Mighty Life List
Jul 1 2014

Dinner Party Ideas

I’d like to improve my dinner party repertoire. Are dinner parties still a thing? I met an older woman when I was in college who mentioned that she had several meals memorized in case she needed to host an impromptu dinner party. Magician.

Years later, I read a piece in Vogue (I think) about a woman who was known as one of the best hostesses on the New York social scene. She would make a giant pot of stew, pick up some crusty bread, and overfill wine glasses while people ate cross-legged on the living room floor.

One of the best dinner parties I ever attended was hosted by my friend Pableaux, who put everyone into service chopping, grating, running for ice cream, and then shooed everyone toward a giant table in the kitchen. He kept the conversation running late into the night, and I’ve rarely felt more welcome.

I’m working on building out my recipe tin, and I added a section for dinner parties. So far I have one go-to: Homemade Guacamole and chips, Fish Burritos, Cucumber Salad, Strawberry Shortcake, Sparkling Wine.

So I want nine more solid meals. What do you serve when you’re having people over, either casually or for a more formal dinner?

46 Responses to “Dinner Party Ideas”

  • Jen Says:

    My favorite comforting indulgence to serve during our Minnesota winters is Martha Stewart’s homemade mac and cheese, which I found via Smitten Kitchen. It’s so delicious and known to satisfy vegetarians, carnivores and small humans alike.

    Ina Garten’s tortilla soup is another favorite.

  • Courtney L Says:

    For Halloween each year I make a couple of different kinds of soups, (baked potato, chicken tortilla, cauliflower cheese, vegetable beef) kept warm in crockpots. It is excellent for an “open house” atmosphere with people coming and going at different times.

  • Camille Says:

    I’ve been throwing a lot of BBQs this summer. I serve skirt steak, sausage, corn, garlic bread, chips and salsa, 3 bean salad, baked beans, and pie or cake for desert.

    I pick up the meat from the best butcher around – they make amazing sausage and the meat is already marinated in their house sauces. I get all my produce from the stand down the road – cheap and delicious.

    I make the pico de gallo first, adding lots of garlic. This gives me something to snack on while I do the rest. Then, I prep the bread. I usually get a fresh baked sourdough baguette. I prep the corn, make the 3 bean salad, and set out the pan for the beans. I handle the kitchen and my boyfriend handles the grill. This distribution gives everyone a manageable set of tasks.

    If I buy a pie, I get it from a ranch straight out of the oven. If I make a cake, I do it from scratch and don’t make it too sweet. A delicious dessert always ensures everyone leaves happy.

    It ends up being pretty plug and play after doing it so many times. I just focus on using the freshest, highest quality ingredients. Bon appetit!

  • Erica W Says:

    TACOS! I use this recipe for slow cooked chicken:

    http://www.marthastewart.com/318209/slow-cooker-chili-chicken-tacos

    Make all sorts of fresh toppings – pico de gallo, guac, pickled onions, etc etc and toss everything on the table for friends to DIY their own taco creations. Just about everything can be made ahead so not much fuss day-of. Also easily adapted for vegetarian/gluten free/vegan etc.

    I like ‘DIY’ type meals, feels special as it’s not something you’d typically have at home. Other meals I’ve done is giant salad bar and a bruschetta bar.

    Another helpful item is a deck of ‘table topics’ (http://www.tabletopics.com/) great if you have guests who don’t know each other or if you still have some preparation to do when guests are arriving.

  • Mary Jane Says:

    One of our new favorites is Baked Chicken in Creamy Tomato Sauce http://www.dinneralovestory.com/the-six-kid-crowdpleaser
    A nice change for what to do with skinless boneless chicken breasts. All you need to do is add a salad and bread, and you’ve got a delicious simple meal.

  • Caroline Says:

    I love to make a large pot of french onion soup— it’s so easy and filling, you can make it ahead of time and then put them in individual bowls with the bread/cheese when guests get there so that it’s ready whenever you want, along with a big green salad. So easy and everyone always raves about it. Definitely think that soup is underrated.

    Also a really fancy breakfast for dinner: a fritatta, fruit salad, and bacon/sausage is an instant crowd pleaser.

