I think I got the art of entertaining down. I can now plan a party in a matter of days. It's really easy if you are organize.
Here are a few planning tips.
1. Invite List
- If you have more than 10 people, keep a spreadsheet in excel with the following fields.
- Cell Phone or Email
- Informed the person (filled with "yes" if you have informed the person)
- Attending (Fill with "1" for yes and "No" for no's)
- Food Allergies (Note, if you have a bunch of people who have food allergies, either respect it or don't invite the person). I have done a party where people had the following restrictions: vegetarian, gluten free (celiac disease), no seafood, no seeds. In cases like this, if you are doing a buffet style, list the name of the dish, and if it is vegetarian, gluten free, or contain seafood or seeds, mark it. Before hand, pull each person aside and make sure they are aware of what food they can eat and cannot it. And make sure when you are making the food, you are careful with your utensils and to not cross contaminate. If you are ordering food from a take out place, take the time to go through with the restaurant and express the allergies. Sometimes it's just not possible to make a gluten free crab Rangoon, but make sure the restaurant knows to handle the food separately and not to contaminate the other gluten free food. If they are not accommodating, find another take out place.
- At the bottom of the "Attending" field, tally the number of people who are coming. Be flexible. Some people might not be able to tell you whether they are attending or not till a few days before or the day off. Just make them as a "maybe". If you want them to come, make sure they know that if they find themselves free, they should just pop on by and join the party. The last party, one of our neighbor's said that they weren't attending, but turns out that they had to cancel their trip last minute. I happened to see their 3 year old playing outside and I raced outside and told them if they had no plans, to come on by for dinner, and they did.
Make sure you keep the excel list so that you whom you invited in the past and for which party.
- In the same excel list, make another worksheet and call it "Food".
- If you have more than 12 people, think about doing half take-out and half your own cooking. If you don't feel like cooking, do all of it as take-out.
- You'll have to play with portions here, you'll get better at it every year when you figure out what people ate and did not eat, and how many portions to order and to make. At the end of the party, make sure to revisit the "Food" worksheet and write down how many portions you bought and how many portions are left, and whether they were popular or not. This way, the next party you have, you will not have a lot of leftovers.
- If you plan to cook, and you're the only cook, make sure you don't overwhelm yourself. Because I usually cook Asian dishes, most everything needs to be cooked the last 20 minutes. If you can, make one cold vegetable dish, like pickled cucumbers and daikon, make 1 steam dish, either fish or steamed dumplings, one or two stir fry dish. If you have help, you can even make three stir fry dishes. Remember, you only have a limited amount of burners, and hands. If you can make something in the oven, that would help.
- After you've figured out food, in another worksheet, call it "Things To Buy". If you are cooking or need to purchase drinks, liquor, appetizers, etc. make a list of things you need to buy. If they require different stores, group it by stores. Don't forget to write down how much you need.
3. How far in advance to you plan your party?
- If it is a small get together, a week is plenty of time. If it is a big event, like 25+ people or a holiday party like Christmas, send out invitations a month ahead. These days, I send out invitations through texting or email. The earlier you send out the invitations, the more people will come because they have not planed anything for that day.
- Buy the things you need for the party.
- Put the white wine in the fridge to be chilled. Remember to put any other alcohol and drinks in the fridge.
- Clean. Clean the area of the house that your guest will be going to. This means that you probably don't have to clean the bedrooms, but make it presentable just in case somebody wants a quick house tour. Put out extra toilet paper in the bathroom.
- Print out the recipes and read through them to make sure you feel comfortable. Note: Never try a new recipe the day of the party, unless you either have a back up plan or are confident that it'll turn out fine.
- Set the table.
- If you have appetizers, set them out on the appetizer area and put out the dishes that you will be putting them in. You don't have to open the appetizers, just have them in the vicinity. Peanuts, fruits, banana chips, potato chips are a few things you could do. Fruits are always nice, because it is healthy and non-fattening.
- Put out the glasses, wine glasses and the wines. If you need to breathe the red wine, remember to open it one hour before people show up (I always forget).
- Wash fruits and vegetables.
- Cut up meat and place in zip lock bag so that when you are ready to cook, you don't need to cut anything up, you just grab your zip lock bag and cook the meat.
- Cut up things everything that you need, like ginger, onion, shallot garlic.
- Prepare any sauces 1 hour before people start showing up.
- Make sure you have enough pots and pans to make your food in.
- Below is the gas stove where the main dishes are going to be cooked.
- On the right side, I will be making a chicken dish. The sauce, the green onions, the peanuts and the recipe is all staged, including the wok that I will be using.
- On the left hand of the stove, I have a noddle meat dish, the sauce and scallions, and behind that, baby bok choi along with the ingredients.
- The second stove is my steaming basket. I will be making siu mai in this. It's a two layer bamboo steamer, so hopefully all the siu mai will fit in it.
- To the left is a pot of water ready to be boiled for the noodle meat dish.
- In the corner, I have the serving dishes and serving spoons ready with yellow stickies on it saying what food goes into it.
- Don't forget to cook the rice (I have known to forget to do this).
6. The Party
- Right before people start showing up, make yourself a drink and relax (I make myself an O.J. with vodka).
- Cook, eat and enjoy
- Don't worry about the clean up. Either somebody in your party will do it, or soak everything and leave it till tomorrow.
- On the bigger parties, I always have a few people loading the dishwasher and washing the pots and pans. As the hostess, I can't really spend my time after dinner doing this, so if you don't have help, just pile everything and ran water through it so it doesn't get crusty.
Before long, you'll be an expert in planning a party.
Here is the list of things I'll be cooking for 8 people
- Shu Mai (substituted chicken with shrimp and pork)
DumplingStrike out at the last minute, because I realized I did not have enough burners, nor pots, nor hands (note to self, buy another frying pan).
- Home Style Meat Sauce Noodle (Never done this before, we'll see how it turns out)
For dessert I had a friend bring something.
Quilt & Bitch
ps. this post was written with 6 minutes left to spare till people start showing up. :)