Company’s Coming…Now What Should I Make?!

Company’s Coming…Now What Should I Make?! November 12, 2012

I have vivid childhood memories of my parents hosting dinner parties: clinking ice cubes at cocktail hour, mom’s fancy perfume, dad’s laughter, and delicious smells wafting upstairs from the kitchen. Once we were old enough, my sister and I were allowed to come downstairs in our pajamas for a little while to say hello to my parents’ friends, and then we would run back upstairs and pretend that we were adults hosting our own party.

Now that I am, in fact, an adult, I find that dinner parties are few and far between. More often, we have a potluck-style family dinner at the home of someone brave enough to host 10 young children, or see friends at an organized couples’ party run through one of my moms’ groups. These are great occasions, don’t get me wrong, but I do sometimes wonder what happened to the gatherings of my parents’ generation. There is a part of me that associates being an adult with hosting a dinner party, which is something that I haven’t done in quite a while!

Perhaps if I had some solid menu ideas under my belt, I would feel more confident in my ability to host such a soiree – this, my friends, is where you come in! Please share your dinner party ideas with us here in the comments section – recipes are not necessary, although certainly not discouraged. I would also love details on the types of food that are expected at such a gathering – for example, is a nice pasta dish an acceptable main course, or should some type of meat always be served? Do appetizers need to be homemade, or is a nice Brie with chutney and crackers enough? Can I get away with serving only wine, or do people expect cocktails of some sort? And to clarify, I would probably only be hosting two to three other couples, so this does not need to accommodate a huge crowd. Thank you in advance for your ideas!

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  • I am totally with you on this one. My parents had both dinner parties and larger adult only gatherings, and my social life includes neither! I think it is important to keep in mind that because of our more casual lifestyle, your guests might actually be put off if things were too well done or formal! So, to that end, I think that if I went to someone’s house and got brie and chutney (a nice step up from chips and hummus), and a glass of wine, I would be thrilled. I would have some beer on hand, as well, some guys prefer a beer. It is pretty unusual to offer a real cocktail, but I think it is fun if people sort of have their specialty thing — so, if your husband wants to offer scotch or an after dinner drink, that can be fun, but my sense is that these days women mostly just drink wine and don’t have a cocktail before dinner. I think that just pasta for a main course seems a little cheap, unless you have a very special pasta. I think that people usually offer to bring something, and it is usually easiest to ask them to bring dessert.

    Have some fresh flowers in the house but also an empty vase nearby so that you can quickly put flowers in water if someone brings them to you. Light a nice candle, leave yourself a few minutes to fix yourself up before the guests arrive, and put your husband in charge of offering drinks as people arrive. You might get a sitter in the afternoon so that you have help with the kids while prepping to have people over.
    Go for it, and come back and tell us how it goes!

    As for recipes, this Silver Palate chicken was the 1980’s go to dinner party recipe:

  • Kellie “Red”

    In cool weather I cook a nice roast, with potatoes, and veggies in the same deep dish. I make the gravy right in the same pot. I can do all this in advance and serve it with a fancy pre-made salad and feel very relaxed for company. In the summer I pre-make a nice salad, and I usually cook something on the grill and serve it with a cold pre-made dish of some sort. Some keys to nice gatherings in our home — high quality meat (always ask to make sure guests can eat what you plan to serve!), a nicer bottle of wine, and some fancy extras on the salad (candied walnuts for example), and do asks guest to bring wine or something for dessert. I also pick up some pre-made dessert at a local bakery because it is inexpensive and local.

    I think serving pasta as a main dish can be a bit cheap, but I say this as someone who can’t eat wheat and doesn’t feel good w/o a solid amount of protein in my meal. I think it is always good to serve food with the guests preferences and appetites in mind. I usually ask about food allergies, and food preferences and try to cook something that my guests will find appetizing. Since being diagnosed with Celiac Disease, I’ve realized that it can be a huge burden on people to attend a meal and not be able to eat what they are served.

    I absolutely LOVE to host a dinner party (provided I am not sick or pregnant!), and I do think once a month gatherings like this are completely doable even with young children. It is a nice way to build community in your home, and if all your friends are having child-care issues, consider inviting the local Parish Priest and some younger childless couples from your parish for dinner. We have built so many relationships this way!

  • Mama Turtle

    I love to have people over! For us, cocktail parties tend to be more economical, and a theme of some sort helps keeps things fancier if we’re throwing a cocktail party. In the fall, we do an “Apple, Wine, and Cheese” and most of the guests show up with some really great cheeses and wine. We’ve also done a “Bring Your Favorite Cocktail” Christmas party that has worked out splendidly. Sparkly outfits, festive cocktails that people bring (appletinis, peppermint twists, eggnog, gin and tonic, etc), and the house is already decorated. I just provide the glasses and some appetizers 🙂 My favorite one is the Kentucky Derby Party – the ladies wear pretty dresses and hats, we sip mint juleps and eat appetizers, and watch the race.

