Behold my dinner party checklist.
In my humble opinion, this list is the most important tool in planning and throwing a dinner party; specifically one that you are not throwing at your own home. These offsite dinner parties are basically like catering, but on a smaller scale and you’re just having a casual gathering with friends. I personally don’t have the space to throw large dinner parties so I always have to draft one of these lists before I hit the road.
In the past when I have thrown dinner parties at home, the only list I need to make is for groceries. Everything you need is accessible and you don’t forget to pack anything. Throwing one at another person’s house leaves the door open for missing ingredients, tools, equipment and transporting issues that nick at your biggest enemy — time.
You basically want to minimize the time it takes to haul yourself back home to retrieve Himalayan salt or a knob of elephant garlic that you left on your kitchen counter.
Draft the list, use it to acquire groceries
Let me walk you through the method to my madness. In the example above, the meal outlined is Korean barbecue. It first acts as a grocery list. I decide what dishes I want to make and write out all the ingredients — regardless if I have the ingredients or not — grouped by dish. It also acts as a recipe guide in case I space out while preparing the dishes.
Usually a day before the dinner party I start purchasing the groceries. Depending on the ingredients involved, I generally purchase most that day. Rice, meats that should marinate overnight, oils, spices and sauces are all items that fall in this group. The scribbling indicated by the blue arrow above shows notes that I made to myself to purchase food or items that are better left for the day of the party. In this example: some lettuce for wrapping, ice for my cooler, and Ziploc bags that I forgot to purchase earlier.
Start the preparation
Let’s be honest. If I took everything in its raw state over to the dinner party destination, it would take forever to whip the meal up from scratch. Besides, preparing as much as you can prior to hauling it all over will mean a) less stuff to transport, and b) less work to do once you get there. Less work means less stress, more drinky and more fun.
But what do I mean by preparing? Simple — make your sauces, dressings or marinades; start brining and marinating your meat(s) beforehand; cut/dice your vegetables and properly store them. Keep in mind though, some vegetables are better purchased the day of (see previous point), or not cut open until you are ready to cook/use them. Potatoes and avocados are good examples. Once you slice these open, they immediately start oxidizing and blemish in flavor and color. Leave these to the day of. The same goes for salads, dress them last. Oils and liquidy dressings will quickly wilt your greens into glop.
Packing seems cut and dry right? I mean, just throw everything in bags and go. I wish it was that simple but packing your foodstuffs well is just as rewarding as packing well for a vacation.
And like most packing situations, I too like to travel light. Nothing dims the fun out of it all than having to pack/unpack a carload of food and equipment. So first, make a sub-list of tool, equipment and ingredient must-haves. In my example above, I scribbled a must-have list under the “Bring:” section circled in red. I then check with my hosts on what they might already have on this list and if so, I can start checking those items off. Otherwise, on the day of I start packing and checking everything else off one by one.
I recommend you ice down a decent sized cooler and throw your meats and vegetables in it. A cooler is convenient for everyone because you don’t know what your hosts’ refrigerator space is like. Secondly, I suggest you package most everything in small to large Ziploc bags. They don’t take up as much space as containers and are less heavy. If you have easily damaged items, store them in containers if you must. And think like a grocery clerk when you do your packing. I.e., heavier/larger items on bottom, and lighter more delicate things on top.
Tools, sauces, spices, knives, etc. are better transported in bags or better yet, boxes (especially if there are knives). And in rare cases when I do have to bring a knife, I properly secure it in cases or wrapping so there is little chance of it cutting through bags/boxes or even worse, you.
The dinner party
Dinner parties are meant to be fun. If you are throwing one, no one is going to yell at you or bad talk their experience on Kudzu or Yelp. If you forgot that exotic ingredient at home, is it a deal breaker?
And what I’ve also learned is that your friends can be very accommodating and can go track down some peanut oil that you forgot to bring. Twice…
- by Gene Lee, Food and More blog
– Gene Lee writes about International Cuisine for the AJC Dining Team. He also publishes his own blog, Eat, Drink, Man… A Food Journal.