How to Host a Summer Dinner Series
This summer I decided to began hosting a biweekly Tuesday night dinner series out of my apartment. What began as a excuse to start cooking for my friends more often taught me a lot about the key things one must keep in mind to host a dinner party on a regular basis:
1. Plan out menus that can be put together in one hour or less
When you're hosting people on a Tuesday and work full time, the amount of time you have to prepare between arriving home from work until guests arrive is usually about an hour. Without having the luxury of time on your side, you have to be strategic in your planning. Therefore, you must choose menus that are both quick and easy to prepare, but are also pleasing to your guests. You will also want to take the summer heat into consideration and prepare items that can be served cold.
A few of my "go-to" plates are listed below:
Colorful chopped salad: red and yellow peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, red onion, which I serve with a dressing made of olive oil, red wine vinegar, dijon mustard, crushed garlic, and oregano.
Mezze Platter: hummus, tzatziki, kalamata olives, feta cheese, pita, falafel (tip: I like to serve my mezze platter in a paella pan because it looks pretty, and the handles on the pan allow for it to be easily transported outside. I also keep each item in a small bowl, rather than directly onto the pan so that individual items can be passed around the table as requested).
Pesto Pasta Salad: Short pasta, pesto (investing in a high quality fresh pesto makes a huge difference),fresh mozzarella balls, cherry tomatoes, red onion, kalamata olives. This pasta salad can be made in less than 15 minutes and is always a crowd-pleaser
Charcuterie Platter: Choose your favorite meats and cheeses. I personally like to serve jamon iberico (because it's my favorite) as well as a beef salami or beef prosciutto. For cheese, if you are unsure of the tastes of your guests it is best to stay on the more mild side. As I am not an expert on meats or cheeses, I always consult the experts at my local cheese shop to help me choose my selection. I then always add some jam, nuts and grapes or dried fruit, and a sliced baguette to the platter to give it more of the elements of a meal.
Fruit Salad: Basic enough, but always a a favorite - especially in summertime when melons and berries are at their sweetest. I love buying whole watermelons and carving them out to use as the fruit salad bowl to make the dish more fun and decorative.
Sorbet served in fruit: This treat can be served either as a dessert or a pallet cleanser, and requires you to slice a lemon or orange in half, remove the juice and pulp, and fill it with sorbet. It is the perfect dessert because it looks elegant, and is perfectly refreshing on a hot night.
2. Clean your apartment the day before.
On the day of the dinner there is no time to both cook, set the table and clean, and you don't want to host people in a messy home
3. Buy all groceries in advanced, as well as take care of as much time consuming prep work as you can the day before.
I try to slice and dice all fruits and vegetables a day in advanced.
4. Invite a mix of close friends, and new faces
It is easy to invite your go-to group of friends when hosting a dinner party, but this is also an excuse to break out of your comfort zone and reach out to people who you don't know as well, or to those you don't know at all but love a good dinner party. Including new people into the mix allows for different and more interesting conversations to take place, and allows for you to expand your social circle (and to show off your hostessing skills to more people).
5. Serve something that doubles as a conversation starter
The conversation is the most important piece of a good dinner party, and so I like to incorporate things into my meal that can get people talking should there be a lull in the dialogue. For instance, serve something that incorporates an ingredient you picked up while traveling, or serve a dish that has a personal significance to you, or even make up a funny backstory about any regular item on the menu to entertain your guests.
6. Ask a friend for help
There's no need to do all of the work on your own, especially when time is not on your side. Have a friend meet you 60 - 30 min before everyone else arrives to help with setting the table and any last minute food and decoration preparation. This also lets you catch up one on one before everyone else arrives.
7. Ask for feedback
When hosting a dinner series, you definitely want your guests to return, so don't be shy to ask them what worked with the meal/ ambiance, and what they would like to see at the next dinner. Getting input on the types of dishes they would like to see served will also help tremendously when you've reached the third dinner in the series and have already began running out of ideas of what to serve.