Entertaining can be fun, and not just at the end when you are finished and the kitchen is clean again. I used to stress out because I felt like everything in my house had to look perfect and the food had to be ready right when people arrived. I would got nuts and get moody as I bossed my husband around to do all his chores. Finally he was like, “I love having parties but you have got to stop being crazy every time we entertain!” I’ve changed a lot because now I have two babies so my house is never perfect! Planning ahead makes the day of less stressful, and I try to drink a glass of my pinot grigio while I cook and prep so I don’t get so picky about things that my guests won’t notice anyway! It can be just as fun for you as it is for your guests. I like to follow these 10 tips for stress free entertaining.
1. Don’t shop for food (except fresh bread) the same day as the party. Make a grocery list ahead of time and shop the day before. Or, send your hubby to the store! It’s stressful having to plan a menu, shop, and make the food all in one day not to mention getting your house ready.
2. Set the table the night before. There’s nothing like coming down the stairs at 7 am to a beautiful tablescape that is ready to go. It puts me in the party mood and I always feel ahead of the game.
3. Go through each course and get out the main platters and serving utensils you plan on using. My mom taught me this trick. When I have screaming hot green beans in a skillet or garlic bread coming out the oven there is already a large dish on my counter waiting for them.
4. Write out the menu ahead of time! Use recipes you have made before. I once tried making burgers, shakes, and fries from Bobby Flay’s cookbook for ten of my friends. I was at my kitchen counter reading the cookbook, frying, scooping, blending, and sweating the whole night! While I did enjoy learning his double fry technique on making fries, that is about all I took away from the night. I didn’t get to sit and enjoy my guests because I was too busy! Pick easy recipes you have made before and do as much work the day before as possible. My rule for myself is that I want to eat WITH my guests instead of just cooking for them.
5. Fresh flowers never go unnoticed and it makes any space look inviting. Put one vase in the main living room and a little vase in the bathroom. They don’t need to be fancy. Pick up a bouquet of sunflowers or hydrangeas from Trader Joes. Put a few in a small bud vase in the bathroom. Even if your bathroom isn’t spotless, your guests will be looking at your flowers!
6. Don’t be afraid to use store shortcuts to make your prep faster and easier. This is the time when I use pre chopped onions (gasp), refrigerated pie dough (unless it’s Thanksgiving..then I try to make the real stuff), fresh mango salsa from Whole Foods, or pre chopped veges for dip. No one will know or judge you. Homemade items that go a long way and are worth the effort if you have time are…salad dressings, pasta sauces, meat marinades, and cocktails (don’t use sweet and sour mix!).
7. Don’t be in a rush. Guests hate being bossed around. Get them a drink and set out an easy appetizer and they will be just fine waiting for the rest. Dinner shouldn’t have to be served promptly at seven. No one wants to go to a formal dinner party. Turn on music, get everyone a drink, and relax. This is the time to enjoy what you prepped for.
8. Never turn away friends because your house is a mess or you have no food. Sometimes the best get togethers are impromptu. My friends recently stopped over spur of the moment and stayed for dinner with the kids. No worries! I made a fresh salad with quick Italian Dressing, ordered pizza, and used cookie dough I had made two days prior to serve fresh and hot chocolate chip cookies and milk for dessert. It was casual, kid friendly, and fun.
9. People love a story behind the menu. I like to make a Nicaraguan Macua which is the national cocktail of Nicaragua. My daughter is from Nicaragua and we spent five months in the country living there and completing the adoption. I learned the best way to make the drink and what ingredients in the states work well to replicate it. Guests enjoy trying something unique and having something they weren’t expecting.
10. Don’t stress the cleanup. My mom taught me to hide the dishes in the oven till everyone leaves! I usually try to have the dishwasher empty before people come over. After dinner I load until its full, then I code it up and leave the rest of the dishes for later. My husband and I like to discuss the party and do a quick late night cleanup. I hate making my guests 409 spray my counter and I hate explaining when they ask “where does this go?” I wish my drawers were perfectly organized, but they aren’t, so I like to put stuff away myself!