Food

A Very Easy Dinner Party

A Very Easy Dinner Party

When I was in my twenties (and dating an older gentleman:), I threw parties at my shoebox apartment all the time. We’d open a bag of chips and ask friends to bring a drink to share. It was all very “cheap and cheerful,” as my Welsh friend says. But then we had babies, and work got busy, and we ended up taking a hiatus. Until recently! Here’s are our four steps to easy dinner parties these days…

1. order a deli lasagna
2. make the simplest salad
3. guests bring wine
4. ice cream for dessert

A Very Easy Dinner Party

Last Friday evening, Alex put on Love’s Forever Changes, and I lit a few tea lights while trying to convince the boys not to blow them out. We threw random toys in a bin, but otherwise didn’t tidy up that much, since a) we didn’t have time, and b) no one cares. (Remember this funny article?)

A Very Easy Dinner Party

A Very Easy Dinner Party

We ordered a pre-made lasagna from our local Italian store (an idea I had first discovered on Momfilter). We picked it up fully cooked and then just heated it up in the oven before serving. You can also get yummy ones from Fresh Direct.

A Very Easy Dinner Party

Our snacks to start were: olives, red grapes, prosciutto, fresh ricotta on baguette slices, and kettle chips (always and forever). We also made a simple Greek salad.

A Very Easy Dinner Party

For dessert: Ice cream bars!!!!

A Very Easy Dinner Party

As people starting arriving, Alex poured wine and mixed martinis. And the key to a truly easy dinner party? Text the invitation two days before. If two people can come, great; if ten people can come, great. Either way! Because TRYING TO SCHEDULE A DATE WITH A GROUP CAN KILL YOU.

A Very Easy Dinner Party

The boys were allowed to stay up for a few minutes to say hello to the grown-ups (as always!) and three-and-three-quarters-year-old Anton impressed the crowd with handstands and “flips.”

A Very Easy Dinner Party

A Very Easy Dinner Party

That’s it! Always a really fun, chill night. How about you? I LOVE hearing dinner party ideas — please please share below! What do you serve? Any go-to meals or snacks? This always looked delicious.

P.S. A reader’s wine tip, and how to say goodbye at a party.

(Photos by Ana Gambuto for Cup of Jo.)

  1. Christy says...

    We enjoy the ones when nobody has to cook. On the invite- must be store bought! It works out beautifully and takes the pressure of everyone trying to be Martha Stewart during an already hectic time in our lives.

    Another hit is the 4 pm Saturday outdoor picnic. I live in Colorado so green space is abundant. Everyone brings a chair, blanket and some goodies to share. We bring a Bluetooth speaker and everyone takes turns playing music. The kids can run around and exhaust themselves and we’re home by 7:30 or 8.

  2. TakeMeToBlackberryFarm says...

    Moule frites for a dinner party! it takes a tad bit more effort than baked lasagna, but it SOO EASY and looks really impressive. Also, mussels are pretty cheap – you can feed 4 people with $12 of mussels. in addition to the mussels, you’ll need a le creuset, a bag of frozen french fries, parsley, white wine, butter, shallots and garlic (all things I always have on hand anyway)

  3. Lara says...

    My favorite thing to do is throw a bunch of stuff in the crockpot in the morning for a big soup party at night. I’m a vegetarian verging on vegan, and this is a crowd-pleaser for all (including gluten-free folks). It is impossible to mess up, and the flavors have lots of time to mingle. I’ll put in a little effort for some garnishes: chopped green onions, nuts/seeds, hot sauce, maybe some tahini, lemon and lime slices, etc. I usually ask friends who has time to pick up a loaf of crusty bread, wine, or chocolate and fruit for dessert on the way over. I think of this less as throwing a dinner party and more just making dinner for friends the way I would for my family. Laddle into bowls and enjoy the company!

    • Lara says...

      Also Anton’s headstand is better than mine after years and years of yoga.

  4. Darcey says...

    Funny – I just had a last minute dinner party last weekend. I put a pork shoulder in the slow cooker (a beer-braised recipe) in the morning and went about my day. I group texted friends to invite them over and asked to bring sides and dessert. I did some minimal clean up in the afternoon. One friend brought a salad and maple cupcakes, another brought quarts of coleslaw and mashed potatoes and from a local bbq place. Another brought some beer. It was perfect.

  5. I love this! Our house has definitely become the dinner party house amongst our friends. One of our friends even made a FB restaurant page for it :)

    If we have a couple days to plan, our go-to is this weeknight porchetta: http://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/weeknight-porchetta
    It’s really easy to make, can be prepped and kept in the fridge in advance, only takes 45 minutes to roast, and it tastes restaurant quality every. single. time. Then you can add a salad, olives, bread, whatever. They all go great with it!

    If we decide to have everyone over on a whim, this is our go-to:
    https://www.realsimple.com/food-recipes/browse-all-recipes/chicken-thigh-tacos
    The broiled chicken thighs are the easiest base and then we just add whatever herbs, cheese, and salsa we have on hand. We have one friend who always bring the tortillas.

    I think one of the greatest parts of being a homeowner is the ability to share it with people. Thanks for this post!

  6. Martha says...

    You and Alex look so in love. So awesome :)

  7. patricia says...

    This summer a friend asked me to bring dessert to a backyard BBQ. I brought ice cream sandwiches. They were a HUGE hit.

  8. Rebeccah says...

    I love this! I bought a big farmhouse table a few years back with the intention of hosting dinner parties, but alas, life has gotten in the way, and we’ve had maybe two. This is my inspiration! The only problem is finding a sitter 2 days in advance…

  9. Sarah says...

    My friends and I found whenever we did dinner parties they became stressful and expensive – usually for the host- so now we do ‘$20 Friday’.

    The concept is that when someone in the group feels like hosting they will send an invite out – two days in advance – to a core group (say 10 people) and whoever is in is in (no pressure).

    Each person arrives on the night with $20 cash.

    The host will have organised casual dinner within the budget – so say 6 people rsvp they will have $120 total to spend on dinner (snacks, dinner, dessert
    – or any combo of this).
    It is a fun challenge and takes the pressure of buying fancy or complicated things.
    It might be casual pasta and salad, or just $120 worth of fancy cheese and olives, or steaks on the BBQ. The whole idea is to make it a cheap and cheerful night out while spending time with good friends.

  10. Laura C. says...

    Oh Joanna btw, those big wooden forks for the salad are gorgeous. Where did you get them?

  11. DineA says...

    Sorry but in my culture when you have guests, you cannot throw a dinner party like that. Even if I do it simple as a working mum of 2, I would have cooked something oven roasted or quick asian. Maybe buy the desert but food would be home cooked, it just takes a little bit of organisation.

  12. Lisa says...

    Love this! I often text a bunch of friends something like “I’m making a huge batch of meatballs/lasagna/pasta on Friday, would love for you to join me for some food and chats over wine” etc. It immediately sets a low key tone and very often I get the answer “I’ll be there, what can I bring?” And I can easily ask them to bring a bottle of wine, some dessert or maybe fresh bread.

  13. Love this post and the comments!! ❤️

    In the 50s, my grandmother (who I never knew) would plan a menu and then serve the same thing at several dinner parties in a row, and then switch he menu up for the next round. So smart! It let’s you figure out a great menu that works and get a routine in, and then when all your friends have had it, you change it.

    I remember my parents doing something similar between Christmas and New Years when they were “behind” on entertaining: they had a dinner every night, with a similar set-up and menu.

    To get us out of a rut last summer we had a few dinners with a crostini platter as a starter. Standing around the kitchen island with a glas of wine and creamy burrata, fresh peaches, tangy tomatos and a feta and basil spread, is such a great way to start an evening.

    I also love keeping a dinner journal – I write the date, who was there, what we ate, and a line or two about the evening, what we talked about, what we laughed about.

    http://www.minipiccolini.com

  14. Emma says...

    We have had the week from hell and reading this about just being and enjoying the company of friends has really inspired me. I’m emotionally exhausted but I reckon even I could manage this and it would do us so much good. Thank you Joanna. Somehow you’ve always been with me in my difficult times to help me lift myself out of them. I’ve been a reader for 8 years possibly more. ❤️

  15. This winter I’ve started having Sunday night Soup Suppers. I make a big pot of soup (can be made the day before), and maybe a salad. Friends bring bread, nibbles to start, a bottle of wine, or something for dessert. It all comes together easily, no one is stressed, and you end the weekend on a sweet note.

  16. keri says...

    I LOVE this idea. Looks like such a good time! And I love the no pressure catering and invites.
    You’ve really got it figured out Jo! I need to hire you as a life coach please and thanks in advance ;)

  17. Sophenne says...

    Totally agree with keeping it simple and low key! However, the portions! In my country in Europe, that would be enough for MAXIMUM 4 people if we were being frugal! :)

  18. Janelle says...

    At the last low key dinner party I hosted (with a 5 month old and living out of a suitcase) – I roasted pumpkin a day prior and that morning toasted almonds and pumpkin seeds. Before the guests arrived I made a large garden salad (dressed with pomegranate molasses & olive oil), fried up some haloumi and threw herb potato chunks in the oven. Guests could customise their own salad to their taste. I feel like any salad is ‘fancy’ topped with nuts, cheese and pomegranate molasses! Dessert was dark chocolate squares and sliced pineapple that we ate in the lounge.

  19. Stephanie says...

    The idea of sending the invitation out two days ahead is GENIUS!!!

