Sometimes it all seems a bit too hard, when you have small kids, to throw a dinner party. Clearing all the toys and sundry mess, dealing with tantrums and special dietary needs, crossing fingers and toes that best behaviour will be the order of the day and that there will be no fights or other dramas…It’s stressful, but not as daft as giving up your social life for the sake of the status quo.
Not only can entertaining still be great fun, but if you volunteer to host, your kids can go to bed as soon as they’re tired, and you don’t have to argue over whose turn it is to be the designated driver. Win!
We’ve put together our top tips for throwing a stress-free soiree that everyone can enjoy:
- Turn your dinner party into an early evening do or, even better, a civilised luncheon. The children are more likely to behave in a reasonable manner and you can still be on the couch in your jammies by the time Giggle and Hoot say it’s time for bed.
- Get everyone to be in charge of a course. We often set a theme for a bit of fun, and then see what everyone brings. This cuts down on your workload and gets everyone excited about participating. Themes we have had lately have included love (for Valentine’s Day), 70s, Queensland, Hollywood and the colour red. This one we had on the weekend was all cheese and wine, thanks to King Island Dairy.
- Don’t try to make anything new unless you’re supremely confident you can pull it off without turning into a stressy cow. And keep it simple, stupid. Dishes you can prep in advance are always great, because this leaves you with your hands free to hold a jolly glass of bubbles and perhaps a whingy toddler. And make sure there is something you know the children will like on the menu. Caramelised fennel and goats cheese ottolenghi may impress your guests, but they’re not the ones who will shout the house down if their belly is empty.
- Set up a kids table and have activities ready for when they inevitably finish first and get antsy. You can sit them in front of a movie, have some fresh colouring books ready to go, or maybe a blow-up pool or back-yard cricket.
- Finish off with something super-simple. I love a cheese plate with a few options, like this one that King Island Dairy kindly provided for us. It can also act as a stand-alone late afternoon feast – just add some freshly baked rosemary sourdough, olives, and something tiny and sweet like some easy-squeezy chocolate ganache tarts. Just melt some milk chocolate and fold through an equal amount of whipped cream, then spoon into bought sweet pastry shells. Top with a berry or some hundreds and thousands (or in our case on the weekend, some speckled Easter eggs) and everybody loves you. Accompany with a sweet dessert wine and you have friends for life and a happy sugar coma to quietly slip into.
I have a no fail baked wild mushroom risotto – early prep, so that there’s no rushing around when the guests arrive. I pair it with a rocket, beetroot, feta and carmelised walnut salad (with a gorgeous splash of good olive oil and my fave Pukara Estate caramelised balsamic) and there you have it.
By the way, I know Cartel members living in Dublin can’t possibly win a King Island cheese package, but just remember who first blogged about cheese and who is most likely to stamp her foot Verruca Salt style because “I WANT IT NOW!!!!”……
I have a fantastic biryani recipe that’s super delish, able to be cooked ahead of time and very flexible in terms of being vegetarian or for omnivores or leaving out things people hate. Also simple to do a smaller plainer version in a separate dish if little people aren’t so fond of spices.
I also WANT IT NOW! Yummmm – King Island CHEESE! MMMMMMM….
Back off, lady. I wanted it now first!
It has actually been a very long time since I had a ‘normal’ dinner party….. But my last meal that was a hit was filet mignon with veges.
Then it’s time you did, Jody! And if you’re serving filet mignon, I shall eagerly await my invitation. 🙂
I’ve always been a fan of a freshly-made gnocchi – you know? The ones that are big and fluffy and potatoey and delicious? (I’ve yet to make them myself, but it’s on the list of “things to try”, so I just buy them from a fresh pasta store) – with a creamy blue cheese or gorgonzola sauce, scattered with baby spinach or rocket leaves and lightly toasted walnuts.
It looks and tastes so decadently ‘grown-up’, but is actually remarkably easy to pull off. It could be great for parties avec small ones too, cos you could just heat up a Latina fresh tub of napoli or carbonara sauce to go on their gnocchi!
