Monday, May 21, 2018
Cooking

Tips for throwing dinner parties from a seasoned pro

I was cocky. I had nearly finished cooking school, I could make a genoise and a decent hollandaise. But, in much the way an amateur juggler who has mastered the basic three-ball cascade assumes she's ready for four, I was overconfident. In juggling, difficulty increases exponentially as you add objects. I'm pretty sure the same holds true in cooking.

My first dinner party, and many to follow, were studies in reckless overambition. Too many dishes, too many things that had to be done last minute, too many showy and expensive ingredients. I would open the door to my dinner guests feeling shaky and disheveled, the evening spent in a swirl so I was never quite in attendance at my own party.

I'm wiser now. Here are the things I've learned.

Make food ahead. Certain cuisines lend themselves to this. A French boeuf bourguignon is impressive and really tastes better if it sits a day or two. Indian food — lentil dal, chana masala, chicken curry — it can all be made ahead and frozen, then the day of your party make rice, put out chutneys and condiments, pop some poppadum in the microwave. Or how about a chili party? A traditional beef, one with chicken and tomatillos, and a third veggie version (all freezeable), then all you need is corn bread, chips, sour cream, shredded cheddar and a deep arsenal of hot sauces.

More in the mood for hors d'oeuvres? Phyllo dough and puff pastry lend themselves to freezables. Make a couple each week in the month before a party and the freezer will be full of bake-and-serves. Supplement these with doctored store-bought items: cucumber rounds piped with salmon cream cheese; a "meze" platter of purchased hummus, feta, olives, roasted red peppers and pita wedges. If you are doing passed hors d'oeuvres, stagger hot and cold dishes so that the voracious don't camp out near your oven door.

• People can, and will, congregate in the kitchen in the most inconvenient location, in plain sight of a perfectly lovely living room couch. Arrange food in different parts of your house — wine and cocktails on the patio, a buffet table in the family room, desserts in a hallway. This gets people out of your kitchen and circulating. If carpeting is an issue, consider throwing down a cheapie area rug.

• At the beginning of a party, there's a bottleneck at the bar. Premixing batches of "signature" mixed drinks (maybe something retro — Harvey Wallbangers? Monkey Glands?) or punch can get a drink in everyone's hand in no time. Once your pitchers are empty, people seem content to mix their own drinks (you can even have a couple of recipes out for inspiration) or switch to wine.

And feel adventuresome: People get hung up on vodka being the "universal solvent." Most party guests are willing to try a featured cocktail, especially if it has a fun name. (By the way: Martini glasses get very sloshy as guests get likewise. Regular highball-shaped glasses are safer and all-purpose.)

Know how much booze to buy. A standard bottle of wine or liquor (often called a fifth) holds 750 milliliters, or a little more than 25 ounces. Let's say you're prebatching a pitcher of margaritas that uses 8 ½ ounces of tequila. You'll get almost three pitchers of margaritas from one bottle of tequila. That same size bottle of gin or bourbon will make 16 individual drinks. Plan accordingly.

• People will lose their drink and pour another one. People will use an unconscionable number of napkins. Count on five paper plates, napkins and glasses per person, and try to limit standup cocktail party foods to those that can be eaten with fingers or only a fork. And although inelegant, it's important to have garbage cans placed near any buffet station and the drinks station (with recycling bins for bottles and cans).

• Here's the most important one: Accept help. Invited a wallflower or two? Ask them to do something specific in the kitchen. They'll be more comfortable and you can use the extra hands. This means that before the party starts you need to identify tasks you are willing to delegate. And even if you prepare party food and drink yourself, consider hiring a server to pass food, scoop up empties and clean the kitchen as the party progresses.

Contact Laura Reiley at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley.

Comments
Taste test: new (and very sugary) cereals

Taste test: new (and very sugary) cereals

My addiction to sugar began as a child. I loved sugary breakfast cereals as a morning meal or an evening snack, the sweeter the better. We used to joke in my house that I even added table sugar to Froot Loops, Frosted Flakes and Lucky Charms. Thankfu...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Five ideas for sleep-friendly midnight snacks

Five ideas for sleep-friendly midnight snacks

When the clock strikes midnight, I reach for the cookie jar. Okay, maybe itís not an actual jar ó maybe Iím even lazier, and I reach for the cardboard box of chocolate chip cookies I bought from the store. The point is, my late-night snack habits are...
Published: 05/16/18
Exploring alternative tea drinks to toast Prince Harry and Meghan Markleís royal wedding

Exploring alternative tea drinks to toast Prince Harry and Meghan Markleís royal wedding

The year was 2011. It was the night before Prince Williamís wedding to Kate Middleton, and I stood in my kitchen making chocolate chip scones. I set my alarm for 3:30 a.m., with plans to sit in the spare bedroom of the townhome and watch Britainís ro...
Published: 05/15/18
Taste test: pineapple juice

Taste test: pineapple juice

Having always loved a fresh pineapple stick in my brewed iced tea, I wondered recently if a splash of pineapple juice would give it the same sweet kick. While few of us drink pure pineapple juice, our panelists definitely enjoy an occasional watered-...
Published: 05/14/18
Branch out: Give Sauteed Asparagus in Soy Sauce Glaze a try

Branch out: Give Sauteed Asparagus in Soy Sauce Glaze a try

Asparagus is by far the favorite vegetable of my family. I can serve nearly 3 pounds of asparagus a couple of times a week to my family of six, and my girls will still argue over who gets the last stalk. I say this not to impress you with the adventu...
Published: 05/11/18
Five ideas for Motherís Day breakfasts

Five ideas for Motherís Day breakfasts

Are you stumped for Motherís Day ideas? Donít stress. This year, surprise the mothers in your life with a special breakfast that fits perfectly with their personalities. Whether she loves the tradition of breakfast-in-bed or prefers her meals on the ...
Published: 05/09/18
Updated: 05/10/18
Review: Rick Bragg’s ‘The Best Cook in the World’ a loving food memoir about his mother

Review: Rick Bragg’s ‘The Best Cook in the World’ a loving food memoir about his mother

When Rick Bragg told his mother that his new book about her would be titled The Best Cook in the World, Margaret Bragg protested: "I wasn’t even the best cook that lived on our road." Bragg writes, "I told her we couldn’t call it The Thi...
Published: 05/09/18
Making granola at home is easy and scrumptious with this Maple Cashew Granola

Making granola at home is easy and scrumptious with this Maple Cashew Granola

If Iím being honest, most of what I do in the kitchen is recreate really delicious things Iíve eaten somewhere else. No, it never tastes the same, but itís a useful way to get cooking inspiration, and also to not spend $10 on something it takes $2 to...
Published: 05/08/18
Updated: 05/09/18
Recipe for Slow Cooked Pork Roast

Recipe for Slow Cooked Pork Roast

Slowly cooking a big hunk of tough, inexpensive meat isnít just the best way to cook this cut of meat. Itís really the only way. Most tough cuts of meat come from the hardest working parts of the animal, and therefore have a lot of collagen. This col...
Published: 05/08/18
Taste test: New frozen chocolate treats

Taste test: New frozen chocolate treats

With longer summer nights on the horizon, our judges are always looking for a new cool treat to beat the heat. This week they sampled four new chocolate offerings found in local grocery store freezers. A couple were pool party worthy and others were ...
Published: 05/07/18