Hosting Dinner, Without the Stress

Somewhere in the middle of the second hour of the fourteen hour drive back to New York from South Carolina, I looked over at Ian in the driver's seat and thought, "Here I am, driving back to our home, with my husband. If this isn't a time to reset and start fresh, I don't know what is." Immediately following this romantic reverie I glanced at my calendar for the first time in two weeks and thought, "SHIT! It's the High Holidays and I have to host dinner on Sunday."

I love to celebrate the weeks of the Jewish High Holidays, starting with the New Year- Rosh Hashanah. The holiday always coincides with the beginning of Fall and always feels like a great fresh start. Nothing better than a meal with friends and family to usher in a new year and season.

Because Rosh Hashanah dinner this year happened exactly three days after we got back from our wedding it was the perfect opportunity to flex my hosting muscle. In the past, pulling together dinner for six people in less than a day would've sent me running for Valerian root. But over the years I've tested some foolproof tricks to help avoid stress and actually enjoy getting ready for a dinner party.

This past Sunday, I felt a bit brave and logged the entire day on Instagram Stories. (As I grow this project, it's only natural to try new mediums of communication and I am so appreciative of those of you who followed along.) I want to make sure I continue to regularly post on the site so I've written out my tried and true tips for hosting a big dinner for a crowd. Just to clarify, when I say "big dinner" I mean one that involves more than one course, several appetizers, and a dessert. 

Dinners don't have to be difficult and stuffy. Having friends over doesn't mean you spend three days straight slaving away in your kitchen only to emerge dripping in sweat and covered in flour. You can cook food for a ton of people and actually enjoy yourself! Surprise. (Pouring a glass of wine along the way helps too.)

 

Hosting Dinner, Without the Stress

1. Confirm guests. It is so important to know how many people you're cooking for. There's nothing more stressful or embarrassing than running out of food or having to make something last minute. I always send an email and ask for an informal RSVP. Then, once I've confirmed the number, I make enough food for one extra. That way I always have more than enough and am prepared in case someone changes their mind and decides to come!

  • Most guests will ask if there's something they can bring to the meal. I always request bread, cheese, wine/beer, or a salad. These are not expensive, easy to assemble, and don't require your friends to go too much out of their way. (It's alright to ask people to contribute something as long as it's not too much of an imposition.) I know I always like to bring something to the table and do my part in helping the host and I'm sure my friends do as well.

2. Decide on recipes ahead of time. Hosting a meal is not the time to experiment with new recipes. It's a guaranteed way to stress yourself out and take all the fun out of preparing the meal.  In order to make things easier I like to pick my recipes based on this format:

  • 1 time consuming recipe: this is usually the main course.
  • 1 easy starter: soup or this can be a special salad.
  • 1 base: rice, quinoa, etc.
  • 2-3 easy to assemble dishes: roasted vegetables, pickled sides, cheese board.
  • 1-2 salads
  • 1 dessert
  • fruit: not everyone has a sweet tooth, always have some fruit on hand as an alternative

3. Prep all your ingredients the day before/morning of the meal. The most labor intensive part of cooking anything is the prep. Make sure you go grocery shopping the day before your dinner. Cut, chop, slice, dice what can be done in advance the morning of your meal.

4. Schedule what you are preparing depending on recipe cook time. I stick to a few rules when preparing any large meal.

  • Always make dessert first. Most cakes, pies, cookies need to cool and rest regardless - make them in advance so you don't have to worry about last minute mixing and measuring. Also, desserts tend to be messy. The last thing you want to be doing is cleaning up flour off your kitchen floor 5 minutes before people come over.
  • Soups/stews can be made the day before or morning of and kept in the fridge. There is nothing wrong with reheating. That's all. Most soups and stews taste better after the flavors have some time to hang out.
  • Green, fork + knife, and generally most veggie salads can be assembled when guests arrive. No one likes a soggy salad so save that for when your guests are almost walking in the door. Also, you're not a superhero and there's nothing wrong with your friends seeing you putting vegetables in a bowl. They do it too. 
  • Marinate protein right after you prepare dessert but cook it last. If you can show me one person who like a steak that's been sitting around for a few hours, I'll show them the way to an Olive Garden.

5. Build in breaks. If there's one thing I learned from watching hours of Ina Garten (other than reserving 1/3 of my salary for "good olive oil") in college it's to make sure you're not exhausted by the time dinner starts. What's the point of cooking a huge meal if you're too tired to enjoy it? Rhetorical question. The point is, make sure you have time to rest before your friends get to your apartment. I always take a 1-2 hour break during the day to shower, relax, nap, whatever.

So, now that I've written out my tips for a stress free dinner I want to give an example of how I planned out a real meal. My Rosh Hashanah dinner for 6 people, mapped out, below. I've linked the recipes for the soup and the cake, in case you want to try them!

Menu:

Appetizers/Nibbles: Apples + Honey, Pomegranate Seeds, Challah

1st Course: Mushroom, Spinach, + Chickpea Soup

2nd Course: Roasted, dry rub chicken with yams, apples, and carrots.

Dessert: Honey cake, more apples and pomegranate.

Process

  1. Prepare honey cake first thing in the morning. Cover, set aside.
  2. Cut, slice, dice, rinse all vegetables for 1st and 2nd course. Place in Tupperware in refrigerator for later.
  3. Take a break.
  4. Early afternoon, prepare the soup. Cover, let cool, place in fridge.
  5. Clean up a bit, do all dirty dishes accumulated so far.*
  6. An hour before guests arrive- dry rub chicken, lay out on baking dish with vegetables, slow cook until ready to serve.
  7. Put out all appetizers and snacks.
  8. Prepare all beverages (beer, wine).
  9. Prepare green salad as guests arrive.
  10. DONE! EAT! RELAX! ENJOY!

*Shout out to husband who swept and washed all the floors so I didn't have to.

L'Shana Tova!!

L'Shana Tova!!