  • Jessica Says:

    I am pretty terrible at cooking for a crowd (never enough) but I did figure out one easy meal that works for a gathering. I take a pork roast and add it to the crock pot with some broth and a packet of taco seasoning OR I make my own with cumin, chili powder, paprika, etc and let it cook for 6-8 hours. When it’s ready, I shred it and serve with an avocado lime sour cream and a cabbage slaw made with some sugar, lime juice, and seasoned rice vinegar. If you have time, jalapenos sliced and soaked in bread and butter pickle brine is also amazing with them. Wrap it up in a warm tortilla and serve with chips and salsa.

  • Kat Says:

    Speaking of Dinner: A Love Story, I fell head over heels for their pork shoulder ragu with pappardelle. I’ve been craving it since going gluten free.

    http://www.dinneralovestory.com/instant-dinner-party/

  • Maggeh Says:

    I love this, you guys! Especially the prepping tips and the idea to do breakfast for dinner. Genius.

  • Laura Says:

    Appetizer is usually grab a mix of olives, mozzarella pearls, and something else small and yummy, maybe a little prosciutto and good crusty bread cut into manageable bite size.

    Chicken Piccata, I love this recipe from Giada De Laurentiis http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/giada-de-laurentiis/chicken-piccata-recipe.html

    For the sides pearled couscous and freshly steamed broccoli with lemon, salt and pepper.

    Two flavors of gelato (so guests have a choice) and coffee to finish things off.

  • Stacy Says:

    I have a host of soup recipes that make for a great fall/winter party: baked potato, corn & Lima bean chowder, homemade chicken noodle, split pea, French onion. For warm weather parties, I love a table full of appetizers and a large green salad with some homemade dressing: blue cheese, vinagarette, and buttermilk. Bonus: the salad dressing is also a crudités dip. Easy and festive.

  • Rachel Says:

    I have a wine cake recipe that I got from my grandmother that is super easy to make (literally takes five minutes + baking) and tastes amazingly moist.

  • Nora Says:

    Favorite dinner party recipes:

    Fish pie I only made this once, for a friend and his visiting brother who remembered it fondly from their youth. I’ve never seen septuagenarians put away more food. Also, it’s one of the easiest recipes I’ve ever made, perhaps because I had my husband cut and debone the fish.

    Pumpkin lasagna I got this from a book I checked out from the Mechanic’s Institute library one year, and it was my favorite Thanksgiving ever. Do the prep work the day before to make dinner day easy-peasy.
    Gougeres The best, most delicious appetizer. French. Cheese. Poufs. What more could you want?

    Zuchinni carpaccio: Easy and delicious for a small group. Use your veggie peeler to make thin slices lengthwise along the squash.

    My go to salad in winter. Citrus, walnuts and mache. So good, so easy.

  • Nora Says:

    Oh, and biscuits! My mother’s family is from the south, so I grew up making them. They are so easy to throw together, and people are always happy to have warm, buttery biscuits. You can find so many recipes online, and they’re probably all good, but here’s my (very casual) take:

    Ingredients:

    2 cups flour (I use whatever’s on hand, but my best results are usually with plain old all-purpose flour. Other flours might be more thirsty, in which case you’ll need to add more milk).
    6 tablespoons(about 3/4 of a stick) cold butter
    1 tablespoon baking powder
    a dash salt
    1-2 cups milk (I generally use one and a half cups milk. As I said above, it really depends on your flour, the humidity, any number of things. I like to add a little white vinegar or lemon to the milk sometimes — this gives a more buttermilky texture. Or you can just use plain milk. Biscuits are a very idiosyncratic, personal thing. Play around and figure out what works for you).

    Directions

    Heat the oven to 400° F. In a large bowl, mix dry ingredients. Using a cheese grater, grate the cold butter into the flour mixture (do this quickly, and try not to warm up the butter too much with your hands). Stir with a wooden spoon to combine — you want the butter pretty thoroughly mixed in, giving the flour kind of a crumbly texture. Add the milk slowly, stirring so you can keep an eye on how moist things are — you want it fairly moist, but not at all runny. The biscuits should be able to hold their shape raw.

    My mother and I disagree on this last bit — I like to grease the cookie sheet, she says it shouldn’t be necessary. Either way, drop spoonfuls of the dough (about a 1/2 cup or so) onto the sheet, and place them in the oven for about twenty minutes until they’re golden brown. Serve warm with more butter.

