Are you guys fans of throwing dinner parties? I absolutely LOVE having people over for dinner. Mike, on the other hand, isn’t such a fan. He thinks I get a little too crazy with the prep and planning. So I’ve started to scale it back and throw more casual get togethers. I get to cook, friends and family get to eat, and everyone’s happy.
Back when I first started throwing real “grown-up” dinner parties, I actually did kind of go all out. I’d make ten thousand dishes, freak out when people didn’t arrive on time (the food was getting cold!) and generally be a mess. It was enjoyable, but not enjoyable, you know? Now, I’m much more forgiving on myself and on my guests. Show up whenever, because usually what I’m serving is something that isn’t time sensitive.
One of my favorite things to do is make a main dish that tastes even better the next day – think braises, stews, or certain meaty pasta sauces. Un-time sensitive things let you concentrate on your guests instead of worrying if the food is done perfectly or not. Braises are incredibly forgiving and they taste amazing. Here I did up a giant pot roast with Vietnamese flavors. I shredded up the meat and put it in the middle of the table along side garnishes for a DIY style taco party.
DIY or assemble it yourself (salad rolls, noodle bowls, takoyaki) dinner parties are absolutely the best. Everyone gets to customize things to their own taste and plus, it’s super fun and hands on. It takes the pressure off plating everything perfectly and really just lets you sit back and enjoy the company. Speaking of enjoying company, are you the type to start washing up while guests are still over or do you just move everything to the kitchen to be dealt with later?
It used to drive me crazy – I would want to start cleaning up as soon as everyone was done eating, but I quickly realized that cleaning kind of made people feel like they had to pitch in and help, which was totally not my intention. I think I picked up that bad habit from my mom – she hates letting dirty dishes sit around.
Funny story about my mom and just about every Asian mom I know out there. Dishwashers are not machines. Nope, dishwashers are your sons and daughters or may be even your son’s and daughter’s friends. Whenever my mom hosts a big party, someone always gets roped into doing the dishes, even though she has a perfectly good dishwasher just waiting to be loaded up. She’ll just use the dishwasher as some sort of giant drying rack.
And the funny thing is, I did too, until Mike and I moved in together. He told me it was ridiculous to wash a giant load of dishes by hand (plus sometimes you end up using more soap and water than the dishwasher). It took a little while, but I’m totally a convert now. My least favorite chore isn’t so bad when I load everything into the dishwasher and pop in a little Cascade Platinum pod. It makes cleaning up so much easier. Now if only there was a machine to load the dishes into the dishwasher…
I’ll keep dreaming about that! In the mean time, here are some tips on throwing a successful dinner party:
- Make something that can reheat easily and isn’t time sensitive: a casserole, braise, or even just a bunch of ingredients that can be put together as a dish at the table.
- A little DIY action never hurt anyone. People love customizing their own meals, so put them to work – they can assemble their own bowls, tacos, or even sushi rolls.
- Starters and desserts are best when simple. Who doesn’t love a cheese plate or fresh fruit? Also, starters and desserts are generally what people offer to bring over. When people ask if they can bring something, let them!
- Don’t sweat the clean up, either before or after. Tidy up a bit, but don’t go all crazy and shampoo your carpet. Also, don’t forget, the dishwasher and Cascade Platinum are your friends – they want to help!
Vietnamese Braised Beef Taco Recipe
- 2 1/2 lb boneless chuck roast cut into 2-3 inch pieces
- salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1 tablespoon oil
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 shallots, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 3 carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
- 1 1/2 cups crushed tomatoes
- 3 cups low-sodium beef stock
- 3 whole star anise
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 teaspoon five spice
- 2 teaspoons brown sugar
- 1 bay leaf
- 1-2 tablespoons fish sauce, or to taste
- tortilla shells
- sliced green onions
- roughly chopped cilantro
- sliced shallots
- sliced jalapeños
Preheat the oven to 325°F.
Season all sides of the pieces of beef generously with salt and pepper. In a dutch oven, heat up the oil over medium-high heat. Deeply brown the beef in batches, making sure to brown all sides. Remove from the pan and set aside. If the pan is dry, add a touch of oil. Add the onions, shallots, and garlic and cook, stirring, until slightly soft, about 3 minutes. Add the carrots and beef to the pot, as well as the tomatoes, beef stock, star anise, cinnamon stick, five spice, brown sugar, bay leaf, and fish sauce. Bring up to a gentle simmer, cover and place in the oven to braise until the beef is fork tender, 2 1/2 to 3 hours.
Remove the cinnamon stick, star anise and bay leaf from the pot and discard. Remove the beef from the sauce and shred with two forks. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Return the meat to the sauce. (At this point, you can refrigerate if desired. Reheat over medium-low heat, stirring often. Add a touch of beef stock if dry).
Serve the meat with charred tortillas, sliced shallots, cilantro, green onions, and jalapeños. This also tastes excellent tossed with pasta or over potatoes.
PS – How awesome is the light in the lead photo? I’m loving the late evening sun!
PPS – Also, yes, this is a sponsored post, but seriously, yesterday Mike loaded the dishwasher (my hero :)) with a regular pod and our dishes weren’t as clean as using Cascade Platinum. I was like, *insert swear word* this stuff works!