  20. Sasha says...

    We like doing dinner and board game night, rotating houses with a few friends. Sometimes it is a fancier home-cooked dinner, other times we just order pizza, it depends on the week. It’s nice to mix it up. I think of it this way, assuming you could afford it, you would get tired of eating at Michelin starred restaurants every week, and just want a simple salad.

  21. Love this! I’m definitely going to embrace the texting two days before and rolling with it.

    One of our easy dessert tips: just put out a big bowl of fruit along with some pieces of chocolate. In the winter we love clementines and dark chocolate. Super easy and it doesn’t feel overly indulgent after a big meal.

  22. Mandy Fuel says...

    Hey Jo
    Thanks for this post. I love entertaining and having people over in general but I rarely do because my house is not very big and I worry it will feel too crowded. I also give myself a nervous breakdown cleaning everything so that no one realizes what piglets my boys are ( think junior frat house here) and judge me, which of course no one ever does because firstly they are our friends and secondly they have clusters of little piglets of their own! Easter holidays are coming up here in Australia and I am going to relax and have some low stress dinner parties at our house. The baked potato bar I love and the lasagna too. Thanks for the inspiration.
    Cheers Mandy

  23. Alexandria says...

    I’m seeing lots of comments about hiring babysitters and worrying about kiddos being around or not wanting to go to bed. I don’t have any kids of my own, but I have done SO much babysitting/nannying in my life. If you have a trusted babysitter/nanny who’s game for an adventurous evening, it’s sometimes fun for parents to all drop their kiddos off (if they’re in the same age range) at one family’s house with one or two babysitters, so they get a fun night to hang out with each other too. Then all the grownups go another family’s house for a serene evening. It’s fun when the parents and the kiddos both have something to look forward to, and you only have to book one babysitter among all the parents. Just maybe save some wine for the nanny at the end of the night :)

  24. Rachel says...

    Low key is the only way! And love the two days’ notice – what a fabulous idea! I recently had a big bunch of girlfriends over on a week night and did a baked potato bar, a la Cup of Jo! I prepared toppings in advance (caramelised red onion, goat cheese, and thyme / smoked trout rillettes and dill / brie and bacon / morrocan lamb, creme fraiche, and mint / plain old salted butter, cheddar and chives), chucked a bunch of potatoes in the oven, asked a friend to bring a big salad, and then just made sure the drinks were flowing. It worked for vegetarians and carnivores alike, was easy to eat sitting on cushions around my coffee table, and was a hoot. Oh, and we had caramel ice cream in waffle cones for dessert!

  25. Karin says...

    Love this post! I am a nervous perfectionist and while I still don’t feel totally RELAXED throwing parties, I finally realized that guests prefer it when you *don’t* knock yourself out.

    My hubby and I have two go-tos:
    Dinner party–we make spaghetti & meatballs, a huge Caesar salad, garlic bread, have guest bring wine/desserts (I love the lasagna idea, though!)
    Cocktail get together – olives, nuts, cheese plate, crackers and Some chocolate. If you keep all of these on hand you can literally invite people over and be ready in 10 minutes!

    I’ve found it’s also a lot easier to be casual with people in your same life situation. Like, if you have young kids, your friends with young kids will understand the messy house. If you have dogs, your friends with dogs will understand the pet hair. . . . .

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      yum!!!!!

    • Lisa says...

      My husband is from the south of France, where it’s a BIG thing to have an apero (aperitif) if you go anywhere near someone’s house late afternoon / early evening. For this reason, my in laws always keep a stock of snacks on hand – olives, different types of nuts, crisps, crackers with spreads (like tapenade) and so on. We love it so much, every now and then that is dinner when we come to stay.

  26. ne says...

    Hey Joanna – how is it having TV on top of the fireplace? does it make your neck hurt or is it totally fine? I’m trying to decide for my home too!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      i wondered the same thing, actually — if it would be weird to look UP at the tv. but it has been totally fine!

    • We moved our tv to our living room this past summer.
      I saw this post and realized we cannot put off wall-mounting our tv any longer! That way we can choose to look at it, or not!

    • Lillia says...

      My husband got an expensive mount and our comes down, when fireplace is not in use and it sits far back, so we can still watch, when fireplace is in use :).

    • Jennifer says...

      Hi! We have one above our fireplace. My husband (an architect) suggested we slightly angle it down, about five inches away from the wall at the top. That helps even more to prevent craning the neck – aesthetically it looks the same.

    • EBeth says...

      We have our TV above the fireplace, too, and love it! I think the key is to make sure that your seating is far enough away to avoid a strained neck!

  27. I like the idea of just texting everyone 2 days before and being happy to have a dinner party of 2 or 4 or 10! That saves a huge amount of hassle – especially if you’re organizing a store bought lasagna… you can just tell them what size the day before. Genius!!

    We all need more life hacks like this :-)

    http://www.thislifeisbelle.com

  28. Helen says...

    My favourite is middle-eastern food – so easy to mix bought hummus, stuffed vine leaves, olives, pitta etc with feta dip, halloumi, lamb meatballs, roasted vegetable couscous etc.

    Baklava, grilled figs with honey and Greek yoghurt for dessert. Or dried apricots stuffed with honey sweetened cream cheese/mascarpone/ricotta and sprinkled with pistachios. Or just dates and Turkish delight.

    Mint tea after, in pretty glasses!

  29. I love this idea! So simple, allowing more of the focus to be on the enjoyment and fun of all the guests and the hosts!

    xx

  30. Anela says...

    This year for my birthday I asked my friends (via email) to bring a bottle of any wine and a cheese. We put out crackers, olives, fruit, etc. and it was such a fun and eclectic wine tasting! Bonus- all our toddlers loved the snacks. They ran around like crazy crabbing a cracker here and there while we had adult time!

    • Great idea!!

  31. Lindsay says...

    We had a wine dinner group that I cherished (we recently moved away :-( ). It sounds fancy, but totally wasn’t. We would choose a wine ahead of time (chardonnay), and each couple would bring a bottle within that genre, and also a course for dinner (app, salad, main, or dessert). Wines were blinded, and we would eat, drink, and vote on our favorites. The winner took home a trophy (foil-covered wine glass, which was highly coveted). The structure made the dinners easy to put together, and it was a really unpretentious way to sample a lot of wine.

    • Kat says...

      This is so cute – I love the idea of friendly competition for the trophy!

  32. Rebecca says...

    Once I figured out that my favourite gelato shop delivers, it became my party trick. Before eating dinner, everyone gathers around the phone to pick our order. Then just as everyone is finishing eating our meal, the doorbell rings and the ice cream has arrived! It makes my life easier since I’m not trying to bake a fancy showstopping dessert mid-week, and who doesn’t love the decadence of ordering in gelato?

    • Theresa says...

      A gelato delivery service!? That’s awesome! Where?

  33. So fun! Thanks for sharing!

    I actually did the lasagna and salad thing at my last get-together.

    I also like pork in the crock pot + bread rolls + easy slaw = sliders!

  34. Farrell says...

    Thanks for the music recommendation…and the permission to not kill oneself over hosting a party ;)

  35. I always feel like we don’t have the space for all the people I want to invite, so we do outdoor parties! (And that way we really can invite a dozen families–I am terrible at narrowing down a guest list!) My favorite one that we do is our annual last-day-of-school ice cream party. We invite EVERYONE–teachers, school friends, church friends, neighbors–we provide toppings, cones, bowls, spoons, and drinks, and ask guests to bring a half-gallon of their favorite flavor and an ice cream scoop. All the kids run around eating way too much ice cream, jumping on the trampoline, and catching fireflies. The adults gather under the bubble lights strung from our pergola and talk about summer plans. We’ve been doing this for five years running and I can’t imagine a better way to kick off the summer!!

    • This is such a sweet idea!

    • Jessie says...

      Love this idea! So simple and so fun.

    • Love this!!

  36. Kattia says...

    Just out of curiosity, we’re all the friends that came kid-less? I find it hard to commit to anything with just a 2 day warning! Finding a sitter is hard!

    • This is true for us as well. When we have specified “no kids” we have friends who’ll say right off the bat (weeks beforehand) that they can’t come because they don’t have a sitter…

    • We invite friends over for dinner and expect them to bring their kids along and then our kids run around together while the adults sit and talk. Usually works out fine. I have never told another family to leave their kids at home with a sitter in order to come to our house – I would only do that if we were going out together. Being at home means casual to me!

  37. Jamie says...

    What a sweet, perfect, cozy party!

  38. I love this! So fun and informal! Please show us your house!

    • I second this. When’s the house tour coming?

  39. Cazmina says...

    I love this!
    I currently share a small flat with 2 others. There’s no dining room and the ‘living room’ (which is actually the entry way) is 6 sqm (60 sq ft).
    A couple of times now we’ve invited 3 guests each, gathered up any available chair / stool / cushion in the flat and squeezed everyone into the tiny living room. Coats and bags go on someone’s bed. You have to climb over people to reach the bathroom. Dinner consists of appetizers and a few homemade pizzas. Music is spotify, and guests BYO. The last time we did it, people brought along extra friends and somehow we ended up with 15 people jammed in there. It’s not elegant, but everyone has a good time.

  40. Corj says...

    I love all your comments and ideas! What do you do if you want to make that casual turn but the people you invite always serve an impressive spread?