    (If you want more uniform biscuits, you can roll out the batter on a floured surface until it’s about 3/4 of an inch thick, then cut the biscuits with a round cookie cutter or a water glass, then place them on the cookie sheet. After you’ve cut out the first round of biscuits, reshape the leftover dough and roll it out until you’ve used it up. Cook as above).

  • Tina Says:

    I like dinner parties where my time in the kitchen is kept to a minimum so I can enjoy people’s company and avoid stress.

    This honey mustard baked salmon is the easiest thing ever, elegant and delicious, and quantities scale easily: http://www.pithyandcleaver.com/?p=143

    I usually serve with greens of some description and follow with a dessert that I’ve prepared earlier, like Jamie Oliver’s chocolate pots: http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/chocolate-pots

  • Anita Says:

    I love hosting dinner parties. A group of six friends get together for each others birthdays. The birthday girl gets to pick the theme of the meal. Italian, appetizers and cheesey (her husband can’t have dairy) are the most popular. I like to try out a new recipe at each party. Lots of wine makes up for a not-so-great recipe.

    I also like to host movie parties. We get together a couple hours before a movie starts and have food and drinks that go with the theme of the movie. My favorites have been “southern” food for The Help, Italian for Eat Pray Love. Everyone brought her favorite pie for Life of Pi, that might have been the best.

    I hosted my first dinner party in my new house before I had a stove. I used two crock pots and a microwave. I could have ordered pizza and we still would have had a great time. It’s really all about spending time with friends.

  • Dayment Says:

    Kinda embarrassed to link to this old page, but it saves me having to type it out again: http://www.daymented.com/recipes.html#main
    Steak tacos with fried jalapeños and green onions, pico, shredded cheese, fried taco shells/tortillas, super-easy corn casserole, refrieds, serve it all in the centre of the table and have everyone build their own. Still my very favourite meal.

  • Becky Says:

    You know, I started throwing dinner parties once I had something lovely I was dying to cook, yet not a big enough household to finish it in a week. The invitation in my house comes from the food itself.

    The conversation goes something liket: “I’m going to make Cajun crawfish pasta for dinner tonight. If that sounds good, I’d love for you and your SO to join us at 7.” “Oh man, that sounds amazing. Is there something I can bring?” “I’m making salad and dessert but I couldn’t come up with a good side. Any ideas?” “I’ll bring some broccolini.” “Excellent, that will be delicious. Look forward to seeing you tonight!”

    The food speaks for itself. According to Julia Child, never apologize for your food. According to me: be slightly ambitious in picking a recipe so that when it’s on the table an hour late, people are so hungry they love your food no matter how it turns out. And it is always good to be associated with alleviating peoples’ hunger. Slightly ambitious meals always fill the house with fragrant hints of anticipation. Use other people as an excuse to cook things you’d never make for just yourself.

    I find the rules are meant for breaking, but I’ve found I kinda developed a seasonal menu around here. Salad and grilled meat for summer. Baked chicken and roasted veggies is perfect for Fall. Winter features fresh game and starchy sides. Spring is a good time for fish and rice pilaf.

    I remember first wanting to throw a dinner party, super anxious if anyone would like what I cooked. It’s like your first kid- you put so muh energy into trying to get it right. Worried of the existential implications of inviting people over to be fed and the potential to send them home hungry if it was a complete flop. All that worry is difficult to serve on a plate. But now a year later, i don’t think twice about cooking a large meal. It took a bit of practice… But if you invite 1 or 2 friends over once a week for a hot meal, within moths it will be second nature to know what your closest friends love for you to make them.

    The magical thing about dinner parties is that once you start throwing them and getting your friends involved in cooking with you in your own kitchen, the more invitations you receive to dine at their homes.

    Best of luck! It’s less about the food and more about conversation. If you can hold up your end of a conversation and heat some Campbells’s tomato with a side of grilled cheese, you can throw a dinner party.

  • Becky Says:

    Tips:
    Preset the table (I always forget the napkins) and put serving patters and serving utensils out on the table.

    Get your friends a drink as soon as they enter your home. You should already be halfway into your first glass.

    1) Prep dessert first. Pop it in the oven later: as everyone sits down to eat so that it’s fresh out of the oven at the end of the meal. I typically make individual baked fruit cobblers. I think my recipe started something like this http://www.allthingsgd.com/2011/11/individual-fruit-crisps/
    … But I usually use whatever granola and fruit I have on hand for breakfasts, and add chopped nuts and a sprinkle of nutmeg allspice and ginger to the topping. Serve with my favorite vanilla ice cream.

