On Sunday, we hosted a small get together and I was positively thrilled when we pulled it off without a hitch (because, trust me, that hasn’t always been the case). My husband and I have learned over the years through a lot of trial and error (and tears) so I thought I’d share with you what we served and how we executed a seamless summer dinner party.
- The Tablescape: I prefer to keep my table settings pretty simple. I usually stick to a crisp, white tablecloth, festive napkins, and low flower arrangements (so we’re not all craning our necks to see each other across the table). I scored my table linens at Home Goods which I highly recommend because they have a great selection at very reasonable prices!
- The Bar: I recently purchased this rattan bar on major sale and what I love is how lightweight it is and the fact that it has wheels! I actually keep it our family room and just place fresh flowers on it (because barware and children do not mix) but when we have company, I just roll it into our living room and voila…instant bar set up! Bar cart essentials are a plethora of glasses, wine, alcohol, club soda (and not pictured but totally necessary are an ice bucket and lemon/lime slices).
- Appetizers: Sometimes I’m inclined to believe appetizers are more important than the main meal (anyone with me on this?). I typically put out a cheese,crackers, cured meats, olives, nuts and grapes spread. During the colder months, I also offer some warm appetizers such as pigs in a blanket (who does’t love those?), spinach and feta puffs, and mini quiches. Always make sure you have plenty of trays and serving platters (something I definitely didn’t consider when I was registering for our wedding), cocktail napkins, and toothpicks.
- The Menu: I’ve learned over the years to create simple, fuss-free menus that I can make ahead. During the winter, I love a baked ham or a roast chicken. It’s so easy to add a few sides (or better yet, ask your guests to bring some). During the warmer months, if it’s a casual get together, we love to barbecue and eat out on our deck. My husband takes care of the grilling and I make a variety of salads. This past weekend, our get together was a little less relaxed so I decided to make lasagna (which is sooo easy and if you time it right, you really can’t go wrong). I put it in the oven twenty minutes before our guests arrived (lasagna usually takes 45 minutes plus 15 minutes cooling time) so we could enjoy our drinks and appetizers before sitting down to dinner. I served it with a baby kale salad with heirloom tomatoes and feta as well as fresh bread. For dessert, I bought a lemon tart from Trader Joe’s (so darn good) and I bought a pound of cookies from the bakery.
- The Music: I think music really depends on who you’re entertaining. We definitely tailor our playlist according to who is coming over. Since on Sunday we weren’t quite sure what the musical taste might be, we decided on Dave Brubeck. I personally love jazz because it’s mellow but not too mellow where you’re falling asleep. Other favorites in this genre are Buena Vista Social Club (Cuban music), John Coltrane, Harry Connick Junior and of course, Frank Sinatra.
The most important thing is to spend as much time with your guests as possible. You certainly don’t want to be slaving away in the kitchen while your friends and family are in the other room! So, sometimes it’s best to get your meal catered or hire a server (or both) depending on the circumstances and how much you’re able to take on. I’ve finally learned to keep things as simple as possible, not get too upset over the little things, and remember that your guests are there to see you! So, even if you order a pizza and share a bottle of wine, if you’re gracious and engaging, that’s all that really matters!