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Friday, January 11, 2013

Dinner Party Series: Guidelines and Tips

There are certain fundamentals to hosting and preparing for any Dinner Party. You’ll find more of this irregular series of Guidelines and Tips posted under Dinner Party in the Index. I’ve printed some of these tips before, but they bear repeating.

• At the time they accept your invitation, ask your guests if anyone has any food sensitivities or “rather-not-eats.”

• Read over your recipes to determine combinations that work with your guests’ food preferences and sensitivities. Note if recipes contain any special instructions such as marinate overnight!

• Start your planning and shopping at least a day ahead.

• To determine the best “look” for your table, set it the night before. Doing that will allow you to consider the plates, glasses, cutlery, and serving pieces as you imagine the meal, course-by-course. If you serve plated salads, for example, you may want to keep a clutch of extra knives in the kitchen, so you can quickly replace dirty knives with clean ones after removing the salad plates. 

• Don’t be afraid to be creative - mismatching plates, napkins, and placemats is fun, as is drinking from jam jars, serving an entire meal of purchased finger foods, having Christmas in July, etc.

• Before starting your food preparation, write a menu plan that includes cooking times and temperatures. Make as much as you can in advance - mashed potatoes, for example, will keep warm for several hours in a crock pot set to “low.”

• Don’t plan more than you can reasonably achieve, given the size of your kitchen’s work area and your energy level. No dishwasher? Scale down! Do less, make less, and ask if your guests can bring a dish. Speaking of dishwashers, I run mine a couple of times a day, whenever I cook an extra-large meal for a special occasion. 

Ron is my second dishwasher, jumping in to hand-wash large pots and anything dirty I need right away, helping me maintain an efficiently clean work space as well as clearing the kitchen sink. If you can possibly manage to have an empty dishwasher when your guests arrive, you’ll be well ahead of the game when they depart. 

I never let guests do the dishes, even when they offer. This is their night out, and their night to relax. Nothing should detract from that!

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