Dinner Parties for Dummies

“There is nothing that makes me happier than sitting around the dinner table and talking until the candles are burned down.” - Madeleine L’Engle, A Circle of Quiet

This quote is me in a nutshell. I LOVE gathering people around a communal table for a meal. It doesn’t matter if it is pizza or filet mignon. The food always takes a backseat to the company.

That’s probably because science proves that commensality <a fancy word for eating together> helps establish connections, maintain happiness, and build a sense of belonging.  Sharing a meal is an intimate experience, and those who sit beside us at the table can feel this intimacy: Bonds with kindred spirits deepen, and strangers become friends.

Hosting a dinner party can feel SO intimidating. What are you going to cook? How is it going to turn out?

I am here to help. I have hosted literally HUNDREDS of dinner parties and you just need to relax + have fun.

If you are having fun, your guests will have fun. The good news is that most guests WANT to help you prepare the meal, SO let them. Let your guests mix drinks or pour wine or toss the salad.

Even better, ask your guests to bring an appetizer, salad, or dessert.

I love this menu SO MUCH because it highlights fresh summer produce. Buy as many of the ingredients as possible at the farmers market for a dinner that is both fresh + delicious.

This dinner serves 4 adults and 2 children, so double it or triple it as needed for your party.

Staging:

  • Tidy the parts of your house they will see <shove everything in a closet> (15 minutes).

  • Set your table in a manner that is acceptable to you (15 minutes). I am NOT Martha Stewart, so this normally involves a potted plant, candles, a table cloth, napkins, and silverware.

  • Pour a glass of wine, make the salad (10 minutes), toast the almonds (4 minutes); process the pesto (5 minutes), + sit a big pot of water on your back burner with 1 tbsp of salt to get it to a rolling boil (10 minutes) before your guests arrive.

  • When your guests arrive, greet them warmly + pour drinks, make the spinach (10 minutes), drop the pasta in the boiling water + stir occasionally (8 minutes), while they eat the appetizers.

  • Toss the pasta with the pesto and let your guests fix their plates.

  • When you are going to sit down to dinner, take the wine to the table for easy access and take the ice cream out of the freezer to soften up.

  • When everyone finishes dinner, grab a guest to help you cut strawberries (5 minutes) for dessert! YOU DID IT!!! Easy breezy.

Beverage: Crisp white wine such as Pinot Grigio or Verdicchio. If you are feeling ambitious, you could mix up some Aperol Spritz, which is 3 parts Prosecco: 2 parts aperol: 2 parts club soda served on ice.

Appetizer: Hummus with celery sticks + Pretzel sticks.

Salad: Arugula tossed with sliced strawberries, goat cheese, + toasted pecans. Don’t get hung up on measurements, just make it pretty <but, be sure to toast the pecans to bring out their full flavor - you can do this on the stove top or in a toaster oven>. Serve it with balsamic vinaigrette. Similar recipe: https://www.marthastewart.com/344355/arugula-salad-with-strawberries

Main Course: Pasta with Trapani Pesto

1 pound linguine pasta

1/4 c. toasted silvered almonds

2.5 cups grape tomatoes

1/2 cup packed fresh basil

1 minced garlic clove

1 small pepperoncini (hot pepper in vinegar) - more if you like it spicy!

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)

1/2 cup parmesan (I prefer the sandy grate to the shredded for this recipe)

  • Boil water in a large dutch oven. Add 1 tbsp of salt to the water and cook the pasta for 8 minutes. Reserve 1/2 cup of cooking water. After you drain the pasta, add a tablespoon of olive oil to keep it from sticking. Reserve plain pasta for any children in attendance + serve with parmesan. Noodles with butter and parmesan is a kid pleaser.

  • Process the toasted almonds, tomatoes, basil, garlic, + pepperoncini in a food processor until smooth.

  • Scrape down the sides of the bowl and then add the EVOO s-l-o-w-l-y while the machine is running.

  • Add the parmesan while the machine is running.

  • Toss the pasta with the pesto IN THE POT and adjust the consistency of the sauce (if needed) with the reserved pasta water. <This way, you can keep the leftovers warm for seconds.>

  • Serve immediately + put the top on the pot. If you are feeling ambitious, you can serve this with shrimp or poached chicken on top or on the side. If you have a guest that doesn’t eat pasta <we all know + love those people>, you can serve them a chicken breast or shrimp topped with pesto.

Side: Wilted Spinach. Add 1 tbsp of EVOO to a large skillet. Swirl around a halved garlic clove in the oil. Remove the garlic clove. Stir in 12 ounces of fresh spinach and watch as it gradually wilts away more than you ever think is possible. Add a hefty pinch of salt and a splash of hot sauce (if you like it spicy). Serve immediately.

Dessert: Angel Food Cake with Strawberries + Ice Cream. Buy an angel food cake at the store as well as your favorite brand of vanilla ice cream. Serve it with sliced strawberries.

There is some FASCINATING science around how cooking + eating together builds trust and enhances group performance. (https://hbr.org/2015/12/team-building-in-the-cafeteria) SO, you might try inviting your boss or direct reports over for dinner after you’ve tested this menu on your friends!!

Reaping the benefits of commensality is pretty simple: Just gather some people together around food, sit down together, talk, eat, and enjoy!

Let me know how it goes ✨

Remember, anything or anyone who doesn’t LIGHT YOU UP is too small for you.

xoxo, Sarah-Nell

Sarah-Nell Walsh

Career Coach + Strategist