Plan a Potluck

A potluck is the antithesis of fancy. Instead of a virtuoso performance by a kitchen goddess, it requires a communal effort by a group of friends. If the people you know like to cook, such a party is a great way to share the effort—the shopping, chopping and pot scrubbing.

When planning a potluck, your job is to make certain that you do not wind up with 12 baguettes for dinner and nothing else. Divide the meal into categories—appetizer, drink, salad, vegetable, bread, fruit, dessert—and assign one (or more) to each guest. Be clear but not controlling. Do not, for example, tell your neighbor to bring the exact white bean salad that appears on page such and such of a certain cookbook.

One very nice bonus of a potluck is that it allows you to splurge on great ingredients. You might not spring for a whole tenderloin of beef if you are also providing appetizers, wine, side dishes and dessert for your guests. But $100 doesn't seem so extravagant when it's the sum total of your tab.

The other hidden benefit is that your guests will feel invested in the outcome of the party. Instead of showing up wanting to be fed and entertained, they will arrive prepared to contribute to the meal's success and there's no better way to ensure that everyone has a great time.

The Menu

You supply:
Grilled tenderloin of beef with fresh herb vinaigrette

Guests bring:
  • Vegetables for grilling
  • Bread and cheese
  • Tossed green salad
  • White bean or grain salad
  • Fresh fruit
  • Dessert
  • White and red wine
  • Soda, water, juice
  • Beer

Cocktail Party

Throw a Cocktail Party

Lively and short—it may not be what you're looking for in a mate, but it's a good guideline for a cocktail party.

For "lively," you need to invite plenty of people, since a cocktail party should have a nicely buzzing kind of energy. There's no magic number of guests; it depends on the personalities and the space. Fifteen may feel crowded and boisterous; 40 may feel sparse. You just don't want it to feel empty.

"Short" means set a beginning and an end time—4 to 6, say. This makes it easier for guests to commit, and for you to say goodbye graciously when the mood starts to wane.

The Menu

Buffet Lunch

Welcome Friends to a Buffet Lunch

Host a buffet—but do it at noon, when appetites are smaller and expectations lower (it's not hard to outshine a tuna sandwich, after all). And since lunchtime conversations naturally tend toward thoughtful exchanges rather than raucous anecdotes, a small guest list feels just fine.

The food—fresh gazpacho, salmon with corn salsa, pound cake—can all be made ahead and served at room temperature, so you don't have to greet your friends with a wooden spoon in hand, onion bits in your hair and something burning in the background.

The meal is colorful, too, allowing you to keep table decorations to a minimum; a handful of flowers and a pretty tablecloth are more than enough.

A midday party feels particularly indulgent because it allows your guests to pause and savor good food and pleasant conversation at the exact time of day when they are usually at their busiest. This kind of party is an especially generous gift for you, the newly confident host, to offer your by now growing list of well-fed admirers.

The Menu

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