Food Friday: The Impromptu Dinner Party

Oh yes I did just throw an impromptu dinner party for 15 ! Truth is, this is not uncommon in my house. So, I thought I would share some strategies on how to manage this seemingly impossible feat. 

Who were these people ? These were nine guests from France who we were expecting. We were to house them for perhaps a week. So tonight, in what we thought was the first night of their visit, we thought they could simply settle in. However, it turns out they decided to stay only one night, so this would be our only chance to visit with them. Dinner was served. 

My family totals 6, not counting the baby granddaughter, so we had plenty of hands. This is the first tip.

1. You must train your children (and partner) from an early age to clean up after themselves in the kitchen, so the kitchen is not a fright when you go to use it. You must teach them basic cooking skills so they can effectively sous-chef (assist) you in a pinch. 

2. The next tip is similar: Keep the house reasonably tidy on a regular basis. Ensure your house is curated (meaning get rid of what you don’t need), clean and organized every week. Pick a day and keep to it. Then when opportunity strikes, you will be ready. 

3. Keep some basic decorations handy. I use candles and nice napkins. Guests seem reluctant to use our cloth napkins, so I keep some paper ones on hand. My candles are oversized white tea lights available at both Costco and Ikea. I place them in glass candle holders for ambiance. They come in little metal holders which prevent wax mess and get recycled. 

4. Have a set of dishes you can make quickly from things on hand, from the freezer and the pantry. Have ingredients for these recipes on hand most all the time. Have a ready-to-go festive drink as well. Mine is Pellegrino which I keep stocked in the pantry. 

In our case tonight, we made Paleo chili with all the trimmings, green salad and fruit salad. ( Always have those last two side dishes !) 

Here’s the rough recipe for Paleo Chili : 

  • In a large soup pot, saute a tablespoon of green chilis, canned or fresh, in a couple tablespoons olive oil. You may also include minced garlic.  
  • Brown about three pounds lean red meat in this flavored oil. Season with lemon pepper, cumin and chipotle chile powder, coating the surface of the meat lightly with each spice all across the area of the pan. ( This could be done with ground turkey too.) 
  • Saute some Mirepoix (roughly chopped carrots, onion and celery at a 2:1:1 ratio) and add that to the meat. 
  • Add a cup of frozen or fresh corn. 
  • Sitr and get mixture dry, caramelizing, and very hot. 
  • Add 1-2 cans full flavored beer (not paleo) or just water. Keep your face out of the steam. The alcohol cooks right off. 
  • Then add a can each of tomato sauce, stewed tomatoes, and diced tomatoes. 
  • Bean eaters (not Paleo) can add two cans here. I kept ours on the side since you never know the dietary constraints of guests. 
  • Simmer and adjust all seasonings, salt last. 
  • Serve with corn tortilla chips, chopped scallions, (lactose free) sour cream or substitute, salsa, and guacamole. Cheese eaters may add grated cheese. These garnishes are all set out for people to add at their discretion. 


Here is my Gluten free but too-sweet-to-be Paleo Quick Berry Cobbler: 

Spread a 2-3 berry-deep layer of red fruits on the bottom of a 13X 9 "ish" baking pan. These could be frozen or fresh raspberries, strawberries, cherries, or even blueberries, or better yet, a random combo of these. Pour off any dilute water from melting fruit. 

Make the topping. Mix the following until crumbly: 

  • 1c gluten free flour 
  • 1c sugar
  • 1egg
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 tea spoon salt

Spread over berries. 

Melt one stick of butter or 1/2 cup coconut oil and pour evenly over crumbs.

Bake at 350 degree until crust is golden brown and berries are not watery. Pro tip: bake on an edged pan lined with parchment. Start watching the cobbler at about 25 minutes. 

Keep conversation going by offering herbal or decaffeinated tea after dinner. 

Let guests help if they arrive too soon and clean up afterward. It is better to be doing things together than to have people idle and awkward.  Don’t think that everything has to be perfect. It is more important that you are warm and inviting.

Now you are all set to throw an impromptu New Year’s Eve party. Happy New Year ! 





Food Friday: Summer Guests

Summer should be full of guests. Where there are guests there should be great food and drink. And yet, it is important that the work of food preparation not get in the way of entertaining. Here are simple, easy ideas for summer entertaining. 



