Dinner Party 101

Just as I love cooking, the other thing I love to do is throw a dinner party.  I think this goes hand in hand with most cooks.  In my case this need comes from my Italian genes (and Latin upbringing) which I’m totally convince have a code within my DNA called “need to feed everyone around you now or die!.

It is a known fact that the Italians are very serious about their food. Why shouldn’t they be? After all it is the food that brings together friends and families. This is why we find the Italians to be very fond of spending long hours on the table and meal times expanding over the span of a couple of hours.

When the Italians sit down to eat they literally forget about the world and are in no hurry whatsoever to gobble down their food and get back to life.

And that is what I needed, to sit down and forget about the world, at least for a couple of hours. And the best way to do this is to surround myself with funny and smart individuals – enter my main “chicas” – so I called my girlfriends in order to spend some quality time to sit, eat, have great conversations, giggle like we don’t care, bring each other up to date on our life and share the fact that Ryan Reynolds is better looking that Brat Pitt.

And like any good recipe that needs to be followed in order to have a great tasting dish, entertaining has its steps as well to make sure you guest feel welcome and wowed by the whole experience.

Here are some tips that I have learned along the way:

It should start with a great invitation.  In today fast pace world and Internet connectivity, taking the time to send an actual invitation will score you points.  Unfortunately, for me, I did not have everyone physical address at hand, so I opted for using www.evite.com, to create an online invitation and keep track of the RSVP - which is also very convenient, since you can add polls and a list for guest to bring something.

The next thing I do is to try to come up with a theme, this way it will carry out to my menu, my decor, and my party favors.  I have found that in most cases simple is the way to go.  This was my table set up this past Saturday:

I had no theme in mind, but I wanted it to be bold, but at the same time light and inviting, a place where my guest wanted to sit and relax and let the time just tick by.  Since my plates are white (from Ikea) I can pretty much go very bold with tablecloths and centerpieces, since they will match pretty much any color scheme I come up with.  This time around, while shopping in Ikea I came across this bright table cloth and the color and white stripes (to match my plates) just called out to me, and at $19 bucks it was a total bargain (they also had bright green, blue and tan - I’m so tempted to go back and stock up!). Then, I wanted to break it up a bit and that is why placed a light earth tone runner down the middle. This would help set off the napkins which were also earthy tone and visually divide the table a bit. 

Then it was time for the table centerpiece. 

There is no need to spend a lot of money on these. And since I already knew that my party favors were going to be succulents, and they were going to be place in each of the table setting, I needed to keep the centerpiece simple.  Here is a good tip: if you keep flower’s in a tight cluster and low, you can get away with doing a great arrangement with only a few bunches.  When I was at the supermarket on Saturday, I spied the sunflowers, which came in bunches of six, and the white flowers were used to fill the empty spaces between the cluster of sunflowers.  They were on sale - 3 for $12 and who cannot pass on a sale?  The containers were steel, and that matched my utensils.  Those were a total bargain since they cost me $.69 cents each in Ikea (yes there is a pattern here people, soon you will need to send help for my Ikea addition). The total for the centerpiece came to $13 or $14 if you want to count the tax in there.

Next up were my party favors.  During my daily bouts of Pinterest - oh you have not discovered it yet?  You need to jump there right this second and fall in love - go ahead, I can wait.

See what I mean?

Anyway, I came across these beautiful succulent terrariums and I figure they would make the perfect party favors for my girlfriends.  Want to see what I mean? Here is one:

Yep, to cute for words.

I’m going to go all out and make a bigger one for myself to place in our dining room table.  The best part is that they were easy to make and cheap too, and a great conversation starter.  Total cost came to about $2.99 each and that included every single material I needed to put them together. Score for me and my chicas!

Next up was the menu.  And I will probably give you the biggest tip here.  Don’t go daring on your guest with the food.  Use your tried and true recipes, the ones you can make with your eyes close.  It will give you less stress, because you know how to make it and will keep you relaxed.  You do not want to be worried about a new dish instead of enjoying your guest.  And if you can make as many dishes ahead of time, even better.

After agonizing many choices, I ended up with this menu: 

  • Mustard Batons– from Dorie Greenspan - Around my French Table
  • Baked Brie with fruit and nuts (brought by one of the guest)
  • Cream cheese dip with red pepper jelly (2 ingredients: soft cream cheese, and any red pepper jelly, pour a couple of tablespoons on top of the cream cheese and served with crackers)
  • Oven Braised Short Ribs
  • Roasted Corn Pudding in Acorn Squash – from 101cookbooks (this options was for the Vegetarian of the group)
  • Sweet Corn Cake –Recipe will post soon
  • Potato Gratin – Recipe will post soon
  • Quesillo (Venezuelan Flan - Try to keep this little gem around past two days - it.will.never.happen because it’s that good)

For drinks there was ice tea, lots of wine and this wine slush that was to die for, that was made by one of the guest fiancé – we were a bit tipsy by the time we sat in the table.

At the end of the night we promise that it needed to be repeated and set ourselves to meet once a month, because as much as we love our husbands and partners, nothing can beat some girlfriend time to keep you sane – I highly recommend it.