Ever since the disorganized dinner I hosted two years back, I learned a few lessons on preparing for dinner parties at home.
I plan my menu as I used to do before, starting from appetizer to dessert, and try to add variety. Grocery shopping list is prepared and shopped. While I used to cook and prepare everything the very day of the invite, I have now started chopping and prepping a day ahead - only the things that take time and will not wilt, get soggy, or spoil by the next day.
If I'm planning to make Chhole, I will soak and pressure cook chickpeas a day ahead. Dessert can easily be prepared ahead of time. Potatoes can be parboiled and refrigerated. If I'm planning to make raita, I'll make sure my curd is set a day ahead. In case anything does not work out, it gives me a chance to change my plans and cook something else. Rushing to the grocery store for little things is never in my books.
On the day of the dinner party, I chop the fruits and vegetables by afternoon for dishes that need assembling just before serving. On this day that I had a couple over, I was making Jaljeera, Pav Bhaji, Tikki Chaat, and Dahi Vada. So I took out sufficient boondi for jaljeera, butter for pav, finely chopped onion and tomatoes were ready for bhaji and chaat, chopped cilantro for garnish, the sliced grapes and grated beetroot was for topping the dahi bada. Ready, properly cling-wrapped and refrigerated.
To serve jaljeera, strawberry lemonade, or any other beverage that I plan - I now keep the serving glasses ready, and the beverage chilled in the refrigerator. I wouldn't want to climb up the countertop to remove glasses from the top shelf in front of people. And I definitely do not want insufficient amount of drinks for everyone (not anymore after that incident). If I can garnish the glass for presentation, even better. Just a mint leaf inside, and a half slice of lemon. Ready.
By the evening, I arrange the dining table depending on buffet style or sit-down dinner. Based on the quantity of food I see, I keep the serving bowls and spoons to go along with them ready. It does not take beyond 5 minutes. And then on some days, I leave a note to remind me what goes where. I'm just forgetful. And then at the end I make sure my kitchen counter top is not messy with too many utensils, vegetables, scraps, containers, etc, and that what has to be rinsed has been rinsed or put in dishwasher.
While I used to clean the apartment the day of the party, I have now started cleaning and vacuuming two days before the get-together. Saves you 30 minutes on the day of the party. Soap bottles that need refilling, paper napkins or tissues that need restocking, candles that need replacing - all can be done two days ahead and this will not take more than 5 minutes.
Makes no sense to do everything on the same day of the dinner. The last thing you want is to look exhausted or not be able to spend time with guests. When you invite people over, you invite to be around them, to bond and get to know each other better. Food is just a medium - even a Domino's pizza would be sufficient. While I love to entertain guests with home-cooked food, I love it more to relax and spend a jolly good time with them.
What are your secrets of hosting a dinner party? How do you prepare for your dinner get-together in advance?
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