When I was 19 and still didn’t know how to cook properly, I never imagined that one day I would absolutely love cooking and hosting dinner parties for my family and friends. Let alone helping other people host their parties.
But life is full of (delicious) surprises.
The truth is that it all started with a few simple recipes that even a beginner like me could follow easily and of course I was hungry for ideas and cooking tips I could use for my recipes. This slowly developed into a full-blown passion.
Being able to surprise others with delicious meals became a passion of mine shortly after I married Gus. Most of us and I’m definitely one, love to do something special for those we love. In my case, it’s food.
Hosting a dinner party doesn’t have to mean turning your life upside down or feeling the pressure of a Master Chef competition where every detail of your dish is carefully analysed.
I think that hosting a party is all about making your guests feel at home. If they feel comfortable, you can relax and have a great time as well.
As I don’t believe in keeping recipes or tips and tricks all for myself, I want to share with you all the ins and outs of hosting a dinner party, everything I learned from my own experience as a host.
Hosting a dinner party should be a fun experience
I have to admit that every time I have to host a party, preparation will become my mantra for the following days until the dinner. Once I know that every detail is scheduled and planned for in advance, I feel more at ease and even more excited to start cooking.
Whoever visits my house during this time will see my fridge and pantry bulging with all the ingredients I need for the food I’m preparing. The day before the dinner party is usually the most intensive one cooking-wise: I’ll share my time between what needs to be cooked in the oven and what can go on the stove.
I generally like to cook on my own—one cook in the kitchen is more than enough. The only help I enjoy receiving is when it comes to making sure that everyone has something to drink. That’s Gus’ job. He’ll make sure that all our guests stay hydrated the entire evening – this way, I can focus on setting the dishes on the table and finishing up any last-minute minor details.
If someone were to ask me what recipes are my go-to for a dinner party, I’d most likely choose my family’s favourites as they are the ones I tested the most and I know they’ll taste delicious. My husband and my two boys are the best food judges one can have and they don’t mind having this task either.
Among these must-cook dinner party recipes, I would include lamb pastries, cheese pastries, and Hummus fatteh as appetisers, spicy chicken chops, Arabian spicy nut rice, Baked baby eggplants with tahini and pine nuts and of course, my super herb salad for the main course. For dessert, my cream-filled orange blossom semolina cakes and shaybiyat pastries are always a hit among most of my guests.
I like to serve the food buffet-style as this allows guests to take a bit of everything very easily. Offering this freedom to your guests is one of the things that makes them feel more at home and more willing to go for seconds without feeling watched. Also, I like the table decorations to be minimal, a few olive branches (my favourite tree) here and there will do the trick.
Most of my dinner parties highlight the Middle Eastern cultural customs I grew up with at home. I think it’s important to keep family traditions alive and share them with your dear ones. That’s exactly what I try to do with cooking—sharing a part of your own culture with your guests feels like a gift in itself.
When it comes to that one great party planning trick that every host should have, the only thing I recommend is to enjoy yourself. The time you spend with your guests, be them family and/or friends, is extremely valuable and shouldn’t be overshadowed by you constantly worrying about the unwashed dishes that start piling up in the sink.
Another thing I can share with you—that is not necessarily a trick—is to stick to simple recipes. There’s no need to overcomplicate yourself with a recipe that has a dozen steps that take you a whole afternoon to follow. By cooking simple dishes, you can save yourself time and focus better on the taste and presentation of the food.
Talking of simple recipes, there’s nothing easier than putting together a cheese board for your guests. They’re perfect for any gathering – be it an army of people or just a couple of close friends. Also, if you and your guests are part of the cheese lovers club, know that a cheese platter will be just the thing to delight your senses with its sweet and salty combinations.
If I were to name a person who inspired me the most when it comes to hosting parties, it would be my mother. We were quite a big family—I’m one of 7 children—and my mum had to feed us all and take care of the house at the same time. I am forever going to remember the care and love she put into making all those delicious meals for us.
Also, I can’t forget my mum’s dedication when an important holiday was coming and she had to prepare everything to the smallest of details. Of course, everything was perfect when the day of the celebration came and she made every guest feel welcome and at ease. Mums are magical, as you already know.
Remembering my mother simply acing these celebration meals is also what motivates me to carry on the legacy of home cooking in my own household. I think of all the holidays, Eid is the most important for my family. Eid for us is similar to Christmas celebrations around the world.
To make the most of the time spent together, it makes sense to prepare a simplified dinner menu with a main dish and delicious garnish, lots of easy-to-do appetisers, and signature dessert recipes. You can check out here my version of a simple Christmas Dinner Menu (with a Middle Eastern Twist, of course).
Anyone can be a great host
There’s no doubt about this. Even if you’re a beginner in the kitchen, you can host a beautiful dinner party for your friends.
Last but not least, don’t forget to check out my Ultimate Party Planning Checklist, which will help you better organise yourself and save you from unnecessary stress.
Remember: cooking is all about learning on the go and having fun at the same time. If you feel unsure of how something should taste/look, ask your family, your friends, that nice old lady that is your neighbour. Cooking is also about the community.
Don’t hesitate to go and steal food inspiration from my blog – all my recipes have step-by-step instructions and photos for each stage.
Enjoy your party, everyone!