    • I reckon just go for it and be the first to be casual. Everyone else might just breathe a sigh of relief, relax and follow suit! Even if they don’t and continue their fancy meals, that’s fine. Who says we have to all be the same? Diversity is a good thing. Just mention it in your invite/text that it is a casual low key meal, and they’ll know what to expect! (I’m from Australia and casual is pretty normal where I live! I love it. It’s easy, no pressure and more achievable in day to day life). Have fun! x

  41. annika says...

    Love this. But yes, when will we get a house tour???

  42. I love hosting parties where the making becomes part of a the party. This can get tricky because the DIY thing can turn into mess! really quick.
    That said, when it go right it is a blast, especially with newer friends or someone’s new signifiant other, etc.
    My go to participatory dinner party menus ….
    -Pizza – Buy the dough, cut it in half. Everyone makes their own. Provide delicious, decadent toppings in small bowls or tupperware to make it really easy. Fun to chat about favorite toppings, beloved pizza restaurants and travel destinations.

    -Tacos- Same deal… hard or soft. Bean/rice made ahead of time and reheated. Go to town on the toppings.

    *Best part about both of these dinners* You will ALWAYS have toppings left the next day for a quick salad and/or to pop in kids lunch

    Varsity Level Participatory Dinner Menu
    – Sushi-
    Test this one out on your own to make sure you get the hang of the proportions and the rolling. Once you have it, host!
    Rolling sushi is a ton of fun and super creative. You can go traditional or be adventurous with your ingredients.

  43. Lana says...

    My friends have an amazing backyard and always have the best kid-friendly parties. They serve the exact same menu each time: smoked chicken wings, bacon-wrapped jalapeños, pulled pork with a variety of sauces and this incredible rice, black bean and avocado salad. It always make me wish I was more of an entertainer but the truth is I really enjoy meeting two of my girlfriends for a walk and breakfast each Saturday. We hang out and talk about all sorts of stuff with no pressure to do anything but show up. :)

  44. Courtney M says...

    Thanks for the push to do this more. My husband is actually the one who always asks if we should invite friends over. He usually thinks of it last-minute on a Friday when I’m usually exhausted from work & know that my house is not clean enough for guests. Sometimes we’ll do a “good enough” cleanup and I’ll get over all the little intricacies that are associated with host preparation. I have never regretted a last-minute gathering.

  45. allison says...

    My tip is to always think about “abundance” when plating appetizers. For example, I’d take all the things that you have there (prosciutto, grapes, olives, crackers, etc.) and stack them and mound them up all on one larger tray, creating height, depth, and texture. It automatically makes it feel fancy and people will complement your appetizer skills, even it you didn’t cook or bake anything on the tray! :)

  46. Maria says...

    *Jo, please gift us with a house tour in these first days of spring. Your new place looks amazing!!*
    On the topic at hand, want to really impress guests? Fondue is the answer! Just baguettes + boiled potatoes (mostly optional, although essential in my opinion) + supermarket fondue et voila! I realize you need the proper apparatus, and some folks might not have it, but having lived in Switzerland fondue is my go-to food for winter (and fall, and early spring…) date nights and dinner parties and I have hauled my pots and forks over 3 small flats in 3 years and it has been worth it. If you have extra time and/or want to impress (even more!), buy some baby carrots, baby corn (anything baby, really), radishes and grapes, throw them in a pretty bowl and you’ll save yourself (and your guests) some calories :) Another good thing about fondue is that it goes well with all types of wine, so you don’t have to ask your guests to bring *specifically*, say, red wine – they can bring whatever they fancy drinking

  47. Kelly says...

    This is probably in my TOP THREE favorite CoJ posts, ever. Everything seems to be so heavy and transitional and chaotic right now, so I really appreciate the simplicity, the effortlessness, and the lightheartedness of facilitating a happy and fun event. Secondly, while I’m all for growth and change, this post feels so true/pure/authentic to this blog’s roots which was really heartwarming.

  48. Somewhat related, I started a cookbook club. We pick an author that we think we may all enjoy and cook apps, a main, and a dessert from any one of their books or online (in case someone doesn’t have the cookbook). It is a bit more time consuming but it’s been a fabulous way to catch up! Meetings are once a month.

    For dinner parties, a good dip (like spinach and artichoke) will be gobbled up immediately and you can always batch cook it for extras during the week (like a hummus). Also: pigs in a blanket or sausage rolls. So good! So addictive!

  49. Anna says...

    I always bake brownies (from a box!) everyone raves about them, they are $2 to make, make the house smell good, and are SO easy! But seriously the way people go on about them you’d think I slaved over something.. but nope! Just brownies!

    • Sara says...

      This is my favorite thing to do, as well! Everyone loves brownies :) If I want to take it up a notch, add some ice cream and toppings for brownie sundaes. I did this for one night for my sister’s bachelorette weekend and it was such a hit!

    • Kathleen Anderson says...

      Duncan Hines for the win!!! :)

  50. Emme says...

    Is this your new place??? How exciting! Love the blue couch – who makes it?

    • Gabriela says...

      That looks delicious. I have my mom coming over this weekend and she will love this. Thanks for the tip.

  51. emily says...

    When I was in an MA program one of the prof’s threw amazing dinner parties–always on Sunday night. he and his wife were skilled hosts, he was British and she was canadian and the wine always flowed, but i think the best part was that they were on Sundays–sunday night dinners they called them. it was such an event to look forward to, really helped against the sunday sads! my partner and i have tried to recreate the idea, but it is hard! one thing i struggle with is when to get people to leave–something my prof. didnt have to worry about since he simply kicked everyone out at 11, which seemed fair esp. with the prof/grad student dynamic.

  52. I love this idea! As we start moving towards babyland, anything that simplifies sounds lovely.

  53. anonymous says...

    I am not trying to rain down on the parade. I feel as though we have lost the art of entertaining and what it means to truly host. Weekends are precious and limited so when i invite friends for dinner, i really want to treat them to something special. That takes effort from me. I too have a small toddler clinging to my leg. We all make the effort to look good, dress well, put on makeup (generally) etc. Why not put effort into cooking for those you love? Cooking is not just entertaining. It’s about knowing how to feeding ourselves and our families. It doesn’t have to be elaborate or perfect but we have stopped trying. We are getting complacent and frankly kind of lazy. We like everything easy and that appears to be the trend now. Tough things push us past our comfort zone and our fears! Isn’t that a good thing? Happy cooking! And drink wine as you are doing it:)

    • Colleen says...

      It’s ok, I love cooking too. I could make a lasagna for $5. To each their own!

    • Ebony-Maria says...

      I agree with you. I grew up in a family who took entertaining very seriously, and while I now entertain in my own home (on a much smaller scale), I think there is something beautiful and ritualistic about effort. (I feel the same way about dressing too, this “zero effort” fashion depresses me a little). I always try to bake fresh dinner rolls, seasonally available ingredients come from our garden and the meal is always multi-course and something we’ve made ourselves. Last weekend we had people over and to make the most of the end of stone fruit season here in Australia I made a peach, plum and nectarine custard tart (everything made from scratch). I think if people are used to cooking this way, it’s no more effort than you would go to for your family on any given evening. We need to reset our expectations about what constitutes a proper meal – it was never meant to take 20 minutes! My mother tells these incredible stories about her aunt (Viennese but lived in Rome most of her life) who would spend 9-10 hours preparing for a Saturday dinner party, and having each of the 6 or so courses devoured in no time at all. This was a women who ran a company and had a very demanding professional life – so needless to say I am impressed she didn’t outsource this or just resort to having family dinners at restaurant. She prioritised love, family and food. How many of us do this in an actionable way these days? I am constantly guilty of prioritising work but am trying to fit in an hour in the garden most days (great time for my son to play too) and cooking home cooked meals the nights we haven’t been invited out somewhere. Very encouraged by the idea of home as a sanctuary, and bringing people together.

    • KC says...

      Friends are something special. The food is nice, but ideally incidental. (I say this as someone who makes croissants for fun.)

      If the options are:
      1. relish making a from-scratch, fabulous meal vs.
      2. buying something pre-made and feeling resentful about the decline of civilization
      Go for option 1!
      If the options are:
      1. don’t have people over (because it is just too much effort; for at least 150 years, some people have not-had people for dinner because of the time/expense/effort) vs.
      2. have people over with pre-made food (or a potluck! or only for dessert!)
      Then go for option 2!
      If your options are:
      1. serve up a super-fancy meal with a shiny-clean house but be exhausted and grumpy and snapping at your family vs.
      2. serve up pb&j while cheerios crunch on the floor below you, but be relaxed and positively interacting with the people around you
      As a guest I’d go for 2 every time (I *might* ask for an only-peanut-butter or an only-jelly sandwich, though, because I really don’t like pb&j).

      I guess, it’s lovely to give amazing gifts of food to the people you love (I enjoy doing it!); it’s more important to not get so overwhelmed with expectations that you end up either crashing and burning (which I’ve seen and done) or not-doing-anything (which I’ve seen and done). Better to actually make contact with people in a lower-key way than to perpetually wish you had time to do it “properly” the way one in a hundred people can gracefully manage.

    • Blandine says...

      KC– you hit the nail on the head with your comment. My dad was a typical ‘1. serve up a super-fancy meal with a shiny-clean house but be exhausted and grumpy and snapping at your family’ and as a result, I disliked it when we had people over. Now I like to have friends over and do something nice but still very casual.

