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.
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.
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:
Asparagus with April Bloomfield's Lemon Caper Dressing
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!)
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.
*** 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!
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).Order now