your guests still present.
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Don't: Forget the coffee - People like their coffee. Even if you're lame and you don't like having any after 9 p.m., serve it anyway. I know anyone in my family will talk shit about you the entire way home if you don't have coffee after dinner, even if the dinner was awesome (that sounds incredibly asshole-ish, but we just really love our coffee). So if you want to keep in everyone's good graces, make sure to have some brewed.
In the end, Do: Enjoy yourself and Don't: Sweat the small stuff.