“A party without cake is just a meeting” ~ Julia Child
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One of the questions my husband and I are always asked, “How in the world do you pull off your Spaghetti Saturday dinners? You guys always make it look effortless(!)”
For as long as I can remember, I've loved to entertain. Although, admittedly, when we got married, I was a complete novice. I'd choose recipes by their name or how they looked in the picture, instead of by the degree, difficulty, or total prep and cook time.
(Which is why I'd end up serving coq au vin to dinner guests at 10 pm)
Luckily, with practice, I've gotten better. As we head into the weekend, I thought it might be fun to share a little about our process, along with a few tips and tricks we've picked up along the way
The Guest List
There is a lot of advice out there about creating a great guest list, but for us, only one rule ever applies. We invite people we truly want to see, get to know better, connect with, and love. If everyone came, we'd be cooking for 78(!) Although we average ten to twenty-five people each month.
We also realize that not everything is for everyone. Therefore, I use MailChimp for our monthly invites because it offers an unsubscribe option.
Party Starters and Conversation
A genius tip from Bon Appetit that's proven invaluable time and time again. “Ask some close friends or good conversationalists to come early and be the first guests. This deflects the awkward early phase and allows you to get on with prep” ~ Bon Appetit Editors
Take it from me; you never know when the feeling of social awkwardness will wash over you, so I always have a few conversation starters at the ready. “Have you been anywhere fun this summer?” “What's the thing in your life that you're most excited about?” “Cooked anything delicious lately?”
Stock-up Ahead of Time
Admittedly, there have been Spaghetti Saturdays that wouldn't fall in the category of shining moments. It's nearly always because of the little details. Do we have enough ice? Candles? Parmesan? Chairs? Wine?
Here's what we've learned: If it can be done ahead of time, definitely do it ahead of time. As we're putting things away, we keep a running list of what we're running low on. The next day, while it's still fresh in our minds, we stock up.
Tables and Chairs
We have six DIY tables that we use only for parties. The tops are inexpensive flat-panel closet doors that are easy to paint and re-paint (36″ width for guests and 32″ width for the drink and dessert tables). Their legs are from IKEA and screw on and off. They're a cinch to set up, tear down, and tuck away in the basement
The first few months we rented chairs. After hauling them hither and thither, we decided to invest in our own. After a year or so, we've more than made up the cost.
I'm a huge fan of fresh flowers (usually stems from the garden or farmer's market mixed with blooms from Trader Joe's). A little color on the table goes a long way
There's nothing like a flickering flame to make everything feel a bit more luxurious and special. That being said, I try to avoid scented candles at the dinner table.
Turn on Pandora, Spotify, or iTunes and queue up our favorite songs. We keep the volume low, so it doesn’t drown out conversation, but high enough to set the mood and make the evening more lively. We'll play anything from jazz to French pop, to a something with a low-key vibe like Beach House.
Note to self, if you have an iPad playing watch out for kitty cats that love to sit on it. You never know when they'll change your station to something like AC/DC(!)
Spaghetti Saturday began with spaghetti and meatballs, but often changes with the seasons. For example, in the summer months, it's hard to make comfort food when I'm craving things like heirloom tomatoes, sweet corn, zucchini, and fruit.
Sometimes it's not the season, but our mood that drives the theme. A couple of our favorites? Mexican and Mediterranean
We keep the menu simple, three courses max. A one or two pot meal, a green salad, and an easy dessert. Sometimes I'll bake-off some homemade bread, but usually, we didn't need it.
If anyone asks what they should bring our answer is always the same, “Anything that makes you happy.”
Most of the time we end up with a nice blend, although it's still a bit of a crapshoot, and honestly, that's what makes it fun. We've had months were everyone brought salads, others where the dessert table was brimming (can that ever be wrong?)
Note to self about meatballs: The morning of, I always form and bake a few meatballs. It gives me time to fix a blend gone wrong and saves us all from an evening eating meatballs that are falling apart (it's happened).
The morning of, ninety percent of the meal will already be prepped. If it's spaghetti, our meatball mix has been in the fridge since Friday. If we're grilling, the meat has been marinating overnight.
Salad ingredients have been chopped and ready to be thrown together and tossed. Something like cookie dough is made, has rested its mandatory seventy-two hours, and is ready to be formed and baked shortly before guests arrive.
Dress your salad like an Italian
Olive oil, maybe a little sea salt, a splash of balsamic, or a squeeze of lemon. Fresh herbs to liven up the best greens you can find. I love a salad that's nothing but green. But if you insist, a bit of cheese, citrus, and nuts will easily elevate the humblest of greens.
Oven Timing and Keeping Dinner Warm
When determining the menu, how we're going to cook it all is a big factor. We think about time on the grill, can something be made and/or kept warm in the slow-cooker, and oven timing.
We start our cooking from the longest cook time to the shortest. Dessert often-times bakes while we're enjoying dinner
Save a Little Something for the Last Minute
It's nice to be holding a glass of wine when the doorbell rings, ready to shower our guest with undivided attention. But it also creates a fun vibe to make something easy while everyone is mingling
I've found this especially helpful if there is someone new. They're often grateful for a little job to help out with, and it gives them a chance to break the ice while standing in the thick of things.
Keep Drinks Simple
While I love and respect a good mixologist, for simplicity's sake, we're purists. Preferring to serve our guests wine, beer, flavored water, coffee, and tea.
If we're lucky, someone will bring home-brew(!)
Busy, happy, puppy-filled houses are messy.
Crash clean the rooms that count, and order Marie Kondo in the morning
The Beauty of an Empty Dishwasher
Always start the evening with an empty sink and dishwasher. Your post-party self will love and thank-you
Most of All – Enjoy
It sounds sentimental and cliché, but what truly makes a meal special is the heart and soul behind it. We could strip away the music, flowers, the pretty table, and put together a simple homemade meal. Once we sat down with the people we love, everyone would have a great time.
At the end of the day, for us, that's what it's all about. Our small way of staying connected with the group of people we hold dear and are so very thankful to have in our lives
ps: For recipes and stories from Spaghetti Saturday .. here