Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Hosting a Dinner Party

Having a dinner party can be fun, if you’re properly prepared. Preparation shouldn’t be onerous, but avoid shopping at 6 PM for a party that starts at 7! My more elaborate parties are on weekends, when I can be sure that all of the ingredients are lined up and that I have sufficient time to cook. However, if the time is right, don’t fear having a less elaborate one on a weekday. Rather than preparing eight to ten dishes, I might just do four. Or, I’ll buy my appetizers and opt for pre-prepared desserts. The key is to enjoy the process and have fun.

I like to serve a lot of small bites of food to 6-8 people. The Spanish would call this tapas, but whatever you call it, the first bite or two are the most flavorful. Typically, guests are poured drinks while we’re waiting for everyone to arrive. Folks hang out in the kitchen or living room chatting. When everyone’s arrived, we all sit down to the appetizers laid out across the table. Typically they are mildly spiced so that future dishes (and wines!) are fully tasted. As they begin to disappear, I’ll bring out a small soup dish, followed up by one or more main dishes, a salad course, a cheese plate and perhaps a dessert. However, you should feel free to mix and match as you wish.

What if you have fewer or more guests? Just adjust the number of dishes you prepare. What about kids? If they’re adventurous include them in the party. If they’re older, include them in the party because they’re going to be part of the solution. If they’re young and having a good time, just make a batch of pasta and let them play. If you’re rushed, cook fewer courses and have bigger portions. However, by having a variety of courses, there will (hopefully) be something for everyone and all guests get to experience a variety of different flavors. But ultimately, cooking should be fun, not a chore. And eating with your friends and neighbors should be enjoyable and stimulating, not a daunting task.

The book is arranged by courses: drinks, tapas/appetizers, soups, mains, salads, desserts. Pick and chose what you want to prepare. I serve a lot of wine with dinners. Some of our friends often start with a sparkling wine, a custom that I should embrace. White and sparkling wines are less likely to numb your taste buds than strong drinks or heavy red wines early in a dinner. Salads, with taste-bud dampening dressings, are served later to preserve the palate as well. If we have a cheese course, I often end with a California zinfandel. I provide filtered tap water because bottled water has a huge carbon footprint. I’ve recently discovered the gas bottle kits that allow you to make fizzy water out of your tap water. We drink much more water now that we have an endless supply of lightly bubbled water.

While this is a book about hosting dinner parties you can cook these recipes any day and use them for lunches and dinners. Indeed, you may wish to cook them once for yourself before cooking them for guests just so that you can figure out your own timing and thus better plan your meal. Cooking and eating can be fun. Salude! Enjoy!

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