Heather

Dinner Parties

216 posts in this topic

This probably belongs in the phantom "Entertaining" forum, but here goes...

TJaehnigen, over in the picky eaters thread, said:

Maybe I'm just a "dinner party nazi", but there is an art (and a science) to hosting a great dinner gathering for friends....
and it got me thinking..

it's probably unusual in that I put a lot of thought into my parties, but they are almost all casual - small children have put a crimp in the multicourse, plated extravaganzas of the past. But the truth is, I don't much care for overly formal occasions*. Gatherings at my house involve too much food, good drinks, music, and conversation. If a spontaneous rave breaks out in the kitchen, all the better. There's sometime a food theme, but more often it's what I feel like cooking. My menus have ranged from the Gourmet magazine 50th anniversary dinner (featuring a pistachio dacquoise that took three days) to chili and jalapeno cornbread.

The guest list is crucial. I take great pains to invite people that I know will have a good time together, and delight in introducing people from different parts of my life.

So, dr.com folks, how many of you have dinner parties? Is there a science to it? How much planning do you put into it? What's a typical menu? And if you never entertain, why not? (lack of space, or time, or...?)

* ETA: actually, I like formal parties. I just don't like giving them. Nerves, maybe.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I love hosting them! I don't care for truly formal...preplated. etc. I am all over the place as you are. The only requirements are good wine and good food. I usually get inspired by one of my magazines or new cookbooks, something that I want to cook and I work from there.

I feel like cooking this weekend and unfortunately, I don't have anyone to invite...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Our (infrequent, more like rare) dinners are pretty much limited by the number of chairs we own to having 2 other people over. 4 courses is a comfortable amount to me -- appetizer/hors d'oeuvres/pasta, soup/salad, main, dessert/cheese.

I like to have menu done at least a few days ahead so that I can ensure that all of the proper shopping gets done. The day before, I'll write up a chronological task list and start prep.

Formal dinners are indeed harder to do with Peanut around. Just think, heather, in a few years our kids will be happy for us to feed them early and tell them to go away while we entertain. :)

I like both informal and formal entertaining. It all depends on what kind of mood I am in.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I personally love to entertain. Dinner parties are always my favorites and I'll spend several days "test driving" new preparations so that I can spoil my guests.

But I draw the line at formality - partly because our formal dining room just ain't so formal (we still have yet to unpack the good china we got at our wedding seven years ago!). I love it when I can do my thing in the kitchen and everyone is gathered around the breakfast bar area sipping wine and chatting. So I guess I'd say my preference is for small groups - six to eight is fine - where people are going to get along and chat up a storm. People should be comfortable enough that by the end of the night, massive orgies are taking place on the air hockey table in the basement. OK, OK....not THAT comfortable. :)

One phenomena that I experiece - and maybe others too - is that after doing all that cooking, the last thing I want to do is eat. I'm more than happy to plate each course, look after my guests, pour wine, etc. But I have no interest in actually sitting down and eating with them. Is that weird or what? Anyone else get in the same mood?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
One phenomena that I experiece - and maybe others too - is that after doing all that cooking, the last thing I want to do is eat. I'm more than happy to plate each course, look after my guests, pour wine, etc. But I have no interest in actually sitting down and eating with them. Is that weird or what? Anyone else get in the same mood?
That seems to be a pretty common phenomenon that I'm happy not to share. :) I more often find that I am not drinking enough in the sense that I miss out on all the good wines.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I was actually thinking the other day that it has been far too long since Mrs. B and I put on a serious kick-ass 9-course formal dinner for ten where work starts with the china inventory two weeks out and don't end until the petite fours go down about 1AM the night of.

If "entertaining" is having guests over for dinner we pretty much do that all the time, and it's fun to be informal. But there's nothing quite like the candlight gleaming through the crystal as the guests sit down to their amuse and settle in for a long ride. And dinners like that are always the best time to dig into the cookbooks and add something different and swell to the repertoire.

Maybe once I get through that chocolate course...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I was actually thinking the other day that it has been far too long since Mrs. B and I put on a serious kick-ass 9-course formal dinner for ten where work starts with the china inventory two weeks out and don't end until the petite fours go down about 1AM the night of.
I suspect those are much easier when you have older children.

As for adding something swell to the repetoire - trying new things on guests is risky behavior. I've had more flops than successes doing that, but there's something to be said for not feeding your guests the same menu evey time. Do you test run before adding a dish to a dinner party menu?

Why ten? Most recipes are written for four or six, so eight or twelve people would be an easier scale.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I suspect those are much easier when you have older children.