  54. Genius idea! I’m curious on how you get the boys to go to bed with the novelty of guests in the house. We live in a small(ish) house, with the kids rooms on the first floor. They would definitely be up and out circling the cheese table until the last guest left!

    • Sandra says...

      Yes, same here! I was so impressed that the boys actually go to bed.

    • Eleanor says...

      wondering the same thing!

    • Tracy says...

      This is my question too! Although we could probably pull this off even if it becomes a night that includes kids. Thanks for the ideas!

  55. Jenna says...

    when do we get a house tour of your new place!?? It looks great!

  56. Lisa says...

    Most of the time it’s over Shabbat (which means any cooking needs to be done in advance), which is great. The main is always cooked and I go traditional Sephardi and serve a bunch of salads (traditional and less so) and challah to start, then main and finally fruit for dessert. Since having a baby I try to mostly make mains which involve putting them in the oven. I can’t be standing over a stove and making anything which takes a long prep time. For the salads, I try to do a mixture of fresh and then “vegetables roasted in the oven for a long time” variety. An easy (and popular one) is roasted carrot with honey, tahini and pine nuts (other nuts like almond flakes or pecans work well). You can add in other roasted vegetables – roasted beetroot is particularly good and with these, it can actually be a good thing if you get distracted and forget it’s there, because the longer they cook the tastier they get.
    My (French) mother in law is awesome at entertaining and will do things like a variety of savoury tarts (red onion, mushroom, salmon), salads, bread and then sorbet and cake / fruit for dessert with mint tea.

  57. hot pot – that is my go-to party trick. it looks impressive but it’s super easy. i make the stock beforehand, lay out all the raw meats & vegs, dipping sauces and it’s always been a crowd pleaser. i blogged about it recently: hot pot

  58. Karine Ceyhan says...

    Nacho bar!
    Chips; salsa; beans; guac.
    Queso warmed in a crock pot. Protein of your choice.
    Best! Pitcher of margaritas.
    Ole

    • Katy says...

      Brilliant. Stealing this.

  59. Jenny says...

    The “older gentleman” link took me to the “Our First Date” post (helloooo internet rabbit hole!), and I realized that the 10 year anniversary of your first date is upon us! Way to go, Joanna and Alex. Witnessing your relationship via the internet makes my heart smile. :)

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that is the sweetest, jenny! thank you so much :)

  60. What fantastic, practical ideas! I love how uncomplicated things can become. This is great inspiration, as we’ve been wanting to have more get-togethers in our little Seattle condo!

    http://www.thewefiles.com

  61. Lauren E. says...

    Oh man, I looooove a good easy dinner party.

    My greatest advice to anyone nervous about jumping in, is do everything you possibly can in advance and serve things that can be enjoyed at room temperature. I find that if people linger, they’ll pick at whatever food is out even if it’s been sitting for hours.

  62. Laura says...

    Here’s the deal: we Americans get way too worked up over things like entertaining. Thank you, Martha Stewart, for making most of us feel like we can never attain domestic perfection.
    My husband is French, and a great cook, but for parties, he prefers to keep it WAY simple. The French seem to entertain at home endlessly, and don’t make a fuss over it.
    Chips and nuts, check. Pasta, check. Haagen Dazs for dessert, check. The truth is that your guests have more fun when they don’t see you stressing over Lobster Thermador, and you most certainly have more fun chatting over chips and booze with your buds.
    Just go for it!

    • Christine says...

      Totally agree!

  63. Irene says...

    Love this! Once a month or so, we have a pizza and wine dinner. We order several different types of pie (cheese, veg, and meat) and wine; guests contribute whatever they want, usually wine or a side or a dessert. Kids take slices into the rec room downstairs with a movie playing, while adults enjoy conversation upstairs. We often do this last minute, and find that the obviously casual vibe makes for a low-stress, high-fun gathering.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that sounds like so much fun, irene!

    • Lisa says...

      That sounds amazing! Because pizza is awesome

    • kathy says...

      we do this too on friday nights! it’s so funny to see people and kick off the weekend together without the stress of all the cooking.

    • Lisa says...

      I truly believe in not rushing things, but it will be awesome when my kids are old enough to do this! It sounds great.

  64. Lois says...

    Way back when, my husband and I became very close friends with some of the parents of our kids’ friends, so we would often get together with the kids, too. We would take turns hosting on Saturday nights. Whoever was hosting would make something (whatever – sometimes totally gourmet, sometimes take-out sushi platters) for the adults, and whoever was coming over would make the meal for the kids. Only cooking for (and trying to please) part of the group seemed to take a lot of the stress out of it. Of course the wine flowed and the kids all got used to falling asleep to loud music. Now they take control of the playlist and join in the late-night dancing!

  65. Talia says...

    We host dinner parties all the time (particularly on Saturday evenings). Our go to dinner is homemade spaghetti and meatballs, a simple salad and bread. Dessert – ice cream and homemade chocolate chip cookies straight from the oven. Add the wine and bourbon and instant party. It is always a success and so easy! (I make the meatballs in large batches and freeze and the cookie dough as well.)

    • kayla says...

      love this!

  66. I once invited 6 friends over for dinner after climbing with them in the early afternoon. I stopped by the store on the way home from the gym for some chicken & zucchini to take home to the couple cans of Thai green curry and coconut milk I always keep on hand to make a 1-pot meal. Had the rice steaming while I chopped the chicken & zucchini and threw everything into a pot to simmer until guests arrived. Dinner was ready in less than an hour and it was a super comforting & filling meal for everyone. One friend brought cookies for dessert and another brought some wine. Thai curry is my go-to quick meal for a busy weeknight dinner or an impromptu dinner party.

    • Diana says...

      Wow that looks so yummy! Would you mind sharing the recipe please? How much coconut milk to green curry? What brand do you use? Thanks!

  67. Anna says...

    What is everyone’s position on figuring out/accommodating dietary restrictions?

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      good question! i usually figure that people with any restrictions will let us know ahead of time, and otherwise we’ll just forge ahead :) my friend Lucy doesn’t eat pork, so we had a veggie lasagna last time she came over. although….. we once had a small dinner party at our rental house in LA when we were visiting over the holidays, and we served vegetarian lasagna — what could be a safer choice, right? and then i noticed my friend Max wasn’t really eating, so i asked if he was okay, and he said, so politely and graciously, oh, yeah, i actually don’t eat tomatoes or cheese. (!!!!) i felt terrible and since we were renting the house, the only thing i had to offer him was hummus and crackers. poor guy! so yes, maybe it’s a good idea to clearly ask guests first, now that i think about it ;)

    • Lauren E. says...

      I will flat out ask. My mom is a vegetarian and never ever brings it up because she doesn’t want anyone to think she’s “difficult” but more often than not the host is concerned that she’s not eating. So now as the host, I take it upon myself to make the effort and ask.

    • Laura says...

      I was thinking this too. Most of my friends are gluten free.

    • It’s easy to make soup vegetarian, gluten free and even dairy free if needbe, so that’s usually my go-to if I know my veg/GF/DF friends are coming.

    • Alexandra says...

      My partner can’t eat dairy, eggs, soy, gluten, or alcohol and I don’t eat meat or dairy. We have mastered this process.

      1 – We host the dinners 90% of the time. Since we put so much effort into the quality of out ingredients and our recipes, our friends LOVE an invite for anything we are cooking (which is usually 2x+/week). We usually buy all the ingredients, then designate the guests to help cook. At this point, we all have specialties – I make the salad, one friend is the grillmaster, one friend loves making sauces. Later than night, my boyfriend uses Splitwise/Venmo to break up costs.

      2 – For the other 10% when we are the guests, we usually bring our own food and/or offer to cook. Group grilling is the easiest – everyone can either bring their own protein or all go in on one protein (like chicken wings) and have multiple sauce options (one w dairy and one w/out dairy). I then will bring my on veg protein and use the sauce. Sticking with simple recipes that mix and match is ideal.

      Net, we don’t expect anyone to cater to us and our dietary needs. If you invited someone over who has restrictions – talk to them 1:1. They are probably stressing about the same thing and it’s best to just talk through the menu with them. This collaboration alleviates stress and allows everyone to just focus on enjoying the night.

    • Della says...

      I’d love to see a post on this subject. I like to accommodate people’s dietary restrictions but it’s getting difficult. A lot of our friends have restrictions that can be hard to accommodate when there’s a group getting together. Some have dislikes or things they are avoiding, while others are vegetarian or vegan, while others have serious allergies or celiac disease.

      Honestly, sometimes it’s hard to make something delicious with so many restrictions – no meat, no cheese, no gluten. I’m sure people will chime in and say “there are so many delicious alternatives!” but realistically for most of the other guests who just eat everything it’s kind of a dinner party letdown to be served raw nut loaf or some other vegan concoction.

      My biggest frustration is when you make a separate meal to accommodate people who aren’t eating because of a choice – they’re on a diet, are choosing not to eat gluten or cheese or meat – but then they say “I really shouldn’t” and then go ahead and eat everything you’ve made for the others. I had a friend who told me she was training for something and wasn’t drinking, eating gluten, garlic, onion, pork or dairy (we were having tacos). I made her a separate meal and she proceeded to drink and then chow down on tacos that were full of pretty much all of the above.

    • jen says...

      Unless it’s a giant potluck meal, I always ask if there’s any dietary restrictions when I’m hosting. I have a few friends who have severe dietary restrictions and they always bring their own food.

    • Cazmina says...

