What do you do when you have two friends from a distant place (in my case, Kossacks Jim and Melanie from IA) coming to visit and you want to throw a little dinner in their honor and invite other local Kossacks (in this case, six) to meet them and enjoy cocktails and dinner in laid back yet classy style? What if you and your guests have to do this on a budget, and as a kind of potluck?
Well, the first thing you DON'T do is panic. The second thing you do is get on the phone to your friends. The third thing you do is plan and do ahead.
Follow me over the orange croissant for some simple ways to do this and of course, a recipe or two...
NOTE: There seems to be some confusion. This is in the WFD dinner queue, but, well, anyway, here it is under just lil' ol' me. I'll delete it if a WFD admin requests.
Now it helps if you're having "guests of honor" to invite friends who have some connection to (as in this case, Daily Kos), or interest in, meeting your guests. Barring this, if you have a few friends you think might at least enjoy attending and have something in common with your guests of honor, by all means, invite them. DO let your visiting friends know you would like to do this, and make sure it's OK with them. Most times, they would appreciate it. If not, plan on an intimate dinner or even better, take them out on the town. However, if you are having a party to honor them and inviting friends here's a great plan:
1. If your friends cook and offer to bring something, let them know your menu for a main course and your general theme. In my case, one makes wonderful salads. She offered, I took her up on it. Salads and (in this case, dessert)--check. Don't forget to make a note of it. Five minutes later you will have forgot and another friend will send you a text or an email asking "what can I bring?". You'll want to know, and you'll want to be able to say "I just got off the phone with so and so and he's bringing...(specific dish)". "Well, someone said they'd bring something or other" doesn't inspire confidence and if it's a circle of friends, certainly makes them doubt just what kind of friend--let alone host--you are. Keep your kitchen list with your guest list.
2. If your friends don't cook and offer to bring something, let them know that a bottle of wine or some cheese and bread or fruit would help. Usually, check, check and check on that score. (NOTE: Provide, or take a friend up on providing, non-alcoholic drinks. Not everyone cares to, or can, drink cocktails or wine). I always make sure there is enough wine beer and soft drinks just in case, but it's always helpful when someone helps out with these. Don't forget: the story of the miracle at Cana isn't about Jesus turning water into wine--it's about a host who ran out of wine at a party, and Jesus is an unlikely guest.
3. Make it a buffet. Look at what dishes you'll use. What serving utensils. Quantities. How fancy? How casual? Indoors or outdoors? Check on these as soon as the menu is set and again, setting them out somewhere, at least the day before your party. Also the minute you decide how many you're inviting, count your chairs, BEFORE you pick up the phone.
4. By the time you have your guest list, have talked to your friends who are NOT the guests of honor and have secured some help, set in some emergency drinks and an emergency dessert, you are ready to do the fun part, putting the house together for entertaining.
Now, all of that is great, but if you're going to plan a potluck around a main course recipe you're going to be responsible for yourself (with your friends responsible for side-dishes, etc) what kind of main course do you choose, and why?
Well, I plan to be a little more formal at dinners like these than lots of people. I love chili at Superbowl parties, and hot dogs and hamburgers on Independence Day, but for parties like these, I like something with a little more refinement. I'll share the recipe I used for this week's dinner for the main course.
Hungarian Crepes With Ham, Turkey and Cheese
Palatchinken, or Hungarian style Crepes, are great for everything from lunch to dinner to dessert, depending upon the filling and the company. There are many recipes, but any crepe recipe will do. The beauty of this recipe is that the crepes can be made ahead. A day or two ahead, in fact.
Make your favorite crepe recipe and fill them with good sliced ham, turkey and swiss cheese, or combinations thereof. Roll them up, and place them in very lightly greased casseroles. Cover with foil. About half an hour before you choose to serve them, warm them in a slow oven until just heated through.
For the sauce:
1 recipe bechamel sauce, enough for two dozen crepes, seasoned with sherry, nutmeg, black or white pepper (I don't stand on ceremony, I like to SEE the pepper) and a dash of cayenne to taste. I served this separate, in a chafing dish, for diners to ladle over their crepes as they wished.
A main dish like this stands up to several tart marinaded salads (as we enjoyed) and calls for a very light dessert.
While this diary is not very specific on menu, I will say that following my general outline for having 8 close friends over for a buffet dinner where the point is socializing will not only make your guests happy, but also get you out of the kitchen in order that you may enjoy the party, too.
So, what are your entertaining tips, stories, disasters? And what is for dinner at your house?