Things really slow down in the winter. It is a time for more intimate occasions and a little more thought must go into the planning. Winter is the perfect time to make food well in advance. Slow cooked recipes are great to make the day before a party, allowing all the flavors set-up and deepen. That frees you up to address other party planning issues like table setting and decor.
Setting up a self service wine bar will make hosting easier.
Winter is the time to pull out the good china if you have any. Why not use some of those precious things you would not consider bringing outdoors. Sometimes I have a party just to use a special bowl that I end up planning a menu around. These are not quick tips. Cooking and entertaining are a lot of work and there is no getting around it. The idea is to make the work pleasurable. Use your prettiest dishes, who cares if your set does not match? My dessert plates are a complete mishmash of everything from fine Limoge porcelain to a cherished plastic Batman plate.
I don't think twice about presenting them at the table together (especially by dessert time when everyone is full, happy and a little tipsy perhaps!).
Recently tried recipes have worked really well for me this winter. The collard greens and black-eyed peas were VERY good the next day when I served them. The color was dulled down, but the flavor was UP UP UP. It emerged from the pot rich and deep and very satisfying.
The butternut squash soup with chilies and green apple also improved overnight. One guest commented that the flavor wanted to get sweet, but then pulled back to spicy. That is the kind of complexity in a dish that you are going for.
Part of the fun of a dinner party is trying different wines.
Olga's raw kale salad is another dish that needs to be made in advance. Full disclosure here. I tried to make this salad and was still perplexed by the results. I asked a few friends to sample my efforts and the responses ran the gamut from yeah to nay. My conclusion is that it will definitely appeal to some and perhaps not so much for others. I suspect that Olga's own version is far superior to mine, so I will leave it to her, with much appreciation for her contribution!
Here is what I did:
The acid bath- I used my purple basil vinegar, some dried chilies, garlic cloves and coriander seeds and sweetened it with some simple syrup. I heated this in a small pot for a few minutes to develop the flavors.
The hardware- Chopped kale, sliced cukes, sundried tomatoes, sliced lemons, mint, & arugula. The cucumbers tasted great but the kale remained chewy even after four days of marinating.
Entertaining friends and family is the sweet part of life. Don't be afraid to take on a dinner party or two this winter. People LOVE to be cooked for and it is such a nice way for us to slow down and savor our blessings.