      Oh man, that does sound frustrating Delia!
      For those in a similar situation, one option that’s worked for me in the past was a tapas spread, instead of one meal for everyone. That way those with restrictions have some things they can eat, but carnivores aren’t forced to forgo meat and cheese.
      Or do a ‘make your own pizza’ station with a bunch of ingredients (and some gluten-free bases) and let people make their own. If you make the bases rectangular (about a foot long and 5-6 inches wide) then you can fit quite a few in the oven at once. Vegan cheese does exist, or they could just have a cheese-free pizza.

    • Sandra says...

      I was going to ask about this too! I have seen some of your posts about making nice, simple dinners for groups and I wondered if my friends (and my husband and I) were just too high maintenance. :-) I am vegetarian and also have an onion allergy that causes bad tummy troubles. My husband is just….picky! I always offer to bring a vegetarian dish, but I feel bad. I love that communal feeling of just all eating one thing together, but it doesn’t always work for us and I definitely don’t want the host to have to accommodate us. Once people know us it is a little easier, but first-time dinners are tough.

      My new favorite go-to dessert is homemade brownies and homemade ice cream. We got an ice cream maker for Christmas, and since the ingredients are all chilled ahead of time it is easy for the kids to just dump them into the mixer and watch the ice cream get made. Super fun.

  68. Kara says...

    Loved this post! Joanna – where is the blouse from that you’re wearing?

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      thank you! it’s a silk blouse from equipment: http://amzn.to/2naEhbH

  69. Allison says...

    I’d love to do this, but I have a question. It takes forever to put the kids to bed, so do you have a babysitter do that while you stay at the gathering, or do you leave your party for an hour or so to put the kids to bed? Thanks!

    • Maggie says...

      I had the same question! How do you ever get them to sleep when they can hear all the fun happening outside of their room?

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      we always make a deal with the boys that they can stay up to say a quick hello to the grown-ups IF they go straight to bed afterward with just a quick kiss. so, we read stories and get PJs on BEFORE people arrive, and then after they say hi to everyone, and have a few chips and bread slices, they go to bed. sometimes anton will fuss a little about having to leave the party, but once he’s in bed, he’ll stay there, knock on wood!

  70. Rachel Q says...

    This is lovely. My favorite go-to dinner party meal is homemade pizza. Text people beforehand to find out their favorite toppings, then use this amazing, never fail recipe from Smitten Kitchen https://smittenkitchen.com/2007/01/pizza-and-the-limits-of-diy/ Make a salad on the side and maybe cookies for dessert. Ask guests to bring drinks. Boom.

  71. Andrea says...

    It looks like your guest is Gaby Hoffmann? Nice little low=key dinner crew! ;)

  72. MA says...

    Thanks for this post – I needed it! I find it really hard to host. I do really enjoy it when it happens but get super anxious beforehand: our house is small, our kids are loud, our dog is crazy, I am introvert, blah, blah, blah. BUT the other day I had an idea to buy a puzzle – introverts love a project that you can stare at! I figure the puzzle, adult beverages plus some yummy apps and kettle chips (I’m with you – always and forever) = happy hour. Boom. Now I just need to pull the trigger and DO IT ALREADY.

    • Sasha says...

      Small house, crazy dogs (3!!!!!), introverts over here too. But I love to cook and we still have a few friends ;) Gotta make it happen soon.

      Ma, wanna come over? You can bring your dog and puzzles ;)

    • MA says...

      Ha! Thanks for the encouragement, Sasha, my pooch and I’ll be right over! ;)

  73. We do brunch with friends a lot because it doesn’t mess with kids’ bedtimes but I love the idea of inviting people at the last minute to keep it low key. I also support not really cleaning because I think we should focus on spending time together whether or not our houses are perfect or even vacuumed (plus with kids and crumbs we usually have to clean more afterwards anyway).

  74. Tina, nyc says...

    Hello, So many great ideas from fellow readers.

    Mom of two, third on way, and apartment dweller with no outdoor space but we love having people over too.

    I do enjoy the process of cooking and anything Jenny from Dinner A Love Story recommends as easy and in slow cooker/braise I have prepared for guests. Her recipes are outstanding and I find fool proof. Her pork ragu, carne asada, Korean short ribs, lasagne all sooo good!!

    But when I can’t get it together i agree people love pizza. We buy premade Papa Sal’s frozen dough (white or wheat), company from NJ, but national distribution. place on counter few hours to thaw. For the Times I forgot to thaw, I found a trick, place frozen dough, still in bag, on cast iron skillet. Sorry not scientific so can’t explain why but does spead up defrost time.

    Go to Dessert, fresh UNDER baked ghiradelli brownies with scoop of vanilla ice cream.

    This is such a Fun post and I agree last pic of you two lovebirds is so heartwarming!!!

    PS I always have kids come, put in DVD, make it pajama party even. We have found Kids will behave because they see how special it is to be up later.

    • Sasha says...

      I love all of your ideas! Esp brownies (yrs underbake!!) and kiddo slumber party.

    • Awads says...

      yup! DALS for the win!!

  75. Alyssa Leister says...

    I read somewhere about a couple who hosted Friday Night Meatball Dinner every week and always invited people who could invite people with a cap on how many total. I loved the idea and finally pitched it to my close group of friends.

    We’ve modified it because a) there’s vegans among the friends and b) no one could commit to EVERY Friday. So we do a once-a-month Sunday Pasta Night. We rotate who hosts and the host is responsible for ONLY the pasta/sauce. Everyone else brings anything else. My apartment is the smallest so my cap is about 8 people. Others can host more so they open it up to more people. Sometimes we play games after, sometimes we just talk and drink and laugh. But we’ve never had anything but a perfect dinner.

    • Sasha says...

      I always wish for a “like” feature on coj comments, but especially with this thread. So many great ideas. I love the standing date, it sounds like you make it so easy.

    • Jean says...

      I read about this too and thought it was such a sweet tradition! Sunday pasta night sounds delicious.

  76. Lo says...

    This looks so fun, and relaxed!

    When my boyfriend and I bought our home, I remember having such grandeos ideas about dinner parties, when really, people have the most fun crowded round our coffee table eating food from bowls!

    Also, 100 points for the headstand!!
    Lo
    http://www.themixtures.com

  77. Emily says...

    Love any and all tips to make hosting easier! We have a large group (15-20 people) over about once a month and some things I’ve learned:
    1. serve popcorn: long shelf life, stores small, quick & easy to dress up with some shaved parmesan or seasoning – the ideal snack
    2. nostalgic picks go over well: baking a bunch of grilled cheese sandwiches and cutting into strips to dip in tomato soup, or putting out several sugary cereals & milk for dessert – things we loved as a kid can be fun (and easy) at a party
    3. Don’t stress! We usually say – with a big group – no need to RSVP if you BYOB. We tend to keep extra snacks on hand and worse case scenario, we order pizza and subs
    4. put it on a platter: anything looks fancier when you give it a nice container. I have a friend that thin sliced a snickers bar and laid the small squares out on a silver plate – everyone went nuts for her “fancy dessert”

    the more you host the easier it is – so I say, just do it! (and we usually offer for friends to put a kid in a pack n play or even on our bed – it seems like it would be disruptive, but every time half-sleeping, pajama laden kids are being carried to the car at night, they don’t seem to mind)

    • Jennie says...

      I love your idea of cereal bar for dessert! That is so fun.

    • Katherine says...

      these are GREAT tips!

    • Stephanie says...

      Love the cereal idea!

  78. Chelsea says...

    My husband will often tell me in the afternoon that we should invite friends over to watch whatever big sporting event happens to be on TV that night. My go-to meal for these occasions is tacos. I grew up in Texas and currently live in New Mexico, so tacos are my comfort food and so easy (plus, who doesn’t like tacos?). All you need is ground beef, taco shells, easy store bought toppings like cheese, lettuce, and tomatoes, and some chips and salsa (and Trader Joe’s guacamole is always a delicious and easy addition). Sometimes I use store-bought taco seasoning, other times I just google recipes for taco seasonings since it’s spices I usually have in my pantry already. You can make the meat before your guests arrive and let it stay warm on the stove so you can enjoy time with friends!

  79. I have always been big on entertaining. It’s rarely very formal, but if you have good food and comfortable seats and great conversation, that’s all that matters. I recently wrote about our party with a traditional French raclette–a half-round of cheese that you melt under a heating element, then scrape off the yummy melted part to eat with potatoes, charcuterie, bread and salad. Minimal prep, delicious and very convivial.

    • emily says...

      It’s Swiss!

    • Blandine says...

      Raclette is both French and Swiss but in France we tend to slice it and put in little pans rather than melt and scrap a half-round of cheese.

  80. Mischu says...

    My favorite dinner party so far involved ordering several cheese pizzas and offering a toppings bar with sliced prosciutto, pears, arugula, basil, clover honey, blue cheese, salami, heirloom tomatoes and other goodies. Prepping the toppings bar was a breeze since it involved placing everything on cutting boards or platters. The pizza involved zero preparation on our part and everyone was happy they had a ‘clean slate’ of pizza to top with whatever they wanted. A step above the basic pizza night and no none was picking toppings off the pizza!

    • Alexandra says...

      Wow this is such a great idea!

  81. Laura C. says...

    You’ve just made my father’s family dinners. Here i Spain that kind of dinner is very typical. Bravo Joanna!
    I hope I will loose my fear of hosting, someday I will be a good host as you are.

