When the party starts, you want to be able to greet your guests and enjoy it, too. So avoid anything that requires you to be slaving over the stove, like deep-fried squash blossoms or pan-fried fish.
Try: One-pot wonders like a tagine or braised meat that can be made in advance or kept warm. Lasagna or chicken dishes are perfect, too, as they can be assembled the day before and popped into the oven just before guests arrive.
After eating lots of garlic, your guests might find talking to their neighbor, well, interesting — but don’t forget you’ll be sitting around the table with them, too, now. And they might give you a hug or kiss goodnight, so it’s best to lay off the garlicky spreads and chicken roasted with 40 cloves of garlic.
Now, let’s get specific here: A soup served in a bowl. It can be disastrous carrying shallow bowls of hot soup to the table for the person carrying it, the person that might fly around the corner, and your beautiful Oriental carpet. Plus, you’ve got to make sure everyone has extra utensils and plates (and then you have to wash them all).
If you’re an experienced host (or a trained chef), sure, plating ten dishes individually with sauces and garnishes might be easy to do, but when you’re dining with friends, isn’t it more fun to serve yourselves together alongside friends with a buffet or at the table, family style?
While I love gently roasted cherry tomatoes tossed with pasta, these sweet, bite-sized orbs are juice bombs in disguise that always seem to splatter over me, the tablecloth, and even once, my neighbor at the table. Same goes for meatballs laden with sauce that might roll off the plate, or a vegetable salad dressed with a vinaigrette that splatters on your shirt, and of course, saucy ribs. Wouldn’t you prefer your guests stay clean and happy (plus, you won’t have to pull out the stain-fighting gear the next day)?
Try: Short pastas dishes like penne are great for a dinner party. Pasta is relatively inexpensive and can be tossed with a variety of ingredients. Try something tossed with wild mushrooms, a creamy beet and goat cheese sauce, or a classic carbonara.
Two things come to mind here: Don’t cook something that you’ve never tried out before and don’t choose to make something that is delicate and can easily fail. Dinner at home with the family is a good venue to test out that new chicken recipe you’re dying to try, and only then, once it gains their approval, should it make its way to the dinner party table. And even if you’re a seasoned host or hostess, soufflés and popovers can still be tricky to make for a crowd of 20.
Try: Instead of popovers, pick up a par-baked loaf of bread at the market that you can finish off at home for an oven-hot starch. Or make your favorite biscuit or cornbread recipe, for a change. Still want an impressive chocolate dessert to wow your guests? Molten chocolate cakes are both decadent and foolproof.
When you’re entertaining, you want to serve your guests something delicious that they can dig into without fear of being stabbed or choking on anything. So serving a whole roast fish, complete with pin bones and all, might not be the best choice. Same goes for little birds, like guinea hens and quail.
Try: If you’re set on a roast bird, go for a whole chicken or turkey that you can carve in advance. Or choose a boneless cut, like steak or a chicken or duck breast, where you can be sure there are no bones and you can slice the meat into neat slices for your guests.