Tag: Party

How to Throw a Dinner Party on a Weeknight (Yep, It’s Possible)

This article was created in partnership with Barilla® as part of Together at the Table.

Why do we limit fun to the weekend? There are seven days in a week, yet we save all our socializing for precious Friday and Saturday nights (and the occasional Sunday, when we’re feeling adventurous). Gathering around the table on a weeknight can be a great way to connect with busy friends, practice your cooking skills, and still get to bed at a reasonable hour.

We partnered with our friends at Barilla® to talk about all the reasons you should host a weeknight dinner party—plus show you how to pull one off without stress or hours of cleanup.

Why Weeknight Dinner Parties Are the Best

1. People are more available.

Finding a free Friday or Saturday night that works for everyone is nearly impossible. But a Monday? The only plans you have to compete with are The Bachelor.

“Weekends get so booked for us that it’s nice to make time during the usual weekday schedule to spend time with friends we haven’t seen in a while,” says Erin Gleeson, the best-selling author behind The Forest Feast.

When you aren’t competing for a coveted Friday slot in someone’s social schedule, it’s much easier to get everyone together on the same night.

2. You get to party and get to bed early.

If you’re going out to a bar or restaurant with friends, the chances of making it home for an early bedtime are slim. But when you host your own party, you can end it as early as you like!

“I’m not really a night owl, so I like the fact that most weeknight dinner parties end earlier,” says Brittany Mullins, nutritionist and creator of Eating Bird Food. “That way, I can hang out with friends but still get to bed at a decent hour.”

Food, friends, and pj’s by 9 p.m.? That’s our kind of party.

3. Just about anything goes.

When you have people over on a Wednesday, no one expects you to have slaved over the stove all day. Your friends will be happy enough to eat a home-cooked meal they didn’t have to make.

“I like weeknight dinner parties because they feel less formal, so you can serve something relatively easy and casual, and everyone is still impressed and happy,” Mullins says.

Also, since you’re making the food, it’s easy to keep things simple and healthy. Eating out usually involves hidden salt, butter, and other less-than-ideal ingredients, but by playing host, you can ensure the meal is light and nutritious.

How to Pull It Off

1. Do as much as possible the night before.

“My best tip for hosting is to plan ahead and get as much done the night before as possible,” Mullins says. “You’ll feel organized the day of instead of running around at the last minute trying to get everything together.”

This applies to the cooking and any tidying up you need to do. Wipe down the bathroom, straighten up the living room, and put your laundry away. Also, “make sure your dishwasher is empty before the guests arrive,” Gleeson says. “That makes cleanup easier!” If you don’t have a dishwasher, just make sure the sink is clear.

You can also save time by prepping some of your food in advance. Know you’ll need a lot of diced onions? Slice ’em up the night before. Appetizers and desserts can also usually be made ahead of time.

2. Set the mood.

You don’t have to put together a Pinterest-worthy tablescape to give your dinner party a special vibe. Simply dim the lights, put out a few candles, and throw on your favorite music.

“Ambience, especially lighting and music, are very important for me, and I always try to have those set before guests arrive,” Gleeson says. “Candles are a must! I opt for unscented beeswax ones that are clean-burning and don’t compete with the delicious aroma of the cooking food.”

3. Start with every Instagrammer’s favorite: a snack board.

Setting out a few apps before dinner will keep guests entertained and give you time to put the finishing touches on your entrée. But don’t feel like you have to go all out with fancy bruschetta or a baked Brie. For wow factor without all the work, simply arrange a few of your favorite snacks on a plate or cutting board.

“Not only do [snack boards] look pretty, but you can put them together in a matter of minutes without having to cook anything,” Mullins says.

Start with vegetables like celery, sliced red peppers, carrots, cucumbers, and cauliflower, then add nuts, fruits, cheeses, crackers, or charcuterie.

And don’t be afraid to add something unexpected. Yumna Jawad, creator of Feel Good Foodie, likes to include candied ginger and wasabi sugar snap peas for extra kick. “They are great conversation starters for mingling and to get everyone talking about the different flavors they’ve tried,” she says.

4. Serve a simple entrée that still looks chef made.

When it comes to the main course, you don’t need to try some fancy new recipe with 100 ingredients.

“I usually stick with something that doesn’t require a ton of hands-on cooking time,” Mullins says. “That way I can enjoy time with friends and family the night of the party rather than being stuck in the kitchen.”

Pasta is a great choice for a crowd-pleasing dinner. It comes together in minutes; is made with real, simple ingredients (whole durum wheat and water); and is the perfect base for pretty much any flavor combo. We recommend reaching for Barilla Collezione pasta to make dinner feel extra special. It’s bronze cut—an artisanal way of cutting pasta that gives it a rougher texture, helping it hold onto sauces better. Plus, there’s nothing that brings people (even strangers!) together more than a delicious pot of pasta.

Gleeson recommends this easy recipe: Boil pasta until al dente, drain, then top with shaved Parmesan and sunflower seeds. (Pro tip: For extra flavor and moisture, toss the noodles in olive oil after draining.)

For something unexpected, Jawad suggests making her hummus pasta. The hummus adds a creamy, rich flavor that’s a little like a vegan Alfredo sauce. Just add your pasta of choice, and you’ve got a plant-based, protein-filled dish that will have guests begging for the recipe.

Or make cleanup super easy by trying Mullins’s one-pot vegan mushroom stroganoff. Once all the ingredients are in the pot, you’re pretty much done.

You can also check out these showstopping recipes from Barilla’s executive chef, Lorenzo Boni, or give one of Barilla’s flavor-packed recipe builders a spin.