  82. Erica H. says...

    Perfect!

  83. Sarah says...

    Love this, love you, love all of it, but wait one second…

    So the boys stay up for a few minutes, but then don’t you have to disappear for an hour putting them to bed? With them listening to the people in the living room, resisting extra hard while you slowly but surely start freaking out because you need to get out there with your guests and now you’re exhausted and and AND!

    Because I have an almost three year old, and I’m pretty sure that’s how this would go for me.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      hahahaha i hear you, sarah!! these days, the boys will mostly go to bed quickly because we tell them the plan way ahead of time (and they know that if they don’t follow through on the deal, they won’t get to stay up late next time), but a few months ago, we had people over for a dinner party, and alex went to check on the boys an hour after they had gone to bed. he came back into the room and whispered in my ear, “so, anton is NOWHERE TO BE FOUND.” we had to politely excuse ourselves and search for him and it turned out he was hiding under our bed and playing with toys! hahaha we still laugh about it now, and sometimes we’ll just randomly walk up to each other and whisper ANTON IS NOWHERE TO BE FOUND.

    • Carrie says...

      You should write a book! You have a colorful way with words haha I love it

    • Sarah says...

      That is adorable, thank you for sharing. And now I’m chuffed that I got to have a little chat with Joanna Goddard today, xo.

    • Sarah says...

      Also, thank you Carrie! Man, commenting on this post was the best decision I’ve made all day :)

    • Jamie says...

      My thoughts exactly Sarah! My almost three year old would NEVER stay in bed…. which probably says more about me not “teaching him to stay in bed” than anything else… but alas. Sigh.

      Joanna, I spit out my coffee at the “NOWHERE TO BE FOUND” bit. Love it. Love that you’re keeping it real.

      xoxo

  84. Meg says...

    I’m terrified of hosting dinner parties. Or any parties. It’s a long, abiding fear that I identify with, and I just really feel weird about it. Anyone else? Tips?

    • Emily says...

      I’m with ya. It always looks dreamy but really being a host gives me anxiety!

    • Laura C. says...

      Here’s one of that club, Meg. I host people just twice a year for my girl’s birthdays and my husband gets anxious every time, he’s not that kind of host.

    • Carrie says...

      I’m not a host either. I think the trick is to set up a buffet so it’s all really hands off for you and guests can do their thing. Light a few candles, straight up the house, and put on a Pandora station that you won’t have to touch all night. Music lightens the mood like crazy, no awkward silences= less pressure on you. Just friends, hanging out but in a slightly more organized, mature (the candles;) way

    • Carrie says...

      oh god, with the wink face and my use of the word mature I want to make sure people don’t think I mean x rated lol! Grown up would’ve been a better choice of wording

    • Stephanie L says...

      me too! all the anxiety! I’ve never done it! and whenever my in laws come from out of town we order take out because I am too afraid of being judged on the food even though we’ve been together 13 years!

    • Cynthia says...

      I’m curious if you anxious non-hosters ever get invited out more than once elsewhere. B/c I host frequently and it’s almost always a back and forth type of exchange. That is, I’m inviting folks who have recently had ME over. I would tire pretty quickly of inviting someone again and again who never reciprocated! As for tips, just do it. Joanna’s post showed how simple it can be. If you’re really struggling, start with potlucks and then it won’t all be on you.

    • Emily says...

      Cynthia, I agree! I love hosting casual get togethers in our home but don’t do it as often as I would like to…it gets old very fast when you’re the only person in the group who ever hosts.

    • Eliza says...

      Hi! I’m an anxious hoster, my husband laughs at me each time we throw a party because I freak out for the last 2 hours before people show up. Anxious people – JUST DO IT! Assuming you have friends, they are your friends. They really just want to hang out. My best advice is to something easy like Joanna said or just have a giant cheese plate and a few appetizers. If I have to spend minimal time in the kitchen once the guests arrive I feel super relaxed. Also – your friends will help. Other people who host will show up in your kitchen and ask if they can do anything and you can say “Yes! Can you make the salad?!” My friends call me a pro-host now. I was once one of you! Also I’m closer friends with people who reciprocate, it costs a lot of $ to throw a party and it’s nice to be invited somewhere else once in awhile. So take that into consideration!

  85. Lindsey says...

    Sunday night my husband and I found ourselves and the end of a really busy weekend so, for the sake of laziness, we decided to have a “cereal feast.” Every box in the house was on the table, buffet style. It was so easy and fun, I’d definitely invite friends next time. My 12-year-old self would love it.

  86. Tracy says...

    My girlfriends and I used to do a monthly CH-Evening in South Africa: cheese, chocolate, chips, champagne and chat. It was beautiful on very level.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      oh my gosh, i love that so much, tracy!

    • Inge says...

      Oh waw, I’m going to steal this idea ;-)

  87. I am loving your shirt. Where is it from?

  88. Katherine says...

    After kids came into the picture hosting dinner sometimes seemed overwhelming, so my group of friends started doing “Happy Hours” on Fridays. Kids and parents. You text out the invitation a day or two before. Simple appy’s, wine, beer, maybe one special cocktail. People come after work. Usually wraps up by 7:30pm since many have young children. Everyone walks home full on cheese, fruit, chips and salsa, etc……parents with a nice little buzz. You don’t have to prepare supper when you get home, maybe a bowl of cereal if someone is still hungry. Put the kids to bed and you still have the rest of your night with your partner.

    • MA says...

      I love this idea!

    • Chelsea says...

      Great idea! I need to try this one!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      love this!!!!

  89. Yummy this looks like a great dinner party
    xo

  90. Erin says...

    Love the idea to order a lasagna! So easy.

  91. Andrea says...

    You look absolutely in love in that last picture. =)

  92. Meredith says...

    my family has mastered the crappy dinner party. we have what we call “family dinner night” every wednesday.
    each week, we make a big pot of something and have an open invite to a bunch of our friends to come for dinner. it could be 6 people, it could be 17. last week was 8 children and 9 adults.
    the house is mostly clean. if we don’t fit at the table it’s buffet style and people sit on the couch and the floor. people bring something if they want. or not. the point is to see each other regularly, not to be fancy. the kids play. the adults chat. dinner is served before 7 and familes with bedtimes often leave by 8. others stay later.
    favorite meals include salsa verde pork in the slow cooker and buttermilk roast chicken. all is prepped the day before so there is little work to be done on wednesday itself.

  93. Kara says...

    With little kids, we have given up on dinner parties for the moment, but we are loving brunch parties. No cooking involved – we just grab a quiche, pastries, fresh fruit, yogurt, and a big jug of cold brew coffee from our local market. We leave the toys scattered around for the littles to play with while the parents relax and catch up. If the weather is nice, we might migrate to the park down the block. Such a pleasant way to kick off the weekend!

  94. Mary says...

    Ahahah, I just read the post about making plans with friends, and that is exactly how all of my conversations go. It’s worse that I work in global health development, so our conversations usually go something along the lines of:

    Friend 1: I can do next Saturday, but then I leave on Sunday for XYZ country on the other side of the world for one week
    Me: I can do anytime the next two weeks, but may or may not leave for XYZ country and won’t know until LITERALLY THE DAY BEFORE
    Friend 2: I leave tonight so can’t do Saturday but get back Sunday!
    Friend 1: Nevermind my flight got cancelled because my visa didn’t go through so not leaving Sunday anymore! I’m free tonight!
    Me: I’m free tonight too!
    Friend 2: Me three!
    Friend 3: I have to fly to XYZ for 24 hours so can’t do tonight!

    ….and this goes on and on until we all implode.

    • Molly says...

      I literally just had almost an exact exchange with 3 of my girlfriends. . . AHH

  95. Katherine says...

    Yes to last minute and lazy dinner parties!!!!! My go to is PIZZA. I have made my own pizza dough so much that now it doesn’t take very long at all. Like, it takes me 15 minutes. And then I provide pizza sauce (from a jar) and cheese and text whoever is coming to “bring some beer or wine and also something you’d like to eat on top of a pizza”

    and then… that’s it. someone else bring chips. maybe somebody brings salad? literally no one is ever disappointed by the main meal being pizza, and it’s fun for everyone to contribute toppings.

    (also i use my friend laura’s pizza recipe, which is:
    5 cups flour
    2 1/2 tsps quick rise yeast
    2 cups warm water
    1 tsp salt
    1/2 cup oil

    mix! kind of knead, in the bowl. let rise 10 minutes. roll into pizza shape. cook for 15ish minutes at 450 C

    makes 2 pizza crusts!)

    • N. Rogers says...

      Do you pre-cook the dough before putting on toppings? Or put topping on raw dough and cook for 15 minutes?

    • Katherine says...

      raw dough!

  96. Miruska says...

    I usually just make meatballs and keep in a freezer. Then I make a simple tomato sauce (tomatoes, a lot of butter, and a whole onion cooked for an hour or so) the day of the gathering, make spaghetti while everybody is snacking on assorted cheese and salami, mixed everything together and we eat communal-style. Sometimes I bother with a salad and sometimes I don’t :-). People bring wine and somebody might bring a dessert but mostly it’s ice-cream bars here too. Casual and low stress. Yours looked so intimate and lovely.

    • Yes! The meatballs and the Marcella Hazan sauce. You can’t go wrong. I love having those staples in my freezer. Instant party if you have company. Instant comfort if you’ve had a bad day. The best.

