Lessons in Entertaining

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).

Project Food Blog Menu Template for Challenge 3For 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.

Mildred (she didn't disown me), Sonal and Sanjay

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.

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Comments

  1. Just beautiful. You made me smile from beginning to end. Not only did you offer practical, honest advice about throwing a dinner party, but you tempted me with photo after photo of delicious food. Those cupcakes were the icing on the cake (literally and figuratively!). Your guests looked so happy…and I’m happier after reading this. You will have my vote!

  2. Amazing dinner. I just have one problem with that: next time make sure you invite me! I’m available to fly there even with just one day advance notice :) The menu looks fantastic and I like the fact that you did make great food without exaggerating in fanciness. I also don’t own tablecloth and matching fabric napkins :)

  3. wow! fantastic dinner :) i had a great time reading your post and i really love your dishes. thank you for featuring our tinola! :) i’m so intrigued with your jalapeno dipping sauce. if i were asked if i would rsvp to your dinner, 100% i’d say i will :)

  4. What a fun party Jean!! You certainly seem to have conquered the entertaining jitters here :)) awesome spread and YAY!! you made aloo tikki too!! we are tikki sisters now :DDDD

  5. Your house is adorable, your food looks yummy and your friends look happy. The perfect combination that no amount of fancy linens or perfectly dimensioned table can ever make up for.

  6. You don’t look like a newbie to me! Pictures of your friends, I think, are my favorites. When your guests look that happy, you know you’re doing something right. And I must have that chicken soup. Fish sauce flows like sriracha in our house. :)

  7. Wow, I want your kitchen lol. Everything looks awesome, would not guess it is your area of expertise. Working on my post!

  8. Brian (A Thought for Food), I’m pasting your comment here since it posted to another entry. Thanks so much!!! J

    “Everything here looks delicious! I am dying to try those croquettes with the mint chutney! YUM!

    And, by the way, your kitchen is stunning. I’m more than a little jealous.”

  9. Jean – you did a great job! Looks like everyone was having a terrific time. I have not had lunch yet and your food is making me SO hungry!!! Nicely done blog post – you should be proud of yourself. I would have never know that this is not your area of expertise! Good luck with the next challenge – you have my vote!

  10. Jean, you have nothing to worry about – you are clearly a gracious hostess. Napkins and tablecloths aside, it is a warm host with a passion for learning from her guests that make for good entertaining – clearly, you are that and more! I love the menu, and would love to try the Nicaraguan dish one day – don’t think I’ve ever had it before! Happy Birthday to Mr. Anchovy!

  11. “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.”

    Now THAT is the kind of luxury I adore!
    Kudos for staying true to yourself while gaining confidence in entertaining!
    You’ve got my vote :)

  12. Great menu! And, yes, “great ease and comfort”! I am with you on that!

  13. This looks lovely (especially the cake *drool*)! And you’re right, great company and good food are definitely luxurious! Good luck with Round 3 of PFB, friend! :)

  14. I loved everything you cooked for this party! In fact, I think you should do this in your home more often because you looked like the perfect host. I adore these three visuals the most – those pots hanging over your stove (I want!), your relaxed and smiling guests and those German cupcakes. I’ll trade your delicious cupcakes for my Lemon Ice-Box Pie, deal?

  15. I appreciate your honesty, but you have nothing to worry about..You have done VERY well here!
    I would gladly receive an invitation from you!! I’m sure you won’t disappoint me !!!

  16. Great, great job! I’m right with you on the no fancy napkins and napkin rings thing…I’m lucky to have a tablecloth. But, like you said, it doesn’t matter. Your menu looks awesome, and based on the looks of it, your guests had a great time. You’ve got my vote, this round and the 7 to come!

  17. You made it all seem so easy! A wonderful evening captured with beautiful photos and an tasty dishes. Nicely done! Our wishes for good luck are with you!!

  18. Well done! Looks like you all had a wonderful time and your choices in what to serve are exquisite.

    And a late happy birthday to your husband! Glad you all had fun.

  19. The smiling faces of your guests is the best gauge of a successful dinner party! They look pretty darn happy and satisfied to me! You did a great job – each course looks amazing!

  20. Looks like you and your guests had a fabulous time… good thing they didn’t disown you or they wouldn’t have gotten to taste so many wonderful ethnic flavors! Great job with this one :)

  21. I just love it, i love the michelin man, i love your cozy place, and i love that you had a warm and loving dinner party! Congrats!!

    http://whitneysamusebouche.blogspot.com/

    Whit

  22. Looked like such a lovely party, Jean! I can tell from the happy faces that you were a wonderful hostess who also got to have fun at your own party, which is most important. I love that you chose all these hearty, bold flavors from around the world for your menu – yum!

  23. Well done, Jean!! You looked like a pro in hosting with the table setting and the impressive menu! And it looked like everyone enjoyed themselves! I’m drooling over the tinola!! It has been a while since I’ve made that. Loved the post!

  24. Lovely post! Your food looks terrific and all of your guest look so happy :) Wonderful job.

  25. Very nice entry that embraced the prompt of exotic flavors and new tastes. Well done. I voted.

  26. trissalicious says:

    I love how you made tinola – that definitely gets my vote!

  27. I love your “Around the World” theme of your dinner party. I especially love that you featured tinola, one of my favorite comfort food (the addition of jalapeno in the dipping sauce is a plus!). It looks to me you are a quick-learner as far as entertaining goes — the smiles on your guests’ faces proves it!

  28. the food looks fantastic! good luck!

  29. I love your post and your humbleness. Great job. I voted for you and hope you’ll vote for me.

    Lexi

    Vote here:
    http://bit.ly/bjlTA5

  30. Nothing to be embarrassed at ! Your post was amazing, the food looks delicious and the looks on everyone faces showed that they had a great time. I would gladly be a guest ANYTIME :) Good luck to you, you will do fine :) Voted !

  31. This sounds like a lovely menu. I love all the colors; I know that white dishes etc. is the standard definition of luxury, but living in the desert, surrounded by buildings built of white stone, I feel as though it is the things bright and colorful that signify life in abundance. Plus, for much of the world, variety itself is a luxury, so having multiple types of dishes and glasses could be construed as a subtle commentary on society values. Just a thought, from someone who has never had more than three identical plates in my kitchen.

  32. Voted as promised! Please look at my entry too, to round 4 for us both!

  33. Love your menu! Thank you for your vote. I already voted for you (= Hope to see us both in the next round.

  34. Wow looks great! Hope we both make it to the next round! :-) You have my vote!

  35. Hi Jean, I am happy (but not surprised) to see that you advanced to the next challenge! The dishes you served at your party are amazing and I love the international menu. The food alone is luxurious and cloth napkins have nothing to do with a successful or luxurious dinner. :) The hostess and menu speak volumes in luxury! Can’t wait to see your next challenge post! Cheers! :)

  36. Fun is important. And I love those Central/South American stews. Yours even *look* fragrant! You got my vote!

  37. I’ll take great company, lots of good food and fun over fancy table settings and white china anyday! Well done and best of luck for this round.

  38. I love your work and you have my vote!

  39. What a gorgeous spread! The food looks divine and so bold/flavorful. I’ve never tried tinola, but your photos definitely make me want to. Good luck in progressing to the next round, voted for you! :)

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