Chef, Actress, and Musician Lexie Roth is this month's guest columnist.
Everyone's dream is to be able to host a dinner party but to also not be stuck in the kitchen. Don’t you want to hang out with your friends?
Allergies & Number of Guests
Before you even plan your menu, who’s coming to dinner? Invite the number of people you know you can handle and that you have room for. Ask about their allergies & preferences with the invite, if you don’t hear back, kindly ask again. Ask if people are vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, have a nut, dairy, soy or shellfish allergy. Plan a menu where you can avoid all allergies. Nowadays, there are so many incredible products you can buy that perform really well, for example, gluten-free soy sauce, or bragg’s liquid aminos for a gluten free and soy free “soy sauce.” There are fantastic gluten-free flour blends, etc. If you have one person with a dairy allergy and you are making cheesy risotto, make a small batch in a separate pan with no cheese, or make it without cheese and serve cheese on the side. There are ways around everything. Just please make sure to use designated separate utensils when handling allergens so you don’t cross contaminate. No one wants to take a trip to a hospital, especially if you’re somewhere rural.
Menu You Can Cook
General Outline for Dinner Party
Make something stationary ahead of time. I love a nice big plate of Crudites and Hummus for people to snack on when they arrive or a meat and cheese plate with grapes and berries. Make a nice big batch of hummus before the party or day before (so you can have leftovers in your fridge), Chop your veggies (if you find small carrots with green tops still attached and radishes with leaves, leave them! This is a “handle” for dipping, plus keeping the greens on keep them fresh and crunchy. Arrange them beautifully, put some hummus in a pretty bowl in the center of a platter that can fit in your fridge, cover and voila, done. On to other things. Cheese and meat plate. I like to use hard salami, cut a few slices as an example, put a knife on the board, allow people to cut more if they’d like, fine to put whole blocks of cheese on board too with a small knife. Put out some bowls of nuts, crackers, olives with a bowl for pits- easy, looks beautiful, very little work.Stress-Free Suggestions:
Crudites Plate with Hummus
Meat and Cheese Plate with Fruit / Crackers / Nuts / Olives
Make your dressing ahead of time. Wash your greens and leave them in the bowl you are going to serve the salad in with a damp paper towel or cloth over them so they don’t wilt. Chop or mandoline any additions to your salad ahead of time and add them right after you lightly dress the greens, grind some pepper and sprinkle with salt and serve. Have some extra dressing on the table in a small gravy boat or pitcher along with two little bowls of salt and pepper if people want to add more. I am a big fan of serving things family style, which means putting that beautiful bowl of salad in the middle of the table with a set of tongs so all your guests have to do is use one hand to serve themselves and pass it around. You want to sit and enjoy time with your friends, not serve plated salads and then have to clear the plates.
Make your soup ahead of time, even the night before if you have room in your fridge to store it. Blenders or Vitamix's are your friends here. If you are making a broccoli, cauliflower, pea, or carrot ginger soup, etc. blend it up, so it’s a smooth consistency. Note: If you can make an indentation with your spoon into the mixture, you’ve made a beautiful puree, not a soup. If it’s too thick, add broth or water to thin it out. Have some crackers, parmesan crisps, or sliced baguette already on the table before guests sit down, nice to have a little crunch or something to sop up the rest of your amazing creation. Warm it up to temperature, do not boil, and keep on a low simmer to low during app/cocktail hour with the soup pot lid on. Set up a bunch of mugs, don’t worry if you don’t have x number of matching mugs, mismatched is cool, next to the stove or next to the soup pot on a coaster, and have people help themselves to soup and bring it to the table. Mugs are great because you can sip and you don’t have to use spoons.
*Have a sturdy tray to collect all used mugs/salad plates from the first course, put aside, don’t worry about the dishes until later, if your friends are really your friends they may offer to help :)*
1-2 Proteins (Meat / Fish / Shellfish / Tempeh / Tofu / Bean Salad etc.)
