September 7, 2005
The Rest of the Meal (but not Dessert yet)

So far, in the recap to the dinner party we had on Saturday, I've shown you Parmesan Cones, Tofu Shiskasatays, and Phyllo Spring Rolls with a Chipotle-Carrot dipping sauce. I'll save dessert for tomorrow, but I want to talk about the rest of the meal and what I learned from throwing my first real dinner party.

Our next course was a the weakest of the bunch - a very simple escarole and white bean soup. I simmered down escarole in store-bought light vegetable broth, drained a can of cannellini beans, then filled the can of beans with hot broth.

In each bowl, I placed a small amount of escarole, some beans, and 3/4 of a cup or so of broth. The idea was sound, but for the diners, I felt the flavor only really woke up if a dash of Louisiana Hot Sauce (which we provided as a table condiment for this dish) was added. I'd do this dish again, but with my own broth or with more spices, I think.

The pasta course was originally going to be three types of tortellini in three sauces. The fillings were done, but the sauces were not and time was flying so my friend Tom stepped into action and came up with something I'm going to call pasta rotoli. If there's a more official name, please let me know.

The fillings were rolled up like swiss rolls or a roulade in sheets of pasta, cut into short lengths and simmered in water in the oven. All three fillings (feta and spinach, three cheese, and sauteed muchrooms) were served this way with a fresh sauce. I'll make these again soon to demonstrate the technique. I also have an idea for how to cook them a little differently.

Things I learned from the party:

1. Beverages. Have lots of drinks available. We drank wine mostly, but we had non-alcoholic alternatives for those who were not drinking. The best little luxury you can have is a case of a good sparkling water. It "classes up the joint" and makes your guests feel like you went to some trouble for them. Have filtered still water as well for those who don't love to burp like I do. We used a Brita pitcher. Make sure any early white wines are well-chilled. Same for the sparkling water. I was averse to using the freezer for this purpose, but it was all we had left and worked beautifully.

2. Market as early as feasible. You don't want your produce browning or wilting, but you do want to get things in the "done" column asap.

3. Prepare as much as you can the day before. The less you have to do on the day of the party, the happier you'll be.

4. Accept Help. If someone offers to help, take it. They'll feel included and you'll be able to focus on the overall plan or on another task that you have to do. I even recruited our house guest to help reorganize the refrigerator for our party.

5. Plates. Make sure you think through the plate/bowl/glass situation ahead of time. Do you have enough plates to serve everyone without washing dishes halfway through the night?

6. Be prepared. Make extras of any item that is likely to be botched or ruined easily. Worst case scenario, the dog gets the extras (unless it's dessert, in which case your sweet-toothed docotor/wife will claim the lot).

7. Be flexible. If I'd pigheadedly stuck with the tortellini idea, we'd have been eating until 2:00AM, or more likely a number of our guests would have hightailed it out of there before the end of the meal. Tom's idea to go with a rotoli simplified the process and kept the food coming.

8. People. Invite friends and people you like and think are interesting. You probably won't get to talk to them as much as you'd like, but it's fun watching different friends interact. They are why you're throwng this shindig, right?

I'm sure there was more to learn, but these were the most apparent lessons to me from this outing. I'll definitely be throwing another dinner party soon. The chance to try out crazy, possibly dangerous experiments on a large crowd of unwitting victims enjoy the company of our friends over a good meal won't let me stay idle long.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at September 7, 2005 1:01 PM | TrackBack Print-friendly version

Silverware is always my bte noire, never seem to have enough no matter how careful I am. We started out with a set of 12 and a set of (different) 8 full settings and still we run out.

And my best tip which I almost never follow: take the time to fill the dishwasher as you cook and run it just before the guests arrive, even if it isn't full. Take the five minutes to unload it right away. That way when helpful guests want to bring their dishes into the kitchen you can just stick them straight in the machine instead of piling them all over the counters. I'm always embarrassed when people want to help clear because the kitchen looks such a mess and I always run out of space!

Posted by Meg in Paris on September 8, 2005 at 10:51 AM

I had the thought that that might be the case for us as well.

Luckily, we ran across another 8 piece set of flatware in the same style while we looked for additional dishes for parties. We both like the silverware, so we bought the set and had plenty for the party.

Now we're storing a bunch of plates, glasses, and silver in the basement for use at parties only. It's not like putting the fine china away since we use the plates from the wedding everyday and put the Target stuff away for the parties.

Posted by barrett on September 8, 2005 at 11:55 AM

The other thing that Barrett didn't comment on in his reply is that SOMEONE did keep up with the dishes and filled the dishwasher as he went. The key is that the dishwasher doesn't have to be completely full AND don't put anything in it you're going to want in the next 45 minutes.

I think I ran the dishwasher once as the party was starting and again in the middle. Consequently, everything cleaned up super quick. After everyone left, we did one load and some pots and pan in the sink before going to bed. We then did another load the next morning, and we were done! It wasn't too painful at all.

Posted by Rebecca on September 10, 2005 at 1:37 PM
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