When I was single and in my early twenties my idea of perfect summer entertaining was a BBQ in the backyard. Now that I am a bit older, those get togethers have turned into dinner parties. Okay, that may seem completely bougie and pretentious of me to say, but I swear they can be just as fun and totally feasible. For me, it just means that I've exchanged the paper plates for proper dishes and real utensils. Might as well put all that stemware we got from our wedding to use, right? Hosting, even with disposable plates and the occasional red, plastic cup, seems daunting, messy, and time consuming in it self. Throw in extra dishes to wash and you'll be wishing you'd just made a reservation. Am I right? Wrong! I've teamed up with Cascade Platinum and Chef Michael Smith to share some tips and tricks for hosting your own dinner party that you can actually enjoy.
I love to feed others, yet hosting events always makes me a bit anxious. Will I have enough food? Will everything be ready on time? How am I supposed to entertain while doing a million things at once? How can I appear cool, calm, and collected when the kitchen is a mess? Thankfully, I never host alone and usually prepare a game plan well in advanced. For this dinner party I implemented a few of my own hosting "rules" to create a rustic yet elegant night with family and friends.
Hosting A Better Dinner Party:
1) Be yourself: Let the food and decor reflect you.
One of the easiest things you can do for yourself is to just be you. Just because we are calling it a "dinner party" that doesn't have to mean a 5-course meal on your finest china. For me, this means cooking approachable food that still tastes great and creating an intimate yet comfortable environment so guests can relax. For the food, there is nothing wrong with "simple" as long as it tastes good and looks appetizing. I've learned the hard way not to cook complicated dishes that I have never tried out before when having company over. Instead, I use fresh flavors that really speak for themselves and dishes that don't have a lot of working parts - more things that are ready to be eaten straight-out-of-the-oven, or with just a few garnishes. For the the decor, I like to use my eclectic taste - more of an excuse to use a mix-mash of serving dishes and not worrying about having enough matching place settings. Some planning and coordinating is still involved, but it is a lot less stressful than worrying about which utensils go with which plates and so on.
For this event in particular, I decide to entertain out on the patio. With the sun not setting until nearly 9pm these days and all my new spring flowers and foliage looking fantastic out there, why not take advantage of the fresh air and abundance of natural light?
2) Planning: Make-ahead recipes and short-cuts
Building off of what I already mentioned about the food, make a plan and find ways to cut yourself a break. Choosing recipes that can be made ahead of time or those with ingredients than can be store-bought will save you time, energy, and sanity. For this event, I wanted to make sweet and savory tarts. Puff pastry is one ingredient that I always buy from the freezer section without shame, so finding a tart recipes using it puts me ahead of schedule. For the other tarts using a basic pie crust, I made it in advance - but you could also use store-bought for an even short(er)-cut. Since I like to incorporate fresh, seasonal ingredients, I would rather spend my time making the produce the star and cutting back elsewhere when applicable. Try one-pot meals for the main dish! Or better yet, try a recipe that requires not cooking/baking at all like Chef Michael Smith's Salt-and-Pepper Melon for an appetizer (like I did) - tons of flavor with hardly any work at all! All in all, the more you can prep (let it be food, your table setting, your playlist), the more time you will have later to enjoy with your guests.
Spend time to save time - as Smith says.
3) Easy Clean-Up
Between my husband Brett and I, we've developed a system where we share the roles of entertaining the guests, finishing up the food, and clean-up. It can be hard to maintain everything at the same time while trying to enjoy your guests, so having someone to help out is really helpful. However, now that there is a baby involved, we had to reconsider some of our ways. The dirty dishes were one of the things we were able to compromise on, and instead of cleaning as we go, they were all saved for after the guests left. Cue our third host/secret ingredeint, Cascade Platinum, to help get all those dishes sparkling clean again. Not only did we not have to clean as the party was happening or worry about the food that continued to cake on as we put the baby to bed, but there was no pre-rinse required so these tired parents could get to sleep in no time while MyCascade did all the work.
Just because we have a baby, I d0 not want to stop doing some of the things I truly love, like cooking for loved ones and entertaining. And now that our time and energy is split up even more, it really is the simple things like an easy clean up or 10 minutes saved that I would normally spend on pre-rinsing dishes that really make it possible.
I will be sharing more recipes later this week of the dishes I create for the dinner party. And remember those Blueberry Frangipane Tarlets? Those were there too. For now, enjoy this appetizer and drink recipe:
[Edited: For Savory Summer Tart Recipes click here]
Salt-and-Pepper Melon: from Michael Smith's 'Family Meals'
Slice ripe cantaloupe into wedges. Place on a serving plate and drizzle with good olive oil. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and fresh lime zest.
So simple, right? Bold yet unexpected flavors - exactly how I like to entertain.
Earl Grey Lavender Soda serves 4 - recipe can be doubled
8 tablespoons Earl Grey Tea 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided 2 tablespoons culinary lavender Club soda or sparkling water
1) Place 2 cups of water plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer. Add in the Earl Grey Tea and steep over low heat for about 30 minutes. Remove the tea and continue to reduce the liquid down to about a 1/2 cup. Remove from heat and let cool.
2) Meanwhile, place the remaining sugar and 1/2 cup water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and add in the lavender. Continue to cook on low for about 10 minutes, or until syrupy. Remove from heat and let cool. Once cool, strain out the lavender.
3) To make one drink, place ice in a small tumbler. Stir in about 2 tablespoons tea syrup and 1 tablespoons lavender syrup. Top with about 1/2 - 3/4 cup soda or sparkling water.
Serve with sliced lemon, if desired.
Disclosure: this post is in partnership with Cascade. All opinions are my own. Thank you for supporting the brands that keep Style Sweet CA running.