    2) prep the salad second. Chop and layer ingredients in a large bowl, put in fridge for safekeeping away from the hot kitchen. Mix the dressing, but wait until the last minute to toss it into the salad. My salads consist of greens; nuts or seeds; a crouton or potato for starch; crispy fresh veggies; additions of avocado or dried fruit; and a freshly made dressing. The secret to a good salad: salt and pepper. The secret to a good dressing: quality olive oil and a balance of sweet and tangy. I always taste test the dressing by using a leaf of my greens for dipping.

    3) prep mains and sides simultaneously. This is where you realize exactly why you invited helpful friends over for dinner. Put the rice or pasta on to boil first (these things are easy to keep (or quickly) warm. Start your water to steam the veggies while your meat cooks. Tinfoil tent meat to keep it warm. Steamed veggies go on last so as to prevent over-cooking.

    4) wash dishes as you use them! Many things just need a good rinse if you get to them promptly. After dinner my method as derived from Julie Andrews in her memoir: fill the dirtiest pot/pan with soapy water and utensils to soak, wash glasses first, then plates and bowls, then platters, then utensils, then scrub the greasiest pot.

    Remember the best conversations happen while you prep. People are typically too busy stuffing their faces with what might be their first home cooked meal since moving out from their parents’ home to keep up with conversation during the meal. Let the food fill the glorious silence. Pick up where you left the conversation over washing the dishes. I’ll fill drinks and then wash the dishes as soon as the last bite is taken. There is nothing like waking up to a clean kitchen to inspire me to cook again.

  • Leann Says:

    My go-to dinner party meal was lovingly ripped off from Nigella Lawson (who, let’s face it, does most everything perfectly). In her ‘Nigella Express’ cookbook there is a recipe for Pollo ala Cacciatore that takes 30 minutes to make in one pot. So simple and satisfying. It can be as big or as small of a batch as you need to accommodate your party size. I usually add some orzo pasta just because. Serve in a big bowl with some fresh parm shredded on top and it looks, smells and tastes like something you must have worked on all day. Get a loaf of crusty bread and serve with some olive oil/balsamic for dipping. Make a salad too if you’re feeling ambitious. Or roast some asparagus as a side. It’s like the perfect mix and match meal. Last time I served some peach sorbet with raspberries and Prosecco for dessert. A big hit! I hope if you try it you and your guests enjoy! Mangia!

  • Sheri Bheri Says:

    I think for me it depends on the season. In winter, it’s stew, spaghetti and meatballs or canneloni. In summer, it’s something on the barbeque. We LOVE skirt steak (flank steak) in all it’s forms. But especially as “meat on a stick”, where it’s sliced thinly, marinated in soy sauce, ginger, vinegar & garlic, and threaded satay-style on skewers. This is our go-to appetizer at the cottage.

    Same for desserts & sides, whatever is in season is always best.

  • Min Says:

    Why are there not more potlucks? We host a potluck the Saturday before Thanksgiving. We make two kinds of turkey, traditional roasted and deep fried, stuffing and mashed potatoes. Everyone else brings the rest. Sometimes, there is a ton of dessert or five different kinds of macaroni and cheese but it is always fun and everyone participates.

    Another one we do is fajita night. I provide the meat and tortillas and everyone else brings something.

    Potlucks are fun. Everyone has something they like to make and then they get to make it without the bother of hosting. One of my friends makes the best mac and cheese and another friend makes really good spinach dip. And that way, there are not as many dishes to wash.

    I always have extra serving utensils. Because sometimes people bringing stuff forget to bring the serving spoon.

  • Isabel @alphamom Says:

    This is my go-to recipe. Just add a side of jasmine rice and poof, dinner.
    http://www.realsimple.com/food-recipes/browse-all-recipes/roasted-chicken-and-carrots-with-olives-and-lemons-recipe-00000000023176/ It’s all of 5-10 minutes of hands on prep (i buy pre-cut and coined carrots) and the oven does all of the work. Also, the house smells delicious while everyone is noshing on appetizers or the cheese/charcuterie board. Not everyone loves olives, so you can leave a quarter of the baking sheet without for those guys.

