Despite my hectic schedule, I make room to host friends and family at my home at least once a week. Most often it’s on a small scale, but sometimes I’ll have a big party just for the heck of it. I mean, why not? Taking care of my friends and family (especially by feeding them) is one of my favourite ways to spend time together. I guess you could say I’m kind of the ‘mom’ of the crew, but hopefully a ‘cool mom’, to quote Amy Poehler’s character in Mean Girls.
Whenever I chat to friends and acquaintances about my schedule and my plans to host a dinner party, they almost always ask me how I juggle it all, and manage to plan a party in between running three different businesses. Well, I won’t lie, it can get stressful, but with the right tricks and organization, you can be prepared and have fun alongside your guests.
Since my boyfriend and I had been talking about having a big summer BBQ party in our garden for ages, we decided to finally set a date and start spreading the word. I had recently come back from a trip to Mexico where I was shooting the new episodes of Style Jaunt, and was inspired to create a menu based on my recent travels.
It was in perfect timing that just as we had decided to host a little taco fiesta at #CasaGC that Cascade asked me to share how I host a dinner party, and see just how easy the clean up can be with their help. Since I had already been regularly using Cascade pods in my dishwasher, I thought things could only get better with the help of their new Cascade Platinum product. Keep reading to for more on How to Host a Dinner Party 101 with Cascade Platinum:
Outside of clothing, shoes, and bags, the only thing I really “collect” as an adult are cookbooks. In fact, my collection is getting a little out of control at this point, and my books can be found all over the house. I’m literally addicted to buying them! But I can’t help it, they help me shut off from the internet when I relax.
Before any dinner party – sometimes even before I’ve decided to invite anybody over for that matter – I sit down at home and grab a pile of cookbooks to browse through. For some reason I find it relaxing to flip through my favourite books and find inspiration between the pages to create a delicious menu for my guests. It just so happens that such pre-party preparation has proven to be extremely helpful to stay organized .
One of the newest additions to my collection is Ina Garten’s Make It Ahead, which I picked up for obvious reasons. Anything I can make ahead makes my life easier on game day! Since my general approach to hosting dinner parties is far more casual and relaxed from what’s normally associated with the formalities that go along with a dinner party, I was compelled to share 5 out of 10 of Ina’s 10 make-ahead tips for parties that I actually find useful for the everyday dinner party, big or small:
1. A week ahead, instead of keeping everything in your head, write down a game plan for both the week and the day of the party.
2. A week ahead, shop for the pantry ingredients. Shop for the fresh ingredients the day before the party.
3. Up to a few days ahead, prep as many ingredients as possible and store them in plastic bags in the fridge.
4. A day ahead, pull the platters and serving pieces you’ll need and place Post-it notes on each one to remind yourself which food goes where.
5. Before the party, run the dishwasher and empty it so you’re ready for the cleanup afterward.
Since prominent Canadian Chef, Michael Smith, is the current spokesperson for Cascade Platinum, I was lucky enough to get my hands on a copy of his cookbook, Family Meals. As previously mentioned, I like to host often and I like to keep things casual and ‘family style’ for the most part. For this reason, I tend to gravitate more towards books such as Chef Michael’s as they’re more down-to-earth, relatable, and easily achievable in the kitchen. It was easy to find a number of recipes in the book that would work for my up-coming taco party, such as Chef Michael’s recipes for tasty Street Tacos (pg. 143), No-Cook Spice-Mashed Black Bean Lettuce Wraps (pg.36), and Pickle Salad with Pickle Dressing (pg. 67).
While yes, I do appreciate a fancy sit-down dinner with place cards and all as much as the next person, the reason I emphasize letting go of how you’re “supposed to host a dinner party” in the traditional sense, is because I’ve learned over the years that, at the end of the day, friends and family care most about spending time with you and others in a relaxed environment. Of course, having plenty of great food and drinks on hand always helps!
Taco parties are a no-brainer when it comes to hosting a bigger crowd since most of the prep can be done in advance, and everyone always loves them. Even Chef Michael‘s recipe for Street Tacos involves throwing everything in a slow cooker hours ahead so you don’t have to think about it all day – easy!
In fact, instead of trying to assemble perfect little tacos for everyone attending, I simply laid out all of the ingredients on my dining room table and let everyone help themselves and assemble the tacos as they pleased, all night long. This is especially great during the summer when everyone prefers to head outdoors, rather than stay inside.
What’s nice about this casual setting is that, although things may not be personalized, everyone can customize their own meal to their liking which can often make things easier on everyone. It can also cut down on dishes, since, as you can see from the photos above, I often choose to set down the cooking ware in which the dishes were cooked in – a tip I’ve picked up from the one and only Jamie Oliver.
Although I took a laid-back approach to our taco party, I still found easy ways to create a memorable experience. In this case, I decided to create a speciality cocktail for the party – a Pineapple and Basil Margarita with Casamigos Tequila inspired by a cocktail I had in Sayulita, Mexico. To please the crowd quickly, I served the cocktail in a pitcher for quick pours that could get everyone filled up fast.
Like most people, I find the most challenging part of hosting any party to be the clean up. In fact, it tends to bring on a face so unamused that I resemble the look of my cat, Emmy, below. Not impressed at all, to say the least.
Still, the clean up is part of the job when you host a dinner party, and there are ways you can make it easier on yourself. In fact, Chef Michael shared some great tips ‘For a Dinner Party That Sparkles’ on behalf of Cascade Platinum which naturally includes how to stay on top of your dishes and clean up. Here are 3 of my favourite tips from Chef Michael to help you manage the mess:
1. Spend Time To Save Time
Prep as much as you can in advance – from food to your table. Smart preparation will allow you to spend more time with your guests.
2. Clean As You Go
Get the mess out of the way, and load the dishwasher as yo prepare dinner. With Cascade Platinum, you don’t need to worry about pre-rinsing – it will clean stuck on food in one wash.
3. Share The Work
Many hands make light work. After the main meal and before dessert, encourage everybody to pitch in with clean up.
#3 is something that I personally have to work on. Whenever I have guests over I never want them to lift a finger since I believe they’re over to relax and have a good time. However, sometimes you do just need to accept help, and I know how much time and stress it has saved me when I’ve actually said ‘Yes’ to a friend’s offer to help me clean up.
I think that both Ina and Chef Michael offer great advice when they say to make sure you run and unload the dishwasher before your dinner party, and make sure your glasses and dishes are all sparkling clean with help from Cascade Platinum. There is nothing that irks me more than going to set the table and pulling out dishes with the last meal still stuck to it, or cloudy glasses. Since I did about 10 cycles in my mini dishwasher pre and post taco party, I can say – with confidence – that the Cascade Platinum pods really do what they promise. Dishes come out sparkling clean and smooth as can be – ready to be put away, or laid out all over again for another party.
I hope these tips will inspire you to host your own dinner party for your friends and family this summer! Remember, the most important rule is to have FUN! Even if that means saying ‘screw it’ and ordering a pizza for everyone.