Throughout last year, one of my unspoken resolutions is to entertain more, which is quite a feat if you've ever been in my living room. Nonetheless, it was a resolution that I've more than fulfilled, with me hosting a "just because" dinner or brunch every one or two months. And it was pretty fun organizing these parties, sometimes with a culinary theme (once I made a beery dinner with New Belgium beers featured in every dish... my fave was a Thai green curry & witbier risotto), sometimes with a DIY element (a wonton-making Superbowl party), and sometimes just a easy, lazy affairs where guests can just pick, nibble & sip away at their leisure.
1) Keep It Simple, Seriously (and yes, there are more crude ways of using that 2nd 'S') -- I know, the 'KISS' rule is a bit clichéd but it definitely holds true for hosting a party. More ingredients & more complicated steps also means more potential for missteps, mishaps and mistakes, resulting in dishes gone awry or long lag times between courses. But most importantly, it'll stress out the host, which definitely makes it awkward for the guests...to say the least.
For this particular party, I try to keep my preparation & cooking efforts minimal -- like this Kimchi Bokkeumbap Bake. I made the kimchi fried rice an hour before party, and when my friends arrive it was simply a matter of sprinkling the shredded Asiago on top and popping it in the oven to melt the cheese and warm the dish. And this spicy, gooey main went great with the Tempranillo.
2) Premade / Store-Bought Is OK -- A corollary to Rule #1, I think it's fine to utilize some ready-to-serve edibles when entertaining. That's why wine & cheese parties are so popular, all the host really do is unwrap and uncork and "BOOM!" . . . ready to mingle with the guests while everyone slices in. So, to go with the robust, garnet-hued Garnacha, I picked a variety of cheeses from nearby Cheese Store of Pasadena and served it up with a little habanero pepper jelly, membrillo and baguette slices.
3) Snackages! -- A little finger-friendly bites goes a long way with parties; it's a great way to take care of the lag time (whether from waiting for all the guests to arrive, or the lull between courses.) And the snacks themselves don't have to be particularly fancy . . . if I had more time & energy I might have invested in making my Christmas Coffee Nuts, but this time I went uber
4) Be A Little Creative -- I personally think it's the little signature touches that make the food, and the party, memorable . . . and as such I try to do a little something eclectic with almost everything I serve. It can be turning the fried rice into a crispy and flavorful cheesy bake, or pairing cheeses with a muy caliente jelly, or even serving an otherwise ordinary salad with interesting toppings & dressing (in this case, a bed of baby spinach is adorned with goat's milk feta, mushrooms sautéed with garlic and mirin, toasted slivered almonds and a vinaigrette made with a tres chic Noble Tonic No. 3.) Of course, doesn't hurt to pair a crisp, snappy Verdejo with the salad either.
5) Finally, Be Generous -- Like KISS, this sounds obvious but I've still attended a good number of gatherings where there was barely a bite to eat; it's definitely no bueno in my book to have guests take off and scrounge for grub afterwards. As such, I tend to follow Nigella Lawson's rule in portioning for parties--namely, anticipate half your guests will go for seconds. So for this affair of 8 folks, I made enough to feed 12. This is also handy for any unexpected +1s or "I forgot to RSVP" guests that drop in too. And hey, if there are still leftovers afterwards, think of it as an easy-to-fix meal to make up for all your hard hosting efforts.
Of course, the same rule goes for the drinks, and I always keep an extra bottle out so nobody feels bad about pouring the last glass.
And the remaining Tapena wines did definitely make my dishwashing & cleaning up a lot easier. (wonder if I can patent my SR2 technique: "scrub, rinse, sip, repeat"?)
And so, there are some of my tricks to throw a soiree that's full of flavor and free of stress. Here's to a 2012 with more delightful & delicious gatherings.
Do you have any favorite party advice or recipes to share? Would love to hear about it in the comments!