  • Megan Says:

    Second build-your-own tacos! This is my go-to (and I don’t eat beef…just everyone seems to love this recipe): http://smittenkitchen.com/blog/2010/01/southwestern-pulled-brisket/

    Second breakfast for dinner, too. I once prepped cinnamon rolls the night before (leave them in the fridge to do a second rise overnight) and then popped them in the oven right before people came over. Few things smell better than fresh cinnamon rolls. I use them as hostess gifts, too – prep up to second rise & pop in the host’s fridge with baking instructions for the next morning. You know who likes this? Everyone.
    http://orangette.blogspot.com/2008/02/in-all-right-places.html

  • laura Says:

    definitely dinner a love story’s pork ragu!!!

    appetizers: david lebovitz’s spiced nuts, smitten kitchen’s ricotta, mark bittman’s socca

    david chang’s bo ssam is crazy delish and impressive for a large group. same with his brussel sprouts with fish sauce. magic.

    for dessert i find people’s favorite thing is just warm chocolate chip cookies. i keep a roll of homemade frozen cookie dough in the freezer so i have slice and bake cookies ready to go after dinner.

  • laura Says:

    also! i find my best dinner parties have all been fondue parties.

    first course cheese fondue with crusty bread and apples/carrots.

    main course meats, veggies/tofu and dumplings/raviolis.

    dessert chocolate fondue with fruit, baked goods, salty snacks.

    a 3-course fondue meal takes awhile and people drink more than they typically would (which also makes it better!). the social aspect of cooking it all yourself is fun and there’s never a lull in coversation.

  • Abby - Bright Yellow World Says:

    A few of my favorite dinner party meals:
    Pulled pork, baked beans, salad, and corn bread
    Flank steak, roasted and quick-pickled bell peppers, and roasted potatoes
    Shrimp and grits
    Faux chicken pot pie (made in a flat glass casserole), topped with sweet potato biscuits, served with salad and green beans
    Ina’s spaghetti and meatballs
    …and my classic, once-a-year Easter dinner party:
    Fried chicken, mashed potatoes, hamhock green beans, biscuits, and gravy

    I’ve lived in California for almost a decade, but I’m clearly still a Southern girl!

  • Abby-wan Kenobi Says:

    My recent go-to dinner party meal is steak and arugula with balsamic glaze. I found the recipe in a meal-planning app and it’s delicious. Its easy to scale up or down depending on the size of the party, and it’s so simple I have all the ingredients memorized. Preparation below serves 4.

    Mix 2T grated parmeasean cheese and 2T room temp butter in small bowl. Season generously with salt and pepper; set aside. Sprinkle ribeye steak generously with salt and pepper. Heat oil in medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add steak; cook to desired doneness, about 4 minutes per side for medium-rare. Transfer to plate. Add 1/4c balsalmic vinegar, 1/4c finely chopped shallots, and 1t dark brown sugar to skillet; boil until reduced to glaze, stirring constantly, about 1 minute. Plate arugula and top generously with Parmesan shavings. Squeeze 1 lemon wedge over each. Slice steak; place atop arugula. Top steak with Parmesan butter. Drizzle lightly with glaze.

    Serve with crusty bread and if you’re feeling ambitious some steamed veggies. I usually do fresh fruit with a dollop of ice cream for dessert.

  • Elaine Says:

    Dinner parties are my happy place; I have so many lists of dinner party meal plans that I’m working my way through, one weekend at a time! Love me some entertaining.

    My absolute favorite for a large (meat-eating) crowd is David Chang’s bo ssam. Most of it’s done ahead of time, everyone assembles their own thing, and you’ll have people seriously freaking out about how good it is.

    http://www.thebittenword.com/thebittenword/2013/04/bo-ssam-with-ssam-sauce-and-garlic-scallion-sauce.html#more

    My go-to starter is this ricotta trio. It’s insanely easy and always popular. It takes 30 seconds to throw together with a basket of nice crackers on the side, and goes well with a really large number of entrees.

    https://food52.com/recipes/10531-ricotta-trio-with-toast-crusts

    Finally, the “bar” kind of dinner party (salad bar, taco bar, grilled pizza bar, etc.) are always great for a chill crowd. They’re also easy to prep ahead of time, then let the guests do their own thing.