Gnocchi is on my list of must learns as well, Anna. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to just knock up a batch whenevs? People say it’s not actually that hard. And I love that combo of blue cheese and walnuts. Mmmmmmm.
I think the universe is telling me I need to sit down in front of a big cheese platter and just gorge. Over the past couple of weeks I have seen a few posts and pics of yummy cheeses, cheese platters and even cheese knives!! Can I please ask what this ‘dinner party’ phenomenon is you speak of? It has been YEARS since I organised a dinner/lunch that didn’t revolve around a play date or child’s birthday. If my sob story isn’t enough to convince you that I should be your WINNER, then how about a meal of slow cooked lamb roast accompanied by caramelised pumpkin and a simple rocket, pine nut and parmesan salad and top that off with a dessert tasting tray (perfect for the kids to join in!) consisting of Malteser and Mars Bar Slice, Caramel Tart (homemade of course), Mini Strawberry Shortcakes and Double Chocolate and Raspberry Cheesecake slice. Oh and there would also be LOTS of wine and champagne!!
And who are we to battle against the universe, Lauren? And I think we need to invite you to our next dinner party – you are soooooooo in charge of desserts! x
Some great ideas for dinner parties, I have to say we haven’t had some for awhile, and not just because my hubby busted up a friendship we’ve had for 4 years, but that’s another blog post. My favourite dish is simple, stupid. Chicken breast stuff with cream cheese, sundried tomatoes chopped up, pesto, garlic, cashew nuts and then mooshed in the slice chicken belly and seared on fry pan before being held together with a rasher of bacon and then grilled in the oven. Served with crunchy, spicy roast potatoes, green beans lightly blanched and then quickly stir fried with garlic, onions and cracked pepper. Oh and lashings of plonk! So easy even I can manage after a glass (or bottle) of wine 🙂 xx
ps. have you changed the blog? I love the look down the right hand side! x
No, no change here – maybe we just have better instagram photos now. 🙂 I have had several friends that swear by that whole stuffed chicken breast thing – and one that even wraps it in pastry – but I have never attempted. Perhaps I should. And if I serve the obligatory lashings of plonk, the guests won’t mind how it turns out. Oh, hey, what do you spice up your taties with?
Dinner party food doesn’t really exist at my place as when friends come over the children all rule the house!
We normally lead with the cheese plate as that helps to fill the teeny little bellies before we move on to my favourite slow-cooked lamb shanks. Meaty enough for the men, tasty enough for the ladies and delicious enough to tempt the kids!
Dessert is often make-your-own pavlova at the table with meringue, cream, chocolate, caramel sauce, fruit and syrup satisfy all taste buds!
Ooh, love the make your own pav idea, Claire! The kids would go nuts for it, but we could also serve up some more adult-friendly toppings too. Yum!
I’m coming to your place!
Some great ideas! It almost seems do-able. I love the idea of a luncheon over dinner, and distributing the workload. Smart ladies, you lot.
If smart = we like to eat and drink and do less work, then yes we are! 😉
Any good dinner party must start with an awesome cheese platter. Good quality cheese, dried figs, fresh grapes, quince paste…you see where I’m going? Most recently I made a beautiful roast vegetable stack drizzled with a creamy mustard sauce and sprinkled with fresh herbs. The one before that I made Julia Child’s crispy skinned chicken maryland with a creamy mushroom and white wine sauce. Oh and wine, lots and lots of wine!
Oh Twinkle, I love everything about that answer!
Spaghetti! We’re having a dinner party tonight. My preferred model is to wear the kids out and put them to bed before we have dinner:)
I wish that worked here, Bec. Any time we’ve attempted that, we end up going to bed soon after. Turns out we are easier to wear out than they are. 😉
We always do dishes that are prepared before and just take a quick heat up to be ready. Mostly wok dishes, noodles or rice. And always seafood and lots of bubbles. Personally I could have every course consisting of just cheese, as long as there is wine to go with it. 🙂
I’m with you, Lisa! And I love the idea of anything that is easy to prepare. Dinner parties are so much more about enjoying the great company (and the bubbles) than about the food.