    • Miruska says...

      Yes! That’s the sauce. The best ever. I was thinking of just making the sauce and getting the best bread I can get and people can just dip into the sauce; it’s that good. I have those in my freezer at all times too. So easy and tasty.

  97. Yes to all of this! Yes to not doing a huge clean-up; yes to texting a couple of days before. In my groups of friends we tend to include the kids, feed them in the kitchen (turkey dogs), send them outside or to the playroom to rampage, and then put them in their pjs to calm down with a video before everyone heads home by 9 o’clock. We probably don’t have as good conversation as you all do but we also don’t need to find last minute babysitters.

  98. Ali says...

    My dinner party go-to is risotto. It’s pretty inexpensive, I usually have the ingredients on hand, it allows for variation, and isn’t as hard to make as people often think. Just put some appetizers out and chat while I stir!

    • Blandine says...

      Great idea!

  99. My favorite thing ever is “fancy snack dinner” in which everyone brings cheese/crackers/jam/baguettes/olives/fruit/any other fancy snack from Whole Foods that you can’t justify buying for just yourself. Basically a whole meal made of appetizers – a dream come true! This works particularly well for picnics and movies in the park

    • Emilie says...

      I absolutely agree! There is no need to serve a prepared hot meal when the truth is, everyone likes the snacks and finger foods better anyway. It is especially fun and informative to provide spreads, olives, crackers and/or bread, and ask guests to bring a meat or cheese. I then set it all out on a pretty board (so easy) and cut out the labels from the meat and cheeses. I then place the respective labels beside each choice, so everyone knows what they’re eating and can make very “sophisticated” comments about which meats and cheese go well together and with which wine :) Always a hit!

    • Jessica says...

      YUM! I agree. Nothing better than a meal of snacks! I was supposed to host book club but we rescheduled so I have a ton of fancy cheese and crackers. Literally cannot wait to have it for dinner all weekend with the large bottle of wine that’s now all for me :)

    • Breck says...

      Makes clean up SO much easier, too!

  100. Being in a rural area, we don’t have very many restaurants to go out to, so our group of friends is big on pot-luck dinners. Actually, we USED to be big on pot-luck dinners, but since many of us have had babies in the past few years and are now home-bound in the evenings thanks to early bedtimes, we tend to do pot-luck brunches now instead. We all take turns hosting, and it is very casual (since the kiddos pull all the toys out and destroy any tidying-up you may have done within three seconds of their arrival, I usually just give the main-floor floors a vacuuming, the bathroom a wipe-down and make sure our table is cleared off but I don’t bother cleaning the house top to bottom). In the warm months we usually gather outside, on picnic tables in the lawn or on the porch, and in the winter the host will often make a big batch of soup and we’ll all bring bread and side dishes. It is a wonderful way to connect with friends regularly!

  101. amy says...

    Looks so delicious and you are so in love with your husband. I love the picture of you gazing at him. Thanks for sharing. You’ve inspired me to host a dinner party soon!

  102. jeannie says...

    I love this post! I would have loved being a guest. My menu for a “fancy” dinner is rack of lamb slathered in garlic and rosemary, roasted potatoes, and roasted asparagus sprinkled with parmesan cheese. It is super easy. An oven at 425 degrees cooks them all! Potatoes for approximately 60 minutes, lamb for 25, asparagus for 15. I use Barefoot Contessa recipes as guidelines. I always buy a Trader Joe’s chocolate cake for dessert and set out olives and cheese with baguette slices as appetizers. ps Love the reminder that no one really cares is your house is perfect.

  103. We host a book club at our place, which is usually 20 minutes about the book and 2 hours on politics and life. I went a bit nuts for the first one I hosted and bought/made way too much. I stressed myself out.
    Now, one of the guys picks up empanadas on his way-meat, veggie, dessert (yes, that’s a thing!) And we all hang out and enjoy. So much better!

  104. Natasha says...

    Love this post! Such a great way to entertain, because who doesn’t love lasagna?? And ice cream! Parties like this make everyone feel so comfortable and welcome and loved.
    Coincidentally, I just tried making DALS’ pork ragu the other night for guests and honestly, it was the easiest and tastiest thing I’ve ever prepared. I felt like freaking Julia Child! It was insanely delicious. The hardest part is having the 4 hours to braise the meat. I highly recommend that recipe!
    Thanks for yet another amazing post. I love your blog so much.

  105. Kasi says...

    I love the idea of a super simple dinner party… I am the hostess who is cleaning the grout with a toothbrush in the far corner of the kitchen as guests arrive. That’s not hyperbole. It’s my dream to be able to chill out this much- I think my guests would probably be more relaxed too!

  106. I love this! The other night after a session of bouldering with friends we were invited over to one guys’ house because he had a slow cooker full of chilli con carne, a tub of sour cream and nachos. It could not have been any better!

  107. Roz says...

    I love this idea! The only problem is that we (and all of our friends who we’d want to hang out with) have little kids, so people would have to get sitters. Also, without fail, anytime I have my girlfriends over at night to hang out, the kids put up the fight of their life and I end up spending an hour getting them to bed and missing much-needed time with my girlfriends. Any ideas?!?!? I wish I had family nearby to take the kids on a sleepover :(

    • Amy says...

      We have an 8 year old and solve this issue by inviting our friend’s kids too. Kids play while we munch on appetizers. The kids eat dinner first ( usually mac and cheese or pizza) then I put in a movie while the adults sit down for a nice dinner. Everyone has dessert together when the movie is finished. The evening is wrapped up by 9:00 pm or so. And we do it all in our 800 sq ft house. Our friends with kids host us the same way. It works for now!

    • Roz says...

      That’s a great idea, Amy!

  108. Anne says...

    I just made that DALS pork shoulder ragu for a dinner party a few weeks ago and it was AMAZING. So easy and delicious.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      good to know!

    • Kate says...

      Yes! I’ve done that for a few dinner parties, too. I love it over polenta.

  109. Suzanne says...

    What I love most about this post, bowl of olives being a close second, is how evident it is that, despite the demands of raising two amazing little humans and maintaining impressive professional lives, you and Alex genuinely enjoy each other’s company. Love really is all that matters.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that is the sweetest note, suzanne. thank you so much.

  110. Ruth says...

    Did you ever share pics/do a tour of your new home (though I realize it’s not new anymore…)? Would love to see it, now that you guys have a place that’s truly *yours*!!!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      hi ruth, i’m excited to share photos! we will likely do a house tour in the next two months, once we finally get lighting.

  111. Rosemary says...

    love this menu! I always do the olives, gapes, prosciutto, but never thought of a greek salad. What a great idea! I am having people over this weekend and will try that!

  112. Kim says...

    Easy to make snacks I like to serve- Brie with pears and honey, chocolate-covered strawberries, a quesadilla bar…

  113. june teu says...

    I love the plan for making it easy for ourselves by ordering pre-made, but I think I’d take it out of the foil pan and onto a nicer serving platter/casserole for guests. But I’d do that for myself as well – it’s just not very appetizing otherwise. But it is nice to get to the place where you can just go for it in an easy way!

  114. Maire says...

    My go to dinner party fare is in the spring/summer: garam masala and lime yogurt marinated chicken kebabs + cucumber yogurt sauce + Persian style crunchy rice + salad + naan/pita/baguette. Sangria to drink and one of the Trader Joe’s desserts that you just have to take out of the freezer, thaw and serve if I am in a hurry, otherwise strawberry shortcake (using biscuits). In the fall/winter: Harissa Chicken Tagine from Einat Admony’s Balaboosta cookbook + couscous with nuts, raisins and apricots + arugula and citrus salad. For dessert, brownies from a box mix in a pinch or homemade Kit Kat’s from the Balaboosta book if there is more time.

  115. My favorite kind of party is the kind my large family tends to throw. Someone might say, “Come to my house after the game (or church or any event we’re at). Everyone brings something they were cooking anyhow, or a specialty dish they love to make, and the host brews pots of coffee, and we just end up with this massive conglomeration of delicious dishes that may or may not go together, and we inevitably stand around the counter picking at the dishes we can’t leave alone. The impromptu factor means no stress of planning, and we all have just as much fun as if it were carefully thought out.

  116. liz says...

    suppose you and hubs must fight once in awhile but you always look smitten with each other, so adorable.

  117. Savannah says...

    We just had a baby ( 7 months ago “just”) and it feels like you jumped inside my worries and posted this just for me! I miss dinner parties but I’d rather die than throw a big one at this point. This way I can totally manage.

  118. Awads says...

    I usually spend all day in the kitchen, preparing some big meaty dish (or making my own pasta for lasagna), and i love every minute of it. But i always dread the dessert part. I am usually burnt out from apps and the main course to even think about dessert. From now on, ice cream bars it is!! Especially since warm weather is upon us. Cheers!

  119. dinner with our familiy is feel happy

  120. Mariana says...

    I love this! I love to cook but sometimes there’s no time/patience, so this is pretty close to what I do when I decide to have people over. For starters I usually go with a cheese board (2 or 3 different cheeses, olives, grapes, some sort of cold meat, toasted hazelnuts or dried apples). But pigs on a blanket are very easy to make and you can prep on advance (cut a round piece of puff pastry like a pizza – thin slices- spread some mustard and roll the tiny sausage on each triangle. Then pop in the oven for 5/10 minutes before guests arrive). And you can use this same technique for desert (assuming you haven’t done the pigs on the blanket earlier): cut the puff pastry the same way and spread nutella or some jam and roll in tiny croissants. It’s always a hit!

