Today we are thrilled to have entertaining expert Annie Dean, founder and author of AnnieDean.com, sharing her tips and tricks for a delicious springtime dinner party with us. Read on for her recipes and tricks for entertaining with ease, then get cooking!
There’s nothing better than getting your friends together for a meal at home. Now that it’s Spring, take advantage of the season’s freshest ingredients and flowers and invite your nearest and dearest for a Springtime Supper. In this post you’ll find an easy menu for eight and some tips & tricks from a seasoned hostess.
Planning the Menu
When planning your meal for a large group, try to stick to items that can be cooked in a single dish. You’ll need fewer items and you’ll have less to clean up. A few days before your dinner party, make a complete list of all of the items you’ll need. If you are cooking a large protein, order in advance. Tell the fish monger or butcher to give you large pieces, not portion sized pieces. Portion sized pieces are more difficult to cook. Purchase what you can in advance, but you may need to pick up key items like your protein on the day of the dinner to ensure freshness. And if I have time, it always saves time to make the dessert one day in advance. Less to think about!
Setting the Table
Press your napkins with a hot iron, monogram facing down, the day prior to your dinner party. Fold the napkins and press once while folded. My grandmother always taught me to set the table the evening before a dinner party. That way, if you need to polish silverware or shine your crystal glasses, you won’t need to fit it all in while you cook! Make sure to choose a seasonal centerpiece. For a dinner party in April I’d recommend Creeping Phlox, a wild flower available at the Farmer’s market just a few weeks each year. You’ll want to keep them in a tall pitcher and you’ll need to change the water regularly. Decorate each place setting with your leftovers! I had left over thyme and radishes at this dinner party, so I set a sprig of thyme on each napkin and a pair of radishes alongside each place card.
For a more formal dinner party, use place cards and assign each guest a seat. The host and hostess will face each other at the end of the table. Couples should sit apart from one another and the seating should alternate between male and female.
The menu below is effortless and focuses on fresh ingredients. At a more casual dinner party you can serve these dishes right out of the bakeware they are prepared in as a buffet. If you have enough serving platters on hand, serve them family style on the table. No need to pre-portion the meal for each guest. It’s important to remember that as an at-home hostess, you’re never expected to replicate the service at a restaurant.
Halibut with Sea Salt, Garlic Lemon & Thyme
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Rinse 2 pounds of halibut in cold water, pat dry and place in a greased baking dish (this will serve eight; if your group is a different size, assume ¼ lb of halibut per person). Make a seasoned salt in a mortar and pestle by adding the best quality salt you can find (salt from Brittany, France is amazing; you’ll recognize it because it’s grey in color), the leaves from 1 package of fresh thyme, 4 cloves of garlic, black pepper or peppercorns and a bit of olive oil. Adjust the seasoned salt to suit your taste and the number of people you are serving. (Note: if you don’t have a mortar and pestle on hand just add all the ingredients to a cutting board and chop them up together.) Drizzle the halibut with olive oil and rub in all over. Cover your halibut in your seasoned salt. Using a mandolin or very sharp knife, slice 1 lemon into paper-thin slices. Cover your halibut in lemon slices.
Roast halibut for roughly 30 minutes 450 degrees. Keep your eye on the fish, it will be firm to the touch and opaque all the way through when finished. If the lemon slices have not browned or singed, place the dish under the broiler for a couple of minutes until they do. Serve with the lemon roasted along side the asparagus, below. Each guest will squeeze a roasted half lemon over their fish.
Medley of Asparagus
Purchase three bunches of asparagus, 1 green, 1 purple and 1 white (in each case, the thinner the better). Wash with cold water and remove 1 to 2 inches from the ends with a sharp knife. Set aside on a kitchen towel to dry. Place asparagus in a baking dish and generously season with high-quality salt and black pepper. Place small pats of butter throughout the dish dispersed over the asparagus. The butter will roast into the vegetable in the oven. Also include 1 half lemon per person in your asparagus baking dish. To prepare, slice off the rounded end of the lemon peel so that the lemon can sit flat. Cut a slit into each half lemon and place a bay leaf in the center.
Roast asparagus and lemons for 30 minutes at 450 degrees while the halibut cooks. When finished, remove the bay leaves and serve the roasted lemon on a serving platter.
English Pea and Radish Salad with Tarragon
Quickly boil 4 pounds unshelled fresh peas (available this time of year but 2 packages of frozen peas is fine, too). The peas will be added to the boiling water just long enough to turn bright green (1-2 minutes). Drain and let cool in a mixing bowl. Add 1 cup finely chopped scallion. Add 1 cup finely sliced radish (using a mandolin). Add 2 tablespoons minced fresh tarragon leaves (if not available, use mint). Whisk together 3 tablespoons of olive oil and 2 tablespoons of champagne vinegar or other acid (lemon is fine). Add to salad. Toss together ingredients.
Braised Fingerling Potatoes
My oven can only accommodate two baking dishes at one time, so I wanted a stove top potato. I chose this Alice Waters recipe. These potatoes don’t take a lot of attention, so they’re fine for a dinner party, but will still require you to focus on the kitchen a bit. If you have room in your oven, try these roasted potatoes instead. Then you can focus on your guests.
Lemon Butter Cake with Fresh Whipped Cream & Berries
To make fresh whipped cream, simply add 1 carton of cold whipping cream to a chilled mixing bowl. Using chilled beaters on an electric mixer, whip cream until stiff peaks are just about to form. Beat in 1 teaspoon vanilla and 1.5 teaspoons confectioners’ sugar. Don’t over beat or you’ll turn your whipped cream into butter. If available, serve whipped cream in a crystal bowl so guests can add their own. Set two bowls of mixed berries (blackberries, cut strawberries and raspberries) on the table, one on each end.
I hope you’ll give this Springtime Supper a try! Pour yourself a cold glass of white wine and get cookin’!
Annie Dean is the founder and author of AnnieDean.com, a lifestyle blog that celebrates etiquette, entertaining and everyday glamour. She lives in Manhattan with her husband, Peter, and their cavalier king charles puppy, Rosie. Annie is 27 years old.Back