The Secret To A Successful Dinner Party Is A Big Pot of Food and Dessert

September 25, 2007 | By | COMMENTS

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Friends, I’ve made a discovery. If you want a fun evening of food, camaraderie, and drinking, you needn’t fuss over a really lavish dinner. You need only do two things: (1) make a nifty, crowd-pleasing dessert; and (2) prepare a big, simmering pot of something delicious.

For example, a few weeks ago I made a giant pot of chili. I used this recipe which is pretty killer. Here’s the big pot of chili:

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And here’s the spread of chips, sour cream, cheese and green onions:

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It may not look like much, but this spontaneous party proved to be WAY more fun than the parties where I attempted to cook something difficult. Everyone showed up, the chili was ready, I made a dessert earlier in the day (the rosemary olive oil cake from the back of the Babbo cookbook) and we had a blast. There was beer, there was wine, big bowls of chili, and dessert. Afterwards we watched clips from the MTV Video Music Awards and had a fierce debate about Britney Spears and the paparazzi. What more could you want?

A similar spirit informed the first dinner I cooked for both Craig and Diana after Craig’s big return; Mark Bittman’s tomato paella:

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It was another big dish that fed us mighty well and there was leftover apple pie for dessert. Look how bent over with joy these two are:

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Then, the other night, there were four of us for dinner so I made the Arroz con Pollo from last month’s Gourmet–another big pot of goodness, please excuse the dirty stovetop:

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The crowd was pleased and buzzed from the Spanish wine the guests done brought. Dessert, meanwhile, was interactive. I wanted to make the coconut rum cake from that same issue of Gourmet, but I was having trouble cracking the coconut. Diana gave it a go:

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But it was Craig who was victorious, look how smug he is:

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The finished cake made everyone swoon:

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The cake had 4 eggs, 3 egg yolks, with 3/4 a cup of cream of coconut brushed on afterwards so it was really rich. The icing also had cream of coconut plus rum, so the flavor was zippy and exciting. Look how much we ate in just one sitting:

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The whole thing was gone by the next day.

And so, in conclusion, my theory stands firm: to please a crowd, just make a big pot of something good and dessert. That’s all you need. No salads, no appetizers, no side dishes, no bread. I mean, you CAN have all those things but they’re not necessary. By keeping it simple, you can have fun too and that provides the single most important ingredient for a successful evening: a happy host. If the host is happy, everyone will be happy.

And drinking helps too.

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  • http://www.obsessionwithfood.com Derrick Schneider

    Dinner with just two courses? How is such a thing possible? What of the amuse-bouches? The cheese course?

    I feel like the computer in that old Star Trek episode, trapped by a logical impossibility until I short-circuit.

  • http://kellytheculinarian.blogspot.com Kelly Mahoney

    Great tips. I’ve noticed that the discussion rarely has anything to do with my fabulous, tediously prepared dinner!

  • http://whatkimate.co.nz Thomas Beagle

    Yep, I entirely agree with you. We’ve been having regular Wednesday night dinenrs for a while, and I’ve wanted it to be more about the friends and chatting than slaving over the stove.

    I also suggest a ‘first course’ of appetisers to nibble on while people arrive (and to help with the drinking). For tonight’s dinner we’re going to have chilli olives, dolmathes, lumps of feta, and grapes.

  • teddyb

    I love me some AG. But I have two humble requests.

    1) can you get the naked behind ad off the homepage (cleanishappy.com)? Its presence makes it impossible to read the website at work, and 2) clean your stove top. Thanks man, do either of these things, and I’ll buy the book this weekend.

  • AJK

    I second the request for no more naked butt. It’s really awful to look at while reading about food!

  • AJK

    I second the request for no more naked butt. It’s really awful to look at while reading about food!

  • AJK

    I second the request for no more naked butt. It’s really awful to look at while reading about food!

  • http://www.nighteditor.blogspot.com Night Editor

    I heartily endorse the request for no more naked butt. It’s a nice butt but disconcerting to have right next to a big dish of something good.

    Also, and I may be the only one, with your web redesign all second pages from “Read More” clicks have the left sidebars overprinting much of your main text, at least on my PC. Thanks. And congrats on your new book.

  • wonders

    MMMMmmmMmmmm that pot of chilli looks so yummy! I’m not a big bean fan so I’d take the beans out. That coconut cake is making me salivate…it would kill my diet though :( lols

  • http://fingerineverypie.typepad.com Julie

    This approach has always made sense to me too — somehow I’m not always capable of it. I’d planned to make a really simple one-pot dish for company tomorrow — an Asian-style noodle/soup/bowl with chicken, soba noodles, bok choy — but now it’s starting to get complicated, since I decided that we need to start with those Thai shrimp fritters Amanda Hesser posted a couple of weeks ago, and then I really have to make a dessert with fresh seasonal fruit AND chocolate — pears Belle Helene…and can I really serve dinner without a salad? So you see some of us start with the less-is-more theory, and then get dragged into more-and-more-and-more by our own food insanity.

    But it really is a refreshing approach. Sometimes you need a feast, like at the end of your book — and sometimes you just need to keep it simple.

  • http://blogs.roanoke.com/fridgemagnet/ Lindsey

    Hey Adam, thanks for promoting the one pot meal. Especially since as the weather gets cooler and chili, soup and stew season is in high gear! I made potato soup for the finale of 24 last year and all of my 24 geek friends came over and had soup w/ crumbled bacon, cheese, scallions and sour cream on top.

    By the way, I see the difficulty you had with the coconut. May I suggest doubling plastic grocery store bags, putting the coconut inside and then swinging it and whacking it on some concrete or another hard surface? Seems to be easier that way for me.

  • http://chewonthatblog.com Hillary

    Cracking open coconuts is so much fun! I one time invited people over to do that at my apartment, haha. I may have been the only one to enjoy it though, and the people on the floor below us sure didn’t.

  • MichaelG

    Hey, I see a bottle of Marques de Caceres on the table. What does that cost in New York? I paid $9,49 at Safeway the other day. I enjoy your blog. Keep it up. The secret to a party is always the people. Good food helps — a lot. You’re right. It’s time to think about making chili.

  • MichaelG

    Whoops! That Safeway is in Sacramento, CA. So am I.

  • http://brooklyncat.blogspot.com/ BrooklynCat

    The photo of Arroz con Pollo is particularly appealing! Tomato paella looks so pretty too.

    I agree with the other readers saying the toilet ad doesn’t quite belong next to a food picture. Firefox with the “AdBlock” extension works wonderfully in filtering out that image – and any ads on any sites you’re tired of seeing. Give it a try.

  • Katelyn

    Four words: Red beans and rice!!! Now that’s a crowd-pleasing pot of simmering goodness. Cheap, moan-inducingly delicious, and makes your whole apartment smell awesome for the day. Then, red velvet cake to finish… *swoon*

  • http://www.judithgreenwood.com/thinkonit/ Judith in Umbria

    My autumn/winter vote goes to braised something (goose, duck, pork ribs, short ribs, lamb shoulder?) done Italian style with polenta. Polenta gives me a warm belly sensation of wellness. With all the vegetables that go into Italian braising, there’s not a lot of reason for extras. A bottle or three of farm wine, and as you say, a dessert. Life is good.

  • Marti

    So… From whence came that absolutely delicious looking coconut cake? I see it… and I must have it.