Thursday, October 15, 2009

Tips for Hosting a Successful Dinner Party

I was recently planning a dinner party menu and got to thinking about how I approach dinner parties and how much I have learned over the years about hosting them. With the holiday season approaching, I thought now would be a good time to pass along some tips for hosting a successful dinner party.

When you are planning your menu don't overreach your cooking skills or what you are comfortable with in your entertaining space. Serving simple food is OK! Make sure you choose recipes that don't need a lot of last minute work and attention. Risotto for a crowd = not good. Make time to test recipes in advance. If you have to try out a new recipe try a side dish recipe. If it fails, you have the entree to fall back on.

The key to hosting a successful dinner parties is to do as much as possible in advance without compromising the quality of the food.

I start with dessert. Dessert should never be something that you have to fuss with during a party. Make dessert the day before, store it and forget about it.

Next I consider side dishes. If we are having a salad, I make it in advance and store in the fridge (without dressing of course!). Vegetables such as carrots and asparagus can be parboiled in advance and stored in the fridge. I just warm them briefly in a pan with butter or olive oil and serve. If I am doing a potato dish I choose one that can be made in advance and either cooked or reheated prior to serving. If you do need to cook a side dish just prior to serving, all of the prep work should be done in advance.

The main dish is the only thing we are likely to cook while we have guests. Try and select dishes that need minimal time and attention - grilled meat or something that goes in the oven and can stand a bit before serving.

Dinner parties are not just about the food. Your house has to look somewhat presentable. I have a quick checklist that I go through prior to a dinner party to make sure that some basics are covered - the table is set, the porch light is on, the guest bathroom is clean and the garbage is out. I actually have this list written out because I found that when I did not have it I forgot things. The list also keeps me on track so I can get that critical extra 10 minutes before a party to change clothes.

What are some of your tips for successful dinner parties?

Monday, October 5, 2009

Would You Like Some Cheese With Your Wine?

Whenever wine and food pairing comes up, the conversation inevitably turns to cheese and wine pairing. Wine and cheese pair really well together. I hear it all the time so it must be true. Except when it's not.

My favorite cheeses are washed rind cows milk cheeses, the stinkier the better. Cheeses at the top of my list include Cowgirl Creamery Red Hawk Cheese and a French cheese called Epoisses. The good news is, these cheeses taste terrific. The bad news is, they don't pair particularly well with wine. My local grocery store actually has a label on the Epoisses that says it pairs with Pinot Noir. I love both Epoisses and Pinot so I was really happy about that. Then I tried it and it just tasted like soap to me. Does that mean I should give up on food and wine pairing when it comes to cheese? No. I just needed to experiment a little.

In general, I have found that Viognier, Marsanne, Roussanne, and Champagne/sparkling wines pair well with the stinky cheeses and triple cream cheeses that we like. As a matter of fact, Champagne/sparkling wine is a great thing to serve with hors d'oeuvres. It's festive and sets the mood for a party and pairs really well with a range of food.

My favorite red wine is Pinot Noir, so I have done some experimenting to try and find a cheese that pairs with it. I have found that Carmody and Rouge et Noir Camenbert both pair well with Pinot.

What cheese and wine pairings do you like?