Dinner Party for 8 – Part 2

Let me start by saying that the party was an overall success.  We actually ended up having 12 people… not eight, but since this is a two-parter, I feel the title should stay consistent! Here is how everything turned out:

*Table all set and ready for the food… and the people!

*a close-up of some details: custom wine labels, tea towel napkin, burlap table runner, and artichoke tealight/placecard holders (how-to instructions here)!

*more detail, I also used brown craft paper under the runner.  This protected the table a bit more, and kept the table from looking too formal.  Since I ended up using my crystal stemware, I wanted to do what I could to keep it casual.  If I was having an Italian themed party, (which wouldn’t be far off…) I would swap the stemware for some simple glasses, like thesefrom CB2.

*I let some pomegranate seeds soak in just about a half inch of champagne for about 30 minutes.  Then I poured the rest of the champagne into the carafe immediately before serving to keep it fizzy.  I topped the cocktail off with a heart-shaped ice cube made from pomegranate juice.

*I made these labels for the wine which I poured into reusable glass bottles.  Without the commercial wine labels, the table feels rustic and home-grown.

Every Time I entertain I learn something new.  Being a hostess takes a lot of practice, at which I’m still relatively new.  Here are some of the things I took away from the party:

#1  Don’t make souffles for a sit-down dinner. 

There is really just no good time to make them.  If you don’t want to get up during dinner, drag your mixer out, and whip up the batter that means you’ll have to do it ahead-of-time.  Souffle batter does not stay fluffy and rise properly if there is too much lag time between mixing and baking.

I knew this would be a potential issue, so I decided to whip up the batter as our friends were mingling so that the batter didn’t have to sit for too long before being baked.  It didn’t really matter, however, any premature mixing is too early.  So in the end, I spent precious time in the kitchen when I could have been drinking more pomegranate champagne entertaining my guests, and I made souffles that didn’t rise well – double whammy.

#2 Set up the hors d’oeuvres in a room other than the kitchen. 

People generally like to congregate in kitchens, but if your goal is to serve a warm dinner then you will have to be doing some cooking while your guests are there.  Make sure you have enough cooking space by relocating your visitors to another room.  If you’re lucky this will be adjacent to the kitchen so you can still be interactive.

I got caught up in the souffle prep, so I failed to relocate the cheese tray to the living room… which resulting both in me maneuvering around my invitees and in them dodging my hen basting and chocolate whipping.

#3  Have a serving plan that starts with the 1st course already plated on the table.

This ensures that everyone is out of the kitchen, starting on their first course while you put the finishing touches on the main entree. Work with your partner (in my case my wonderful husband, Matt) to make this work.  One of you sit for the first course with your friends while the other preps the main course.  While people are half way through their first course, bring out the main course.  When people are finishing up, enlist your partner to start removing salad plates or soup bowls, while you have some time to sit with your guests during the first course.  Then your partner can begin to serve the entree.  By the time the entree gets around to you, you should be ready for it.   This will also make the dinner timing flow better because plates won’t be crowded with all courses at once.

We did not have any sort of plan like this… we all ended up passing our salad plates to the end of the table and eating every course at once off the dinner plate.  It tasted the same, but the flow could have been better.

As I said, all in all it went REALLY well!  It ended with my husband making his special liquour laced coffee and everyone sitting around the table chatting into the night… Success!!

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