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Dinner Party Tips

DRINKS

More wine than needed: This might be terrible but to think that having each friend bring a bottle of wine was the best way to outsource dinner party schlepping.

Get sparkling wine in everyone’s hand as soon as they walk in the door. It’s always a celebration when we manage recreational adult human interaction!

Or just an easy punch.

MUSIC

Rich Girl Pop playlist on Songza — it’s all chill, too-cool music.

Pandora station is Sister Nancy. Cool old school reggae.

After dinner, VH1 Classics channel! It’s crowd-pleasing background music, and the hilarious 80s music videos are a fun talking point as the night winds down.

SNACKS

Making candied nuts is the fastest way to jazz up a cheese plate, and Chinese Five-Spice Pecans. They have an unexpected (but totally addictive) flavor that works with everything.

Lightly toast baguette slices, and top with fresh ricotta, a little black pepper and a drizzle of truffle oil. And a pre-game drink before guests arrive is a real help to a harried cook.

These marinated olives are incredibly fast/easy, but make everyone feel like they are dining at a restaurant.

DINNER

You know what makes for a great dinner party? A giant pot of the best meatballs and a giant pot of spaghetti and a giant salad.

Get rotisserie chickens from a gourmet grocery store. Ask them to cut the chickens up neatly into quarters or eighths, and arrange them nicely on a platter with herbs and sliced lemons. Another fast but special meal is fresh pasta. It costs a bit more, but it’s still cheaper than making a fancy entree from scratch. The pasta is so good, you don’t need a complicated sauce to go with it.

Dinner party recipes that strike a nice balance between delicious, easy to make, and “seems impressive.” A favorite is Sam Sifton’s Momofuku-inspired Bo Ssam, which is phenomenally good, yet requires the skill level of a precocious toddler.

DESSERT

The key is to always make dessert first, like first thing that morning. There’s this Salted Butter Apple Galette from Bon Appetit. But in a pinch, with less time or bandwidth to make dessert, serve a sundae bar with all the fixin’s.

Make this insanely delicious chocolate cake, serve with two flavors of ice cream (vanilla and berry sorbet). That way there’s something for everyone and friends leave full of sweetness.

AMBIANCE

Candlelight makes the entire place feel magical. Buy 100 thick pillar candles and they’ll last forever.

Keep a quick game on hand. Monopoly Deal, Never Have I Ever Cards and Cards Against Humanity is hilarious. It’s always a fun way to end the night.

Get a couple bunches of bodega flowers and put them together in cool ways. Flowers are one area where quantity trumps quality.

Have a fire going. It smells so good and creates immediate ambiance. And even adults love to roast marshmallows for dessert.

O With good friends, coziness is a virtue! When there’s a single conversation going instead of several separate ones, but of course it’s fun when people break into smaller chats and the volume level rises to a boozy buzz.

GUESTS

As a guest at a friend’s home, usually offer to wash dishes after dinner.

If you’re a terrible conversationalist, keep a running list of anecdotes or stories you’ve heard on my iPhone. I know it’s lame but it’s better than being a boring party guest! (Also see the book What to Talk About!)

When it comes to host gifts, olive oil should be the new wine. Think about it: When you get a bottle of wine as a host, generally, you drink it that night or at some point within the week and generally, you sort of forget who gave it to you. The gift of wine is a wonderful gesture — I’m not saying it’s not — it’s just that olive oil can sometimes be more wonderful. Because it usually catches you by surprise and because it can be stretched out for weeks, forcing you to remember the giver’s generosity every time you make a homemade vinaigrette or a eat a bowl of Sunday Minestrone, which demands a high-quality drizzle upon serving.

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