    One last word of advice: regarding leftovers, make sure you’ve got extra portions of at least one thing you’ll want to graze on the next day. I always double up on my chicken pate recipe, because pate & 80s action movies on Netflix are a tried and true hangover cure.

  • Kyrie Says:

    I love what Min said about potlucks. I hosted/attended potlucks all through university and they were amazing. You can either tell people to bring anything, or designate some for salad, desert, sides, etc.

    For dinner parties I think lasagna is great. It’s so versatile, you can make it vegetarian (add lentils or quinoa to the tomato sauce for protein), gluten free (make noodles from sliced zucchini, I found tons of recipes on pinterest), and it can serve a lot of people.

  • Tricia Says:

    My mother throws dinner parties, and I love them (her classic combo would be a huge pan of her amazing lasagna with a green salad and garlic bread). We, however, tend to throw barbecues, which somehow seem easier. I’ll make a few salads that can be made in advance, like a kale salad (there are great recipes on Food52) and a sweet potato / bell pepper or wild rice salad, the guys will grill or smoke some meats, and we’ll have crudite, nuts, and chip and dips out for folks to snack on while smelling the lovely meat smells. It’s very easy to be gluten free and sneak in a lot of veggies this way. Dessert might be a big fruit crisp w/ ice cream or just grilled fruit with ice cream. An ice cream cake (cookie crust, ice cream, fudge sauce) or an ice cream sunday bar are fun for all ages (I think I might be craving ice cream right now).

    One big tip I’ve learned over the years is to never have more than one dish that needs to be served right away – have most things that can sit around and wait for whatever has to come out of the oven or off the grill, especially if you’re not sure how long that item will take (like paella or risotto, which sound like great dinner party ideas until you find yourself attached to the stove, stirring, while guests ask what they can do to help).

  • Amber Marlow | TheAmberShow Says:

    I had a dinner party this week. I put chicken thighs in a roasting pan and covered them in Adobo. I cubed yams and roasted them tossed with olive oil and fancy salt. For a side I whipped up a tabbouleh, and served it all with bread. For dessert we went outside and lit a fire for s’mores. There was beer and wine. It was heaven.

  • Maia Says:
  • kazari Says:

    I have a few people coming over to play boardgames tonight – I’m not sure how many. But there will be crusty bread, roast butternut and garlic soup, also lamb and winter vegetable soup.
    Plus bucketloads of cornchips and salsa, also chopped veggies and hummus.
    Easy.

  • Kate Says:

    We do potluck style, always. It’s the only way our group of friends can get together. I love it because you get a random mix of food and you’re not stuck in the kitchen and missing the party. Sometimes we survive the night on cheese and crackers and other times it’s a feast of slow-smoked beef and baked purple sweet potatoes. I used to feel bad about it but then realized everyone was having so much fun that it didn’t matter. Guests bring their own drinks, too.

  • Amy P Says:

    Tonight I have gluten-dairy-sugar-free people coming over, so I’m doing beef skewers on the grill, a southwestern quinoa salad, and grilled balsamic veggies. Mango coconut popsicles (using honey) for dessert.

    But we like doing a lot of wiener/smokie roasts out here in the burbs. Not everyone can do a wiener roast in their smaller backyards so we’re happy to oblige – plus it’s not much work!

  • jen Says:

    we host dinner parties all the time! the one we hosted this week was a low country stew: crab legs, shrimp, potato, onion, old bay seasoning, crab seasoning, corn on the cobb. One pot, book for about 20 minutes and then dump the entire mess in the middle of a table that’s been lined with newspaper. Hand out lobster crackers and picks. Delicious, easy and fun!
    Another is taco tuesday — you can do this potluck style and everyone brings a topping.
    One book you might like is Handmade Gatherings by Ashley English — all about dinner parties and potlucks. Great ideas.

  • Sarah! Says:

    I love that everyone has so much to say on this topic! It makes me quite happy. One of my go to dinner party menus is tacos! If you have enough fixin’s everyone with a restrictive diet (gf, vegan, etc.) can eat what they want.

  • Lauren Says:

    I love throwing a dinner party! We have a teensy tiny Manhattan kitchen, but enough room to easily seat 13 in our living/dining combo. We’re the only ones of our friends to have this luxury, so we always host and it’s my happiest pleasure!

