Like many couples their age (31), Mike and Courtney Raff feel like they don't have the experience or the skills to cook for a crowd. "I joke that I was raised on Chinese food and pizza," Courtney says.
Art Smith, who was raised on Southern home cooking, is on the case, ready to tutor the Raffs on preparing and serving a dinner party for eight. His first piece of entertaining advice? "Think de-stress, not impress."
According to Art, if you're cooking for a crowd, ditch the sit-down dinner. It's just not a very welcoming way to entertain (unless the occasion is formal, and you have help). "Serving family-style or buffet-style is a sign of love," Art says.
Spruce up your spread by covering a table, island or buffet with colorful table runners and flower-filled vases. Candles are always a nice touch too.
Art likes to start a dinner party with easy-to-assemble appetizers like Salmon Carpaccio
, chilled, thinly sliced fish with an herb coating served with cream.
When cutting the salmon, Art says specialty knives are overrated. "I'd rather have two excellent knives than a set of bad ones," he says. His favorites are a three-and-a-half-inch LamsonSharp parer for peeling, dicing and slicing; and a seven-inch Kullenschliff Sankotu knife for fish, chicken and larger vegetables.
Make things easy on yourself! Start the party off with trays of simple hors d'oeuvres that don't require a lot of preparation time, like olives, almonds and homemade pickles.
Placing these tasty treats on trays makes it easier for your guests to pass them among themselves, giving you more time to enjoy your party!
For your guests who aren't counting carbs, try an assortment of breads (think flatbreads, rustic breads, crackers, etc.) served with herb butter. It makes a great accompaniment to the meal, as well as an attractive addition to the buffet.
Instead of a full bar, Art recommends offering guests a single drink choice, like this Frozen Tropical Fruit Martini
. For perfect frozen drinks he freezes the ingredients in a Teflon pan, then mixing it all up in his beloved Viking blender. "I use a blender for everything!" Art says.
If you do choose to serve wine with dinner, Art suggests decanting it into pretty carafes and letting the guests pour for themselves—that's what he does at Oprah's house.
Mike and Courtney thought they were prepared for anything Art could throw at them—until he wanted them to make Pickled Vegetables
Art's method isn't the all day extravaganza you might expect. The Raffs pickled baby carrots, celery and cucumbers in a mixture of white balsamic vinegar and spices, then refrigerated them for a few hours. That's it! Delicious appetizers don't get much easier than that!
After your guests have dined like royalty at your dinner party, treat them to a light, healthy dessert. After all that delicious food, they're probably ready for a sweet treat, so restock the buffet with fruit sorbets, fresh berries, and for a touch of decadence, rich chocolate brownies.
With Art's help, the Raffs have assembled a mouth-watering menu for their party, including Chicken Parmesan with Artichokes
, Scalloped Potatoes with Pesto
, and an Arugula Salad with Avocados, Oranges and Parmesan. This couple is now confident, capable, and ready to entertain!