Hosting either a good party, dinner or house guests is one of my favorite things. Seeing the month December coming closer makes my heart fill with joy. Also, my fridge is fully taking part so to say and starting to expand.
I feel that hosting has become easier over the course of years. It might simply be the fact that I’ve moved on from my student budget (big plus), the fact that there is a dishwasher in my life now (talking about 2015’s highlights!), but most of all it seems to be practice.
As a short and casual note: obviously things haven’t always ran smoothly, and with that I am thinking of the pre-party dinner we had at my place (it must have been 2007) that kind of existed out of detox lemongrass soup (yup, you guessed correctly – as a main course) for 10 people. Still sorry for that guys! 🙂
So to better my life, there are a couple of rules I have started to abide. Also, a really nice recipe for Ginger Syrup to start making ahead.
- One Menu to rule them all
You probably know your friends and family well enough to know whether they are vegetarian or have any food allergies. In case any of my guests has a food restriction, my usual solution is to modify the complete menu and simply go all-vegetarian or all gluten-free. This might sound radical, but it is often much easier than to make different things for everyone. Also, this way you create a really welcoming and comforting setting in which everyone can feel safe about eating everything. Might things become too complicated (vegan is a little over my head for example), then you can always decide to make exceptions.
- Favorites Only
This might feel really counter-intuitive, because do you really want to serve your friends that gallette you’ve been eating all autumn long on a special occasion such as, say, Christmas? My answer is yes. You will want to stick to the recipes you know by heart and that you are sure of will taste well. In case you want to impress, do so with the decoration or an extra sprinkle of fresh herbs.
- Serving One Drink – less is more
Instead of serving a range of different drinks, simply decide for your guests what will suit the occasion best. This might be a cocktail that comes together quickly or your favorite versatile wine. For a festive occasion I usually chose to go for one really good sparkling wine, that can also be transformed into a zippy cocktail
Also, I usually make a good syrup beforehand, so that you can also make a good lemonade for those that do not drink.
Bonus: a really handy guide on how many drinks you should calculate per guest. My trick: buy more than enough. Plus more.
- Decide your style
This is very personal, but it will be decisive for the rest of your planning. My go-to approach is to serve large bowls and dishes that everyone can help themselves to. I find that this gives everyone the opportunity to take what they like, but also to determine their own portions. A big bonus from my point of view is that this brings out such a feeling of harmony, as dishes will be passed around. In case you do manage to pull of an ambassadorial dinner: kudos for you and all my respect.
- Preparation & menu setting
Around a month before a larger (dinner) party, I will sit myself down and think of a menu based on the above factors.
I will plan the dinner around two dishes that will be the main course and keep to the rule that there will be one thing on the stove (preferably a stew, soup or anything that benefits from long simmering and will not overcook), two things in the oven (such as a lasagna or quiche) and one large salad.
All extras will have to be served cold and shouldn’t take too much preparation, such as a large cheese platter, a fruit bowl, nuts, olives or antipasti.Dessert is an absolute bonus from my point of view, but I do really like to keep things simple, so I would for example simply put a cake on a platter and let everyone help themselves. What I also really like, but not always manage are the kinds of little bites that look super festive and are easy to nibble on, such as these truffels.Ideas: Borek, Smoked Salmon Millet Quiche, Pumpkin Soup, Stuffed Mushrooms and Fennel Salad, Chocolate Truffels and a Cranberry Caramelised White Chocolate Tart.
- Planning (aaaaaand action!)
I usually find it very helpful to set out a detailed grocery list. This list will include the quantity of each ingredient, where I need to buy it and when I will buy it.
By making a list of what to buy which week, you can easily spread out the heavy lifting and work, without having last-minute stress. Also: do let heavy bottles of wine, beer or sparkling water be delivered to your door if possible.
The last two days before the party I will only go out to buy fruit, meat, vegetables and herbs. On the day itself I will head out and buy a really nice basket full of bread (and extras for breakfast the next day:)).
- Do not only plan the menu, think about the tableware
Think through all the things you would like to serve. Do you have enough platters and bowls to serve all of your dishes? Dedicating each menu item to a certain serving plate is something I find very helpful. Also, you might want to stock up on paper cups / plates just to be sure.
- Make Ahead what you can make ahead
I try to avoid any kind of stress and therefore start preparing long before. One month of slow preparations might sound a little crazy, but my excuse is that it also very much feels like pre-fun. What I am making now for our New Year’s Eve party is for example cookie dough, quiche dough and herbed butter. It is all going into our freezer and it is super easy to pull out the day before. In three weeks time I will probably start baking a cake (such as this Chocolate Fig Cake) to put into the freezer and to make some mini-borek.
Something I’ve also decided to make is Lemon Syrup and this Ginger Syrup to facilitate some non-alcoholic beverages but also to mix a really nice cocktail.
- Boogie Woogie Party time!
The best thing of this all – in my opinion – is actually enjoying the party. With all preparations done, you will be able to really spend time with your guests, rather than to slave away in the kitchen. Make sure that you have time to grab a shower, put on your party dress and turn up the music so you can move wildly while admiring all the work you did.