In what seems like a slightly newer holiday tradition, some friends and I got together for a ‘Friendsgiving’ dinner party the week before Thanksgiving. Apparently people like to combine as many holiday titles into one word as possible, so I guess Friendmasgivingkkah would have been appropriate too.
This memorable event took place in the great city of Boston. Think Boston tea party without the tea. This post is about what we cooked and what we learned, along with some helpful tips for a stress-free and successful dinner party. You know, like real grown-ups. With table settings and candles and the whole deal. If you want to celebrate the holidays (or any occasion, really) with close friends but haven’t thrown a ‘real’ dinner party before, here are a few pointers.
Before I continue, I should explain who I am talking about when I say “we.” A couple of weekends ago I visited my old roommates Adrienne and Dixon, now Mrs. Bross and Mr. Bross, in the extremely cute Bay Village neighborhood of Boston. When we lived together, Adrienne and I loved to throw dinner parties. So of course we had to put one together in the two days that I would be visiting. We decided on a ‘Non-Thanksgiving Friendsgiving’ of sorts, to cook food that is similar to Thanksgiving but not actually Thanksgiving food.
Here is the menu we decided on:
Our friends also offered to bring dumplings, an offer we couldn’t refuse. We created our very own Fig, Honey, and Goat Cheese Bites for an appetizer (recipe for that coming later this week). We set out a cheese board with sausage and olives for snacking as well.
Here are our tips for throwing a successful dinner party:
- Pick a theme. A theme makes the planning much easier and adds a fun twist. You can choose a theme that covers food and outfits, such as Mad Men, or completely make up your own. There are no rules!
- Feed a crowd with a large one-pot recipe. We didn’t follow this advice for our own party, but we had two cooks. Otherwise jambalaya, paella (which is easier than you think), and baked risotto are some of my favorite dinner party recipes and work well for a lot of people. Additionally, all three of these recipes can finish cooking on their own, which gives you freedom to socialize. Or make the recipes ahead of time and reheat! If you’re nervous, use a recipe that you already know (i.e. don’t roast a bird for the first time).
- Do as much in advance as you can. We organized the chairs to make sure that the guests would fit comfortably and then set the table. Plus we arranged the food on a separate buffet so that the main table would have more room. If you have a small space, you can always rearrange for one night to make things more comfortable. As far as cooking goes: we made the dessert and stuffing first so that there would be room in the oven later. Both were easy to quickly reheat. Start to prep early, because it always takes longer than you think.
- Don’t feel like you have to do everything yourself. We had four different people helping in the kitchen at some point. If someone offers to bring something, say yes. Don’t be afraid to ask people to bring specific items such as salad or wine. And remember, if it’s your first dinner party, it doesn’t have to be a grand affair. Three to four guests can be just as fun as 8-10.
- Offer a vegetarian option. Check with your guests before planning the menu to see if there are any dietary restrictions.
- Set the mood. Fresh flowers and candles go a long way. And of course, have a dinner playlist ready to go.
- Designate a person for drinks. Once guests arrive, have a designated person to make sure that everyone gets a drink when they get in the door. Set out appetizers to make sure that no one goes hungry when you are a teensy bit behind schedule. I don’t think I’ve ever actually served a meal on time. And appetizers don’t have to be fancy, a simple cheese and crackers plate will do.
- Clean as you go. Or have your significant others clean as you go. When it’s down to the final minutes, you can prevent accidents by keeping the counter surfaces clear of clutter.
- Relax! Have a good time! Then your guests will relax more too.
Homemade dinners around a table with friends will beat a restaurant any day. Delicious food and wine, and perhaps some games—Mafia became my new favorite that weekend. So have a wonderful time and remember: there’s always pizza delivery.