How to host a dinner party

Holding a dinner party can be unnerving. After years of practice, I can confidently pull off a delicious dinner, keep it together in the kitchen (when the guests are there) and enjoy myself.

Boozy Friday Lunch Friend turned 50 so I invited him and his partner to tea. Here are five tips for hosting a successful dinner party.

1. Mix of old favourites and new recipes
A dinner party is an opportunity to get creative. A dinner party where every course relies on an untested recipe is testing fate.

Planning a menu that includes something new and something you’ve cooked before reduces risk and stress, particularly across a multi-course event. If you want to be adventurous, go for a mix of easy and difficult recipes.

This is what we ate:

This is what we didn’t eat:

  • Cheese platter with homemade blackcurrant jam (too full).

Chipotle marinated lamb chops, cornbread, pico de gallo, guacamole, roast corn with parmesan are staples in my kitchen. I use One Night In Mexico Smokey Chipotle Seasoning, 35g. I rubbed the chops with the seasoning and olive oil the night before.

The dinner party took it outside at BBQ time. It’s nice to have an opportunity to get up from the table at some point.

I’ve been making pico de gallo (aka salsa in Australia) for years. I’ve tried a few cornbread recipes in my time but the recipe I’ve linked to above is my favourite.

Because I love desserts, I often go all out for a dinner party. The apple terrine was a time-consuming recipe with multiple parts. The taquitos and tacos were new recipes but they were easy. These three dishes were all similar in that they could be prepared ahead of time.

2. Make as much ahead of time
Choosing recipes you can prepare ahead of time drastically reduces the dinner party stress. I go so far as choosing dishes I can cook and freeze a week or so in advance to distribute the workload.

One week + prior:

  • Cornbread – freezes really well and is easily reheated. It’s not complex to cook so it’s definitely something you can do a few hours out from the guests arriving. But why if you don’t need to?
  • Ice cream – of course! You don’t want to leave your ice cream to the last minute, it needs time to really freeze. A week or two before the event is perfect.
  • Calf tongue – this needs time because it is slow cooked. It was easy to prepare two weeks prior, slice and freeze to defrost on the day. I fried it up a little to give it some crispy, caramelised edges prior to serving.

Two nights before:

The apple terrine has to cook for a couple of hours then be weighted down and refrigerated overnight. I made this on the Thursday night to leave Friday night free for other preparations. This recipe wasn’t complicated just fiddly. It was delicious and definitely worth trying.

Night before:

  • pico de gallo
  • tomatillo salsa (See calf tongue recipe for link to tomatillo salsa. Canned tomatillos are usually available from Spice World in Hobart’s Bank Arcade).
  • salsa roja (recipe included with taquitos)
  • sugar syrup for a round of margaritas.

Day of:

  • potato and chorizo mix
  • oat crumble
  • butterscotch sauce
  • guacamole, and diced red onion, avocado and coriander for the tacos (final thing) and
  • rolled up the taquitos and had the oil ready to go.

3. Mise en place
The French phrase ‘everything in its place’ is sage advice. It warns the cook to have all the ingredients and utensils ready before they start cooking. It’s also used to refer to keeping your kitchen in order so you’re always able to start with a blank slate. Before guests arrive set the table, making sure those wine glasses are actually clean (and the cutlery), decant salsas and condiments into serving bowls and make sure everything has been through the dishwasher and put away.

Keep on top of the washing up during the meal. Part-necessity (one dining set!) and part-organisation, I slip into the kitchen between courses and do a quick round of washing up. Mostly plates and cutlery but it massively reduces the impost after the meal. Because it’s only a small amount of washing up it doesn’t have to disrupt the flow of the dinner party and because we have an open plan area I remain part of the conversation so it doesn’t feel like a disruption.

4. Let something go
You have to be ready to call time if something isn’t working and move on. I am never making butterscotch sauce again! I think I heat up the sugar too fast, regardless, I always stuff it up. The first lot I burnt. The second attempt went to toffee. I was ready to speed dial the guests to get them to buy a bottle of caramel sauce from the supermarket en route.

I managed to sieve off enough sauce that I could then pad out with extra butter and cream. It tasted fine but it was a close call. I seriously considered having a third go but was circumspect enough to realise it would tip me over the edge.

Let something go, just not yourself.

5. Wear an apron
I always forget, then recently I opened a bottle of tahini and sloshed all the oil over my favourite Icebreaker top. You don’t want that scene at a dinner party.

Every time you step into the kitchen, even if it’s to wash up, but on that apron and save your clothes and self-respect. Just remember to take it off before you return to table.

What are your tips for hosting a successful dinner party?

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