Column: How to Throw a Dinner Party 101

Tomatoes+with+garlic%2C+olive+oil%2C+pepper%2C+and+paprika+roast+in+preparation+for+tomato+soup.+This+can+easily+be+done+a+few+hours+in+advance.+
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Column: How to Throw a Dinner Party 101

Tomatoes with garlic, olive oil, pepper, and paprika roast in preparation for tomato soup. This can easily be done a few hours in advance.

Tomatoes with garlic, olive oil, pepper, and paprika roast in preparation for tomato soup. This can easily be done a few hours in advance.

Photo credit: Anna Allgeyer

Tomatoes with garlic, olive oil, pepper, and paprika roast in preparation for tomato soup. This can easily be done a few hours in advance.

Photo credit: Anna Allgeyer

Photo credit: Anna Allgeyer

Tomatoes with garlic, olive oil, pepper, and paprika roast in preparation for tomato soup. This can easily be done a few hours in advance.

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At some point in life, you will have to host a dinner party. Or co-host or even just help out. I strongly believe that this is an important life skill and something we should all have in our repertoire.

However, the most important part of a dinner party is having fun, which is often something the hostess can only dream of. Spoiler alert: if you plan ahead and keep organized, it’s not that hard to have a great time and keep your guests happy as well. Your kitchen will be 100 (okay more like 90) percent stress-free and a happy place for guests to congregate.

Step 1: Organize

Start the organization a few days ahead. Is this party in the fall?  Summer? Is it a birthday celebration? A Halloween get together?  A party for Aunt Mildred’s retirement? In any case, the recipes will change for every occasion. Cooking with ingredients in season can make any party livelier, and the meal more delicious.

My number one tip is to choose recipes that, for the most part, you can prepare ahead of time so that when party time arrives, you won’t be scrambling to stick things in the oven while guests are walking through the door. Think potato dishes, soups, tarts and slow cooking meat dishes (if your guests are omnivore-friendly).

The one exception to this rule is the salad.  Salad is the easiest dish to assemble in a split second but is not something to be done the night before or in the morning — otherwise, your greens will wilt, and your salad will be sad. Sad salad is no fun.

Pie Prep :)

I prepare my favorite apple cranberry pie the morning before the party. A little Snapchat filter never hurt any pie’s self-confidence.

Step 2: Preparation

Preparation is key. The night before, slice potatoes, prepare doughs and assemble ingredients for the next day.

Start prepping for the meal in the early afternoon of the day of the party. This includes setting the table, slicing things for the salad, actually cleaning your home and baking things in the oven. If you are planning on making a dessert, now is the time.

Time anything that needs to be baked so that it will be done about fifteen minutes before guests arrive. Most things can be kept in a warm oven turned down to 150 degrees or so, and it is always best to have something done early than late.

In this same fifteen-minute window, prep the salad. My favorite salad to make has butter lettuce, baby greens, pomegranate seeds, grapefruit segments, pecans and goat cheese.  It’s as easy as throwing it all in a mixing bowl with some lemon juice and olive oil.  If your salad takes longer than fifteen minutes to assemble, I pity you.

Step 3: The Party

They’re here! Now what?  There are two main options to choose from: a buffet style or a sit-down dinner.

I usually opt for just sitting at the table and passing around the food, as it encourages everyone to start having a great conversation from the moment the party starts. Don’t feel the need to have a salad course and then the main course, but if you’re feeling extra fancy, go for it.

Now, pull everything out of the oven and present it, get ready for the chatter and enjoy yourself. All the hard work is done for now, and you can worry about the dishes afterwards. (Maybe you can recruit a friend to help you. I know I do.) Once everyone has finished their dinner and you sense a lull in the conversation, bring out the dessert. No matter what anyone says, dessert is by far the best part of any dinner.

After it’s over, you can walk people outside and say goodnight, or, if you’re anything like me, you can ask your guests to stay over and watch a movie — it’s your decision.

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