party table

The first time I hosted a dinner party for my husband’s boss, I pulled out all the stops: Passed appetizers; entrees and sides that rivaled Thanksgiving with their intricate timing requirements; a dessert with elaborate whipping, whirring and plating demands. I had no fun — and essentially missed the party.

Last night, we hosted a dinner party for my husband’s boss and two of his coworkers. I had a blast — and almost never left the party.

What was different?

Five tiny things. But try them the next time you entertain. They’ll turn hosting from a chore to a delight!

party table21. Set the table early. Lay out your linens, place settings and centerpieces the morning of your party or even the night before. You’ll have plenty of time to play with your tablescape, and you’ll have enough time to rectify any annoyances like spotty water glasses or stained napkins.


party green beans2. Choose do-ahead sides. Look for side dishes that you can make the morning — or even the night — before your gathering. I like to serve guests a quinoa  or traditional grain tabbouleh and this green bean/snow pea salad from Yotam Ottolenghi’s PlentyBoth dishes pair well with meat or fish; they can even carry a dinner on their own. Best yet, they can be prepped and assembled the morning of the event.

3. Skip the sauce. Yes, the recipe for grilled clams may instruct you to concoct a buerre blanc to spoon over the shellfish, and the recipe for beef tenderloin may call for a labor-intensive Maderia reduction, but those are embellishments these dishes do not need. Buy impeccable ingredients, then simply grill the clams (done in 5-6 minutes!) and roast the meat (30 minutes!). If you really want a sauce, whip up an herb oil the night before.

4. Forget about trios. Once upon a time, I liked to serve “threes” of things: Three dipping sauces for the crudites; three hot appetizers paired with three cold offerings. Oh, please. I (thankfully) got over myself. Choose one standout dish for an appetizer spread, then supplement it with stuffed olives, interesting meats and cheeses, and an assortment of fresh vegetables. This green gazpacho (again, thank you Plenty) was lovely served in small crystal wineglasses:

party soup2

5. Make a main that makes itself. If I’m serving carnivores, I almost always opt for beef tenderloin. Spice it, sear it, then throw it in a 375-degree oven for 30 minutes (ooh, time with your guests!). Be sure to let it rest for 20 minutes (more time with your guests!), and it will come out perfect every time.

6. (A bonus idea!!) Relax about your house! No one is going to go into the kids’ bathroom. No one is going to white-glove-test your furniture. Make sure the clutter is gone from the living spaces your guests will walk through and make sure your guest bathroom is clean. Then concentrate on setting a beautiful table and having fun!

And … since I brought it up … here’s Ottolenghi’s recipe for that amazing green bean/snow pea side dish:

party green beans


 Green Bean Salad With Mustard Seeds & Tarragon (courtesy Plenty)

  • 1 1/2 cups green beans
  • 2 1/4 cups snow peas
  • 1 3/4 cups green peas (fresh or frozen; if frozen, do not thaw)
  • 2 teaspoons coriander seeds
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds (brown or black works best)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 small red onion, finely chopped and soaked in ice water for 20 minutes or so
  • 1 small chile de Arbol, finely sliced
  • 1 minced garlic clove
  • Grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons chopped tarragon

Fill a large saucepan with water and bring it to a boil. Add salt, then the green beans. Cook for 5 minutes, then remove the beans to a bowl of ice water.

Bring the water in the saucepan back to a boil and add the snow peas. Boil for 45 seconds to a minute, then place the snow peas in a bowl of ice water.

Bring the water in the saucepan to a boil one more time and add the green peas. Boil for 20 seconds, then move the peas to a bowl of ice water.

Drain the veggies and pat them dry. Place in a large bowl.

Combine the coriander seeds, mustard seeds and olive oil in a small saucepan. Stir over medium heat until the seeds begin to pop. Pour the seeds and oil over the vegetables.

Add the red onion (drained and dried), chile de Arbol, garlic, lemon zest and tarragon to the bowl. Toss well, then season with salt and pepper. Refrigerate until ready to serve.