Before we get started, it's crucial you understand a couple of things.
1) As simple and fun as I want this party to be for you, there needs to be a fair bit of planning. There are several steps where you can get ahead - this is a 'plan ahead' party after all - and it's essential to your success that you follow these steps.
2) If you're the kind of person who does not believe in store-bought items or simple dishes when cooking for guests, then this is not the menu for you. I promise I'll share some 'legit' dinner party menus with you all in the future - ones that are meant to impress. But, as I mentioned before, this is not one of those occasions.
THE GAME PLAN
I would break up the game plan into several stages and I will walk you through each step, and put in pictures wherever I can.
For the menu, I think it is more important to stick with items that you are comfortable putting together and that are general favorites among your friends circle (or general crowd-pleasers if you're not cooking for close friends), than trying to be a cuisine-puritan (that's a word, I swear) and putting fancy dishes on your menu you have never tried before. I was cooking for friends who are generally non-fussy eaters, but also their young children. The last thing I wanted to do on a busy schedule was to cook separate items for kids and for grown-ups. My menu would have to be universally appealing and items I knew I could cook with my eyes closed (figuratively speaking, of course). It is essential you write down the items because that will then give you your grocery list!
Meats, Cheese, and Bread Spread
Glazed Smoked Mini Sausages
Yogurt, Dill & Cucumber Dip
Pesto Pasta Salad with Cherry Tomatoes & Sausages
Peach, Prosciutto, Mozzarella & Mint Salad
Rosemary Roasted Potatoes
Choice of: Blueberry or Peach Pie
Vanilla Ice Cream
Cupcakes (for the kids)
I would agree with you if you said that our apartment is in no real shape to be entertaining in yet. However, for this particular group, I was OK. Since we're in a furnished studio at the moment, we had the key pieces of furniture - a couch, a couple of cabinets, a coffee table, etc. - in the living area, such that guests could comfortably spread around and have a place to sit, put down their drinks and so on. The kitchen and bathroom are two other areas that usually bother me when I move into a new place, and I had thankfully set them up to a reasonable degree of satisfaction as soon as we moved into the unit. I didn't stress the decor much, but went back to basics. Flowers, candles, food. I love decorating with fresh flowers! I bought three bunches - white and yellow daisies and a bunch of white wildflowers (I really don't know the name!). The night before I made three-four floral arrangements and put them around the kitchen and the living room. Some scented candles (which I also always have on hand!) dotted around the room, and we're done. I didn't click any pictures of the bathroom (I'll do a different post in a month or two once I have it completely set up), but I just put in fresh white towels, one floral arrangement, a candle, and a beautiful white rug and that's it! I also set up the table the night before, since it really gets me in the right zone the morning of, and takes a lot of the busy work out of the way. I set everything up buffet style - there seriously is no space in this apartment for a big dining table! - and find it helpful to arrange the serving bowls, the wooden platters, plates, glasses - basically everything - exactly where I want them for the party. This is a really helpful tip and helps you estimate the amount of space you might need, and also reminds you immediately if you're forgetting something. For instance, I forgot to add the silverware here, but I realized it the first thing next morning when I looked at the laid out table. Here are some pictures.
Yay! You've made it to the big day! It's time to get up early, freshen up, roll up your sleeves and get started! But above all, please - please! - remember: this should be a fun activity for you as much as it will be for your friends when they turn up to enjoy what you've put together. You cannot have fun if you're nervous and agitated. And if you're in a bad mood, you will be a terrible host. There are no two ways about it. Here's what I do to get myself ready and excited for something like this:
- I start early and give myself plenty of time. On this day, I was up by 7:30 am, freshened up, and ready to cook by 8:00 am.
- I put on my favorite music. It's usually a playlist that's very inspiring yet soothing for me, and consists of a good deal of Louis Armstrong, Paolo Conte, Carla Bruni, Edith Piaf, Iron & Wine, Simon & Garfunkel, among other artists.
