Part of settling into a new home is figuring out how you'll entertain in it. We enjoy throwing dinner parties, and now that we have a house in Tahoe offering plenty of space to spread out, more family and friends are suddenly coming to stay for a few days. I practically worship people who make the entertaining thing look easy, so I've made a study of it over the years. I can tell you, it takes both a mountain of planning and the ability to relax with guests to make it all appear effortless.
Sounds easy on the face of it, but if you've thrown any kind of dinner or had weekend guests, you know it's not. I've spent entirely too many dinners stuck in the kitchen, while my guests were all laughing and having fun over appetizers outside on the patio. And I can still remember parties spent finding so many things guests needed that keeping track of a conversation was impossible.
As we power into the entertaining season, I thought I'd share a few tips I've picked up from experts that have served me well:
- Keep it simple. If there's a complicated dish with multiple steps that you've been dying to make, save it for when your schedule and menu is flexible (in case it takes much longer than the recipe claims or is a massive fail). A slow cooker main dish is genius. And don't plan too many different dishes. No one can do a bazillion dishes for the same dinner well. Not even Martha, with all due respect. Pick a few winners and make them rock! A main dish, salad, and one side dish is plenty if you're also serving a bread. Particularly if there were appetizers and you're serving dessert.
- Prep ahead. Focus on dishes that can be completely prepped ahead. Bonus points if they can made ahead and simply warmed up. The last thing you want to do is read a recipe, cut onions (God forbid), and measure fractional teaspoons of 10 spices into something you're sautéing over a high heat in the midst of greeting guests as they arrive.
- Organize the prepping. Even if two dishes share some of the same ingredients, prep the dishes and arrange separately on your counter, so you can talk to guests while cooking without having to think much about cooking.
- Write a schedule. Knowing when each dish needs to begin and end is crucial to keeping you on track. I have a checklist and a time schedule for a party starting the morning of a dinner. It keeps me from forgetting something at the last minute.
- Make the dessert ahead. Many desserts are more precise in their measurements, and the best time to manage that precision is when you're fresh.
- Set the table the night before. I know, duh. But I don't just mean the plates, glasses and silverware. I mean the candles and other decorations, seating labels, wine chillers for the table (if needed), and if you're going to serve family style, any hot pads you'll need. Sometimes I need a couple hours just to track everything down.
- Start a party with an empty dishwasher. Common sense, but worth mentioning.
- Have a separate set of silverware stored in a ziplok just for entertaining. This eliminates last minute silverware washing to get the table set.
- Put aside any serving dishes and serving utensils you'll need. Don't wait until the food is ready before hunting down that favorite dish of Aunt Sally's you want to use.
- Set up the coffee maker with decaf. All you need do is push the button to start the coffee when everyone is finished with dinner. For weekend guests, set it up the night before so any early risers only need push a button the next morning to enjoy their first cup of joe.
- Arrange drinks on a counter or table separate from cooking area. Open a couple bottles, set out wine glasses, a bottle opener, and anything else guests need for self-served drinks.
- Fill pitchers with water. Add ice and a few cut lemons about 30 minutes before guests arrive, and a handful of mint, and place on the table. For a party larger than eight, I use two pitchers.
- Make a playlist. Music, the type and how it's paced, is an important part of the party, and is something I always think about way too late. I'm determined to get this one figured out before our next party.
- Write seating labels. People often want to know where to sit, if it's a larger dinner. I'm always a bit frazzled if I'm rushing to get everything on the table and people are standing around asking where to sit. Have some fun with it. For a recent party for 10 people, I bought 10 small pumpkins and wrote guests' names on them using a Markie® pen. Each pumpkin was placed on the plate where the guest should sit.
- Family style, buffet, or passed? Six or less people can be served family style (my personal favorite). I love the Lazy Susan turntables you can purchase for a table for making wine and food more accessible to guests so no one has to get up to get more food. Larger gatherings depends on the table and your space. I use a breakfast bar area to lay out the food, and if we can eat outside, I use the dining room table (just inside) as a buffet.
- Make breakfast the night before for weekend guests. Egg bakes, stratas, and French toast bakes are a particularly great dish for this. Include some banana bread (like the below recipe) or this coffee cake.
- Relax and have fun. Remember, the party is about guests visiting and sharing time together - and while the food is important, it shouldn't over-ride creating new memories with friends and family.
I would love to hear any entertaining tips you have to share. Please leave them in a comment below!!!
I used Einkorn flour, which many stores now carry. The type most often seen on the shelves is made by Jovial. I have not tried this recipe using regular wheat flour. Einkorn is the original form of the wheat we see today, which means it's not as glutenous, and it doesn't absorb liquids as quickly. That said, for quick breads such as this, you might be fine. If you try it with regular wheat four, I'd love to hear how it worked.
Here's some more information on this healthy wheat flour, and here's how to order it (below link) if you can't find it! (Full disclosure, I'm an Amazon affiliate, and will make a few cents if you purchase it through this link. It all helps to support the costs of running this blog!)
Healthy Caramelized Banana Bread
- ⅓ cup melted extra-virgin coconut oil
- ½ cup pure maple syrup stir in an additional 1 tablespoon for high altitude baking at 6500 ft
- 3 very ripe bananas cut into 1" slices
- ¼ cup apple sauce use ½ cup apple sauce for high altitude baking at 6500 ft
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 ¾ cup 8.5 ounces or 240 grams whole wheat einkorn flour (minus 1 tablespoon for high altitude baking at 6500 ft)
- 1 teaspoon baking soda use ¾ teaspoon for baking at high altitude
- ¾ teaspoon kosher salt or ½ teaspoon table salt
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 3 large eggs
- Butter a loaf pan. Preheat the oven to 350˚ F.
- Pour the melted coconut oil and maple syrup in a skillet over medium heat. Add the bananas and simmer for 10 minutes, until the bananas soften and slightly caramelize. Pour into the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade, and add the apple sauce and vanilla extract. Whirl like crazy until the bananas are completely pureed.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the einkorn flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon.
- Whirl the contents of the food processor, and add the eggs through the shoot. (There's a delay in adding the eggs to allow the banana puree cool down first. Otherwise, you risk scrambling the eggs). Whirl until frothy.
- Fold the banana puree unto the flour mixture, using a spatula. Only fold until the flour mixture is completely incorporated into the puree. Pour the batter into the loaf pan, and bake for 40 - 45 minutes, or until a toothpick or wooden skewer comes away clean when slid into the center of the bread. Cool for at least 10 minutes before removing from the loaf pan. If baking this at sea level, 40 minutes baking time should suffice. In the mountains, you'll need closer to 45 minutes, depending on your altitude.
- Store at room temperature, covered with plastic wrap, for up to 3 days. Also, freezes well for up to 6 months.