When Clark and I moved into our new place a few months ago, we knew we wanted to use our space to host our friends more. We now have the space for a larger dining room table (you can see our dining room here), and with my dietary restrictions sometimes making it difficult to eat out, hosting friends for dinner seemed like the best idea!
The thought of having a real “grown-up” dinner party sounded fun (I mean, we are in our 30’s), but I knew I didn’t want to spend the whole night in the kitchen, even if it is open to the dining area. I wanted to talk and laugh at the table with my friends! I was determined to figure out how it could be done! Here’s what worked for me
1. KEEP YOUR PARTY A SMALLER GROUP
Start with a group of 6-8, including yourself. It doesn’t have to be big. I think 6 is a perfect number for an easy, stress-free party. You dinner party doesn’t need to be 12 people, and if there are more people you’d like to invite, just have two small parties instead of one big one! It’s much easier to manage! We invited two other couples, our friends Matt and Amber, Zach and Megan.
2. CHOOSE A MENU THAT CAN BE PRE-PREPPED & SIMPLY COOKED
When I started to plan our party menu, there were a few things I needed to keep in mind: 1) It needed to be “aqua-vegan” for me and gluten-free for my friend Megan. 2) I wanted to take advantage of local seasonal produce and play on Fall flavours 3) As much as possible needed to be able to be prepped ahead of time so the day of the party it could just go in the oven (I had to work until 5pm and the party started at 6pm). 4) The dishes needed to be easy to cook, so I could just throw them in the oven and sit with my guests.
Here’s what I decided on for our menu:
VIRGIN APPLE CIDER GINGER MIMOSAS (from In Sonnet’s Kitchen) – the recipe we used (here) called for orange juice and clementines, but to go with our fall theme, we subbed the orange juice for apple cider from a local orchard, and the orange slices for fresh, local, thinly sliced apples. We sliced the ginger and apple before hand (toss apple slices with a little lemon juice to prevent browning) to make the drinks fast and easy to assemble when guests arrived.
SWEET POTATO & CHICKPEA SALAD WITH CRISPY SHALLOTS & LEMON TAHINI DRESSING (from The Simple Veganista) – the recipe (here) was delicious. I made the dressing the night before and just tossed it in the blender to smooth it out right before the party. I also chopped the sweet potato and rinsed the chickpeas and stored them overnight in the fridge so I just had to toss them with oil, salt and pepper and slide them in the oven. I also sliced the shallots, so I could just thrown them on the stove when it was time to cook them.
ROASTED PUMPKIN WITH BLACK RICE & TANGERINE TAHINI SAUCE (from My Darling Lemon Thyme) – the recipe (here) was really simple. I made the sauce the night before and also pre-chopped the pumpkin and parsley.
OVEN BAKED SALMON WITH TOASTED ALMOND PARSLEY & CAPER SALSA (from Food Network) – the recipe (here) was fast and really easy to make. I really love the “salsa” garnish! The almonds and capers gave it such a great flavour that brought the whole dish together! I pre-cut the salmon fillets and pre-made the salsa beforehand. Because it only takes 12-15 minutes to bake, it a great 2nd course that won’t keep your guests waiting!
CIDER CARAMEL APPLE CRISP WITH VANILLA COCONUT ICE CREAM (from One Lovely Life) – the recipe (here) is one of the better vegan apple crisp recipes I’ve tried. I made this entire dessert before hand and just popped it into the oven to bake while we were eating dinner! It doesn’t get much easier than that! I also made a really simple coconut milk ice cream by mixing coconut milk, vanilla extract, maple syrup, and almond milk, which was the perfect compliment to the apple crisp.
3. ORGANIZE YOUR COOKING ORDER
When it comes to minimizing stress and maximizing time with friends, organization is key. Make a quick list of each course and what still needs to be done for each. Note the cooking temperature and times as well as any garnishes you need at add. I also kept my Ipad handy to refer to pictures when it came to plating. I made a few quick notes to keep myself organized while the night unfolded:
30 minutes before party: Slice ginger and apple for drinks. Toss sweet potato and chickpeas in olive oil, salt, pepper and chili powder and bake in the oven for 30 minutes at 400. Cook black rice on stovetop.
5 minutes before party: Cook shallots in olive oil on medium heat for 5 minutes (place on paper towel until served).
Appetizers: Plating order: Mixed Greens, sweet potato & chickpeas, crispy shallots, lemon dressing, pumpkin seeds. Prepare Main Course: Toss pumpkin with olive oil, salt and pepper and bake in the oven for 30 minutes at 400. Clear plates and put salmon in the oven for 15 minutes at 450.
Main Course: Plating order: Black Rice, pumpkin, tangerine sauce, parsley, salmon, almond salsa. Prepare dessert: Bake apple crisp for 50 minutes at 375.
As long as you know what you need to do at each course, you can rest easy and have fun!
4. KEEP YOUR TABLE SIMPLE
There’s really no need to create elaborate tablescapes with expensive centrepieces, although, if you’re good at that, go for it! If you’re like me and your pass time isn’t arranging floral displays, focus on the food and the friends and create a simple, but beautiful, setting for the evening to unfold. I set our concrete table with a simple white linen table runner, vintage brass candle holders that I picked up this summer for $4 at a garage sale, and a few branches from the willow tree behind our condo. So simple. So beautiful. Sometimes less is more!
Hosting a dinner party might be less work than you think! So go extend an invitation and spend more time with the people you love without spending all your money on a restaurant bill. The total of our dinner bill was easily less than $50 for all 6 of us!