- I make myself a steaming mug of coffee! Coffee is absolutely crucial to my mornings, and anybody who knows me well knows not to get too conversational with me until I've had my morning cuppa'.
The first dish we'll handle is the Rosemary Roasted Potatoes. All of the dishes in this menu are more of 'assembly jobs' than they are actual recipes. I have pictures for each step, and won't write down a lengthy recipe - they're pretty self-explanatory.
The next two dishes I tackled simultaneously. They were both salads, and once again, more of an assembly, than actual cooking. First, I got a pot of water going on the stove for cooking the pasta, while I went ahead with whatever little chopping I had to do. That would be the cherry tomatoes and the peaches. The peaches are in season at the moment, and they were absolutely divine! I had initially thought I'd use all six, but once I looked at the quantity of the mozzarella, I felt six peaches would overwhelm the salad a bit. So I only used four instead. They were good-sized peaches, though. Definitely larger than the average.
Now, I must give credit where credit is due. This recipe is the brainchild of one of my biggest sources of inspiration when it comes to cooking and entertaining - Beth Le Manach, who is behind a couple of very successful YouTube channels, and a wonderful blog of her own! Although I've recently connected with Beth after I got serious with MrinHearts, I've been an ardent fan for years. She just seems like the kind of person who is warm, encouraging and appraochable, and always grounded, irrespective of her success and fame! Whenever I'm trying out one of Beth's recipes, I feel as though she's there in the kitchen, "rooting for me every step of the way," as she likes to say. I just felt like I had to include this salad, since it's become a staple in my repertoire of meals that everybody loves whenever I make them. I just realized, as I'm writing this - the roast potatoes are also perhaps inspired by one of her recipes, haha! I have been making them for over two years now and probably never realized that it relies so heavily on her tips and what she uses in her recipe! Ah, her recipes just have a way of sneaking into my kitchen, I tell you, and if you start following her you'll know exactly what I mean.
This is the stage when my potatoes and sausages went into the hot oven, and I went to get showered and dressed for university.
Once I was back from classes, it was 30 minutes to show time. But everything was done! I started the oven back up to 400 F to reheat the sausages and potatoes, took out the salads and cold cuts and got them to room temperature. In the meantime, I did a final check to make sure everything was in order, lit the candles, put on my "Dinner Party" playlist (yes, I have one just for entertaining, which I'll happily share if someone wants to know!) and put on a nice blouse and a touch of makeup to make myself look just as good as the food! This is what the final spread looked like!
I just realized I'd absolutely forgotten to click pictures of dessert, but truly, it was very simple. I had no time to bake a pie from scratch, so I did (proudly) take the shorter route. A local bakery makes delicious fresh pies every day and I got the blueberry and peach. I just reheated it in the oven, when we were halfway through dinner, and served it with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream. An absolute hit with kids and adults alike! Sophie, my best friend Ewa's 8-year old daughter, had asked for cupcakes, so I had some for the kids, as well.
It was just a wonderful time and a much-needed celebration, I tell you. Amidst all the chaos that's been plaguing our lives over the past few months, friends (and family) are like the escape, the shelter you need from everything that doesn't perfect or even just right. At the same time, who better to share your successes and joy with? We're truly lucky to have such amazing friends, who've gone out of their way to love and support us over the years.
I hope you'll give this menu a try. It's so simple, so easy to put together, and I promise it will work with any age group. None of the dishes are overpowering or unfamiliar to the extent that someone might not be able to enjoy them. And best part of all - you'll feel happy that you were able to put it all together without feeling absolutely drained and exhausted by the end of the night.
Also, share this with any friends or family you think might enjoy and/or benefit from this! If you do try part of or the whole menu (kudos to you if you do!) please share pictures with me on Twitter or Facebook and hashtag them - #MrinHearts - so I can find and 'like' them! And just like my good friend, Beth, said: "I'll be rooting for you every step of the way."
Good luck, my loves!