An Easy + Elegant Dinner Party.

Do you host dinner parties? Mr. Magpie and I love having friends over for dinner and though they happen less frequently than we’d care during this busy season of life, we’ve maintained our tradition by hosting at least one dinner party a season.

Mr. Magpie and I tend to pull out all the stops and overcomplicate things when hosting — to the point that it’s not uncommon for us to look at one another at some point the day-of and say, “Um, we may have bitten off more than we could chew here…” Somehow, we always get to the finish-line, and when we’re really frenzied, we open a bottle of wine and remind ourselves to enjoy the ride.

Two of our favorite complicated winter menus:

SPANISH FEAST

PAN CON TOMATE WITH OLIVE-OIL-DRENCHED ANCHOVIES ON TOP

CHICKEN AND MUSHROOM PAELLA WITH HOMEMADE AIOLI*

FRISEE SALAD WITH BLOOD ORANGE WEDGES AND MARCONA ALMONDS

CITRUS SORBET + PISTACHIO COOKIES

*We use a recipe from a Jose Andres cookbook we own, which is posted online with some adaptation here. We’ll swap in whatever green vegetable looks good at the market — asparagus, peas, etc.

I like to serve this menu with cava (a current favorite is Castellroig — see if your local wine shop carries it; it is $14, dry as a bone, and deliciously effervescent; I also love Avinyo and Raventos i Blanc, which are pricier and a bit more refined) and a rioja.

The above is a great option if you have guests with gluten intolerances. You can swap out the pan con tomate for a starter of charcuterie and cheese and omit the pistachio cookies.

INDULGENT ITALIAN SUPPER

CACIO E PEPE WITH HOMEMADE PASTA

CAST-IRON SKILLET RIBEYE STEAK SERVED OVER VINEGARY WINTER LENTILS

BIBB LETTUCE SALAD WITH VINAIGRETTE AND SHALLOT

TIRAMISU

The above is truly an all-weekend affair, as the lentils need to be cooked low and slow (can be made in advance though) with aromatics and homemade broth, and handmade pasta is always kind of a pain in the butt (though absolutely delicious and worth it). Of course, tiramisu is an intensive proposition no matter what, though I do like that it can be made ahead and left in the fridge to improve. We have presented variations on this menu a few times to different guests and it is always a shop-stopper. For some reason eating the salad as a third, separate course is always cause for extensive conversation (it’s an interesting, refreshing way to end a meal — very Italian!) and of course who doesn’t love homemade egg noodles in dressed with butter, cheese, and tons of pepper?! I recently had dinner at my cousin’s and she served the bitter digestif amaro at the end of dinner, alongside dessert, and I thought it was absolutely the most delightful way to finish the meal. I’d add amaro to the above lineup for an outstanding (indulgent!) evening.

And now, an elegant dinner party menu that is decidedly less involved but equally delicious. I love this menu because almost all of it can be handled ahead of time so you’re not fussing in the kitchen at the last minute while guests are waiting. (The two menus above require a lot of last-minute work, so we will only use them when entertaining closer friends who won’t mind the interruption / who might enjoy perching in the kitchen with us while we finish cooking.)

SMOKED SALMON DIP WITH CRUDITE AND CLUB CRACKERS*

ZUNI CAFE HOUSE-CURED PORK TENDERLOIN**

SCALLOPED POTATOES FROM CHRISSY TEIGEN’S COOKBOOK***

VINEGAR-AND-GARLIC SWISS CHARD****

*I made this for guests the other night and it was a big hit. It’s a throwback-type dish (I’m sure my mom made this in the 80s) but absolutely delightful. We buy our smoked salmon from Barney Greengrass, an Upper West Side institution. Must be served with club crackers. No exceptions.

**Note that you brine the pork for several days in advance, and then just pop it in the oven. So easy and shockingly well-flavored despite the simple preparation — just takes some advanced planning.

***The recipe as written makes enough for a football team. Scale ingredients accordingly. I made it for a party of ten for Easter one year and we had leftovers for days. It also took several friends’ involvement to peel all the potatoes — you’ve been warned! Budget enough time to do this in advance. But! This is the kind of dish you could make in the morning/early afternoon and then pop back in the oven to reheat just before dinner without an issue.

****Also something you could make on the stovetop in advance and reheat before eating.

What are your go-to dinner party recipes?

Post Scripts.

+Mr. Magpie recently received this well-reviewed cookbook from my sister and it’s been a huge source of inspiration for him. He recently made an outrageously delicious beet, pistachio, and horseradish creme dish that I have been dreaming of since. (UPDATE: Mr. Magpie has corrected me and let me know the beet recipe is actually a Kenji Lopez-Alt recipe found here.)

+Some of our other favorite cookbooks.

+Have we already discussed the fact that these are the best food storage containers, ever? They do not warp or crack, do not develop that weird cloudiness that plastic tupperware does, can be placed in the microwave and dishwasher, do not leak, and are easy to stack. Legit perfection.

+The best kitchen gear.

+I often walk by a Jacadi on the UWS that has this sweet scalloped puffer coat in the window. I think it must be mini’s for next winter.

+We have had TWO separate friends come by, admire our living room sconces, and buy the exact same ones for their homes. (Currently on sale — we have the antique brass ones.)

+Chanel-esque bag for a fancy little one.

+This enormous clam bowl is SO cool. Great way to decorate a bookshelf/bar cart/coffee table or create a unique centerpiece.

+Do I need to add a set of red ones to my collection? Already own in the blue trim and the solid white…

+A sweet little toggle-button sweater jacket.

+Entertaining girlfriends.

+In love with this sweater.

+Cute silhouette ornaments

+How adorable are these finger puppets!!!!

+How do you meal plan?

14 Comments

  1. Oooh, what a delicious post with so many ideas! I rarely entertain at home (should change that!) and when I do, I usually do find myself doing it in the winter. One of my favorite un-fussy dishes has been ribollita with homemade pesto.

    Also, we are total amaro lovers and you must try Amaro Sfumato if you like bitter, smoky drinks! SO GOOD.

    I am dying to try the López-Alt beet recipe … looks insanely good! I know my boyfriend will get right on board, too, because he loves each ingredient in that dish, AND The Food Lab 🙂

    xx

  2. The cornbread from Sean Brock’s cookbook is the best! My husband and I have had the pleasure of eating at Husk multiple times and it is always an amazing experience!

  3. We throw two big non-bday parties a year—a shad fest in early spring and an ornament decorating party in December. We used to have the latter at night and I was always flummoxed as to what to feed people given all the painting supplies. Now it’s in the afternoon / early evening so I can get by with cookies and a cheese board and lots of booze. I salute you for doing handmade pasta for a crowd! (Or at all.)
    Good to know about Heritage! I’ve been to a few of his restaurants and always had a lovely time (Husk even has a long and interesting mocktail selection, which I was so grateful for on my last babymoon.).

  4. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but you have to get the red trim scalloped dinner plates!!!! I bought some red trimmed wine glasses ages ago and use them ALL THE TIME! They’re great at Christmas, Valentines, Fourth of July, and birthday parties. So many times you can use them throughout the year. Get them!

  5. Well now I’m hungry! I started collecting amaro recently and probably have about ten different kinds at the moment- they are my favorite thing to bring out after a rich dinner! I love doing tasting for friends…there are so many varieties and all are so different.

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