1. Give at least a week of notice, so the gathering is informal but not too informal. Be open to drop ins. 

2. Be aware of any food intolerances or limitations. Have at least three dishes everyone can eat. 

3. Incorporate the out of doors somehow. 

4. Invite guests to contribute a dish but let them know to come even if they are too busy to prepare something. You may also simply ask them to bring soda water if you suspect they are busy. It is a good idea to invite guests to bring what they are good at cooking, within the constraints of your theme. 

5. Favor foods which can be prepared in advance, especially the main dish. An example would be meatballs in a slow cooker. 

6. Favor food which are presented, more than actually prepared, i.e. fruit and vegetable platters with dips. Similarly, favor foods which are assembled by the guest, i.e. a taco or fajita bar. 

7. Serve buffet style. 

8. Have a great selection of drinks, especially in hot weather. People love a big punch bowl. We make ours with 2 parts club soda with one part 100% fruit juice such as apple raspberry juice from frozen concentrate. We cool it with ice, but also frozen berry mix. We may also float some citrus slices. The variations on this punch can be endless, and it the flavors can morph as the bowl needs refilling. 

9. Don’t be afraid to decorate a little. You can be fun, festive or sophisticated at your whim. 

10. Finally, don’t forget the most important part of entertaining: Making your guests feel welcome. 

Food Friday : Party Food

Despite my intense interest in nutrition, I believe the highest and best use of food is to forge bonds between people. Food is a natural centerpiece for social gatherings. It puts people at ease, and makes them feel good. It can, if presented correctly, cause us to slow down and connect with one another. 

I am blessed with a large extended family and group of friends. It has become our tradition to have frequent large gatherings which I think people really appreciate. Here are ten tips about parties and party food which I have learned along the way. 


  1. Entertain for traditional and nontraditional occasions. It's great to observe birthdays and holidays, but it is also fun to celebrate different things like graduations, the spring equinox, or the Academy Awards. Do not limit yourself to dinners. Brunch and lunch can be fun too, though a great deal of preparation has to be done the night before. 
  2. Partial pot luck is a very successful format. Partial pot luck is, as far as the guests are concerned, pot luck. They are each assigned a dish of your choice and mutual agreement, since you have made sure the menu is balanced. Behind the scenes, you make sure you have a flexible main dish, enough for almost everybody, and good beverages. You may also have your signature dish, which in my case is large fruit platter. That way you have the backbone of the meal covered, in case of no shows and dishes turning out poorly. 
  3. Be aware of any special dietary needs or preferences of your guests. I know it is extra work, but if you want to host you are obliged to have something for everyone. This includes vegans, vegetarians, diabetics, the pregnant and those nursing, the gluten intolerant, and those who do not eat pork or shellfish. 
  4. Set a beautiful table. Be creative. Check Pinterest. 
  5. Serve the meal in stages and take your time.  After you take a guest's coat and introduce them, offer them something to drink. We offer things like Perrier, Pellegrino, and club soda. With a sit down meal you can control how fast the courses come out. With a buffet you can do the same the as the dishes go onto and off the buffet table. 
  6. Its a party! Have several courses. Consider appetizers, a fancy salad (with multiple dressings on the side) , main dish, side dish, always a fruit platter with cheese, and at least one dessert. It is fair to have both cake and pie. I usually omit bread, rolls, rice and potatoes. Why ? Because dessert. 
  7. Consider a culinary theme like Mexican, Japanese, Italian, you name it. Rehearse your recipes ahead of time if need be. Do not perform culinary experiments on your guests.  
  8. Go ahead and have a rich fancy dessert. However, be sure to have something savory to go with it, such as cheese. Many people feel poorly with they have a big serving of sweets without anything to buffer it. Always offer coffee and tea afterwards. Be sure to have attractive decaf coffee and tea options. 
  9. Have enough predesignated helpers before, during and afterwards. Make sure no one person is burdened with cleanup. Even a pair of buddies in the kitchen washing dishes can be fun. 
  10. Be confident and know that it does not have to be perfect. Send invitations at least two weeks in advance, and plan the details of the event at least one week in advance and you will be fine !