Perfectly Capable

09 Nov 2017

Host a Dinner Party, Any Night of the Week


This time of year, it seems like there’s a party almost every night: your office party, your spouse’s office party, your bunco group’s white elephant shindig, the drop-in with other parents from your kid’s school, and the drop-in with the parents from your other kid’s school. They all involve going out and spending time with a big, festive group, which may or may not be your idea of a good time. Maybe you’d like nothing more than to stay in for a change and enjoy just a few of your favorite people. What do you need? A dinner party! What’s the last thing you want to host when you already have two drop-ins, and two big bashes this month? A dinner party!

It sounds like a lot of work, but I’m here to tell you that you are perfectly capable of having a few people in for dinner, even if you work all day and even if you have kids. It’ll take a little finagling. Can you finagle? Let’s finagle!

Step One: Invite people to your house for a meal, on a specific day and at a specific time. This will make you actually follow through. Now make a grocery list and schedule time to shop any day before your big party. 

On to the main course! The slow cooker is your friend. My favorite slow cooker dinner party recipe is Martha Stewart’s pot roast (she really does know a few things), because it involves almost no preparation. And it cooks for 10 hours, so you won’t have to rush home in the middle of the day to get it started. You can Google for exact instructions, but all you do is mix a little cornstarch and water in the slow cooker, add carrots, onions, salt and pepper and toss them together. Now season a roast with salt and pepper and chuck it on top of the vegetables. Drizzle the whole shebang with Worcestershire sauce and cook it on low for 10 hours. It’s really that easy. You can also add potatoes and mushrooms, which I recommend because they’re delicious.

You’ll probably want an appetizer your friends can enjoy during cocktail hour while you put the finishing touches on dinner. Try one of the delicious spreads from Chef Rob (see page 94). If you don’t have time for that, serve mixed nuts, a nice piece of cheese and some grapes, or one of the delightful frozen appetizers found in stores these days. (I’m partial to Trader Joe’s feta and caramelized onion pastry bites.)

Right before your party, take the roast out and let it rest. Slice it against the grain and put it on a pretty platter surrounded by the vegetables. Toss some parsley, oregano, or thyme on there for garnish. No one will know (or care) that those ingredients weren’t in there to begin with. 

Now make like a French person and toss a bunch of greens together with just a little bit of vinaigrette. Out of vinaigrette? Mix 2 tablespoons water with 4 tablespoons of whatever kind of vinegar you have on hand. Add a heaping teaspoon of Italian seasoning, a little salt, another heaping teaspoon of Dijon mustard and shake it all together. Add about a half cup of olive oil and gently swirl to mix. Now you have dressing for the whole week!

Everyone likes bread with dinner. Take some fresh (or even slightly stale—it actually doesn’t matter) sandwich bread and cut into triangle quarters, place on a baking sheet and brush with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Cook at 375° or so until the top is crispy, probably about 10 minutes or however long you usually cook toast. 

During a season when every food is rich and you’re confronted with cookies everywhere you turn, you could probably skip dessert. But if you want a little something, choose a light dessert like a sorbet, or a plate of cookies. (Here’s another quickie: open and slice a log of store-bought sugar cookie dough, cut each slice into quarters, sprinkle with lavender salt, and bake. Voilà. Salted lavender shortbread. These can be made ahead of time, too.) Or offer an after-dinner drink: cider with cognac, espresso with a splash of amaro, or hot chocolate with Kahlua.

Still worried your guests won’t be impressed? Have you ever been invited to a friend’s home and thought to yourself, “I can’t believe he invited me. This isn’t much of a meal.” No, you did not. You never had those thoughts, unless you’re a terrible person. If you’re a terrible person then you shouldn’t have a party anyway. Spend a night alone and consider how to be a better person.

A night in is a pleasure for everyone, hosts and guests. Sharing a good-enough meal with friends is a welcome relief during busy winter months. So pick up the phone and invite someone, because I know you can host a lovely party.

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