I love having a beautiful, cooked from scratch lasagne and salad when I have people over
Oh yes, everyone loves lasagne! One of my faves too Kim.
Club Sandwiches are my go-to menu item – so easy and can be prepared before guest arrive. The last party I hosted I also had a Cupcake and Candy Buffet and it went down a treat 🙂 Who doesn’t love sweets?!
I LOVE SWEETS!
I love serving butter chicken, because I have a ridiculously easy recipe to make but it looks, tastes and smells like I’ve had some gourmand chef come to my house to make it! Love fooling my guests!
I’d love to see that recipe Nic – if you’re willing to share?
It involves – wait for it – a sachet of Butter Chicken mix from the supermarket!
I make duck spring rolls with homemade plum sauce. They look uber delicate when placed on a plate of lettuce and are packed with flavour. They go very well with some nice wine and are always a hit when we have people over.
I know it doesn’t sound particularly ‘dinner party worthy’, but I’ve got my own Special Fried Rice recipe which I created myself and it tastes just like the fried rice you get in Chinese restaurants, and everyone always compliments me on it. The secret is using sesame oil, peanut oil, peas, bean shoots, spring onion, egg and Chinese pork sausage to give it that authentic flavour. Yummo.
Sounds great to me Soni!
Deep fried Brie with home made Cranberry sauce. A delicious appetizer I enjoy making equally as much as the compliments I receive from my dinner guests 🙂
I’ve never made my own cranberry sauce, Di. Great idea!
I really can’t go past the Aussie classic of a spinach and bacon cob loaf dip. The smiles on everyone’s faces with this nostalgic classic is infectious!
Love me a bit of retro cheesy action!
My STRAWBERRY MERINGUE CAKE: a dessert dish to beat,
Leaves guests delighted, impressed and replete,
Easy sponge, strawberry cream, fluffy meringue layers… SWEET!
Ooh, Jennifer I need to eat that! Anywhere we can see that recipe?
A juicy delicious roast beef
With all the trimmings
Baked to perfection
Serving that Im always winning!
YUM! Yes please.
Last week I made up two huge bowls of seafood marinara. The kids love the spaghetti & by keeping the seafood simple (king prawns & salmon) they tend to munch happily through it. Using different coloured whole (tiny) tomatoes adds burst of sweetness & colour….. the whole lot is pretty yummy if I do say so myself. Some greens to drop on the top and some crunchy garlic rolls (and a bottle of red) finish it off nicely.
Spinach and ricotta cannelloni – Meat eaters love it, vegetarians love it and its kid friendly too. Best part is I can prepare it in advance leaving me time to actually enjoy socialising with my dinner guests.
I like to end a meal with an awesome dessert, like fried ice cream!
With five kids of my own and when we have dinner parties, there is normally more kids again, I am a firm believer in the KISS (Keep it Simple Stupid) rule. Spaghetti Bolognaise has become my dinner party fav, which sounds a bit boring, but I do a far from boring recipe. It’s cooked in the oven for four hours, infusing all the flavours into the three different types of mince, in particular the white wine and sundered tomatoes give it an extra dimension. And best of all, zero complaints from the kids! I know it’s good for the adults too, because most of the time they leave with the recipe, and then serve it at their own dinner parties! I actually love cheese at the beginning of the evening and being a sweet tooth, a chocolate ganache tart is the perfectly simple way to end the evening. Smarties for the children on top, and the glow of good food and friendship lingers in our minds the rest of the week.
Iam not one of the worlds best chefs, and some of these ideas are making me hungry 🙂 probably why I always go for fresh, Fresh Seafood, fruits, salads and veg….cant go wrong, simply but beautiful