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Friday Night Dinner Party I

May  1, 2012

Tad arranging peonies

My husband, Tad, and I love to throw dinner parties. We used to have lots of them, and they were ambitious events with a dozen guests, too many courses, and drinking late into the night. And then we got caught up with this thing called parenting, and our dinner party muscles atrophied. We've held a rowdy music group and pizza night for parents and kids from the time our twins were tots but that was the extent of our party hosting.

Recently, things changed. We had some friends over for dinner in January. Our kids served hors d'oeuvres and went to bed without pause. Soon after we had a Food52 party at our apartment, and the blood began flowing back into our veins. We promised ourselves to get back into party shape. But this time with a different strategy -- because no matter how gracious a host you are, the success of a dinner party depends in large part on your strategy.

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 Getting the pie dough ready The table set the day before

Our Rules

1. We'd stick to a maximum of 6 guests -- enough for lively conversation but not so many that we had to run our dishwasher 3 times after the party.

2. We'd have our parties on Friday evenings. Tad and I both have intense jobs, so this may sound crazy, but having parties on Friday evenings would force us to be more disciplined in our planning. If you have a dinner on Friday night, your menu can't be too ambitious or fussy. And the planning wouldn't suck up the energy of an entire weekend day. Instead, I could plan the menu a week ahead, and complete it in parts throughout the week so all we'd need to do on Friday after work is arrange the hors d'oeuvres, cook the vegetables, and light the candles.

3. Bonus point -- people stay latest and are the most at ease on Fridays, after their work week has just ended. We want our party guests looking forward to an evening of fun, not plotting their departure because they have to get to work the next morning.

The short ribs, the night before The living room ready 

I hope this will be the first of many Friday night dinner menus I can share with you. Here's how we pulled off the first one:


Olives, Crackers with Shrimp Paste and Pickled Ramps, Coppa, Baby Radishes with Salted Butter

Asparagus with April Bloomfield's Lemon Caper Dressing

Dan Barber's Braised Short Ribs, Tad's Roasted Potatoes, Glazed Carrots with Braised Bibb Lettuce

Straight-Up Rhubarb Pie


Cooked food for the week for our kids. Steak; creamed kale; asparagus salad, etc. This way I knew they'd be well fed while I spent the rest of the evenings working on components of the dinner party.

Printed the recipes and made a shopping list.


I had a work event. No dinner party duties!


Tad ordered the wine, and I shopped for all but the vegetables.

Made the pie pastry, shrimp paste, and whisked together the Lemon Caper Dressing.


Braised the short ribs; let the cooking juices chill in the fridge.

Tad arranged flowers for the table, living room, and bathroom, and made sure the bathrooms had enough toilet paper.

Set the table (kids ate in their room on Friday -- presented it to them as an adventure!)

Pie baked on Friday morning Plates and platters set out the day before

Friday Morning

Spooned the fat off the top of the short ribs braising liquid; put the pot back in the fridge.

Baked the pie while packing the kids' lunches.

Shopped for radishes, asparagus, lettuce, and carrots at the Greenmarket on my way to work. Found ramps, so I decided to add pickled ramps as a garnish on top of the shrimp paste.

Friday After Work

Set out all the hors d'oeuvres and cocktail napkins.

Prepped and cooked the carrots. Pickled the ramps.

Despite 3 soaking/washing sessions with the asparagus, when I sauteed it, it oozed grit. Thankfully, I did it in batches. Tossed out the first batch. Continued washing the asparagus. Had a minor freak out, kicked everyone out of the kitchen; Tad talked me down from the ledge. Cooked the rest of the asparagus, and decided to, yes, serve our guests asparagus with dirt. Roughage! ***

Reduced the short ribs braising liquid to a nice sauce, and arranged the short ribs in a pot for reheating in the oven.

Tad roasted the potatoes.

Set out new soap in the bathrooms; replaced the towels. Checked to make sure our kids hadn't left any unpleasant surprises.

Tad lit the candles and handled the music and cocktails.

Saturday Morning Quarterbacking

The Friday night plan worked seamlessly. I probably cooked too much, but hey, I was excited to see our friends, and they care a lot about food, so I wanted them to enjoy the meal.

By Sunday night, we'd already planned the next one for early June. I find that hosting dinners is a lot like flying or public speaking. The more often you do it, the easier it becomes.

More soon! In the meantime, hope you'll tell me about your dinner party strategies. Or if you try this one, let me know what you think.

Hors d'oeuvres set out an hour before the party

*** For the record, the next day I ran into Dan Barber and he told me they always blanch local asparagus so all the grit is released into the cooking water. Next time!

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A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).

