Cooking for a large group can be daunting, especially if you don't have a dishwasher and just one oven, stove, and fridge. Fear not! You do not have to be a superhuman — you'll just have to give the party a bit of thought and planning.
For my 25th birthday, I wanted a party. The last couple of years my birthday had silently passed and now I was going to be a quarter of a century old: I wanted a real party! A nice party! I like cooking and baking and I like parties, so what better way to celebrate it then with a dinner party with my close family and friends?! A quick survey of invitees made a list of 20 people, which was about the maximum our living room could hold. Planning started.
Here's how I made my fabulous dinner party so fabulous:
- Pick a food theme. Themes give you some guidance on what dishes to choose and a theme can bring the meal together.
- Think of the Food Guide Pyramid. It is not only healthy, but also balances your meal and helps ensure there will be something for everyone. In addition, a variety of dishes will mean a variety of cooking techniques, which means more fun AND better use of your kitchen.
- Make a master list of ingredients. Catalog everything: all the spices in your pantry, how many eggs you have — everything.
- Make a shopping list. I like to make one big shopping list divided by the different shops I am going to visit. When shopping, I cross what I got off the list.
- Make a schedule. The key to an awesome dinner party is having dishes ready at the right moment, so have a plan. Dishes like pies, cakes, bread, and spreads can be made a day earlier or in the morning. Which dishes need to go in the oven? Which dishes need to go in the fridge? Is there room in the fridge? I often take a page and make two columns. The left column is my time schedule (when I am going to make which dish) and the right one is my oven/fridge schedule (which dish is going to be when in the oven/fridge). Tape the schedule in your kitchen to the wall — it's easy to see and it won't get lost.
- Don't forget to include party area set up in your schedule.
- Plan to warm your dishes. You'll probably have a few dishes that need to be kept hot. Towels around oven tins and hot plates work wonders. I usually plan to have all dishes ready half an hour in advance and put multiple dishes in the oven at low temperature (50 ˚C/122 ˚F). This gives me time to change into nice clothes and check my hair while the food gets reheated or remains hot.
And finally, learn from my mistake: don't get too enthusiastic. I got excited and picked out fairly complicated recipes — and bought nothing pre-made! Although it is cheap to do everything from scratch, it's also a lot of work. Include "easy" dishes that will be quick and painless.
Still, our party went well — even though we ended up doing five loads of dishes by hand! If anyone has advice on cleaning up a dinner party, I'm listening.