Adventures in Everyday Entertaining
You’re having friends over for dinner. And if you enjoy cooking, that usually means setting aside a few moments to plan your menu. You always want to make your guests feel welcome in your home and what you serve can have an impact on the comfort level of your dinner companions. Considerations are not to over-complicate the experience or to make it feel overwhelming. The suggestions listed below are things can be worked out in only a little time. And the reward will be dinner guests that feel welcome and loved.
Things To Consider:
1. Do your guests have any food allergies, preferences, dislikes, etc.? Don’t know? Ask! The easiest way to make someone feel out of place is to serve them something they can’t eat. Make sure that the food is something that both you, and your companions will enjoy.
2. Budget. Isn’t this always under consideration? (Well, for most people at least). Entertaining friends and family can be a lot of fun. But it also shouldn’t break the bank. Try to come up with a menu that includes some items that you already have on hand. The amount spent on the meal might also factor into the comfort of your guests. People often times feel that they need to reciprocate for a nice gesture done to them. If your menu is very extravagant and expensive, and your guests are not in the same financial situation, will it make them uncomfortable? This answer varies from guest to guest. But it is something to keep in mind.
3. Is the meal a celebration? A thank you? If you are honoring or thanking the guests for something, you want to make sure the menu reflects that. Ramen noodles and hot dogs might not do the trick (unless, of course, that is their all time favorite meal). And if budget is a main concern, there are many affordable recipes that can still wow the recipient and make them feel special.
4. Timing. How much time do you have in your schedule to prepare the meal? If you get home from work at 6pm and they will be arriving at 7pm, you need to make sure your meal can be prepared in that amount of time. Or that it is something that can be prepped a day or two in advance. Also, if the intent of the dinner is to visit with your companions, you don’t want to be stuck in the kitchen the entire time either. Timing is important in how each course and aspect of the meal is cooked/completed. Pay attention to the suggested cook times in order to make sure that your main course is done around the same time as the side dishes, etc.
5. How do you want to serve the meal and where will it be eaten? This can be as simple as everyone grab a plate and help themselves to pots and pans on the stove. Or you could have serving dishes passed around the table. The choice is yours. How much space do you have in your home and the size of your table is going to be part of the deciding factor in this one.
6. Menu Harmony. Unless your goal in the meal is to have a buffet-type experience, it is important that the different items that you’re serving “work” together. It is really easy to have a main course and side dishes compete with one another. If the main dish is heavily flavored, then perhaps the side dishes should act more as a compliment. Or perhaps there is a side dish recipe that you want to shine. Then create a simpler main dish. Flavors are also a factor. You want every bite to be delicious. Certain flavors can distract from one another and hinder the whole meal.
7. When you can, try to always think outside of your comfort zone. Try something new. However, a word of caution. Especially if time is a big consideration, be wary of experimenting with new techniques and complex recipes. If the process goes south, you don’t want your guests to arrive and be left to only be able to serve them canned soup and a box of mac and cheese. Better to practice a day or two in advance if you have your heart set on a recipe that you are not 100% comfortable with.
8. What else? Different guests and dinners will bring on other things to think about that will be specific to the evening. Keep your mind open to whatever factors come to mind for you and your situations.
“L” and I are having a couple that we are good friends over for dinner this Friday. The dinner is, in part, an advanced thank you for some house-sitting and plant watering they will be doing for us in the future. In addition to the above factors, we also wanted to pull in a couple more for this particular menu. Here in Texas, peaches are in season so I wanted to make sure we had some fresh ones incorporated into some part of the meal. We also have fresh vegetables and herbs ready for harvest in our garden that I would like to use. Our small town has a wonderful local butcher and I always like showing off their talents. As always, there is a budget, so I didn’t want to spend too much on an expensive one-time use ingredient. As a big fan of the culinary arts, I also like stretching my muscles and trying new recipes.
Our friends have some dietary needs so those were my number one concern in coming up with the menu. After that, I just kept all of the above factors in mind when determining what I would be serving.
The Challenge: No gluten, tomatoes, or cheese. Need to utilize garden vegetables and herbs, peaches, and local butcher shop.