(image via She Knows Food and Wine)
We're having friends over for dinner this Saturday night, so I'm ramping up for dinner party planning mode.
First Step: Plan a Menu
While I love to go to Trader Joe’s and Farmers’ Markets without a shopping list and walk around for dinner inspiration, I find that it’s much easier (and cheaper) to plan out a dinner party menu ahead of time. I come up with menus by reading through cookbooks, looking on food blogs, and getting inspiration from prior meals. If you want to develop a dinner party menu quickly, simply go to the Food Network website, look up a favorite chef, and then click on a recent TV episode. Most likely that chef will have cooked a main dish and 1-2 sides – perfect for your menu.
When planning a menu, keep in mind three things: 1) price, 2) seasonality, and 3) time.
Please, please, please don’t make an astronomically expensive meal. Some people think that a dinner party requires truffles and foie gras and $200 bottles of wine. Ugh. All this does is make you poorer and your guests seriously uncomfortable. Cook affordably and, this way, you can entertain more often. I like to budget $15-$20 a head for all courses (appetizer, main, sides, and dessert). I have been able to cook delicious and impressive meals within this budget, I promise!
Cook within the season. Don’t make a rich beef stew in the summer when it’s 90 degrees out. And please don’t serve your guests peach cobbler in the winter when the peaches are tasteless. Plus, if you buy seasonal food it tends to be cheaper, and it’s already fresh, ripe, and delicious, so your dinner is bound to be successful.
Design a menu that can either be prepped ahead of time, simply has to be thrown in the oven when your guests arrive, or is a “make your own” bar. This way you can actually spend time with your guests, which is the real purpose of the dinner party – spending time with your friends!