Mixing and matching
Once it comes time to narrow down your menu to a do-able
array of dishes, keep in mind that you’ll want to feature flavors that
contrast but don’t clash. Serving a spicy cajun shrimp with hot
Mexican beans and rice will no doubt result in tastebuds so overwhelmed
by the assault of flavor sensations that guests will be rendered unable
to taste anything. Balance a spicy dish with a mild dish, a sweet dish
with a savory dish.
Accommodating picky palates
Hey, we all have our personal taste quirks, whether it’s
due to allergies, environmental concerns, philosophical beliefs, or just
plain whimsy. So the chances of concocting a menu in which every single
dish pleases every single guest is pretty much an impossibility. That
having been said, it never hurts to be sensitive to the needs of your
guests. Find out in advance whether anyone’s vegetarian or vegan, or
if there are any allergies you should know about. You don’t need to
tailor the entire menu to any single person’s needs, but you’ll want
to make sure that there’s at least one substantial dish in which they
can partake. You might also want to consider letting people sprinkle
their own nuts on their salads (nut allergies are fairly common, and
many people simply don’t like them), and grate their own cheese. Or
offer an assemble-your-own dinner – taco/burrito bar, make-your-own
pizzas, shish kebabs, handrolled sushi.
How many dishes and how much to cook?
You’re far better off creating one stellar entrée than
attempting to juggle three complex main courses, all of which require
extensive last minute preparation. If you’ve never thrown a dinner
party before, make life simple: serve a salad (or other appetizer), a
single entrée, and a no-prep dessert like sorbet, ice cream or fresh
fruit. As for quantity, I always make one or two servings extra – you
never know how hungry your guests are going to be, or whether there’ll
be any gate-crashers.
If you’re dining communal-style – as is traditional for many
cuisines – I generally try to estimate one dish for every two-three
guests. So, if I were doing a Chinese meal for a dinner party of ten, I’d
probably make 3-5 dishes, depending upon how ambitious (or insane) I
happened to be feeling.
o o o o o
Keep it simple, keep it fun, make plenty of extra, and when it comes
time to plan your next dinner party, you’ll be entertaining