As for adding something swell to the repetoire - trying new things on guests is risky behavior. I've had more flops than successes doing that, but there's something to be said for not feeding your guests the same menu evey time. Do you test run before adding a dish to a dinner party menu?

Why ten? Most recipes are written for four or six, so eight or twelve people would be an easier scale.

We used to do it even when the kids were little, though we were much younger and had much more energy (and planned obsessively). I'll never forget a four-year-old Dylan shattering $100 crystal wine glass on his forehead - we were pulling expensive little bits of Baccarat out of his brow for years afterwards. Of course that was the same day I found a loaded revolver in the front yard while raking it for the guests. As convenient as a .38 long barrel would have been to have around the house (Logan Circle was a very different neighborhood, then), Dylan's endless capacity for mischief convinced me to turn it over to the police.

The there was the time when he went nuts while I was making the risotto. Actually the twenty minutes spent calming the boy while the risotto sat unstirred on the stovetop improved it -- the best-textured risotto I've ever had, out or at home.

The biggest problem with small kids is that they tend to wake up early no matter how late you were up the night before. Inconsiderate bastards!

We do ten because that's how many the dining room table seats. We used to do more, but that was ridiculous. We use recipes as guidelines, so portioning isn't really a hassle.

And on the new stuff -- we do a mix of tried and true tight-rope walking. Why not live dangerously?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Do you test run before adding a dish to a dinner party menu?
Rarely. It drives my husband crazy. :) But sometimes a "disaster" is just what it takes to break the ice.

We entertain quite a bit for my husband's work. Most of those dinner parties range from 8 to 12 people for sit-down, plated dinners and 12 to 24-ish for buffets (I only have matching plates/glasses/flatware for 24). Plus the occasional cocktail, dessert, or cookie party that can range upwards to 100 or more guests.

However, my favorite dinners are the smaller get-togethers for family and friends. And the pickier their tastes the better -- it just adds another layer to the logistical challenge. :)

I do have a couple of rules regarding the food for the bigger dinner parties -- no unpasteurized raw eggs and no veal. The first is because it is difficult to know who is or is not pregnant and/or of any possible health issues. And the second because I've been surprised far too many times by who objects to veal on "ethical" grounds.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
We do ten because that's how many the dining room table seats. We used to do more, but that was ridiculous. We use recipes as guidelines, so portioning isn't really a hassle.
That's as good a reason as any to have 10 people. :)

Wow, that's quite a Dylan story. The "younger and more energy" part resonates, as does the getting up early.

Maybe one of the reasons I don't do more formal parties is that it used to be my job years ago.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Why ten? Most recipes are written for four or six, so eight or twelve people would be an easier scale.

Ten is the maximum number I do--I prefer eight or fewer. But the reason has nothing to do with recipes. It has to do with the number of chairs that will fit around the table in my tiny house, the number of plates, bowls, wineglasses and cutlery I own before things get really mismatched and funky looking. I prefer not to put kids at a separate table, but sometimes that works better or is necessary--rarely, now that my daughter and her friends are older teens who can hold their own in an adult dinnertable discussion.

I tend to do multi-course meals-- wine and snacks while everyone is gathering and I'm putting the finishing touches on the meal, then a first course, main, salad/cheese, and dessert. Sometimes I serve "family style" with the food on platters that get passed around, and sometimes individually plated. The latter is a bit more stressful with lots of people smooshed around the table, because I'm aware that the first person served's food is probably getting cold while they wait for everyone else to get served. And one of the (female) guests invariably volunteers to help me serve because "the host" is sitting someplace at the table where it is hard to get up and/or he is involved in discussion with our guests and it would be unduly provocative to call him into the kitchen and remind him that I had asked for his help. <sigh>

I often grill, so I can be the energizer bunny, going outside and getting things on the grill while my guests are eating their first course, and then off the grill and rested and sliced, etc.

Despite the fact that it is somewhat stressful, I derive satisfaction from cooking and sharing food with friends. It's a bit like producing a "happening"-- the pleasure is in creating a memorable experience for others.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I often grill, so I can be the energizer bunny, going outside and getting things on the grill while my guests are eating their first course, and then off the grill and rested and sliced, etc.

Despite the fact that it is somewhat stressful, I derive satisfaction from cooking and sharing food with friends. It's a bit like producing a "happening"-- the pleasure is in creating a memorable experience for others.

