For the last two and a half years, my fiancé and I have been living in a 390 square foot apartment. Now before you wonder how the heck we did it, let me explain that it was located right on the beach in Santa Monica, California. A backyard as beautiful as this can help you forget about a lack of space:
One thing that I truly missed while living there (besides a garbage disposal and a room other than the bathroom to escape to) was the space to entertain friends and family. I grew up in a family that cooked and ate together. On weeknights it was Mom cooking us dinner and then waiting for Dad to get home before we sat down to eat. On weekends it was the two of them cooking and grilling together while listening to “steak music” (jazz that was always associated with a more elaborate, relaxed weekend meal). For me, food always brought people together and became a way to express love and gratitude. During the week, I eat a pretty clean and simple diet, but when it comes time to share the experience with others, I like to create a special ambiance with special food.
A few weeks ago, we finally moved into a new place! With about three times as much space, a whole new world has been opened up to us. This past weekend, my numero uno and I decided it was time for our first dinner party. We made the decision rather last minute and the morning of I woke up early to caffeinate, menu plan, and create a few lists of what we needed to pick up. He went off to purchase the proteins for grilling and draperies for the wall of windows that we desperately needed, while I shopped at the farmers’ market. I then drove an hour away to a book signing. Very apropos, I was getting my copy of Relish by Daphne Oz signed, which gives hints and tips about entertaining and coming across as all-around put together. Setting the mood for the evening.
We still didn’t have serving dishes or platters either, so on my way back, I hit up Home Goods and Target for some festive dish ware as well as last minute groceries and bar mixers. Also, over the course of the two weeks prior, I had been collecting candle holders and completed the look with a few Target finds. I arrived home about an hour before guests were to arrive (probably a big no-no!) and immediately got to work.
On the menu!
- Raw zucchini hummus and pita chips
- Chips and guacamole
- Farmers’ market grass-fed chicken and pork sausages grilled up and sliced
- Shrimp cocktail
- Vegan polenta pie
- Homemade focaccia with walnuts and grapes
- Farmers’ market roasted beets and goat cheese
- Grilled tenderloin and swordfish
- Farmers’ market berry crumbles (recipe from Relish!) with vanilla ice cream and homemade whipped cream
- Fully stocked liquor selection (vodka, tequila, scotch/whisky, rum)
- Red and white wines available
- Mix-pack of beer
- Lots of mixers – soda water, tonic, coca-cola
I am not sure how things came together as seamlessly as they did, but when I first got home, I immediately started prepping. The zucchini hummus came together in the food processor in a flash. Into a (brand new!) serving dish it went. The focaccia dough needed an hour to rise, so I threw that together and let it sit in a bowl, to later be flattened out and baked in the oven 15 minutes prior to eating. Beets went into the oven to roast. Polenta was cooked up and poured into a baking dish in no time while the vegetables that went on top were being sauteed on the stove top. Neither of us could find ripe avocados at the grocery stores to make homemade guacamole, so we picked up some store-bought at Whole Foods. Done. The pre-prepared foods were thrown into serving dishes and set out for guests. By the time our guests arrived, the appetizers were out and the first round of dishes was done.
The rest of the evening, Numero Uno manned the grill, I put away appetizers once people were done with them and cleaned as we went. Despite a few temperature issues with our brand new grill, the meats came out perfectly. We set them up on platters and ate family style. While he finished up grilling, I threw the berry crumbles in the oven (in individual ramekins) so that they were ready when we were.
Now they say that you’re not supposed to experiment recipes on guests, but this is a rule that I consistently break. I love reading blogs and browsing through cookbooks for new recipes to try! Most of these aren’t foods that I would make on a regular basis, so I figure why not try new things when friends are around?
On this first go-round, our timing was definitely a little off. Main course served at 10:15pm? Oops! Food coming out in rounds rather than courses? Oops again! But the thing to remember is, no one really minds when the food tastes good, the company is fantastic, and the cocktails are flowing.
Here are a few tips that may help out if you decide to throw a dinner party:
- If you forget to buy something at the store, don’t worry. No one else will notice unless you tell them.
- If you need to pick up a store-bought product instead of homemade, it’s not the end of the world. Even Ina Garten, the queen of entertaining, will tell you to mix store bought and homemade goods for an easy dinner party.
- Add little decorative touches – a bouquet of fresh flowers or leftover fresh herbs in a vase adds a fresh touch. Candle arrangements also add to the ambiance.
- If your timing is off, don’t stress! Have good music playing, great conversation flowing, a stocked bar and you’ll be good to go!
- Clean as you go, if possible. If you do, there will be much less to do in the morning, but it also prevents all those dishes from stacking up. It really only takes a tiny bit of extra time in the moment, but really saves in the end!
- Have a good line up of music. A local station was playing a weekend of The Stones, which was perfect for our crew. We spent the night jamming to our favorites!
I’d say our first night of entertaining was a complete success! When you wake up in the morning and have to peek in the guest room (we have a guest room!) to see if any friends crashed for the night, you know it was a good time 🙂
Until the next party,