    Our usual guests are a mix of meat lovers, vegans, and gluten free eaters, so I’ve become a huge fan of making one thing two ways to make everyone happy. Mexican inspired dishes tend to work best for all of our dietary restrictions, are easy to make, go far, and can often be prepared largely in advance.

    I also invite friends to contribute something like wine or salad. One friend makes an incredible kale salad by massaging a few bags of kale with olive oil until it wilts in her hands, tossing in blueberries, a little nutritional yeast, some avocado chunks, and a little bit of a deli purchased wheatberry salad. Toss with a little goddess dressing and enjoy!

    Nibbles:
    I always have olives and marcona almonds

    I’ll often put out…
    Water crackers (or a gluten free option)
    Fig butter
    A cheese or two
    Grapes or whatever fruit I have on hand

    Entrees:

    Tacos-
    Veggie tacos (vegan chicken strips, peppers, onions, asparagus, and any other veggie that looks immediately appealing sauteed with seasoning), corn tortillas, vegan cheese, cotija, refried beans, salsa verde, onions, cilantro, limes, homemade guacamole, hot sauce, etc. I sometimes serve this with a cold black bean and roasted corn salad (rinse a can of black beans, throw in an equal amount of frozen roasted corn, a little bit of diced red onion, a bit of diced jalapeno, a bit of diced avocado, cilantro, salt, a splash of olive oil, and fresh lime juice), and always with good tortilla chips, and sangria or margaritas.

    If I want to add a meat option, I’ll season a few chicken breast with adobo and fresh pepper, lightly brown it, and then pour a jar of a good chipotle salsa on top (I actually love the cheapo Whole Foods brand), simmer with the lid on for about 20 minutes, shred the chicken, and let it sit in the liquid until I’m ready to serve.

    Chili-
    I like to do a couple of varieties, one vegan, and one meat. I also go for thicker style chili. I’ll put out a variety of toppings, like avocado, tortilla strips, vegan and regular sour cream, vegan and dairy cheese, limes, cilantro, scallions, hot sauce, etc. I like to serve chili on top of quinoa.

    My favorite vegan chili is a Black Bean and Sweet Potato (I mess with the seasonings a bit): http://www.care2.com/greenliving/black-bean-sweet-potato-chili.html

    I like to do a turkey chili for the meat version, and really liked playing around with this Chocolate Stout recipe: http://penthousekitchen.com/2012/11/13/chocolate-stout-chili/

    I’ll typically serve a green salad too.

    Dessert:
    My go to is a simple olive oil cake – more or less like a pound cake. I can’t find the recipe that we use, but this is similar (I just don’t have any of the orange juice/liqueur components or almonds in mine). Crazy simple, not overly sweet, a great compliment to coffee, and a huge crowd pleaser. If I’m feeling fancy, I’ll reduce some raspberry preserves to make a warm sauce to place the cake on, and will top it with some freshly whipped cream and pistachios. But it’s delicious on its own.

  • sarah Says:

    love dinner parties (and this comment thread will definitely need to be bookmarked–how awesome!), but having very young kids definitely puts an…um…different spin on it. everything needs to be easy, since one of you is likely chasing a small person around or pulling them off of a high surface. no one likes to host or be a guest at a dinner party where anyone is stressed, hurried, or yelling (especially if it’s the kids because they’re STARVING).

    our menu varies based on season. in the summer everyone wants to be outside, which gives both the kids and the adults their own room to play :) for that reason we love to grill out: sausages from a local butcher, cucumber salad, corn on the cobb, watermelon. homemade popsicles (made ahead and waiting in the freezer) for dessert. we like to have chips, guacamole, and fruit sitting out before, during, and after the meal. beer and wine on hand, with maybe one specialty mixed drink in a pitcher (margaritas, anyone?). cups and a help-yourself container of ice water outside for the kids to get as they need it. easy, picnic style.

    in the winter and fall we’re partial to things you can make ahead (or have cooking all day) like squash soup or beef stew with crusty bread, and we’re always eager to make a big pot of chicken tikka masala with a side of naan. yum.

  • Kate Says:

    Find yourself a 1970′s era spouse (probably wife, let’s be honest) of a military officer. They will have hosted for all the things over the years. Wrote the daughter of a military spouse and officer.

    It looks like maybe you could use some fancier options? In case you have a set of some inherited china sitting around that needs using? If so, these things are easier/can be frozen/look fance.

