Ok, sorry.  I didn’t have time to write anything real for this week, because I was too busy planning a dinner party.  But uhhh that counts as a food-related topic, so I’m just gonna write about that. 

You may be asking “just how much “planning” do you need?” The answer? Much.  

I feel like I never understood how “we’ve been planning this dinner for months!” made any sense as a sitcom throwaway line, until I tried to plan a dinner between myself and 3 other adults- 1 who just started a second job, 1 who just started grad school, and 1 who lives out of town.  But people who love to say “fail to plan, plan to fail” rarely seem to specify what kind of planning that entails, so let me break down my approach (or, in some cases, things I learned in light of my approach) so that you too can funnel your anxiety into worrying about all the right things.

Consider your living space

Since I knew 2 of those 3 really like Indian food, I decided I’d base the menu around that.  Incidentally, this ended up having one major benefit that I would recommend keeping in mind: if you, like me, don’t have a proper dining room table, don’t serve anything that would require a fork and knife.  If you’re gonna be eating on the couch (Or, if you have a studio that doesn’t have room for a couch, bed? Floor? Getting imaginative about how to host people in a studio is its own challenge), you should consider serving something that can easily be eaten one-handed while balancing the plate in your lap.  Besides curries, I would also recommend tacos (or any kind of finger-food), stir-frys or any sort of braise/stew, although a soup that’s too thin is just asking to be spilled. 

Cook as much as you can ahead of time.

The day of the event, you’re really gonna want to make sure all your mise en place is… uh, en place.  It’s a given that dishes that are a multi-day process (like the bread dough for the naan) are going to be done well beforehand, but you really will be better off taking care of as much of the things that could be dismissed as doable the day of as you can the night before (or the day before that, depending on your schedule, if your produce is fresh it will survive a couple of days chopped).  For me, this meant dividing up the bread dough into smaller, individual portions, pre-cutting anything that needed to be cut (which luckily ended up being just onions, garlic, one serrano pepper, paneer, and chicken), marinating the chicken, and making the sauce for the chicken tikka masala.

You may have noticed that one of those containers used to be soup.  Or that the pepper’s in a ziplock bag.  Yes. Listen: I don’t work for Food Network, I don’t have hundreds of those little bowls lying around.  I didn’t even have lids for most of those deli containers.  I can only steal so much from work before it becomes noticeable.  If you’re only making one thing, feel free to combine ingredients that get added in at the same time in the recipe together in one container.  I ended up keeping most of mine separated out like this because I needed garlic for pretty much everything, so it made sense to just have one big thing of garlic, etc.  Honestly, you should just have one big thing of garlic on hand at all times, dinner party or not.  

Even with all that prep, it still took me close to 2 hours to cook the chicken, add it to the sauce that I had dumped into a crock pot for reheating, put the rice on, make the 2 paneer dishes (for clarity: saag paneer and a weird dish one of my friends mentioned liking that doesn’t’ seem to have any actual basis in Indian cuisine that’s just paneer sauteed with onions and cumin seeds) and bake off several naan.  Which leads me to my next point…

Provide entertainment that doesn’t involve you

Yes, the whole point is that you want to spend time with your friends. But, unless you’re making something like dumplings, where you can easily enlist your friends to help you, you’re gonna be alone in the kitchen while your friends hang out without you.  In this case, they played WarioWare on my Switch and played/made fun of this weird foodie trivia game that I had never even bothered to unwrap from its protective plastic that focussed way too much on Julia Child-era cooking shows, wine varietals, and antiquated edicate, all while I listened from the kitchen.  Because my apartment is pretty small, “from the kitchen” means about 5 feet away, so it’s not like I was really feeling that left out.  I was able to break away from cooking every-other question or so to shoot someone a judgemental glare any time they couldn’t get an answer that I assumed was somewhat-common knowledge right. I should also mention that if you know it’s gonna take a while to cook everything, put out some sort of snack, too.  I hadn’t thought about this, and ended up throwing a box of pumpkin spice Twinkies at them.  

I guess this can be avoided by just having them come when the food is ready. I guess. 

Clean as you go

This is pretty much true for any time you cook something, but seriously, the dishes really start to pile up when you’re cooking larger quantities.  This goes double for things like tasting spoons, which I’m normally fine with reusing when I’m cooking for myself, but I will NOT subject my guests to double-dipping.   And take my word for it, you’re gonna want to go into the actual serving of dinner with an empty sink, because after everyone’s left you’ll turn around and be caught completely off-guard by how many dishes have to be done.  

Have fun and be yourself

No, really.  If your friends are anything like my friends, they’ll just be happy to see that one friend from out of town again or at the very least get a free meal.   Like, despite (or because of?) my obsessive planning, when the time came to actually start cooking I felt no pressure to have to go at my usual breakneck line cook pace, because my friends were there to have a fun little evening, and that’s exactly what I gave them.

2 thoughts on “A Millenial’s Guide to Dinner Parties

  1. RJG says:

    pumpkin spice Twinkies *and* (callback to previous article) mysterious Pop-Tarts 😊

    1. Riley Johnson says:

      How could I forget the true guest of honor, mystery pop tarts?

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