Sunday, August 15, 2010

Planning a Dinner Party

One of my favourite things to do (besides the beach) is entertain. Normally our food is prepared in the kitchen, but since moving from our tiny condo, we now have the true luxury of carrying our food up 4 flights of stairs to our roof top patio. Unfortunately we don’t have an easy access back yard (those of you who do, don’t know how lucky you are!), but we love eating outside and have done so every opportunity we can seize. It is our Green staff BBQ I am planning for next weekend and thought I could share in the steps taken to create the perfect party.
So let's start with the single most crucial element for successful entertaining, - PLANNING a dinner party. Get that wrong and you're fighting a losing battle. Get it right - and not only will the dinner party run like clockwork, but you will be able to relax and enjoy yourself too!
Well before the occasion, give yourself ample time to sit down with pen and paper and really start planning the dinner party. Consider essential points such as the following:
* What type of dinner party is this to be, casual or formal? Generally, casual or semi-formal dinner parties are better suited to the majority of domestic environments.
* What is the budget? Be realistic! Don't try to impress by overspending - even with a fairly small budget and a little creativity, you can achieve fantastic results.
* How many guests? Again, be realistic! Never invite more than you are truly comfortable with. If you are hosting this on your own, or even with the help of a partner, keep it to a maximum 12 because that is how many place setting I have.
* Remember that YOU also want to enjoy this dinner party, so if necessary, be prepared to hire some help. If the budget allows, consider hiring a Personal Chef for the evening. Or if you prefer to do the cooking yourself, think about hiring a Butler who will discreetly take care of the entire service. But if you can't afford to hire, and you are doing this alone, then enlist the help of a trusty friend or relative!
*Decide what to wear ahead of time so you are not fumbling around for hours, the day of when there are last other last minute details, make sure it’s clean and pressed, if you will be outdoors have an option for cooler weather.
* PLAN THE MENU. Perhaps the most critical consideration when planning a dinner party is the Menu. Impressive Gourmet recipes do not have to be difficult or complicated. Usually I will determine the vegetable dishes by what is in the Harvest Box that week, which gives me a little over a week. This is a sure way of making your dinner fresh and seasonal. If there is a particular ingredient you know you’ll need a head of time, let us know and we can try to add it for our expanding grocery list. I am notorious for serving the same dish time and time again, because I know how to cook it perfectly. If I am trying something new often I will test it during the week, so I know what to expect with portions and cooking time.
I’ll make a list including:
H’ourderves (1-2 depending on how many people)+ cocktail: It is good to have an good choice of drinks on hand (as well an non-alcoholic), but I usually choose a feature cocktail, something special to serve.
Entree +wine options (I am not great at pairing wine; I’m just a red wine person but will have a chilled white on hand) Your local wine merchant is usually a great source for really good recommendations.
2-3 Vegetable dishes (depending on how many people are coming)
Dessert +Liqueur
* Send out the invitations. For a more casual dinner party, a telephone call or email will suffice - but give your guests at least 2 weeks’ notice. Planning a dinner party successfully requires careful (and often tactful!) consideration of your guest list.
* Depending on how formal the dinner party is to be, it may be appropriate to specify a dress code for the evening.
* Make lists - one for grocery items found at GEO, and one list for items we don’t carry, and a list for jobs to do (one ahead of time and one the day of) Deadlines help too. Not only does this keep you on track, but it's also very satisfying crossing things off!
* Visualise how you will serve each course and check to see that you have enough plates, dishes, bowls, cutlery etc.
* Consider the limitations of your kitchen & its equipment. Above all, take account of how much refrigeration space you have especially if you intend to do a lot of advance preparation.
* Plan ahead. Non-perishable foods can be purchased well in advance leaving only fresh cut flowers to the last day. Having the groceries delivered should save you time.
You see, planning a dinner party is easy! With that completed, now let's move to the last 24 hours….....and hosting the dinner party.
Planning a dinner Party - THE DAY BEFORE.......
* Set the dinner table. That's one less thing to think about while you are cooking!
* Carry out any last minute housework - you really don't want to be cleaning on the day of the dinner party!
* Empty your fridge of unnecessary items & make sure dishwasher and sink are empty too.
* Buy all of the perishable foods. To save time, do your grocery shopping online, and have them delivered to your door.
* Separate & wash salad leaves & fresh herbs in cold water, shake dry & pop them into sealed polythene bags & refrigerate. This keeps them fresh, and crisp for up to 24 hours.
* Cover all foods to be refrigerated with clear film wrap, or kitchen foil to prevent flavours crossing over and the food from drying out.
* ALLWAYS keep raw meat, poultry and fish on the lowest shelves and properly wrapped to prevent contaminating other foods.
* Depending on your chosen menu, now do as much of the cooking & preparation as possible. Many dishes, particularly those cooked slowly in liquid, actually benefit from pre-cooking as it enriches the flavours.
* Allow all cooked foods to chill thoroughly before you refrigerate them.
* Ensure that ALL cooked & perishable foods take priority in your fridge. This particularly applies to soups, sauces, meat, poultry, fish, mousses, pâtés & desserts. This is why sometimes, particularly when cooking for more than 6 guests, the ONLY solution is to have certain prepared dishes delivered to your home (e.g. the first course, the dessert, or possibly even the main course).
Planning a Dinner Party - THE DAY OF THE PARTY.......
Planning a dinner party for success, is all about TIMING! So plan this day carefully. Write down on a notepad the times at which the final preparation and cooking/reheating tasks MUST be performed. Use a kitchen timer, oven timer or alarm clock to keep you on track!
After getting yourself and your home entirely ready, pour yourself a glass of wine and let’s get started.
* Wash and prepare the vegetables. Pop into sealable polythene bags & refrigerate if space allows.
* Carry out all final preparations necessary prior to last minute cooking. Try to leave as little as possible to the last moment.
* Approximately an hour before your guests arrive, remove any food that should be served at room temperature (such as pâtés or savoury mousse, cold cooked meats, prepared fresh fruits, pasta or vegetable salads, cheeses etc) and leave somewhere cool. This allows the full flavours to develop.
* Any precooked dish that is to be reheated should also be taken from the fridge an hour or so before reheating. This reduces the cooking time and allows the food to cook more evenly.
Your Dinner Party Planning is running like clockwork.........
Finish all of the final preparations and adjust the oven temperature to keep the food warm (make sure that all food is covered with foil or lids unless a crisp finish is required such as with pastry, crisp roast potatoes or crumble toppings).
Don't forget to warm your serving plates & dishes - hot food on cold plates is a disaster!
Now make sure that your pre-dinner drinks, wines and Appetizers are ready for your guests. Personally, I prefer to serve mini, bite size appetizers with pre-dinner drinks before sitting at the table. This is a great way of getting to know your dinner company.
Light the dinner candles, check the table settings, adjust the music & lighting! Now, you are ready for your guests!
Planning a Dinner Party - it's a piece of cake!

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