How To Throw The Best Dinner Party On Your Block With Just 3 Hours' Notice

How to Throw the Best Dinner Party on Your Block With Just 3 Hours’ Notice

It's 4:45 p.m. on a Thursday and you're reaching the end of a busy work day. Your phone buzzes, and a message flashes up on your screen: "So looking forward to seeing you later, is it 8 p.m.? Anything I can bring?" You're hosting a dinner party in three hours, and you've completely forgotten about it. Don't stress, but do rush. This can be done, but you'll need this step-by-step guide to show you how.

5 p.m.: Make a List

Get out of the office, and get on the subway. Don't panic and stare blankly into space all the way home; start making your list. Write down all the ingredients you need and detail everything you need to do in the next three hours. This will ensure you don't forget anything, and will give you a good sense of what your priorities are.

5.25pm: Delegate

Once your list is made, and you know exactly what you need, send a message to your guests asking them to bring what you don't have time to buy. Whether it's some olives or salted nuts for them to have when they arrive, flowers for you to decorate the table with, or a bottle of wine to go with dinner, ask them for it, and breathe a sigh of relief as you cross those items off your list.

5:30 p.m.: Food Shopping

Sadly, today is not the day to shop at the butcher, baker, greengrocer, wine store, and deli. Run off the subway into your best local supermarket. Stick firmly to your list, but if there's anything the store sells that serves as a shortcut for you, buy it. Pre-washed greens are your new best friend in this last-minute dinner party situation, as is a bottled, ready-mixed salad dressing.

5:50 p.m.: Drinks Shopping

Even if you've delegated wine to go with dinner to your friends, you're going to need something on hand for as soon as your guests walk through the door. Don't try and mix up your favorite fancy cocktail; stick to something simple. White wine, sparkling wine, or gin and tonics are easy, popular options.

6 p.m.: Chill the Drinks

As soon as you're home, put the drinks in the refrigerator. You don't want to start off your party with warm white wine. If your refrigerator isn't particularly cold, stick them in the freezer for a little while, and then transfer them to the refrigerator once they've been sufficiently chilled. Just remember not to leave them in the freezer for too long — a glass of frozen wine isn't the best way to welcome your friends.

6:05 p.m.: Set the Atmosphere

Get yourself in the mood for hosting a dinner party, and the dinner party will easily follow. Put on an upbeat, but calming playlist, turn the bright lights down, light some candles, and set the table. As soon as your home is ready to host, you will be too.

6:15 p.m.: Put Out the Appetizers

Set the appetizers out now. If not, you'll get distracted in the kitchen, forget about them, and will end up serving really cold olives, and nuts out of the plastic bag they came in. Lay them all out beautifully on the table, with drinks glasses nearby. A welcoming spread of food waiting for your friends will get the evening off to a wonderful start, and will, if necessary, buy you a few extra minutes of kitchen time.

6:30 p.m.: Prepare the Entrée

This is the only dish you're really going to cook yourself this evening, so you can take a bit of time over it. Lay out all your ingredients, and make sure you follow your recipe carefully. If you're making this Arugula-Basil-Ricotta Pesto Pasta, now is the time to whip up the pesto in the blender, and measure out the pasta so it's ready to go. If you've gone for the baked ziti, get the dish to the stage where it's ready to be thrown in the oven when you know it's 20 minutes until dinnertime.

7 p.m.: Prepare the Sides

Empty your pre-washed greens into a beautiful salad bowl, sprinkle on any extra seeds or vegetables that you fancy, and pour the store-bought dressing into a small bowl to be served on the side. A few simple additions to a leafy salad elevate it to a higher level, and by serving the dressing in its own bowl, your guests will be convinced that you made it yourself.

7:40 p.m.: Prepare Dessert

You have 20 minutes to spare, so you may as well get ahead, and start preparing dessert. Our favorite last-minute desserts are a simple store-bought ice cream with berries, or this indulgent dish of iced berries with limoncello-white-chocolate cream. Whichever you've decided to serve, both allow for ahead-of-time preparation. Wash and chop the berries for the ice cream and toss them in a bowl with a sprinkling of sugar, or make the white chocolate sauce for the iced berries, which can simply be reheated five minutes before you're ready to serve.

7:55 p.m.: Finish the Entrée

The entrée doesn't require any more active, concentrated cooking effort from you, but it does need a little bit of time in the oven or on the stove. The baked ziti needs 20 minutes in the warm oven, so you can put that in now and serve it hot and bubbling when it's done, and for the pasta pesto you just need to cook the pasta. Do this now, so all you have to do when your guests are there is carry it to the table.

8 p.m.: Party Time

Pour yourself a drink, remove your apron, and turn the music up a little. When your guests walk through the door, they'll smell dinner cooking, be handed a cold drink, and will immediately relax and smile while nibbling on some olives and salty Parmigiano-Reggiano. You're cool, calm, and collected, and in 20 minutes time, a fabulous dinner will be served. No one needs to know that this was all achieved in just three hours.