Wednesday, October 1, 2014

8 Tips for Easy, Delicious and Stress-Free Entertaining

Last Thursday, we hosted a sit-down dinner party for my husband's colleagues and their spouses.  There were 14 of us in all. And it was one of the easiest and stress-free parties we have ever had!

It certainly helped that the weather was absolutely perfect for our outdoor gathering, but everything went really smoothly. Most of this is pretty common sense, but since it all went like clockwork, I'm sharing some hosting tips with you today. (Besides, if I write them down, I can refer to this post for reminders, the next time we entertain!)

A mismatch of tables, chairs and table linens, but the result was comfortable and festive.

Tips for Easy Entertaining:

1.  Plan to have an easy appetizer.
Remember the mushroom paté I made to take to a wine tasting dinner last weekend?  I purposefully made enough for both parties.I knew this one was coming up just five days later, and the pate keeps well for a week in a sealed, refrigerated container. All I had to do the day of the party was:
  • smooth the pate into a pretty dish, 
  • add a knife, crackers, some grapes and some cheese.
  • supply some small plates and napkins.  
By the way, the mushroom paté is even better if you stir in some chopped, roasted red pepper!

2.  Prepare the main entree two evenings ahead of time! 
I knew the day before the party was going to be busy for me, and I didn't want to be cooking last minute on the day of the party.  I found a (new, never tried!) recipe for a dish that looked delicious, yet could be made ahead:
  • Coq auVin Blanc with Spring Vegetables from Pam Anderson's cookbook, Perfect One  Dish Dinners: All You Need for Easy Get-Togethers.  
  • Shopping, cooking and cleanup were all done two nights before our party.  We doubled the recipe and kept the casseroles in the fridge, then slowly warmed them up, covered, at 350 degrees F for about 40 minute before serving.  Everyone loved it!
NOTE: I discovered that Pam Anderson writes a delightful blog called Three Many Cooks - and here's a link for her Quick Coq au Vin, an even simpler variation of this recipe than what I made.  

I forgot about taking photos, so I don't have a picture of these serving dishes when they were full!

3.  Serve a simple salad and fresh french bread.
  • A spinach salad with feta cheese, dried cranberries, toasted pecans and a balsamic vinaigrette went well with this dish and kept the menu simple. 
  • We had the salad all ready, and the bread cut before the guests arrived. 
  • Hmmm.  We don't eat butter with our french bread, and I totally forgot to supply any. Wonder if any of our guests missed it?  Maybe don't forget to supply butter!

4.  Lay-out glasses and beverages right before the guests arrive.  
This way guests can help themselves, and you won't be scrambling to wipe any spots off the glasses! The beverages we served:
  • Wine and sparkling waters, kept cold in a tub full of ice.
  • A cooler of beer, with home-brews added by a guest.
  • A dispenser filled with citrus-flavored ice water, self-serve, with glasses nearby. 
This easy set-up allowed guests to replenish their beverages as they desired.

5.  Prepare the seating area, and have all dishes, cutlery and servings items laid out. 
This was the only mild stress we experienced! At the last minute, we decided it was neither too hot or too windy, and that there were no wasps around or threat of rain.  We changed our plan, and decided to eat outdoors.  This meant hauling out tables and chairs, and finding the right tablecloths -- but all was well in the end!!  Some helpful hints to make serving go smoothly:
  • Don't stress about matching linens, chairs, etc. outdoors - let the scenery be the decoration and enjoy hosting an informal gathering!
  • A silverware/ napkin caddy is useful, placed close to where the guests will sit.
  • Lay out hot mats for casserole dishes, plates and serving spoons in advance, so they are ready.
  • Toss and dress the salad just before the meal is served
A perfect evening for dining outdoors!

6.  Be prepared for nightfall when dining outdoors!  
We forgot we no longer have the luxury of the lengthy days of sunlight.  Just before dessert, it began to get dark.  Fortunately, lanterns and a readily available supply of candles kept the party going. What I should have done:
  • Anticipate nightfall.  Have candles and lanterns in place and ready to light.

7.  Prepare an easy-to-serve and very delicious dessert! 

Dessert - check tomorrow's post to see how I made it!

I tried another new recipe, and oh, my - everyone loved it!  This dessert was so easy to make, I can't really take any credit - except to recognize a great recipe when I saw one!  

I was able to partially prepare this dessert the night before our party, and just put it together in the morning.  I plan to share my tips for making this recipe on this blog tomorrow - so won't give a lot away now, but here are a few helpful dessert tips I have discovered:
  • Set up the coffee pot and fill the tea kettle; have both ready to turn on when you begin to clear the dinner plates. (Most people prefer decaffeinated coffee after dinner.)
  • Pre-fill a creamer and a sugar bowl; and have a selection of tea bags handy.
  • Be sure any cutlery and napkins needed for dessert are available to guests.
  • Let guests know early that you will be serving dessert, so they save some appetite for it. 
These little canning jars were the perfect containers for individual dessert servings

8.  Make cleanup easy!
  • Try to have all your prep work cleaned up and put away before guests arrive.
  • Be sure to run and empty the dishwasher before the party, so there is room for the dishes.
  • I go through a lot of dish cloths when I am cooking and filling the sink with pots and pans!  Make sure you have some clean cloths available, in case guests help wash and dry any dishes.
  • Try to cover and refrigerate leftovers before dessert, so they don't spoil.  
  • Remember to extinguish all candles, and bring any furniture inside that is not suitable for the weather, even if you are too tired to put it all away that evening.

And that's it!
The only other thing to be done, is to relax and enjoy every minute of the party!

Be sure to stop back tomorrow and learn how to make this scrumptious and versatile dessert!

I thought these portions might be too large - but almost everyone scraped out and ate every bit!
This post may be linked to one of the great link-up parties I follow and list on my blog. Check them out!


  1. Great ideas, Susan! I do find entertaining pretty stressful, so I'm adding this to my Evernote for future reference.

  2. Great tips! I like to do as much as possible ahead of time, too. Love your outdoor scenery! So pretty!

  3. Fun! Your patio looked beautiful and the food delicious! Wish I could have been a that party :)!

  4. LOVE IT -- I agree -- so much easier to get everything ready the day before. The day for enjoyment, not work. Great tips

    1. Thanks Carol. I wish I could say that I am always organized and have everything done the day before an event - but I am sometimes still scrambling right up until the minute guests arrive!

  5. you have a great place, i really do wish i was one of your friends

    1. Thanks Xabz - and you have been a wonderfully supportive blogging friend!

  6. Sounds like you had a great time which is wonderful for the host- it makes a big difference getting everything ready a head of time.
    nice job - now i need to read about that dessert ;)

    1. Thanks Marisa - the dessert is now posted, I hope you saw it!

  7. You make this look so easy although I know from experience how hard it can be! Great job! Can't wait to check out that dessert it looks delicious!

    1. Thanks Rena - actually getting ready for this party took some time, but doing it ahead did make it really easy.

  8. Wow. It is a long time since we have done any entertaining and I do find it a challenge.
    Love your outdooor haven.

    1. Most of my entertaining is on a simpler scale! We love our outdoors and feel lucky to live where we do.

  9. These are great ideas! I can't wait to try some of them out. Thank you so much for sharing! :)

    -Lara @ Methodical Living

    1. I hope you find them helpful, Lara! Thanks for commenting.

  10. Thanks for sharing your post at last week's Motivation Monday party. Your post is one of this week's features.

    1. Wow! Thanks Barb! I love the Motivation Monday Linkup - and it is an honor to have this post featured there!


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