First Published in Currents/Chagrin Valley Times/ November, 2005
For many of us, hosting an incredible dinner party is something that we really WANT to do, but the prospect of which can fill you with total dread! The secret to delicious success is to be fabulously well prepared and completely committed to your own pleasure! After all, you want to have fun too, because to share a meal together is still the best way that I know to really enjoy my friends and catch up with their lives! Even if you’re entertaining someone unfamiliar, it’s always easier to break the ice between strangers in the comfort of your home!
My mother is the master and over many years I watched and marveled at the way that she ran a business, raised the three of us and gave incredible dinner parties without breaking a sweat! She taught me that really good planning and preparation are essential to creating a wonderful and stress free evening, leaving you firmly in control to really enjoy your guests! I learned many useful things from her, like to never ever be without porcelain canapé plates and several tins of smoked oysters, canned stuffed grape leaves and eggplant appetizer! I have never seen her kitchen without several bottles of good champagne and a few after dinner liqueurs for coffee! She always has a loaf of party sized bread in her freezer, 8 chicken breasts and spinach for dip, and she can throw a party for ten with about 65 seconds notice; I’ve seen her do it a million times Her secret weapon for stress free entertaining is a well stocked pantry and simple food, beautifully presented with a lot of laughter. Over the years, I’ve learned from her methods, and I make it a habit everytime that I go shopping to add something to the cache that I keep for expected and surprise guests.
Rule number one is to relax! Don’t worry about impressing people with a recipe that you’ve never tried before! Your friends can’t wait to enjoy your company, and the meal that’s served isn’t nearly as important as your presence! The key to a pleasant evening is a calm hostess who has almost everything done ahead of time with an hour or two to spare. This is your time to enjoy a glass of wine, take a bath and dress for the occasion knowing that everything is ready and waiting for some simple finishing touches. One of the best ways that I’ve discovered to throw a great dinner party is to take a cue from the French and serve the meal in separate courses. Not only is this relaxing for you and your guests, but it’s a way of entertaining that’s elegant and really easy to execute. A simple bistro style supper is fun to put together, and it’s served slowly over time with lots of room for stimulating conversation between friends!
Have fun deciding on the menu. Shop with your senses; really enjoy the process of choosing the ingredients! Choosing the wines, tasting the cheeses that you’ll serve, selecting the perfect chocolates and the most fragrant herbs, begin your enjoyment of the evening long before it begins! Often when shopping for a party, I’ll plan the menu around something that I’ve seen offered in the market, for example, the first really wonderful asparagus to be served with roasted spring lamb, or a bunch of fragrant ripe peaches to be made into chilled soup or a fresh tart. I always enjoy having a basket of warm breads, tapenades and herb butters on the table along with several different bottles of wine so that my guests can select what they’d really enjoy!
With so many wonderful bakeries to choose from in Cleveland,quite often, I’ll purchase the dessert or the appetizers, and serve them on platters garnished with fresh flowers, herbs and fruit. The cheese and fruit course can be refrigerated and brought to room temperature several hours ahead of time and you won’t even have to think about it again until it’s time for dessert! I love to begin the evening in the living room with a spicy aperitif, perhaps a glass of champagne with a splash of Chambord. Serving one or two simple appetizers like a bacon wrapped scallop, or a slice of onion tart will make your guests feel very special, wetting their appetites for the flavors yet to come! My favorite appetizer is a very easy one to make, combining simple spears of steamed asparagus wrapped with prosciutto and dusted with white truffle oil, lemon and fresh parmesan cheese. Don’t fret over the time, because the evening will move naturally into the dining room for the next course when everyone is ready. A simple seasonal soup, perhaps made with leeks and crème fraiche in the winter or savory fresh watercress in the spring continues the appealing progression of flavors Next I’ll serve a light meat or fish course, with a side vegetable and/or a risotto. Serving the salad after the main course provides an unusual twist, and is a wonderful palate cleanser before dessert! We’ll generally wind down in front of the fire with a light cheese course, served with slivers of a wonderful tart or cake and demitasse cups of coffee!
Make your life simple and choose a first course or soup that can be made the evening before and easily served the next day. The day of your fete’, set the table, arrange the flowers, (simple monochromatic bouquets look so fresh this time of year!) and start the main course, which can be timed to finish cooking an hour before the guests arrive. Everything with the exception of the main course can be plated and served easily, and the main course can be shared from a platter Start the coffee when your first guests appear, smile and enjoy your evening! Serving this type of meal is easy, because the evening progresses slowly and everyone is so relaxed and satisfied! The dishes from each course go straight into the dishwasher with no soul the wiser because there’s generally too much laughter going on to pay attention!
While I’m on the topic of dishes, there are several serving pieces that will make it simple for you to throw an elegant party at anytime, with ease. You’ve already heard about my canapé plates, but I also find it absolutely necessary to own one fancy crystal bowl, for serving fresh fruit, or a creamy dessert! Demitasse cups are just perfect for serving espresso, soup or ice cream! You’ll love having 3 silver-plated Revere bowls, several different sizes! They are classic, and you can serve anything in them from dips to salads and side dishes. A large meat platter can be used to serve any main course and one silver tray does double duty from hor d ouerves to dessert, and a pair of silver candlesticks and 3 crystal candlesticks (all different sizes!) will create instant ambience when lit all around the dining room A wine coaster will always have you feeling like you’re on vacation and in closing, a toast to add a little magic!
" In water one sees one's own face But in wine one beholds the heart of another.” Here’s wishing you many delicious suppers spent happily in the company of excellent friends!