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Everyday Entertaining: Making the case for a Friday night dinner party

Dinner parties on a Friday night are more casual and carefree thanks to the better planning they require. They’re also a good way to squeeze more out of the weekend.

ILEANA MORALES VALENTINE | Special to the Times

Dinner parties on a Friday night are more casual and carefree thanks to the better planning they require. They’re also a good way to squeeze more out of the weekend.

Here's a radical idea: Get home from work on Friday and host a dinner party.

That's right. Friday, not Saturday.

The idea was born out of necessity. Saturdays are more likely to get booked with other events, leaving Fridays often free for dinner. And the more I do this, the more I want to host on Fridays.

With less time to cook, there is also less pressure. A dinner party on Friday is instantly more casual, and the short window from quitting time on Friday to dinner party mode forces me to get organized with a menu and a game plan for executing it. If I have all Saturday to get to the farmers market and spend the day cooking, I probably will. I'm likely to get more ambitious with what I'm cooking. But for a Friday, almost everything is made ahead. My menu has to be more relaxed, and as a result so am I.

There's another bonus benefit: We tidy the house on the weekdays leading up to the dinner, so it's a task that's done by dinnertime. My house is cleaner and happier and filled with friends more frequently. Friday night dinner parties change lives!

Recently, I served Shepherd's Pie and Chocolate Guinness Cake for four. (Why, yes, it was St. Patrick's Day.)

On Wednesday, I braised the lamb stew after dinner. After cooling, it went into the fridge in the same Dutch oven in which it was cooked. On Thursday, I made a simple chocolate cake enhanced with Guinness stout. As the cake baked, I mashed potatoes and spread them over the lamb stew, which I had transferred to a 13- by 9-inch baking dish. By Friday, all that was left to make was an easy frosting that I spread across the cake when I got home from work.

With a Friday night dinner party, I'm also more inclined to take up someone's offer to bring something. Our friends showed up with a so-called Irish pub salad that made the night's menu even more exciting; it was a surprise for me, the cook, and my friend was clearly proud of his contribution. If your friends want to bring more than just a bottle of wine, let them.

When we celebrate on Friday nights, it also feels like we're squeezing more out of the weekend. You know how everyone loves Fridays more than Sundays even though most people actually work on Friday and Sunday is a full day off? It's about anticipation — of the possibilities of a couple of days off versus a looming Monday morning and commitments. By getting right to the good food and good company as soon as the weekend begins, you can maximize the weekend and set a better tone for the next couple of days. So tell your friends: Dinner's on Friday at your house.

Ileana Morales Valentine can be reached at ileanamvalentine@gmail.com. Follow @alittlesaffron.

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Tips for a Friday night (or any weeknight) dinner party

• This isn't the best time to try a new recipe. Make something you know is delicious and reliable — and make it ahead.

• Write out a game plan for what you'll do in the week leading up to the Friday night dinner, including what you'll do each day to prepare for the party.

• Keep the menu simple: a snack or salad to get you started, a main course and a dessert.

• Keep the drinks simple, too: My house drink is a gin and tonic, and our friends know it. They mix it themselves, or it's a quick one for my husband and me to make and serve. Wine is also a staple of a Friday night dinner party. There's no need to play bartender all night.

Some ideas for what to serve

Snacks

• A cheese board with one or two cheeses, crackers, fruit and pickled vegetables. This can be assembled the morning of the dinner and stored (cheese kept in their wrappers until serving) in the fridge. Bring to room temperature about an hour before serving.

• An herb-roasted nut mix.

• A simple, no-frills baby arugula salad with dressing made or bought earlier in the week.

Dinner

• Braised meat that can be reheated the night of the party. Think braised chicken, roasted pork shoulder or curry. That pork shoulder could be shredded before friends show up and then served with all the fixings for a build-your-own-taco night.

• A one-pot meat and grain or pasta dish. Think meatballs and orzo.

• Fish en papillote. For something light and in individual portions, prepare the pouches the morning before the party and store in the fridge on a sheet pan. Pop the pan in the oven and bake when friends arrive.

Dessert

• Bake a single-layer cake the night before, and top it with a simple glaze or dusting of powdered sugar just before guests arrive. Something simple like Marian Burros' famous Original Plum Torte, reprinted again and again in the New York Times, is perfect.

• Granita made earlier in the week and stored in the freezer. Coffee and watermelon are great flavors.

• Store-bought or homemade ice cream made earlier and stored in the freezer. Serve with crushed cookies and a homemade version of Magic Shell. To make the chocolate coating: Break up 3 ½ ounces dark chocolate into several pieces and add to a medium microwave-safe bowl. Add ⅓ cup coconut oil. Microwave in 15-second bursts, stirring between each round, until chocolate and oil are melted and combined, a total of about 45 seconds. The liquid mixture will be thin. You can use a spoon to add chocolate to ice cream or transfer to a squeeze bottle; the cold ice cream will cause the chocolate mixture to harden after several seconds. (Note: Chocolate coating will keep at room temperature in an airtight container for several months. If it separates over time, shake before using.)

• A selection of Girl Scout cookies.

Everyday Entertaining: Making the case for a Friday night dinner party 04/04/17 [Last modified: Monday, April 3, 2017 4:36pm]
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