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Amanda Hesser

Written by: Amanda Hesser

Before starting Food52 with Merrill, I was a food writer and editor at the New York Times. I've written several books, including "Cooking for Mr. Latte" and "The Essential New York Times Cookbook." I played myself in "Julie & Julia" -- hope you didn't blink, or you may have missed the scene! I live in Brooklyn with my husband, Tad, and twins, Walker and Addison.


luvcookbooks September 8, 2012
Inspiring. My kids are much older than yours but I haven't gotten as organized as you are. I'm going to hang on to this post and try to do some Friday evenings, liked yr comment about people being able to stay up late because they don't have to go to work the next day. Once a year for the past two years a food friend and I have had a Sunday Sundae party, centered around home made ice cream and toppings. We just had a sundae at Mozza that may be the inspiration for nextyear's sundae, caramel ice cream with homemade marshmallow sauce topped with salted peanuts.
Amanda H. September 8, 2012
Sunday Sundaes -- love this. May need to intro this concept to our kids. Also, just a heads up, we have a whole bunch of ice cream recipes we'll be posting next week from our ice cream contest!
BoulderGalinTokyo May 31, 2012
Enjoyed reading about your party. Each time will be a new learning experience, but that's part of the fun of giving a party. Never thought about having rules. P.S. Beautiful fireplace!
hayley May 31, 2012
Would love to see more dinner party menus! Is there another section where other people have shared their own?
Amanda H. May 31, 2012
There isn't a section ... yet. I'm having another party next week so I'll feature that one soon after, and we've been talking about adding a menu-making section, but that may take a while to build.
lorelu May 16, 2012
Perhaps parenting intensively, I decided to get into "party shape" too. Thanks for sharing your contagious enthusiasm and strategy to put together a wonderful menu. Your menu relieved me from stressing over the menu selection and allowed me to concentrate on my strategy which required balancing a short notice invitation and my four and one year olds helping with the "mise-en-place" under the butcher's block. We had 6 grown-ups and a one year old sitting at the dinning table, and 4 boys ages 3 and 4 at a little table next to ours. The children loved the short ribs and spaghetti (this last was my children-firendly addition to the menu) and loved the "bob the builder" movie they watched after their dessert while the grown-ups were still dinning. I have to say this was a very successful 5-to-8-weeknight-children included-dinner-party! Thanks so much!
Amanda H. May 18, 2012
Sounds terrific -- so glad you did it! Thanks for letting me know. Hope there will be more in your future! Our next one is scheduled for June 8.
witloof May 15, 2012
I don't know if anyone else has commented about grit in asparagus, so forgive me if this is a repeat. I had the same problem and complained about it to one of the vendors, who suggested that I swish the asparagus up and down in a bowl of water with the heads inverted.
Amanda H. May 15, 2012
I wish this worked -- I swished them every which way and many times, and I couldn't get out the grit. I think heat (aka boiling water) is the only way to truly get all of it out.
Merilynch May 7, 2012
I also love the idea of Friday night dinner parties. And the prep work you shared in this article is so very helpful. I just have a comment for those that have small places and back off from entertaining because of it. A friend of mine has wonderful dinner parties with fabulous menus. She serves buffet style with a lovely presentation of the food with beautiful serving pieces (the silverware is placed in glasses). She also decorates with interesting flower arrangements. But instead of setting up a formal table, she uses her cocktail table. Sofa on one side, living room chairs on the other and sides. She's also uses her ottoman with a nice solid tray on top for another table. These parties are so enjoyable. They don't seem so casual because she brings out her best dishes, serving pieces, linen napkins.... And it brings us all together in a warm and intimate way. I often find this style of entertaining much more enjoyable than a formal table.
LLStone May 4, 2012
I love your wood counter top! What kind of wood is it? And the round table is beautiful. Food looks great, too.
Amanda H. May 4, 2012
Thank you! The countertop is black walnut and I ordered it here (and then had it cut and installed to fit): http://www.butcherblockco.com/walnut-edge-grain-1-5-thick.html My husband bought the round table in Morocco like 20 years ago!
LLStone May 4, 2012
Thanks for the link. I think it is so cool that the manufacturer, John Boos, is from Effingham, IL. That's like an hour from here! Anyway, it's a gorgeous counter top - and the cutting boards look great, too. I'm going to check and see if he has a workshop/studio that I could visit since he's so close.
Tori H. May 4, 2012
Inspiring stuff- to me 6 is the perfect number too- and not just because that's all we can fit at our table in a small London flat. I find having a tasting platter to start, then a braise for main and a pudding I've prepared ahead of time is the key to having a good evening. About half way through the night my husband and I do a switch and he takes over the kitchen, rinsing dishes and getting tea and coffee- that way both of us get the chance to enjoy the party
BavarianCook May 4, 2012
Great article and I love the idea of doing it Fridays. I would enjoy being invited somewhere on a Friday night myself, it's a great way to end the workweek. You laid out nicely how it can be done when the prep work is mapped out properly, and it's doable then. Very cool!!!
pnavarro May 3, 2012
It's one thing to say you are going to plan a weekday dinner party --and another to do it! Thanks so much for this article and breaking down all the steps you did each day before the big night. I'm using it as a guideline for my next dinner party!
I love this post. My husband and I have also begun having more dinner parties now that our children are a bit older. We tend to have larger parties and I prepare a dish a day during the week. You have inspired me to figure out how to streamline the preparations, though. Friday nights are out for us because our family pizza-and-movie nights are sacred, but I think setting a finite window for weekend cooking is a great idea. I hope this inspires a dinner party revolution! Go, Amanda!
Tsyganova May 3, 2012
We love to throw dinner parties too, but I am having a rest now and learning irregular verbs))))
BitchyMcSnappy May 3, 2012
You gals are an inspiration to what can/should be done - this - and all Food52 entries - are why the web doesn't blow. I feel like I'm channeling Marlo Thomas and Donald's boss is coming to dinner, as well as my neighbors. Easy, breezy and elegantly simple. Rock on, chicks!

