When reading cookbooks, we love a writer with a strong point of view. Do this! Definitely don’t do that! It’s exciting to hear someone passionately reveal what they’ve learned through years of trial and error. So, I was thrilled to get my hands on the new cookbook For the Table, in which Anna Stockwell shares her eight rules for entertaining…
1. Never apologize. No matter how far behind schedule dinner gets, no matter if you burn the whole dinner and end up ordering pizza instead, no matter if your house is dirty, or you forgot to get extra toilet paper, or the cat keeps jumping on the table: Do not apologize. I promise that your guests are happy to be invited into your home for dinner, whether or not it meets your own personal expectations of how it should be. Laugh it off.
2. Set out potato chips. No one will ever be mad to see a potato chip. Putting them in a fancy bowl dolls them up already. But you can also sprinkle lemon zest and mild chili flakes on top. Or add freshly ground black pepper and a sprinkle of finely chipped dill.
3. Serve only one cheese. When there’s a crowd, a cheese board becomes mangled so quickly. The blue cheese knife gets dunked in the triple cream, or someone hogs all the Manchego. Instead, I pick one big piece of cheese and stick to it. I add a bowl of crackers; some kind of fruit such as sliced apples, pears, figs, grapes, dried figs, or apricots; and then something salty and briny like olives or pickles.
4. Make two big platters for dinner. Making just two large-format recipes is my favorite way to host dinner for a crowd. In addition to making life easier, serving dinner family style lets everyone choose what ends up on their plates, and the passing of platters back and forth creates connection. Examples: spring chicken with salad; deep-dish quiche with leeks; sheet-pan meatballs with roasted squash; spicy tomatoey cod with broccolini.
5. Ask a question to the table. It’s a great ice breaker for guests who don’t know each other, and it can center a conversation among old friends or family. A few questions I’ve used: What’s your most embarrassing travel story? What was your best Halloween costume? Tell us about your first kiss. If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
6. Serve dessert. That doesn’t mean you need to make a dessert — just pass around something sweet to share. Find whatever chocolate you have in your pantry and break it up into pieces and scatter it on a plate. Drizzle a little of your best olive oil on the top and sprinkle with flaky salt. Or dollop whipped cream over bowls of fresh berries or sliced fruit.
7. Keep guests watered all night. For the table, put out a few glass bottles of sparkling mineral water or a pitcher or two of tap water. For the end of the night, I like to keep a case of individual cans of seltzer chilling by my door. As guests leave, I give them each a can of seltzer for the road. When I lived in Brooklyn and everyone took Ubers home in the wee hours, this was especially appreciated.
8. Let friends help.. If someone offers to do dishes, say yes! Just leave the wine glasses and serving platters until morning, and spend the final hours of your night dancing or talking. I love waking up to signs that a party happened in my house last night: empty glasses and bottles reflecting sunlight across the table, stains on the tablecloth, napkins hungover in disarray. Look, something good happened here!