Day 10: Plan a Dinner Party

The Kitchn Cure Fall 2013

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Day 10: Friday, October 11
Assignment: Plan a dinner party

Nine days of intense work on your kitchen, complete! Can you breathe more deeply? Can you see more clearly? Does your cooking have more energy? It's all yes! yes! yes! today as we finish up The Fall 2013 Kitchn Cure.

I'm giddy with excitement and pride that so may of you made it through, and so many more of you were brave enough to even try. It's time to celebrate and that means a party. Pick and date (it doesn't have to be this week) and let's get to work.

Today's Assignment (estimated time 30 minutes - 2 hours)

1. Pick and date and send out invitations. Be realistic. If you work usual daytime work hours, you probably should pick a Saturday or Sunday in the next few weeks. Give yourself time to plan, but not too much time that you lose momentum. My ideal number for your first dinner party to come from your cured kitchen is between four and eight. Less than four and you're not flexing your muscles and showing off enough; more than eight and it's just pure chaos.

2. Plan the menu (a week before). Sometimes it starts with a craving, or knowing a guest's favorite dish, or the cover of a food magazine or a cooking website, or maybe even a limitation like an allergy. A dinner party menu usually doesn't come out of thin air, it comes from a place of excitement. Sometimes it can feel overwhelming—there are so many recipes out there where do I begin?—but the trick is to start with one thing like a lamb roast that's on sale, your sister's allergy to dairy, or a snow-storm and a craving for spicy noodles, and go from there.

These dishes can come in the form of written recipes, or from sourcing really wonderful fresh food. It's possible to make a dinner party without following a recipe, even if you're not an experienced cook. A loaf of fresh bread from the local bakery, some cheese, can be an appetizer. Some good quality steaks with a little salt and pepper seared in a pan and finished in the oven until they reach 120°F is a great main. Salad greens tossed with vinegar and oil and some edible flowers makes quite an impression. You get the idea?

Dana wrote this lovely piece about menu planning. Read it. Then forge ahead.

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Nuts and Bolts of a Dinner Party Menu

At the very least, you want an appetizer, a salad, a main dish, a side and a dessert.

  • The appetizer could be cheese from your local farmers' market, cheese shop, or grocery store. Done. Or it could be something you actually cook. Check out our appetizer recipes; hundreds from Acorn Squash and Roasted Garlic Strudel to Za'atar Popcorn.

  • The salad can be a simple affair like a Citrus and Onion Salad, or something more involved like our Greek Bread Salad with Tomatoes, Feta and Capers.

  • The main dish holds a universe of possibilities and is usually the anchor dish for the meal that all the other courses are built around. A roast chicken is a wonderful dinner party dish that you can treat like an artist's blank canvas. Once you have the technique down, you can play with various flavor profiles. We can endless main dish recipes so scroll through the list and find something that moves you.

  • The side dish should compliment the main dish. A cooked vegetable or a grain dish is usually the way to go. We have hundreds of side dishes in our archives.

  • The dessert is sometimes the most fun part. I like planning the dessert because it can be kept a surprise, hidden in the freezer or on top of the washing machine away from guests' eyes. Even people who claim they don't love sweets will eat a homemade dessert. You can spend days on a dessert with an involved pastry or layer cake, or you can spend as long as it takes to chop up some seasonal fruit and mint and drizzle warm honey over the top. We have these dessert recipes to offer as a start.

Stumped? Here is a popular post from Faith with over a dozen of her dinner party menus. Steal one!

Still stumped? If you tweet me @sarakategr with your dinner party questions, I'll respond with ideas. Let's do this together!
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3. Plan the design. This meal is a special event, so it means setting the table nicely, with cloth napkins and flowers. It might mean moving the furniture around in order to accommodate a real dining table. It might mean borrowing that table from your neighbor. Do it! Read about Cambria's dinner party in her living room if you need to see an example of this done well.

This dinner deserves any special touches you have for the table. Don't overdo it, but don't skimp on the little luxuries that elevate a meal; linens, flowers, candles, a centerpiece, nice platters and serving pieces. I'm all for mismatched and high quality over match-y and disposable, plastic or otherwise depressing cheap everyday tableware.

Flowers, always and please please please think about lighting. Overhead lighting is the worst lighting for food. If you aren't a candle person, try putting a table lamp nearby or even on your dining table. I'm serious. Twinkle lights work, too.

For more ideas from our own dinner parties, check out our Gatherings from The Kitchn page.

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4. Make a game-plan. I find it virtually impossible to throw a successful dinner party without some list-making. You need a game-plan. I find it helps to schedule backwards. Here are a few more posts about game-planning:

Remember that having a dinner party involves a lot more than cooking. Don't forget music, lighting, and cleaning the place before people arrive (including the bathroom!).

5. Photograph the meal from the planning stages to the final spread and clean up. You made it! Keep tagging your work with #kitchncure and we'll be sure to send congratulations your way.

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(Images: Gabriela Herman, Sabra Krock, Emma Christensen)

More posts in this series

The Kitchn Cure Fall 2013