ATG117 May 2, 2012
I absolutely adore this series, and can't wait for more to come. I was wondering, Amanda, whetehr you could tell us more about how you approach your menu. Aside from seasonality, how do you decide what you want to serve and how you want to pair items within and across courses. I always try to plan a menu that will hit different notes, include different textures and flavor profiles etc. But I'd love to hear more about your process.
Kitchen B. May 3, 2012
This is not Amanda :-) but I can offer my two cents on how I approach menu planning. Most times I go with a particular cuisine - be it Middle Eastern, African, European or whatever continent I'm hankering after. The core of the dishes will be along those lines, balanced with a few simple, 'wholesome/unobstrusive' flavours like a simple vanilla cake; or drinks like mint tea and punch.

Like you, texture is important to me so I like to start with a platter of small bites that could include marinated olives, cheeses and crackers/chips. My main usually includes two starches with a couple of different sauces and some salads. A cake/simple cream-based finish usually works well in not jarring the tongue.

Looking forward to hearing from Amanda
Tabledeckers May 2, 2012
I love this idea! I am a small-time caterer, party planner and book arts "person" with a husband that works far too many hours and I'm planning a wedding for my daughter. Therefore our own personal entertaining has gone by the way-side! Your story has inspired me. Our group of friends, like us, are recent empty-nesters who you would think have more time, but it simply isn't the case. I'm going to plan a monthly dinner party, with no more than six, (it is a manageable number). I look forward to future tales of your parties!
dymnyno May 2, 2012
Timely post for me! I have Braised Short Ribs, California Style cooling, Coffee-Nochella Bread Pudding in the oven, Farro Salad with Roasted Mushroom and Parmesan ready to put together. Next I will get my pizza dough going for the Mac's Lobster Pizza, pear, procuitto, and blue cheese pizzas , shrimp for my take on a Pink Adobe appetizer, peel and slice butternut squash for my Spicy Butternut Squash, and maybe a few more vegetables for non meat eaters. I am going to experiment with a lobster broth and tarragon reduction for a fish course for some guests who prefer not to eat meat. This will be for a party of 30 guests and this is how summer goes in the Napa Valley! This particular group held their dinner event on the Great Wall of China last year.
BoulderGalinTokyo May 31, 2012
coffeefoodwrite May 2, 2012
This may not be exactly considered a dinner party, but we like to make pizzas. We lay all the ingredients out on a long table or counter (including little balls of pizza dough) rotate the oven and the grill outside and let everyone create and top individual or larger pizzas. We then enjoy them with some nice wine, a salad and lively conversation. Love the idea of Friday night dinner parties as well, and Amanda your comment about guests planning their escapes on weekdays because of work the next morning was so funny! Thanks, you made me laugh!
davises88 May 2, 2012
We entertain regularly (nearly every week) on Friday nights for Shabbat dinner. It's all about planning ahead. Guests are often invited on Saturday so menu planning can begin Saturday night. Shopping starts Sunday. Some make ahead dishes are prepped Monday or Tuesday (marinated veg, soups, salad dressings). Dessert and challah dough is started Thursday evening and baked Friday. Super early Friday morning platters are laid out and dishes prepped for the evening. By the time the guests arrive, unless I'm doing a last-minute fish dish, everything is ready and waiting.
Bob H. May 2, 2012
Thank you for a very useful article! Planning and doing things ahead is a smart idea. I entertain good friends with dinner and a movie about 4 times a year. We call them "Movie
Dinners" because I select a film and base the dinner menu on the movie, that is, where the story takes place. The last film we watched took place in Brazil, so the menu was primarily Brazilian. We begin with cocktails and hors d'oeuvres , then dinner. Dessert is served during a break in watching the movie or after. We have had some very interesting meals and fun times over the years.

msitter May 2, 2012
Really nice meal and really nice article Amanda. So helpful. Have battled for years with the "few little things first." This is not a bad group. I have stayed away from crackers, using bruschetta toasts instead. But, have started thinking crackers might be appealing. Have seen a lot of them in your various on- line things. Wonder which "healthier ones" or others you like? Everybody is talking about radishes and butter. Have not caught the fever...guests do not seem very enthusiastic about them. I assume the tidbits were served away from the table. Then, the asparagus was a first, separate course at the table? Thanks.