Dinner party: A social gathering at which people eat dinner together. A luxurious dinner party? My interpretation: Dinner party plus tablecloths and place settings. To most, these words are benign and even mean fun. To me, they are daunting and scary.
In short, this is not my area of expertise. I’m one who was almost disowned by an old friend because I never entertained. While I’ve had friends and family over many times I’ve always excelled more as a guest than as a host.
Above you will see my only table; no formal dining room here. I’ve yet to find a tablecloth that will accommodate its non-standard dimensions. Nor do I own white napkins, napkin rings, and white china. More like yellow and green plates with mismatched glasses, casual at best.
But entertaining tools aside (or lack of them), I understand these are just excuses–I’m my own worst enemy. It’s not about what one has or doesn’t have, I’m simply not a relaxed host. My preoccupation with achieving entertaining perfection has often deprived me of a good time, at least in the days leading to the event.
The good news is…I am learning. I’m taking cues from my friends who are fabulous hosts. I’m also learning to adhere to these rules of successful entertaining:
- Plan ahead: Prepare a menu that is easy to execute and don’t wait until the last minute to shop for the ingredients. Lean towards simple make-ahead dishes so stress is minimal on party day.
- Have small bites and drinks ready before guests arrive: Hungry guests are unhappy guests. Be sure to have a good supply of appetizers and drinks while you put the finishing touches on your main course.
- Allow your friends to help you: Don’t expect to do everything. If a friend offers to be the bartender, accept! Parties are not meant to be one-man shows.
- Relax! If a dish is slightly overcooked, don’t cry. If you are in a food blog contest and lighting issues arise, smile and move on. Your friends won’t judge you (they can vote for you, though).
For the third challenge of Foodbuzz’s Project Food Blog contest, the objective was to throw a “luxurious dinner party where your guests will discover new tastes and exotic flavors”. With my guests in mind, I decided on an “Around the World” theme, each person having a bit of something new and a bit of something familiar, too (satisfies my need to please everyone). With four countries being represented–Germany, India, Nicaragua, Philippines–the menu was certainly varied and unique.
While some of the dishes I prepared were first time efforts, I selected recipes that were simple to prepare. For starters, I chose Indian flavors to whet our appetites by serving Roasted Curry Chickpeas and Aloo Tikki with Mint Chutney (along with a simple green salad).
For an ethnic take on the chickpeas, I tossed them in curry powder, ginger powder, garlic and chili powder. They required little-to-no attention once I put them in the oven and offered a nice crunch between sips of wine.
Continuing with the Indian theme, I also prepared Aloo Tikki, potato croquettes that had a little more substance than the chickpeas and were rich in flavor thanks to garam masala, curry powder, chopped fresh jalapeños, fresh ginger and cilantro. The mint chutney offered a refreshing balance on top of the hot, fried appetizer.
Next, I prepared tinola, a filipino chicken soup that is made flavorful with fish sauce, lots of fresh ginger and the addition of chayote and spinach for nutritional balance. Being the filipina in the crowd, I served this soup with a dipping sauce of lemon juice, fish sauce and jalapeño peppers. It’s a traditional accompaniment that livens up the soup. I was very pleased to see my guests top their bowls with the dipping sauce–no hesitation despite inclusion of the often unpopular fish sauce.
Rounding out the main course, I served Indio-Viejo. It is a Nicaraguan beef stew that is alive with citrusy flavor and fresh mint. Though they’ve never made this dish themselves, my friends, Mildred and Chris, were kind to suggest this dish to satisfy the Nicaraguan component of my theme. Nicaraguan cuisine was new to me and some of my guests so it provided the most exotic touch to our evening.
Indio-Viejo, meaning Old Indian is a pre-Colombian dish. An old fable claims that the origin of this dish came about when Conquistadores declined this dish after being told by a Nicarao member that the stew was being prepared out of an “Old Indian” that passed away the day before. No matter the origins, this stew was an excellent “new taste” for my guests and me. Not only did it acquaint me with my local Latin foods store, we all became familiar with masa harina (starch and thickening agent), achiote paste (for color), and naranja agria (Bitter orange; a combination of lemon, lime and orange juice is an acceptable substitute). Mildred was most gracious by helping me finish the dish. I relied on her to show me the right amount of masa harina and achiote paste to add for the sake of authenticity.
Finally, I served a simple dessert: German Chocolate cupcakes. My husband (of German descent) celebrated a birthday a few days before and it seemed only appropriate to prepare this course in his honor. I improvised by combining two recipes to create these little delights which proved to be a big hit with everyone.
The biggest lesson? In the most technical sense, this party was not luxurious by any means. But if the definition of luxurious is “a condition of abundance or great ease and comfort”, we certainly had this–in the form of great company and lots of good food. Dare I say that “dinner party” now also means…fun.