2 Veggie Sides
Always good to have two options. Let’s say you have grilled chicken thighs on the menu. Grill them before your guests arrive. Grill until the skin is crispy or if you’re grilling skinless chicken, grill until you’ve got some nice grill lines on there then put them in a nice looking casserole dish you intend to serve them in and put them in the oven, covered, in a moderately low heat (250 degrees) to finish cooking. By the time dinner rolls around your chicken will be perfectly cooked, and hot, ready for you to sprinkle some herbs on it and put it on the buffet table or directly onto the table family style. Fish doesn’t take a long time- cook the fish right before you plan to serve it. Have a cold sauce in fridge for fish or hot sauce in small sauce pot simmering and ready to serve with the fish beforehand.
Cold: Cook them far before your guests arrive and allow them to cool before adding other ingredients, leave in the fridge in the bowl you are going to serve them in.
Hot: I love making jasmine rice because it cooks in a matter of minutes and you can let it stay warm on the stove until you’re ready to serve. Add any additions or flare right before you serve. You do not need to be cooking grains while your friends are at your place.
Marinate / roast / prepare ahead of time if the veggies of your choice can allow it. If you are using really tender vegetables best to cook it as the last thing you do before your dinner party, besides lighting candles... Chose one side that you can do ahead of time and reheat (example: roasted carrots) and one that you can quickly whip up. Maybe for your second side, you wilt some spinach in a saute pan real quick while your friend is with you having a drink in the kitchen? Cool. You can add that spinach to your already hot grilled corn and roasted tomato side for instance.
Have a stack of bowls/plates ready to go for the number of guests before the party starts.
-Chocolate Bars: Break them apart, serve with berries put in the center of the table
-Buy some pastries from somewhere you like that you don’t have to cut and serve on plates
-Always keep a decent amount of ice-cream or sorbet in your freezer for moments like this, take the tops off and put them in a large bowl with ice surrounding the pints and put on a table with a bunch of spoons
-Bust out that cheese plate again
-Fruit crumble: One big baked crumble made ahead of time that you keep warm in the oven served with a big spoon- pass it around, add some ice-cream and you have a happy crowd.
So now you have your menu.
If you care in the slightest about where you are sourcing your humanely raised meat / cheese / fish / vegetables (which I hope you do) call ahead, say how many people you are feeding, if you are unsure, the farmer, fishmonger, butcher, dairy farmer, or the department at your local market usually can guide you on how much to get. Calling and placing orders ahead of time is always a good move. The store knows how much to re-stock, farmers can depend on a sale, you’re not running around sweaty going to a million different stores wasting your time, it’s a win-win. Always get more than less. You want enough for people to get seconds, and leftovers are awesome. Even if you do not cook for a living, in the summertime, keep cooler bags, or a cooler in your car with ice if you are driving around shopping. When you are serving people food, you are responsible for keeping them safe, which means keeping perishables at a proper temperature.
Marinades, dips, dessert, soup, salad dressing, do it all ahead of time. Don’t get your pans hot unless you are completely prepped. Pretend you are on the line at a fast pace diner. Haven’t you ever peeked into the kitchen and saw everything chopped and ready to go? Silver tins of perfectly prepped ingredients waiting for you to cook with them? This is key. Prep everything. Think of how to save time. If you have dried beans, soak them the night before, marinate your chicken or steak the night before, do all of your shopping the day before or early in the morning the day of your event. Chop onions, marinate your meat, chop herbs, have them all in separate bowls, so you are ready to rock and roll.
Setting The Scene
Set your table / bar/buffet table (if you aren’t doing family style) before you start cooking.
- All silverware needed for every course
- Dinner plate
- Salad Plate if On Menu
- Dessert plate or bowl set aside in a stack
- Flowers (Something pretty growing outside? Clip it. A few single stems in a tiny glasses along a table goes a long way)
- Platters / Serving Dishes: Can you serve food in the same cookware you cooked in? Most of the time. Try to do it as much as possible!
- Chill wine and beer and make sure you have plenty of ice
- Full Bar? Put out your alcohol with your non-fruit juice mixers and have a cooler or bag of ice waiting for use.
- Slice lemons and limes right before guests arrive
- Have some mint growing or anything cool to add to drinks? Put it out!
Go take a shower, go for a swim, have a drink, whatever it takes to chill you out, go do it. If you are as prepared as much as you can be, then suddenly realize you’re missing that ONE key ingredient, it may not even matter. Happy cooking!
About Lexie Roth