    Crown roast of pork with almond cherry sauce. The recipe I have is from a print book but Chef Google throws up some options. The crown roast looks amazing but is just… a roast. The cherry sauce adds a nice sharp bite to the mild pork.

    Roast lamb shoulder roast according to The Joy of Cooking instructions. But before it goes in the oven, run the roast all over with olive oil. Make slits in the shoulder with a paring knife. Shove fresh oregano and rosemary leaves in the slits, along with slivered garlic. Serve with roasted or steamed asparagus, roasted mushrooms, and new potatoes. Mmmm… savory goodness, and another spectacular thing to serve.

    Duchess potatoes. aka, fancy mashed potatoes. This recipe looks good: http://www.saveur.com/article/recipes/pommes-duchesse-french-piped-potatoes

    Green beans braised Fresh green beans. Simmer in a little bit of water and olive oil until as done as you like them. Drain. Add butter and shredded fresh sage. Melt the butter and let the sage flavor the beans.

    Asparagus on the grill Wrap asparagus spears in prosciutto or pancetta. Grill till the meat is crisped and the spears browned.

    Cauliflower and balsamic roast cauliflower in olive oil and salt and pepper at 400F until becoming browned. Toss in a tablespoon of balsamic and roast for five or so more minutes. The vinegar will caramelize. Is really good with grilled meat.

    You will not regret learning to make the chocolate mousse from Julia Child’s book The Way to Cook.

    Speaking of Child. If you were living on an air base in ND in the 1970′s, one way you might pass the time would be to buy Mastering the Art of French Cooking vols 1&2 and then dinner party your way through it. The winters are long in Minot, is what I am saying. The point is, a good way to build a dinner party repetoire is to get a Saveur subscription/ a classic like Child’s books, or whatever. Then just start working your way through. Choose one new thing per party, or at least one new thing that is made that day and other new things that can be made ahead so you don’t have a bunch of stuff going on at once. Eventually you’ll have a list of things.

    Oh! And for informal things! Stuff Stuffed with Stuff. Find a stuffed eggplant/ zucchini/ tomato/ onion recipe and go to town. Stuffed eggplant with spanakopita made in a pan rather than in individual parcels= veggie dinner of goodness.

  • Chelsea Says:

    My go-to is pizza. I nearly always have a couple of homemade dough balls in the freezer (made in non-stressful moments). Defrost, rise, smother with toppings, and pop in the oven (or onto the grill, if it’s too hot for the oven inside). Our favorite combo involves dried figs, prosciutto, gorgonzola cheese, and a scattering of fresh arugula over the top when the pie hits the table. I serve right on a cutting board so everyone can grab a slice.

  • Madeleine Says:

    I agree that dinners when I’ve felt most welcome have been ones when I’ve been involved with the food prep. When my friends come round they always ask “can I help?” and now I always say “Yes!” and give them something to chop along with a glass of wine. There’s something lovely about the conversation that evolves when you’re all semi-focussing on a task; it makes me feel less alone cooking when others are snacking/having fun; it makes the whole meal more of a shared achievement than just “look what I did”. WIN.

  • Michelle K Says:

    One can NEVER go wrong with the Zuni Chicken with the bread salad…buy the book and one can host forever.

    People beg to come over when I’m making that one.

    MK

  • Jami Says:

    I love roasting stuff – could be pieces of chicken along with potatoes/root veggies/string beans/broccoli/cauliflower. Along that theme, still love Jamie Oliver’s recipe for pork chops w/ roasted parsnips, pears, and potatoes

    In winter, a big pot of soup, salad, and crusty bread

    Grilled fish, grain salad (could combine farro or barley, veggies, cheese, greens, nuts, fruit – I would change what’s included based on what’s seasonal)

    Pulled pork or chicken sandwiches with asian coleslaw and homemade pickled carrots/cucumbers.

    Mussels are surprisingly easy and quick to make; seafood stews are also great and you can serve them with salad and pasta and/or bread.

    I have done some great oven-baked stews like moroccan chicken with dried fruit (dates, prunes, apricots). Great with cous cous and salad.

    I love to bake, but sometimes for parties it’s nice to keep it simple. Cookies/brownies and ice cream (keep frozen balls of cookie dough in the freezer to bake at a moment’s notice). Fruit crisps are great and can be done with whatever is seasonal or even with frozen fruit in a pinch.