You bring up one of the great challenges of a multi-course, formal-(ish) meal -- choreographing the cooking. Who entertains the guests, who clears, whose cooking which future course and whose plating the next one? This is a strong argument for group marriage. :)

The reason we finally settles on the "European" salad course, after the main, is that then we finally get three of four courses in a row with no real work (main, salade/cheese, dessert), as opposed to playing line cook/jack-in-the-box for the first few courses.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
You bring up one of the great challenges of a multi-course, formal-(ish) meal -- choreographing the cooking. Who entertains the guests, who clears, whose cooking which future course and whose plating the next one? This is a strong argument for group marriage. :)

Or for hired temporary help. Neither an option for me, unfortunately. But I sometimes have shared meals with friends who bring one or two of the courses, and who help clean up.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
As for adding something swell to the repetoire - trying new things on guests is risky behavior. I've had more flops than successes doing that, but there's something to be said for not feeding your guests the same menu evey time. Do you test run before adding a dish to a dinner party menu?
Knowing a dish isn't working out during a dinner party while you're cooking it is not a good feeling, to say the least :) . I've definitely had more flops than successes as well, so I've become a bigger fan of test runs-- trying a dish a few times, until it's up to 'dinner party' level. Even though I rarely enjoy my own food, I still love doing it: wine, food, good conversation with friends-- definitely one of the great pleasures in life as far as I'm concerned.

I really wish I had a warming drawer with my oven-- that looks like the most helpful dinner party tool ever.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I really wish I had a warming drawer with my oven-- that looks like the most helpful dinner party tool ever.
I'd love that, and an extra dishwasher.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Or for hired temporary help.
Or for inviting your sister-in-law, the former waitress. :)

I like to go with a main that will hold and requires very little last-minute attention. We usually start in the living room with appetizers and, once everyone arrives and things get going, I'll slip off to the kitchen to finish and plate the first course. Then, rwtye will help transfer the plates to the table while people are sitting down. At the end of the courses, I'll clear on my own and leave rwtye to tend to the conversation and beverages. Unless the VIPs are very, very "I", the main course is served family-style. To clear the table for dessert and to serve it, is when I finally let one of the guests who really, really, really wants to help out to do so. But we never* allow the guests to help with the clean up or washing dishes. All of that is left for rwtye after everyone has gone home.

*With the exception of one dinner when a Marine Corps General insisted on putting the dirty plates into the dishwasher while I prepped the dessert. I certainly could not argue with him, but the junior officers were totally thrown by the situation -- the General had roped a Navy Captain into helping him and the most outgoing of the Ensigns came up to me to ask what the proper etiquette was in that situation and if he should be helping the Captain. Right, I could just picture it... the General rinsing off the plates, handing them to the Captain, who would then hand them to the Ensign to put in the dishwasher, all while I was whirling around trying to plate fussy chocolate desserts. :):wub:

I'd love that, and an extra dishwasher.
Me too! Plus, a serving cart would have been really handy in our last house since the dining room was not immediately next to the kitchen.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I enjoy entertaining and definitely tend towards more informal affairs, which also is a function of my cooking abilities :) I find we entertain more during the warmer months when we can sit out on the deck and grill.

Having a 10 month old baby has certainly had an impact on how much I can accomplish in the kitchen. Just last night I had a group of ladies over for wine and appetizers and there is nothing like a baby crawling in circles around your feet, pulling up on your calves, chanting "mama mama" while you are trying to cook and put everything together.

I also must admit, that I usually have one store bought addition to a meal be it an appetizer or dessert.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I used to really love to entertain (though now that I've read the descriptions some folks have written of their 'affairs', I'm not sure I can call it entertaining! I'm feeling a bit inadequate! :) ). After the arrival of my son, my enthusiasm has waned. I'm much more likely to have people over for other kinds of meals than dinner. Brunch, for example, where part of what is served is store bought (e.g. bagels/cream cheese/smoked salmon, fruit) and part is home made (coffee cake or muffins), has become a more regular entertainment choice for me. Morning is a much better time of day for kids (at least mine), so it's a much better time for me to entertain.

I used to always try out new recipes on guests and like a previous poster, it drove the +1 crazy. Some flops, some winners.

My dinner parties tend to be much smaller than those described by others, and I don't think I've ever done cocktails and hors d'oeuvres (no dinner). I think my size limitation largely has been a result of living in small quarters where there hasn't been much room for folks to sit.

