Welcome all to “Food and Friends,” where six winning bloggers get to host America’s Test Kitchen dinner parties. For the next six weeks, we will travel across North America and into the homes of these bloggers who will be using our new Menu Cookbook as their guide to entertaining for a party of eight.
Jen Perez, from Brookline, Massachusetts, is the third gracious host of our “Food and Friends” dinner parties. Jen is an engineer by day and avid baker by night. You can read all about her baking adventures on her blog, Beantown Baker. Jen took on one of the more ambitious menus from the book, the Rack of Lamb Dinner. Read on as Jen dishes out tips for throwing the perfect dinner party.
Meet Our Lovely Host
In the spring of 2007, Hubby and I sold our house in Cincinnati and made the move to Boston. Moving from a three-bedroom house to a one-bedroom condo was quite an adjustment. When we first moved into our condo, we thought we were doomed to never being able to entertain at our place again. Since then, we’ve learned to just adjust our expectations for our entertaining. While we can’t host 8-10 people for a sit-down dinner party in a formal dining room anymore, we can host friends for a more casual gathering.
We always remind ourselves, that when you are sharing delicious food with great friends, it really doesn’t matter if you’re eating off fine china or a disposable plate on the coffee table. Other than the literal square footage considerations when entertaining in a small space, here are a few other pieces of advice that have worked for us in our small Boston condo.
Start by Setting the Tone with Your Invitation
This could range from an informal text message to a handwritten paper invitation. Since I knew that our rack of lamb dinner was going to be pretty informal, I went with an online invitation. Along with the informal invitation, we served our meal buffet style and ate in the living room.
Ask Your Guests to Help You Out
Obviously, throwing a dinner potluck takes this advice to one extreme. But if you want to do all the cooking, have your guests bring some beverages to share. In this case, I asked everyone to bring a bottle of wine to share. We opened the bottles as the evening progressed and it was really nice to not have to worry about that component of the meal.
This seems obvious, but planning ahead will help out a ton. The beginning of the Menu Cookbook provides helpful tips including entertaining troubleshooting, emergency substitutions, and some 11th hour recipes for when unexpected guests drop by and you don’t have enough time to plan ahead. I have to admit, when the cookbook arrived at our place, I instantly sat down and read through all of these tips and tidbits. I found myself marking lots of little tips to remember them in the future. One of the tips in the book is something that I’ve been doing forever; I always lay out all my dishes before a dinner party and label them with post-it notes (I also set out serving utensils with the dishes while I’m at it). I do this for a couple reasons. For one, it gives me a chance to dust off my serving dishes before they are needed. Second, it helps me think ahead to how everything will be plated or served. Third, it gives Hubby a chance to tease me about adding name tags to our dishes.
Do As Much in Advance As You Can
The Rack of Lamb Dinner included side dishes and a dessert that could be made in advance. After reading through the recipes, I decided when each item would be made — and about an hour before our guests were to arrive, Hubby and I just kind of looked around wondering what we should be doing. Since so much had been done ahead of time, we were able to just relax and enjoy the afternoon to ourselves.
Allow for Some Time in the Kitchen with Your Guests After They Start to Arrive
It’s no wonder that the kitchen often serves as the center of entertaining. As our guests arrived for our dinner party, we all had a chance to hang out in the kitchen, munch on some dip, sip some wine, and just enjoy each other’s company while the lamb was being put into the oven. This was a lot of fun because our friends had also never cooked lamb at home, so a lot of them were interested in the recipe and how surprisingly easy (and foolproof) it was.
My last piece of advice is to have fun. Roll with the punches and remember that your friends are there for a good time. For me, relaxing sometimes means that I need to step out from behind the camera and just enjoy the evening.
Hubby and I had a great time cooking lamb for the first time. We had always been a little intimidated by lamb, and this recipe was very easy to follow and gave amazing results.
After our meal was over, we played a fun little game to hand out the America’s Test Kitchen cookbooks to our guests. We decided to do a yankee swap (or white elephant swap) where you can either unwrap a new cookbook, or steal one from someone who has already opened one. Earlier in the evening, while we were all hanging out in the kitchen, I mixed up the mint relish that was served with the rack of lamb.
To decide who would get the coveted last choice in the yankee swap, I asked everyone to write down as many ingredients from the relish as they could. Whoever got the most right, would get to choose last. Quite a few of the people at the party got the mint, olive oil, garlic, and parsley, but the winning ingredient was the salt. Only one person included salt on their list! The yankee swap turned out to be pretty tame – the only person who stole a cookbook was Adam, the winner of the ingredient challenge.
All Good Things Must Come to an End
At the end of the night, we were all very full of delicious food, wine, and great new memories. On behalf of everyone who got to enjoy the rack of lamb dinner party, I would like to thank America’s Test Kitchen for the opportunity to preview this great Menu Cookbook. Hubby and I have already started discussing when we can host friends for Big Game Day Party (there’s a whole chapter of holiday and celebration menus in the book as well!).
Jen, thank you so much for bringing America’s Test Kitchen into your condo and sharing your dinner party with us. Your tips are sure to encourage others to throw parties of their own.