down to business

perfecting the “done before they arrive” dinner party- a work in progress

Categories: Appetizers, Salads and Dressings, Fish and Seafood, Meat, Veggies and Sides, Sauces and Such, Desserts, Dinner Party, Well Equipped, Posted on November 9, 2011 by Sandy Bergsten - Comments (0)

When faced with a big event it’s best to break it down into manageable pieces. Hosting a large party can be daunting, if it’s for business the stakes can feel higher. There are certain expectations for a work-related affair such as a prompt schedule, accommodating a range of diets, and providing a format that is conducive to the business at hand.

Instead of frantically searching for a private dining room at a restaurant, take a deep breath and draft the details. First- how many people will be attending? Can you accommodate that number in your home? If yes, continue. If no, call for reservations.

Next outline the occasion and the time frame. Ours is a business dinner for up to fourteen. Cocktails at 6:30 PM. Dinner at 7 PM sharp. With an 8:15 to 8:30 departure. That’s a lot to occur in a short period of time. Super important to have everything in it’s place and to prepare a meal that can come together in a matter of minutes with a minimum of fuss.

Be realistic- you can’t be in two places at once. And this is not the time to step out of your comfort zone. You are going to need to help. So figure out what you need most and line it up. This is a perfect time to get a hand around the house or in the yard. For most of your guests this will probably be their first visit to your home. Put a good face on it and if possible do it a day or two before. For the night of- line up some kitchen help. If it’s important that you be present as a host or hostess then get someone in the kitchen to help plate, pass and do dishes.

Go easy on the flowers- the point of the meal is to have those present be able to converse. An arrangement that obstructs your guests view, no matter how beautiful, is an avoidable obstacle. Keep it simple and low. The same goes for candles.


Seating is crucial. Preplanning here will go a long, long way. Sketch out the seating and make place cards. It will put everyone at ease. Set the table the day before. While you are at it lay out your clothes too. The last thing you need right before the guests arrive is a fashion crisis.

seating chart 

Take an early look at your menu. Inquire if any of your guests have dietary restrictions- if so plan accordingly so you can provide suitable substitutions. The amount of time you put into planning a party will exponentially reduce your stress the day of and increase the ease of which it all comes together.


Wine is an easy thing to get out of the way. Choose a fitting white and red. Stock your bar. The great thing about booze and soft drinks- they have an interminable shelf life.

Once you know who is coming (and just remember that will be a moving target until the last doorbell rings), and have a menu in hand, you can start shopping and prepping.

 gravlax and pulled pork canapes

For our dinner there will be two passed hors d’oeuvres-gravlax on cucumber rounds and pulled pork canapés. The important thing here is that everything is portioned out, covered and refrigerated earlier in the day.


Both will come together with a minimum of effort- especially once my helpers arrive.

 smoked trout stack

At 7 sharp the smoked trout stacks will be at each place. Again, each component prepped and stowed hours before.

 wonton crisps

The wonderful thing about beef tenderloin (not to sound like a broken record) is that it can be done hours in advance. This pricey cut deserves your complete attention in the oven. An invaluable tool is the thermicator- it looks like an arcane torture device but gives an accurate instant internal temperature like nothing else.

 beef tenderloin

When cooking this cut- minutes literally count. Remove from the oven, let rest, cover and cool; slice before your guests arrive.

 fresh horseradish sauce

The fresh horseradish sauce is best if made the day before- hooray.

 portabella mushrooms

One of our guests is avoiding red meat, a grilled portabella mushroom provides an acceptable alternate.

 pureed cauliflower

The pureed cauliflower can be completely made ahead of time and refrigerated for a quick re-warm at 50% power in the microwave.

 Brussels sprouts

The Brussels sprouts can be sautéed earlier then finished while the guests are eating their first course.

 lemon sorbet cups

The lemon cups can be hollowed out and filled the day before. Individually wrap and freeze. The berries can be marinated with a splash of Grand Marnier an hour or so before.

 lemon sorbet

Remember to take the frozen lemon sorbet cups out of the freezer while your guests start their main course, if not they may be too frozen to eat.

lemon sorbet 

Before you know it the clock will toll and everyone will wonder where the time has gone.

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