A friend who I had over to a dinner party asked me one time how I tolerated the anxiety of whether or not people would like the food/eat the food, etc. I explained that in my experience, almost nobody was unhappy to be served a home cooked meal for which they had to do no prep or clean up, so I never really had much anxiety. My guests may get in the car and complain bitterly on the way home about how terrible something was. But at my house, I've never had somebody even sugget they didn't like something (with the possible exception of my MIL, but that's a whole 'nother thread :) . Maybe I'm lucky, don't know.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I love having people over for dinner. But I am with most of you - the number of people I invite is purely dependent on how many chairs I have - a total of 6. So, my dinner parties are pretty small. I think 8 is the right number. I go for themes: lke "Belgian" - I buy a bunch of Chimay and other Belgian beers, go to the market and get 4 dozen mussells, and then do french fries right before everyone gets there. And we eat for hours. But mostly, I serve the first course - a soup/salad, and then the main is served family style - so I can have time with my guests. And never run low on vino! I always buy too much, but once - I ran out!.

I also like to give more formal ones - where things are plated. I recently did that for a friend's birthday and it was great fun. Let's see, the menu was: Starter: Mushroom Pate, 1st: linguine with Tomato Cream Sauce. 2nd: Eggplant Salad with Basil. Main: Fish with Shallot butter Sauce over bed of Spinach. Dessert: Profiteroles.

So mktye will like this one - I messed up the profiteroles big time. As you know, I am "baking challenged". The dough came out too dense and not "light and airy" like the recipe stated. But I stuffed them with ice cream anyway, and slathered with chocolate sauce. No one noticed. It also had to do with the dessert wine - we had too much and by the end of the meal, we were all doused.

I used to really love to entertain (though now that I've read the descriptions some folks have written of their 'affairs', I'm not sure I can call it entertaining! I'm feeling a bit inadequate! :) ). After the arrival of my son, my enthusiasm has waned. I'm much more likely to have people over for other kinds of meals than dinner. Brunch, for example, where part of what is served is store bought (e.g. bagels/cream cheese/smoked salmon, fruit) and part is home made (coffee cake or muffins), has become a more regular entertainment choice for me. Morning is a much better time of day for kids (at least mine), so it's a much better time for me to entertain.

I used to always try out new recipes on guests and like a previous poster, it drove the +1 crazy. Some flops, some winners.

My dinner parties tend to be much smaller than those described by others, and I don't think I've ever done cocktails and hors d'oeuvres (no dinner). I think my size limitation largely has been a result of living in small quarters where there hasn't been much room for folks to sit.

A friend who I had over to a dinner party asked me one time how I tolerated the anxiety of whether or not people would like the food/eat the food, etc. I explained that in my experience, almost nobody was unhappy to be served a home cooked meal for which they had to do no prep or clean up, so I never really had much anxiety. My guests may get in the car and complain bitterly on the way home about how terrible something was. But at my house, I've never had somebody even sugget they didn't like something (with the possible exception of my MIL, but that's a whole 'nother thread :) . Maybe I'm lucky, don't know.

Smokey - I'm with you. Same experience here. Everyone I invite - always comes and always eats. Amazing!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
OK, Mouseketeers. Dinner on Saturday for 16. What do you serve?
Domino's? :)

Boeuf Bourgignon? Or some other stew/braise you can simmer on the stove in a big pot while using the oven to bake some sides like mac n cheese.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
OK, Mouseketeers. Dinner on Saturday for 16. What do you serve?

Something casual- Frogmore stew. Shrimp, corn, sausage boiled up with some Old Bay. We do the potatoes in a separate pot to keep some of the starchy residue from covering the rest of it all.

I agree with the stewing idea and usually open up the Indian cook book for large groups.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
OK, Mouseketeers. Dinner on Saturday for 16. What do you serve?

Without being too nosy, what is the occasion? There is obviously a difference between having an elegant dinner to celebrate an anniversary and just getting together with friends to watch Michigan v. Penn State.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
OK, Mouseketeers. Dinner on Saturday for 16. What do you serve?
One dish that I can prepare ahead of time and looks impressive upon serving is a salt crusted beef roast. Oven roasted rosemary/garlic potatos with a little truffle oil and shaved cheese makes a dandy side that takes no time at all. Hit the farmers market and grab the last of the tomatoes - serve them atop homemade croutons and with slices of mozz and basil and olive oil. Cakelove for dessert.

Or...if the weather holds, fire up the BBQ and do tandoori chicken. Very low stress-to-wow ratio. Serve with a rice pilau, chunky cucumber raita, dandelion green salad, and more beer than you can shake a hockey stick at.

Man. Now you got ME wanting to invite 16 people over. I don't even know 16 people. Too bad I'll be spending all Saturday smoking salmon for the picnic :)

Without being too nosy, what is the occasion? There is obviously a difference between having an elegant dinner to celebrate an anniversary and just getting together with friends to watch Michigan v. Penn State.
True - an anniversary is a celebration. UM vs Penn State will be a funeral (well, if you're a Penn State fan).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!


Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.


Sign In Now