Your upcoming dinner party — which ideally you started planning a month ago — should not be based on experimentation but rather simple tried-and-true foods you are used to making. Use high-quality and seasonal ingredients.
Help yourself shine and ensure a good experience for all by planning and cooking delicious-over-impressive foods.
If you’ve decided on a short menu, a good rule of thumb is to increase flavors as you serve. For a longer menu, switch back and forth following a rich dish with a lighter course.
Depending on your druthers, courses can include hors d’oeuvre, appetizers, salad, fish, main course, palate cleanser (sorbet, for example), dessert and mignardise (bite-sized dessert such as a petit four or truffle).
The difference between hors d’oeuvres and appetizers? The first usually is served as your guests mingle before a meal and consists of one or two bites, while the later starts off the meal at the table and is three to four bites.
One great tip: Bring your menu to your wine merchant for advice. Others things to consider:
- Choose main dishes before side dishes.
- Incorporate make-ahead dishes.
- Count on half a pound of poultry or beef per guest; 4 to 5 ounces of pasta; 1 ½ ounces of grains; 3 to 4 ounces of veggies.
- Avoid repeat ingredients.
- Avoid extreme temperature changes between courses.
- Don’t overstuff your oven; effects cooking times.
- Choose dishware that contrasts with what is being served.
As they say, “Timing is everything,” so do yourself a favor and a month out choose a theme, as desired; crosscheck dates for conflicts of community events and perhaps with your guests; plan whether buffet or plated and the flow — cocktails, dinner, after-dinner; plan your menu (and the time it will take to prepare your dishes); and send out invitations.
Two weeks before is a good time to figure out your place settings and the amount of tableware you’ll need (serving dishes and utensils); plan/make decorations for a themed party, as needed, or for just those special touches you want; create an upbeat playlist for background music.
One week to go. Tidy up your house, double check that you have all the tableware, dishes, glasses, etc. that you need, figure out your seating plan, clean all this stuff as needed, make your shopping list.
Three days before the big day, arrange the furniture, put away items you don’t want seen (like mail), figure out a purse and coat room and do your grocery shopping.
It’s the day before so do your food preparation, any last minute cleaning and set the table. This is a good night for pizza at your kitchen counter.
The dinner party is tonight! This is the day to buy fresh flowers or have them delivered, get ice, clear out the dishwasher, light candles if using them and sync changing into your party outfit with your cooking and the knowledge that some guests may arrive early.