  121. rach says...

    Darling! You always make simple look like so much more!

  122. Amanda U. says...

    I’m in my late 20s and I actually host friends nearly every weekend… I lucked out with a cool, large apartment and people tend to want to hang out there over the bars. I basically always serve the same thing, all from Trader Joe’s- herb chevre, raisin and rosemary crackers, peppered salame, cornichons, and grapes (plus dried apricots, cucumber slices, unexpected cheddar and another meat if > 10 people)! It all feels fancy but is actually relatively inexpensive, plus people tend to bring lots of beer and wine when you feed them!

  123. Sara says...

    If drumsticks are dessert I would be there in a flash!

  124. Ariana says...

    1 cup artichoke dip!!! 1 cup canned artichoke hearts (chopped), 1 cup of mayo, 1 cup of the best parmesan you can find. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes. EASIEST to throw together and tastes better than any restaurant. Serve with torn bread or pita chips. I have gotten asked for the recipe every time I’ve served.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      OMG i’m starving all of a sudden! sounds AMAZING.

    • Stephanie says...

      Throw in a can of green chilies and 8 ounces cream cheese to this to add a little something something. I also always get asked for the recipe. Sometimes I add a layer of parm to the top at the end and then broil for a few minutes. Creates an amazing “crust”! And if you serve with veggies it is GLUTEN FREE AND VEGETARIAN!!! Wowza. :)

  125. Rose says...

    Loved, loved this post. My goal this year is to casually have people over, no “scheduling”, “calendaring”, or “menu” involved.

    I do have a question that always stresses me out. When I have people over, I usually have apps/entree/dessert/drinks planned. What do you do when people offer/”insist” on bringing something? What do you say?! I don’t want them to feel bothered to bring some thing because it is all covered, but at the same time, I don’t want to take away their joy in “giving”. I feel horrible either way!!

    Maybe I’m just being a bit Type A! Haha

    • Lin says...

      Bread! Goes with everything, so it will fit with any menu. Your guest can make it themselves or pick up rolls or a loaf or baguette on the way over. People always seem to have room for a slice of bread or a roll, no matter what’s being served.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      you sound like an amazing host! maybe just ask them to bring wine? and then you can serve it at the end of the night if there’s time/people are still drinking; or just save it for the next time people come over.

  126. Danielle says...

    I love this! My good friend has had held a dinner party by just ordering a couple pizzas and setting up a salad bar on the counter–everyone just brings a topping (nuts, cheese, smoked salmon, whatever) and you provide the leafy greens and some basic dressings like olive oil, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, etc. Super simple and fresh.

  127. stacy says...

    My no fuss dinner party always includes fancy take-out pizza (gently crisped in the oven), and home-assembled starters…prosciutto, cheese, etc.
    Recently I made a couple of batches of homemade ice cream in advance and we had sundaes for dessert… big hit, and good old Ben and Jerry will do just fine!

  128. Susan says...

    Love all. Except – always feels weird to ask people to get a babysitter while my kids are around and sleeping in the next room. Thoughts? (Maybe I’m a curmedgeon but I don’t want to see too much of someone else’s kids if I’m paying someone just to get away from mine! :)

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      i hear you, susan! we always say our kids can stay up while people are arriving, but then have to go to bed (after about 10 minutes). we read stories and get pajamas on BEFORE people arrive, and we make a deal that they can stay up to say hello, if they’ll go right to bed afterward with just a quick kiss. so far, it has worked out!

  129. Kate says...

    I love to make a cheese board (with a few cheese knives) because it feels so luxurious, but really you just plop a few hunks of cheese on a wood or marble cutting board and put some crackers on a plate! Sometimes I go to the fancy local cheese shop, but sometimes I raid the cheese at Aldi- they always have such affordable, tasty cheese!
    <3

  130. Jen says...

    The ‘TRYING TO SCHEDULE A DATE WITH A GROUP CAN KILL YOU’ in all caps made me laugh. I went back and reread the post and laughed even harder. That is my life right now. I’m the scheduler/organizer in my group of friends. However, my husband got tired of me being upset about people bailing, rescheduling, or never finding a date that works; he finally said dinner parties will only consist of one family/couple at a time. Easier to schedule with one couple/family at a time and we can enjoy their company one-on-one. Makes everyone happier :) But I love the idea of a deli lasagna and a simple salad (with ice cream of course!). This will be my new menu go to!

  131. jen says...

    My friends and I take turns hosting dinner parties. They are super low key and usually involve 2-3 families, depending who’s available. And kids are always invited. We feed the kids first and turn on a movie while the adults kick back and enjoy a leisurely meal. Everyone brings a bottle of wine and someone will bring a salad or a dessert. We keep the kids meal super simple (every kid loves TJ potstickers!) and try to make most of the adult dinner in advance.

  132. Sophie says...

    My new go-to party snack is pitted dates, split and smeared with a little goat cheese. It’s one of those combos that is way more than the sum of its parts. They make even beers on the balcony feel like a real party.

  133. AK says...

    hi! the salad looks awesome…..do you have a recipe for it

  134. Also, I’d love a post on how-to-make simple mixed drinks/cocktails. I always want to make drinks for guests, but resort to wine because A) I don’t know what type of liquor I should always have on hand B) I don’t want to make something that’s easy to mess up.

    • Anu says...

      My husband and I were kind of like that, resorting to just wine and beer. Since last year, my husband slowly started making and mastering one drink at a time. So he would make gin and tonics for a few weekends for just the two of us until he got the hang of it and figured out what recipe/ratio/brand of gin or tonic we liked best. Then margaritas, martinis etc so you slowly build up a repertoire. But, yes, some fool proof recipes would be great.

  135. I love this idea! It’s nice that a dinner party is something that you can do for years/decades and change it up so that it’s always enjoyable… Food and good friends, what else do you need? :)

    http://thedianaedition.com

  136. Andrea says...

    I like hosting Trader Joe’s Greatest Hits dinner parties: I put out hummus, cheeses, crackers, and jarred cherry peppers. Then I pop some TJ’s frozen appetizers in the oven (like falafel, samosas, and basically anything wrapped in puff pastry) and boom, it’s a dinner party. People tend to bring wine and desserts so it always works out nicely. Plus, it’s a fun way to test a new Trader Joe’s item because someone else will eat it if you don’t like it!

  137. Sarah says...

    Things from this post I sometimes wish I had:
    -A sweet apartment
    -Friends
    -Extraverted nature
    Things from this post I already have and am so grateful for:
    -Access to awesome food
    -A partner I adore

    • Karen says...

      Ha! Same here!

  138. Alexandra H. says...

    LOVE the last picture of you and Alex. You can see the love and respect you have for him in your eyes. XO

  139. Mary says...

    I am on the hunt for a new couch. Love your blue one! Can you share any details? Also, is it velvet? How does it hold up with your two adorable and active little monkey men? I have one of my own, so I am curious.

  140. I LOVE dinner parties, but our place is so, so small. Love the idea of picking up something pre-made though – nothing worse than trying to time your cooking for when guests arrive (early, on time, late??) and struggling to juggle finishing up with welcoming everyone. Is there a “menu” you’d suggest if you don’t have a big table or counter to gather around – and instead guests hang on the couch or folding chairs?

    http://www.wonderlandsam.com

  141. Something I’ve noticed about your site that I like and appreciate is that you rotate through the same topics every six or seven months. Dinner parties, traveling, etc. It’s nice that you and the team circle back around these topics throughout the year, because you’re always giving us new ideas on old topics.

  142. Just when I said to my husband, “we should have people over on Friday” and I freaked out a little over the planning….along came your post. Right on time, sister! Thank you!

    http://www.mindofmeaux.com

  143. My go-to easy party show stopper is a ginormous cheese platter. It looks pretty and complicated, but it takes about 5 minutes to set up and everyone loves it. I have a huge tray and I’ll arrange 4-5 cheeses, berries, clementines, almonds, apple slices, olives, crackers, etc. It’s really whatever is seasonal and available. Then I’ll add a couple of flowers or a few sprigs of mint and…dunzo! Not exactly an earth-shattering tip, but a good one to have in your back pocket!

    Also, I live in Texas so if we’re not going the cheese platter route chips and salsa are pretty much required :)

  144. Eve says...

    I like to buy a dozen or two dolmas and serve them with lots of lemon. Fresh fruit, like your grapes, is a must for me. A friend of mine always has a bowl of M&Ms and somehow they make me so happy. Also, I’d like to challenge Alex to wear a non-button-up shirt. I don’t recall ever seeing him in anything else. But hey, staples work!

  145. Carol says...

    HAH! I love the red caps regarding scheduling a large group…it’s why I have gray hair. As the wonderful Laurie Colwin once said…”you don’t want to be the death of your guests, though they might be the death of you.”

  146. That gallery wall looks amazing! Have we gotten to see your new place yet? If so I think I missed it! Every little bit I catch looks great though!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      thank you so much, katie! we are waiting for a pendant light for our living room, which has been taking 1,000 years :) once we get it, we’ll do the tour. we’re all settled in, and i’m excited to share. thank you so much!

    • I came in to comment on the same–we can’t wait to see the new place once it is ready!

  147. Sarah King says...

    Are those prosciutto apps just the prosciutto? They look great!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      yes! we just kind of put them in little nests to make them look prettier :)