    When I’m hosting a dinner party (which doesn’t happen very often, but I wish it did!), I usually put out some antipasto (cheeses, meats, olives, roasted tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers- purchased and plated ahead of time), a nice salad (usually argula, raddicchio, blue cheese and some sort of fruit), bread, and then a pork tenderloin with roasted potatoes and green beans. If I’m serving pasta as dinner, it needs be a substantial one like a lamb ragu or seafood one (shrimp, scallops, clams, mussels, cod). No classico from the jar 🙂 I usually serve cannoli or gelato for dessert. I think that having an appetizer of some sort, and serving salad and bread with the meal (and I always serve meat or a substantial amount of seafood, depending upon the guests) ensures that everyone is full afterwards. It’s also nice to use a tablecloth and serve seasonal fruits and veggies as part of the meal. We usually do beer, wine, and a fun “signature” drink of some sort (again, seasonal – pumpkin martini, homemade sangria, strawberry prosecca, etc).

    I’m also super conscious of the guests’ food allergies and preferences; I have a severe nut allergy and there have been times when I’ve gone to weddings and not been able to eat the dinner because the whole plate was covered in nuts. I typically bring a dessert when we go to someone elses’ house so that I know I’ll be able to eat it.

  • Kerry

    I still remember the chili party at your house, red!

    It is such a great apostolate to have others in your home and show them simple hospitality….

    So what to do about the “lots of kids” thing? Is it demand the others get sitters? Is it just have the kids destroy the upstairs or basement? Is it have a sitter at your place so the adults can eat in peace?
    I’m stuggling with this bc I like to do this, but there seems to be a critical age (like 1.5 year olds to 3.5 year olds where it is going to be hard to have several in your house at once without chaos), but that’s the way it is if you are going to invite two families that are open to life, plus your own kiddos.

  • JMB

    I think the trick to hosting a fun dinner party is to choose your menu wisely. I’ve found any cut of meat – a beef tenderloin or pork roast is ideal becasue you just marinate and pop into the oven and the oven does all the work, Then for sides pick something that you can also just pop into oven – like a scalloped potato or roasted veg/potato. Ina Garten has some great easy recipes for stuff like roasted squash. Then make a salad and your done. Pasta is too labor intensive and you have to eat it right away so I don’t bother with it. If guests ask to bring something I ususally suggest dessert, Have lots of wine and beer on hand,

  • Mama Turtle

    It’s a good question! I love having families over for Sunday dinner and cookouts.
    If we’re hosting a grown-up party of some sort (again, this happens like twice a year), then I usually put my own children to bed early (7ish) and start the party at 8. Alternatively, my older ones sleep over at their grandparents’ and the nursing baby stays with us.

    The local parish up the street offers babysitting the first Friday of the month from 6-10pm for the bargain price of two dollars an hour per child (or twenty dollars a family, whichever is lower!). The kids play in the nursery, eat dinner, do a craft, and watch a movie. It’s run by some church ladies and the youth group girls, and it’s such a nice ministry! It’s about three blocks from our house, so we try to make sure we do a grown up party on those nights. Again, the grownup parties are so nice, but they don’t happen that often because we all have to coordinate child care!

  • Jess

    My parents used to have fancy parties too. But they only had two children. Honestly, people my parents age just had less children than me or my friends have. When we get together with other families we are always way outnumbered by the children. A nice problem to have. But not great for a cocktail party 🙂

    If were having a dinner party I would get really good cheese and olives and sopresata. And then make a brisket or a beef wellington, asparagus and mashed potatoes, followed by pie. Yum!

  • Jen

    My grandparents used to always host both dinner and cocktail parties, my parents did so less often, and I feel like now we occasionally have another family or two over for dinner, but it’s more casual. It’s not necessarily a good or bad thing, just different.

    I would disagree that it is inappropriate to serve pasta. First of all, we tend to have others over for dinner on Fridays when we abstain from meat, and many people are not fond of fish or other seafood. Second, I am a vegetarian and I find that pasta dishes can be complex and delicious. I’m not suggesting pasta with jarred marinara sauce, but if you take it up a notch or two it can be the perfect main dish. There are often times when we serve meat as a main course, but not always. Also, for mainly serving a meat or seafood dish might stretch their budget.

    Many people tend to refrain from hosting others because they feel as if their house is not just right, or maybe their not the best chef, or maybe their budget is tight. The blog Like Mother, Like Daughter has recently encouraged people to start where they are, and to not put off such gatherings any longer. When you host others you are building relationships and community, and that is far more important that what you serve or whether or not you have a full bar.

  • I think a few simple appetizers (olives, brie and crackers, etc) and a simple salad plus the main course is very doable. And I don’t drink often, but I do love a good cocktail! We go to a friend’s house for dinner often and always end up having cocktails. Makes me feel all grown up. And I have to disagree with everyone and say that meat should never be served at a dinner party. 🙂 Here’s a great recipe that isn’t all that difficult but is sure to impress: Perfect for Autumn/Winter dinner parties.

  • Texas Mommy

    Great ideas!
    I do serve pasta as a main course in the summer (with basil, tomatoes, mozzarella…I think the cheese works as the main protein) with a large side salad and rose wine, because it is hot!!

    We also have a few parties we host every year, which makes it easier to plan. We know that we have an Epiphany party in january and a ladies night recipe exchange in august, so I can keep recipes/ideas in a file and plan accordingly, not last minute.

    For more spontaneous get togethers, we grill a lot: meat and corn are done outside where the kids are anyway, I do salad/dessert earlier in the day.

    Appetizers can def. be purchased, but I would try to “repackage” them…cheese on a cheeseboard, tapanade in a dish or mason jar, crackers in a basket.

    Also, after our first baby we decided to cater all baptism get togethers. No reason a 4 week postpartum mama should be on her feet cooking for 20!