So many reasons to throw a dinner party, so little time.
And why waste what precious time there is fussing over center pieces or twelve piece place settings.
As the aspiring patron saint of dysfunctional kitchens, short attention spans and mismatched cutlery (most of mine have airplane logos stamped in them), I am here to champion the dinner party anchored by a joie de vivre, a few memorable dishes and a bounty of freely flowing wine. Whether you have been planning a party for weeks, or simply throwing a spontaneous soiree to gather a few friends on a Saturday night, focus on the spirit, not the bourgeois etiquette that we are often seduced into emulating.
No kitchen or dining room is inadequate. Dinner parties that are forced to battle the limitations of micro cooking spaces, cramped eating quarters, minimal furniture, etc., tend to generate a special sense of communal accomplishment as the host and guests bond while surmounting the obvious challenges.
Great food also fuels the party spirit. But that doesn't mean one needs to spend the entire day cooking or break the bank to finance the groceries. I use one fundamental rule when determining what to serve: Make a minimal number of dishes, but make each one memorable. A finger food, a salad and an entree served with fresh bread should be enough to satiate any guest's hunger, as well as their palate. The equation is simple:
Distinctive + Robust = Memorable
Fresh ingredients and a generous portion of fresh herbs and spices can easily be combined into any number of crowd pleasing meals. Pastas, risottos, roasted chickens and gumbos are a few examples of simple dishes that you can find foolproof recipes for, then enhance with your own signature twist. (If this prospect still seems daunting - have I got a book for you!). When time or finances are an issue, never hesitate to delegate the appetizers and dessert to those who call offering to bring something - if they didn't mean it, they shouldn't have asked.
Another obvious, but often neglected source of seasoning is the guest list. In addition to the mix of usual suspects, invite one outspoken, controversial "ringer" who you can count on to invigorate the conversation. I make a mental note of these types when I meet them at other events, and I lure them to my parties with the promise of fine food. Do the same, or bait your own hook.
After the party has wound down and the guests have departed, one of the evenings most pleasurable moments still awaits the host and their chosen confidant. It's the party "postmortem." Even the worst culinary crises, political gaffes and social faux pas can be laughed at when scrutinized under the postmortem microscope. Bad hair, bad dress, bad manners and bad dates are all fair game once the guests are out of earshot. If this seems uncharitable, don't fret; they're sure to be critiquing you and your party on the drive home. Pull a stool up by the sink, sit your co-conspirator down beside you and let fly while you clean. By the time the gossiping has reached a feverish pitch, you will have plowed through all of the dishes and the party will be officially wrapped. Then you can drift off into to dreamland, satisfied and sanctified.
Bad hair, bad dress, bad manners and bad dates are all fair game...