Dinner parties can be fun and exciting—an elaborate and lavish sit-down meal that lets you show off your cooking skills in a beautiful, grown-up setting. So much goes into a good dinner party: the mood, the guests, and definitely good food! The more organized you are, the less stressed you will be and the more you will be able to enjoy your party. Here is a dinner-party game plan that will help you stay efficient and on schedule.
Make a guest list. Figure out how many people you plan to have at your party so you can base your other plans on that. For a sit-down dinner party you can only have as many people as you have room for at your table. Keep it manageable so that you won’t be overwhelmed with the preparations. Intimate groups are usually better for dinner parties, leaving the potlucks and standing cocktail parties for larger crowds. Send out your invites at least a week or two ahead of the party so your guests can save the date and book a babysitter.
Plan the menu. First you need a theme for your menu. Try to make the menu interesting yet cohesive so dishes complement each other. Choose foods that are seasonal so it will be easy to get fresh foods at their peak. Divide your menu into courses: hors d’oeuvres, appetizers, main course, sides, and dessert. Keep in mind your guests and their food preferences and dietary restrictions so you will be sure to please your crowd. Don’t plan to make anything that is out of your comfort zone or beyond your abilities so you won’t be stressed or have a dish flop at the last minute. Write down the menu so you can see everything you need to prepare. I keep my menus saved on my computer so that I can use them for inspiration for next time.
Write out your shopping list. Go through each recipe on your menu and write down a grocery list by department (produce, pantry, meats, fridge, freezer) and by store. Include other items you need for the party, like paper goods, candles, centerpieces, flowers, and wine. Make a plan for when you should go to which store. You can purchase party goods and non-perishable foods in advance, saving you time later. Buy perishable foods and items best bought fresh that day or the day before.
Make a game plan. Take your menu and break it down so you have a plan of what you are making when. This will make the tasks more manageable and less overwhelming. Not everything is better made fresh, so get as much done in advance as possible. Any sauces, dressings, condiments, or soups can be made two to three days beforehand; roasted vegetables, purées and mashed vegetables, and doughs can be made the day before; and anything fried or grilled should be made the day of the party. Meats that are braised or stewed can be made in advance, while grilled meats should be made right before. Also, set your table in advance if possible, so you can be done with that and focus on last-minute preparations. v
With Lamb Ragout
2 tsp. olive oil
2 lb. lamb shoulder, cubed
2 shallots, diced
4 cloves garlic, sliced
2 bay leaves
1 tsp. oregano
2 tsp. tomato paste
2 small tomatoes, diced
½ cup dry red wine
1½–2 cups chicken stock
salt, to taste
1 lb. store-bought gnocchi
Heat oil over high heat in large sauté pan. Add lamb and cook until well browned. Remove lamb and reduce heat to low. Sauté shallots, garlic, bay leaves, and oregano until shallots are translucent. Add tomato paste and tomatoes, and cook until thickened. Return lamb to pan and add wine and enough stock to almost cover the lamb. Bring to a boil and simmer, covered, for 1 hour until lamb is very tender. Season with salt to taste. Remove lamb to a food processor and pulse just till meat is shredded (do not overprocess!). Return to sauce and mix.
While lamb is cooking, boil gnocchi according to package directions. Drain and top with lamb ragout. (Tip: Lamb ragout can be made the day before. Make gnocchi fresh and just heat up the ragout.)
Want to learn how to cook delicious gourmet meals right in your own kitchen? Take one-on-one cooking lessons or give a gift to an aspiring cook that you know. For more information, contact Take Home Chef personal chef services by calling 516-508-3663, writing to elke@TakeHomeChef.net, or visiting www.TakeHomeChef.net.