The party over here was, all in all, a success. The food was good and not too late out of the oven, conversation flowed, and everyone around the table lived up to their jobs of being sparkly and beautiful in the candle light. I also had a pretty fantastic time, due, I think, to my lucky choice of guests. The menu went something like this:
To start, preserved lemon martinis, which we’ll talk more about in a moment. Roasted feta with thyme honey. Olives. Bread for the feta.
Then, roasted asparagus with harissa mayonnaise. Succeeded in convincing people to use their hands.
After that, kabocha squash and cauliflower roasted in coconut milk stacked willy nilly on some version of these quinoa cakes, preserved lemons added. All with chickpeas in coconut milk dumped over top.
And in the end? Sliced oranges. Baklava. Spiced tea.
All vegetarian, which was my own challenge for myself. And I found myself realizing a few things that I think I hadn’t before about this dinner party affair. Moments that maybe, perhaps, you knew long ago, but I’ll get them down here anyway.
My issue when I throw these parties is that I am an extraordinarily inefficient cook. I ended up at dinner once at a hip restaurant with a woman who was the girlfriend of a man who was the friend of someone else, and she told me that although she did something entirely unrelated to food in her life, she had gone to culinary school in Ireland.
“It was good for me,” she told me. “I really know how to throw a good dinner party. I’m excellent at timing.”
I could use some of that. Because when it comes to doing ahead and creating a meal for 14 people that I don’t have to cook every bit of right then and there in that moment, I’m lacking. I’m not always sure what will stay happily warm in the oven, or how to prep things so that I can plate everyone’s third course in just a few minutes. I’m getting better- I think, as I got several comments on how calm I was, and how easily it all came out. But calm as I may look, I’m in a sweaty panic, and I never know how or where the food will find it’s way to the plate.
And so, with that in mind, and as I made it through another party with far few disasters than could have been, a few thoughts on efficiency when it comes to the dinner party:
1. Everything that you think can be done ahead of time probably can. Do it. Then make sure that your kitchen (including your fridge) is organized enough that you can track down all of your pre-prepped ingredients. Create systems on the counter.
2. Most warm food can be kept at a good temperature in a 200 degree oven, covered in foil.
3. Use sauces. They can instantly remedy a food that is too dry, too cold, too anything.And while you’re at it, read this. Sauce on a well-thought out plate will usually be a win for you.
4. Thirty minutes before your guests are supposed to arrive, stop. Take off your pajamas and that apron you’ve been wearing all day. Make sure that the space is exactly as you want it to be when your guests come in- candles lit, table set, you dressed. When all that is set, you can go back to cooking if there is more to do. But first, pour yourself a drink if you haven’t already.
5. Have one cocktail that you serve as people arrive, and set up a little station to make it easily. If it can be put into a pitcher–even better. But make it strong. Then everyone will be rosy cheeked and happy, and as long as you put something in front of them to eat, they’ll be thankful.