As much as I like cooking for my family, I used to get stage fright when we would have company for dinner. I’d fret about what to make and getting the house cleaned up in time. I would also worry whether the food itself would meet guests’ expectations, since I publish recipes for a living.
I have developed some strategies that keep me calmer so I can enjoy casual get-togethers. All of these tips could apply to more formal dinners, too, though I might put a little more time into making a nice appetizer or dessert for a special occasion.
Here are my suggestions:
1. Decide on a reliable, easy main dish plus two simple side dishes.
Here are a few ideas:
- Easy Appetizer: Garlic Herb Goat Cheese Spread
- Heart Healthy Indian Spiced Salmon
- French Cassoulet with White Beans and Sausage
- Stacked Pumpkin Enchiladas
- Chocolate Bark with Pomegranate Seeds, Coconut and Ginger
For an elegant yet snappy salad, use pre-washed greens, dried fruit, crumbled cheese, and chopped nuts.
2. Choose some trouble-free appetizers or munchies to set out before dinner.
These can include sliced fruit or a bowl of grapes, cheese and crackers, and even popcorn or rice crackers.
3. Clear the kitchen counter and unload the dishwasher ahead of time.
With a clear work space everything seems to go more smoothly. With an empty dishwasher, I can load the dinner dishes right after we eat, making room on the counter for ice cream and cookies, whipped cream and berries, or another near-effortless dessert.
4. Make a meal plan and set out the ingredients before you start cooking.
Have you ever had the experience of cleaning up from dinner only to realize you forgot to serve part of the meal? Well I have, and ever since, I have started keeping a list on the counter of everything I plan to serve.
5. Set the table in advance, including bringing in extra chairs, if needed.
Making the table look nice is a great job for the kids, and they might even like to make place cards, pick the tablecloth, or make a centerpiece with leaves or flowers. Ideally, this should all be done before guests arrive, and it may even keep the kids busy while you cook.
If I follow these five steps, I don’t feel as frantic when friends come over.
Like so many things, the key to staying calm is having a plan. Ultimately, the food is less important than the atmosphere of hospitality and warmth that I can only convey if I haven’t broken out in a cold sweat.
Following The Six O’Clock Scramble’s weekly dinner plans can also make casual entertaining easier, according to a subscriber from Maryland. She writes:
“Another great thing The Scramble has made possible for me are spontaneous dinners. We have some lovely neighbors we’re trying to cultivate as friends, and because of The Scramble, I can invite them over anytime we happen to bump into each other, knowing there will be something easy and delicious on the menu. My only worry is that they are so impressed that they might become subscribers… then they’d already have a dinner plan!”
If your neighbors do subscribe to The Scramble, at least you can console yourself with a free month for referring a new subscriber!