As autumn rolls along, we are all getting revved up for holiday entertaining. Ina gives us some tips on hosting a dinner party.
The much published images (and much favored by bloggers) are of her country and city homes, both in New York, and in Paris, and also from an exhibit in Rockefeller Center . Enjoy!
Host A Dinner Party
By Ina Garten
By Ina Garten
From the time I was married in 1968, I loved planning parties, cooking, and getting together with my friends. As time went on I learned what worked and what didn’t.
I learned that small parties were much more satisfying than large ones and that Sunday lunch was a better time to invite guests than Saturday night dinner because people are more relaxed and the food is much easier to make. I learned that entertaining is not about the food; it’s about the friends.
How you invite people sets the tone of the party, so be specific. “Please join us for dinner at 7:30 P.M. to celebrate Phoebe’s new book.” “Skating and dinner at Wollman RInk from 6 to 9 P.M.”
A cocktail party usually has a definite time span (from 5 to 7 P.M.), while a dinner party is open ended (“Come at 8 P.M.). The invitation tells the story. I like to let people know how to dress by telling them where the party will be held. A clambake on the beach encourages casual attire, while a garden party might suggest big hats and pretty sundresses.
Next plan the menu. Good food is about making people feel comfortable. When deciding what to serve, first consider the time of day and the season. No one wants to eat spicy chicken chili and hot apple crisp on a steamy summer afternoon, but it would be delicious on a snowy winter night.
Third, try to cook to things and assemble the rest. If I have my heart set on making roast loin of pork with sautéed cabbage, I might decide to serve ripe pears, Stilton blue cheese, and a glass of Port for dessert. It’s easy to make and you won’t spend the whole day on dessert.
Fourth, make an exact schedule: at 7 P.M. marinate the loin of pork and turn the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit; at 7:30 P.M. put the pork in the oven and shred cabbage; at 8 P.M. take the pork out of the oven and cover with foil to rest for 20 minutes, and then sauté the cabbage; at 8:20 P.M. serve dinner.
With a schedule in hand I’m totally relaxed, and I can concentrate on having fun rather than obsessing about when to take the meat out of the oven.
The next detail is setting the table: round tables are better than rectangular ones, and I like to choose a table that’s a little too small for the group I’ve invited.
If everyone's seated elbow to elbow, the party's more intimate and more fun.
The right seating plan can also make a good party better: I put the most outgoing talkers on opposite sides of a round table or facing each other in the middle of a rectangular table.
That way, we’re all involved in one conversation, and it keeps the party form fracturing into separate groups: we’ve all been to a party where one group had more fun than the other!
Finally, I try to serve dinner at my table in the kitchen whenever possible.
Not only do my guests feel like family, but I never have to leave the party to serve the next course. When someone offers to help with serving or the dishes, I always say “Yes” --it’s not only easier for me, but it makes the guests feel like they’re on the A team.
But remember the most important thing: your guests will really want to believe that you whipped this dinner up in ten minutes before the arrived. Make them feel welcome with good music, fun drinks, and lively conversation. And they’ll all go home saying those magic words: “That was so much fun!”