Some tips and tricks so you enjoy the party as much as your guests.
Before we even get to hosting, let’s take a moment to talk about pantries. I admit that I’m more invested in my pantry than most people. Cheap olive oil, non-fragrant herbs and spices from two years ago (or worse, NO HERBS), highly granulated over-processed sea salt …when I see friends’ kitchens deadened by these predicaments, it all makes me cry a bit inside.
Investing in even a few good pantry items and actually using them will amp up your cooking beyond compare. I put a lot of the products I use on a daily-ish basis out in front of me within arms reach. I cook something very simple but by seeing the herbs in front of my face I think ‘I’ll sprinkle a little this or that’. Then I eat my food and think ‘I am a genius’ when in fact I’m just preempting my lazy-self by putting things out where I can see them, and making my food taste more interesting as a result.
I bring this up because even if you can’t recreate all the recipes contained in these pages, you can start by investing in a few. You might say, ‘Hey, I don’t have access to fancy salt or a budget for bougie olive oil’, but do you have internet? Because if you do, you can be like me and order a massive bulk canister of excellent olive oil online and refill your oil bottle for 5 months (or 3 if you’re me). Or if you’re lazy, you can order a few good quality herbs or salt straight to your door. It’s that easy and makes a world of difference.
Drinks and Setting the Moooood
A host sets the mood. What does this mean.
Setting the mood doesn’t need to be too calculated or overthought, nor should it be overlooked. Just think about the last dinner party or restaurant experience that you really enjoyed. Were there bright lights? I hope not. Loud music? Maybe, but preferably not. Servers asking to take your plate while you were still chewing? Unfortunately, possibly. Try to tailor your dinner table to some of those experiences at home. Put on some relaxed music, or turn off a bright lamp to warm the atmosphere. Having a glass of wine in hand when your guests arrive doesn’t hurt either.
Tasks are also a great way to have guests contribute to the party. After all, there’s no rule that you have to do everything, this is dinner, no one is expecting a Michelin. I have a small kitchen and don’t want to play teacher for dinner, but saving tasks like mixologist or table-setter are great ways to get people involved while you wrap up the final touches on a dinner.
An essential part of setting the mood is, of course, the drinks. Not shots people, drinks. Think about what you’re serving and ask guests to contribute accordingly. Don’t be afraid to delegate and ask for what you need. You’re not a bar and people feel nice when they can contribute. If you need ice or mixers, ask and ye shall receive.
I don’t like having too many hors d’oeuvres when people arrive because I don’t want people to fill up before dinner. But I also don’t want hangry guests who inhale the meal the moment we sit down. To avoid this I usually have something simple like olives, crudités with a light dip, or nuts, plus drinks when people arrive. Always have drinks when people arrive. You will achieve this by following the advice above by asking people to bring the drinks. You can also ask guests to bring the bites and specify what you want. Even a bag of chips is great. Put them in a bowl and voila.
These ideas might seem obvious but think about that time you arrived at a dinner party and the cook was quarantined in the kitchen, frazzled and more concerned about dishing out the goods than enjoying the party. By delegating and setting the mood with a drink, some bites, and small tasks, you’ll set a relaxed tone for yourself and your guest.
Clearing of the Plates
Ask any of my close friends and they’ll tell you that I’m a bit militant when it comes to clearing plates. When I lived in Greece I loved that servers left you alone and by the end of the meal, you’d walk away from a table strewn with empty plates and glasses, painted with wine and olive oil stains; a sign of a good time. As such, I forbid my guests from clearing plates as the meal goes on and when we transition into dessert. Having a table-clearing session is often a sharp disruption to the mood. You might think, ‘what are you talking about, we always clear plates and it’s not a big deal,’ and that might be true. But just try not doing that sometime and see what happens. You’ll probably notice that people will continue to eat and drink a bit more, a relaxed mood and more conversation have time to develop, and next thing you know, five hours have passed.
When it’s time for dessert, I usually remove one or two of the main dishes from the table, just enough to make room for whatever I’ve prepared for dessert. I often serve dessert that doesn’t require more plates and can be eaten with hands because it’s easy and just as good as something elaborate. This is also something you can ask people to bring. My go-to dessert is fresh fruit and chocolate bars. It’s easy, sweet, and not too filing after a big meal. If you must clear or re-plate for dessert, try to limit things to one person getting up to help. Life’s too short to worry about cleaning!