5. Don’t forget dessert.

You don’t have to make a cake that would impress Mary Berry. As with everything else on this list, keep it simple. Set out a variety of fruits and berries with store-bought whipped cream or an easy chocolate ganache (microwave chocolate and heavy cream in 30-second intervals until chocolate is melted, stir to combine, and serve).

Or try make-your-own sundaes. All you need is ice cream, bowls, and a few toppings, and your guests can serve themselves. Gleeson offered up three unique sundae ideas:

  1. Vanilla ice cream with berries and a thick balsamic sauce for drizzling
  2. Vanilla ice cream drizzled with a good quality olive oil and topped with flaky salt
  3. Vanilla ice cream drizzled with honey and finished with a dollop of peanut butter

So really there’s no reason not to get a dinner party on your calendar right now. With just a tiny bit of prep, you’ll be able to spend more time around the table with the people you love.

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6 Cooking Tips That Make Hosting a Dinner Party So. Much. Easier

This article was created in partnership with Barilla® as part of Together at the Table.

Hosting a dinner party is like having to sauté on stage in front of a crowd of critics. Even the most self-assured person in the world can feel a lot of pressure to create a fancy meal that’s *just right.*

Thanks to our friends at Barilla®, who always hook us up with great cooking tips and tricks, we know that preparing a delicious dinner doesn’t have to be complicated. It’s actually surprisingly easy to create a chef-quality dish without spending hours bent over the stove.

Below, three cooking and hosting pros share their best advice, so you can feel readier than ever to throw a gathering that will bring friends, family, and even strangers together. Your guests won’t even notice that it took almost no time and effort to pull off!

1. Make a good first impression.

Holistic nutritionist Brittany Mullins loves starting out with a veggie tray, so guests have something to snack on as soon as they arrive.

“[Veggie trays] are super easy, and everyone loves to have a healthy snack to munch on before dinner,” she says. “I keep the veggie platters exciting by finding unique, seasonal produce like endive lettuce or watermelon radishes.”

Mullins likes making guacamole to pair with, but she swears by a controversial secret ingredient: peas! Mix them in with the avocado, and you’ve got a lighter version of everyone’s favorite dip—no one will be able to spot the difference.

2. Reimagine classic dishes in new ways.

Nothing brings people together like a bowl of pasta. While you can never go wrong with classic spaghetti and marinara, a dinner party is a good opportunity to mix things up and surprise guests with something unexpected.

Erin Gleeson, the blogger and cookbook author behind The Forest Feast, looks for creative ways to incorporate color and fresh produce. A good example? Her snap pea pasta.

She combines roasted sugar snap peas and asparagus in a warm pot of al dente penne (the recipe calls for whole grain, but you can also try Barilla® Collezione Penne. It’s bronze-cut for a rougher texture that better absorbs sauce—yummm). Then she tosses with chopped basil and cilantro, olive oil, and shaved Parmesan. You’ll love how pretty it looks on your dinner table; your guests will love how totally satisfying it is.

Another pro move? Use Barilla’s recipe builders to create a unique pasta dish that’s all yours. The handy infographics make it easy to turn a box of pasta into a flavorful, plant-based meal that people will be talking about long after the table is clear. (Barilla® Orzo with pomegranate seeds, toasted pine nuts, chickpeas, olive oil, and za’atar, anyone?)

3. Don’t forget the garnish.

Herbs are total game changers when it comes to cooking. They add taste, texture, and color in a single stroke. Blogger Yumna Jawad of Feel Good Foodie says you should never serve a meal herbless. “There’s nothing that brings more flavor to a dish than fresh and crisp herbs added right before serving,” she says.

To keep herbs like parsley and cilantro (her go-tos) as fresh as possible, Jawad stores them with their stems in water or wraps them in a damp paper towel in a plastic bag. When you’re ready to use, just pat dry with a clean towel and chop.

4. Use your freezer.

Don’t be afraid of the freezer! It’s a wonderful tool that will help your ingredients last longer and cut down on day-of cooking.

Mullins has a brilliant trick for preserving fresh ginger: Peel it with the back of a spoon and store it in the freezer. “It lasts longer this way and grates so easily when needed,” she says.

The freezer also comes into play when you want to prep ingredients or meals in advance. For instance, homemade pesto can be frozen in ice cube trays, then reheated in individual servings when you’re ready to serve dinner.

5. Repurpose your food scraps.

Don’t throw out those veggie scraps or chicken bones! Jawad suggests using them to make broth. “Broth is such an easy way to flavor not only soups but also stews, pasta, marinades, casseroles, rice, and stir-fries,” she says.

Our fave: Add the broth to a jar of pasta sauce. This trick comes in handy particularly in vegetarian recipes, where Jawad notes that you don’t have the fat from meat to enhance the flavor (just make sure to use veggie broth if you want to keep the recipe meat-free). No matter what dish you upgrade with this trick, your guests won’t guess your secret—but they’ll definitely notice the taste.

6. Try new gadgets… and methods.

Mullins’s two favorite cooking techniques? Air frying and sous vide. Air fryers are amazing tools because you can cook your favorite indulgences in a healthier way, but they’ll still come out crispy and delicious.

Sous vide is a method that involves sealing food in an airtight container and then cooking it. Sounds complicated, but it’s really quite simple—and it helps make sure your meat is cooked evenly throughout. Try cooking steak or chicken sous vide before mixing into Barilla® pasta sauce.

No matter how many you’re hosting or what you’ve got on the menu, these simple tricks will help you pull off dinner with ease. That way you can sit back, relax, and enjoy the best part: sitting around the table with the people you love.

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