TIME Food & Drink

How to Prepare for a Dinner Party

Gather round the table for a relaxed and cozy dinner party

  • Casual Dinner Party

    Christopher Testani

    Family-style meals create an instant mood of intimacy. This menu brings comfort, elegance, and ease to the table. First up, we have a stunning roasted salmon. We couldn’t get over how delicious and silky-rich this salmon is, or how foolproof the recipe is.

    Don’t be thrown off by the total time it requires: Think of it instead as a great make-ahead dish, where all you have to do the night of the gathering is pop the fish in the oven for a short time. What you’re doing in step 1 is making homemade crème fraîche. It’s easy to do; it just takes some time. We love the creamy texture and luscious tang of homemade, but you can substitute purchased crème fraîche or full-fat sour cream. Look for a 3-pound side of salmon with even thickness. Avoid the thin tail end and buy two thicker (1½-pound) pieces if you need to. The dill sauce will keep in the fridge for up to one week.

    View Recipe: Roasted Salmon with Dill, Capers, and Horseradish

  • Beet, Farro, and Watercress Salad with Fig Vinaigrette

    Christopher Testani

    This salad is simply chock-full of all kinds of good stuff–sweet, tender beets; the crisp snap of zucchini; fennel’s anise crunch; and chewy-tender farro. You can make it up to two days ahead; just leave out the watercress until shortly before serving.

    View Recipe: Beet, Farro, and Watercress Salad with Fig Vinaigrette

  • Roasted Asparagus and Baby Artichokes

    Christopher Testani

    To get a head start, prepare the recipe through step 2 up to two days in advance. Shortly before serving, place asparagus on pan with roasted asparagus, and proceed with step 3.

    View Recipe: Roasted Asparagus and Baby Artichokes

  • Creamed Onion Casserole

    Christopher Testani

    Here’s a dish of straightforward comfort, a crave-worthy combo of softened onions and leeks in a creamy sauce. Make the dish through step 2 up to a day ahead, and then reheat the next day in the baking dish.

    View Recipe: Creamed Onion Casserole

  • Strawberry Tart with Quinoa-Almond Crust

    Christopher Testani

    Chef Khalil Hymore introduced us to the idea of a crunchy quinoa crust with a savory tart he developed for us; we take the notion to a sweet place here. The tart holds well overnight, so make it the day before, and serve chilled right from the refrigerator.

    View Recipe: Strawberry Tart with Quinoa-Almond Crust

  • The Game Plan

    Brian Woodcock

    Up to 5 Days Ahead
    • Make sauce for salmon

    Up to 2 Days Ahead
    • Make salad (add watercress just before serving)
    • Roast artichokes

    Up to 1 Day Ahead
    • Make casserole, minus panko topping
    • Make strawberry tart
    • Spread topping on salmon

    An Hour Ahead
    • Bake casserole with panko topping

    20 Minutes Before Serving
    • Roast asparagus with preroasted artichokes on bottom oven rack
    • Roast salmon on top oven rack

    This article originally appeared on Cooking Light.

    More from Cooking Light:

  • Wine to Pour

    Christopher Testani

    Luckily, these recipes pair beautifully with both white and red varietals, so there will be something to please all guests. To bring together all the menu’s springy “green” flavors, try a grassy, citrusy sauvignon blanc. For a red wine, try a Beaujolais. Light in body, it won’t clash with the menu’s vegetables while embracing the sweeter flavors of salmon and onions. —Jordan Mackay

  • Passover-Friendly

    With a few simple swaps, you can make this menu work for a casual Passover gathering with friends.

    Salad: Omit farro; either replace the farro with quinoa, or double the watercress for a straight-vegetable salad.

    Salmon: Omit the sauce; the fish is so flavor-packed, it can stand alone.

    Casserole: Replace butter with oil. Sub vegetable stock for milk, and use 3 tablespoons potato starch in place of flour. Use matzo meal in place of panko.

    Artichokes: Replace butter with flavorful extra-virgin olive oil.

    Dessert: Sub in Sponge Cake with Orange Curd and Strawberries.

  • Tips for a Great Casual Party

    Photo Courtesy of Ann Taylor Pittman

    Three party tips from our Executive Food Editor Ann Taylor Pittman:

    1. Share the Menu: Guests appreciate knowing what delights are coming their way. At my house, I scribble the menu in chalk on my pantry doors, which are painted with chalkboard paint. At your house, you can simply print a few copies of the menu on card stock and scatter them around the table.

  • 2. Personalize Wherever Possible

    Jennifer Causey

    Nothing makes guests feel more cared for than little touches specifically catered to them. Make a playlist featuring their favorite artists or songs; set out little party flavors like these Berry Lemonade Bars labeled with each guest’s name; or simply decorate by arranging one bloom of a different type of flower at each place setting.

  • 3. Make More than Enough

    Christopher Testani

    This menu is designed to serve 8 people. If you end up with 10, though, don’t assume that these amounts will work for that many people. Nothing kills the joy of a party faster than running out of food (or drink, for that matter).

    But be careful when scaling up; it’s often tricky to do by small amounts. For example, if serving 10 people, I advise making one and a half times each recipe in this menu. (Just multiply each ingredient amount by 1.5.) you may have leftovers, but you’d rather have that than the alternative.

    One exception: Don’t attempt to make half a tart. Either cut smaller wedges to get 10 slightly smaller servings, or make a second tart. (You can enjoy a slice as a breakfast treat the next day.)

    This article originally appeared on Cooking Light.

    More from Cooking Light:

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