Secrets of a Successful Dinner Party, Part III

The roast vegetable platter I made for a recent party. Simple, delicious, and mostly gone at the end of the night.
The roast vegetable platter I made for a recent party. Simple, delicious, and mostly gone at the end of the night.

By now, you have invited guests and planned out a welcome drink (and by “planned out“, I mean “purchased a couple of bottles of bubbly.“) It seems like it is time to move on to the “dinner” part of the fabulous and successful dinner party. A few things to consider: Do you want to serve family style, on platters that everyone can pass? Do you want to do a buffet? A full plated meal? I’m going to suggest you go with option 1 or 2, at least in the beginning. I only do full plated, multi-course meals for New Years Eve, or other special occasions. 

I like to have a three part dinner. That way, it doesn’t seem like I am serving a piece of fish and sending everyone on their way. You can start with anything you like, but typically I will go with a salad. Soup is another good choice. Salads are fabulous, because pretty much anything goes. Grab a bag or two of pre-washed greens and stick them in a big bowl. Then, top with anything you like: tomatoes, carrots, celery, cheese, onions, avocado, or some crunchy nuts. (You don’t have to use everything… these are just suggestions.) To dress the salad, the simplest way – and one that always yields huge compliments – is simply to drizzle good quality extra virgin olive oil, a little aged balsamic and finishing salt (like the Himalayan pink sea salt) over the salad. Easy-peasy.

Note that it is important to know if any of your guests have food allergies or issues. I know, I know, everyone has an issue these days. I have them, too. But, if you are going to bother to make your friends a meal, it should be something they will actually eat. So ask in advance and adapt. And if you need help adapting, email me. I will let you know the simplest way to change things. Your friends will love you for it.

So let’s say of the eight people that are coming for dinner, one is allergic to dairy, and another one is allergic to tree nuts. Make your salad as planned, and simply serve a bowl of cheese and a bowl of nuts on the side, so everyone can help themselves.

The main course is something that I could dedicate several posts to, but I will summarize this way: less is more. Pick a protein (preferably something that everyone eats) and find a recipe from there. One of my favorites, but it is a little high risk because not everyone eats lamb, is braised lamb shanks. I take lamb shanks, toss them into the slow cooker with two or three sprigs of rosemary, an onion cut in half, and half a bottle of red wine, turn it on, and step away for at least eight hours. You could just as easily grill burgers, roast fish fillets in the oven, or make a big lasagna.

You will need to serve something with your main course. OK, I will share with you my super easy vegetable tip: If you take pretty much any vegetable (broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, Brussels sprouts, or asparagus) and put it in a pan in one layer, drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper, and bake at a high heat (400 – 425 degrees) until they get slightly browned, they will be delicious. Wasn’t that easy? You don’t even need a recipe, just a little confidence. (You can do it! Bravo! Good job!)

You may want to also serve some type of starch. I often skip it these days, because I am perpetually on a diet, but every once in a while, we need a treat. If you are grilling burgers or steaks, why not make some oven fries? Or creamy, delicious mashed potatoes to go with the lamb? The possibilities are endless.

Bottom line: Stick with something you are comfortable with. It does not need to be fancy. It does not need to complicated. It does, however, need to be tasty.

Next week, I’ll talk about wines, and from there we will go to desserts. Meanwhile, if you have any questions, please leave them in the comments below and I will address them. Or shoot me an email using the contact form, and I will post the answer in an upcoming post.