Collegiette Eats: How to Host a Dinner Party

Sick of eating cereal and ramen for lunch and dinner? Want to spend less money eating out and finally start cooking for yourself? Put down that frozen pizza, because HC’s Health Editor, Sammie Levin, is here to share her daily eats so you can get ideas for healthy, satisfying meals that are easy enough for any time-strapped collegiette to make. After you read Collegiette Eats, your taste buds, wallet and waistline will thank you.

Last night, my housemates and I hosted a dinner party with a few of our friends. I was in charge of the meal-planning and cooking, which turned out to be a bigger production than I expected. It's hard enough to cook for eight people, let alone do it in a dollhouse-sized kitchen with minimal serving utensils. Now I have a better idea of how my mom must've felt every time she hosted people or made big holiday meals for the family. I pretty much wanted everyone to bow down to me after finishing the meal, so now I know why my mom got pissed whenever my brother and I didn't thank her for dinner. 

There were a few things I think I did right last night, and a few I should have done differently, so I compiled a list of five tips for hosting a dinner party below. But, first, let's talk about the food. 

Appetizers

  • Grilled French bread
  • Mixed olives
  • Kale chips
  • Baked goat cheese
  • Brie cheese 

I love the combination of bread, cheese and olives. Who doesn't? Putting these appetizers out to start was a good move because it made our home feel like a fancy restaurant and it gave me time to finish up the main courses while everyone shmoozed. By now I'm sure if you've already heard of kale chips, but if you haven't made them yourself yet, then I definitely recommend it, because they are so simple and addicting. But the real star here is the baked goat cheese. Unbelievable. My mom used to make goat cheese like this, and I've made it once before, but I totally forgot about it until now. It takes 10 to 15 minutes total to make your own delicious bread crumbs and bake the goat cheese to warm, melty, creamy perfection. You can spread it on bread, dip crackers to it, or even top a salad or grain dish with a few globs of it. You will never want cold cheese again (except on cold leftover pizza, yum). To grill the bread, I lightly buttered both sides and put each slice on a Foreman grill for about a minute or two. Grilling the bread not only makes it warm and toasty, but also sturdier, which means it can handle more toppings without flopping. I ate a slice with goat cheese spread on it and topped it with kale chips and olives and folded it over into a little sandwich. 

Kale chips

  1. Remove stems and tear kale leaves into large pieces.
  2. Wash and dry leaves.
  3. Drizzle olive oil (about a half tablespoon per baking sheet) over leaves and massage until evenly coated.
  4. Season as desired.
  5. Bake at 300 degrees for 15-20 minutes until crispy, tossing halfway through.

Baked goat cheese

  1. Blend two pieces of bread (I used Ezekiel sprouted grain bread) in blender or food processor until crumbs form.
  2. Spread crumbs on baking sheet and sprinkle with seasonings of choice (I used salt, pepper and Italian seasoning).
  3. Bake at 300 degrees for 5-10 minutes, until crumbs are toasted and beginning to brown.
  4. Roll a log of goat cheese in olive oil and then coat with breadcrumbs.
  5. Bake at 300 degrees for 5 minutes, until warmed through and soft.

Main Course

  • Green herb shrimp with zucchini couscous
  • Roasted carrots 

For the main meal, I made a shrimp and couscous dish from the cookbook The Sprouted Kitchen: A Tastier Take on Whole Foods, which my mom got me when I moved into my off-campus house. I made the dish once before, so I knew that it was delicious and manageable to make in bulk. The herb sauce on it is absolutely amazing, so I made an extra batch of it for additional dipping and to save in the fridge for meals throughout the week. It's really flavorful and garlic-y, so you need gum or a toothbrush after you eat it if you're going out, but it's worth it. As a side dish, I made roasted carrots, which went well with the couscous. I've reposted the recipe for the couscous below, and you can read my post on the best alternative to french fries to learn how to roast carrots. I didn't bake them for as long last night as I did for the fries post, so they came out more soft than crispy, but I actually like them just as much both ways. 

Ingredients

Herb sauce: 

  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 4 green onions (white and light green parts), chopped
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh mint leaves
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh basil
  • 1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley 
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • Juice of 2 limes

Dish: 

  • 1 1/2 pounds large shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1 1/2 tablespooon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 cups diced zucchini (about 4 medium zucchinis)
  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat couscous
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/3 cup diced feta cheese
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Directions

  1. In a food processor or blender, combine all of sauce ingredients and blend until fairly smooth with a few herb flecks. Put half of sauce in a bowl along with the shrimp and set aside to marinate for 1 hour, reserving the other half of the sauce.
  2. Heat 1/2 tablespoon of oil in a cast-iron pan or large skillet over medium heat. Add the zucchini and sauté until edges are browned, 8 to 10 minutes. 
  3. Cook the couscous according to package instructions. Transfer the couscous to a large mixing bowl and add the zucchini, the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil, the basil, red pepper flakes, feta and vinegar. Toss to coat. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Heat a grill or grill pan over high heat. Cook the shrimp until they turn just pink, about 2 minutes maximum on each side; be careful to avoid overcooking them. Toss the cooked shrimp in the remaining herb sauce and serve with the zucchini couscous. 

Desserts

  • Almond butter fudge
  • No-bake oreos 

Looking at healthy dessert recipes on blogs and Instagram is one of my obsessions. Everything always looks so tempting, and then when you see the ingredient lists they're even more tempting, because it's all healthy stuff! I tested out two new recipes I've been wanting to try - almond butter fudge and raw, no-bake oreos - the night before. When I tasted them in the morning, I was blown away by how rich and delicious they were. Both were extremely simple to make and can be prepared in advance and stored in the freezer, which makes them perfect options for having guests over. I found the almond butter recipe on The Detoxinista and the oreo one on Chocolate-Covered Katie, so check those out to learn how to make these amazingly decadent treats. 

If you're hosting a dinner party or cooking for other people any time soon (do it!), below are some suggestions that I learned from my experience last night.   

Tips for hosting a dinner party 

1. Make dishes you've made at least once before

You don't want to be testing a recipe, especially a complicated one, for the first time when you're serving it to other people. You never know exactly how it will come out, or if there are adjustments you should have made, so you increase your risk of messing something up, which just adds more stress onto you. Instead, stick with something that you're comfortable with. Choose a family favorite, or something with ingredients and directions that you know how to work with. Or, if there is a fancy new recipe you want to serve, give it a test run the weekend before to make sure you know how to make it well. 

2. Prepare in advance

Once you've chosen your dishes, prepare as much of them as you can in advance so that you're not left struggling to throw everything together as guests are arriving. I prepared the desserts the night before and stored them in the freezer, and then took them out about a half hour to an hour before they were ready to be served. The morning of, I chopped up the carrots and zucchinis so I wouldn't have to do that later, and I prepared the herb sauce so it was ready to go and I had plenty of time to marinate the shrimp. Try to go grocery shopping at least a day in advance, rather than the day of, to save time and in case you realize you forgot something or need additional ingredients. 

3. Clean as you go

This is good advice for whenever you cook, not just when you have people over - and it's advice that I really need to start following. I always let the dirty dishes, cutting boards, pots and silverware pile up as I'm cooking, but I realized that this wouldn't fly when I was cooking multiple dishes at once in my tiny kitchen. As you're preparing the food, take breaks to clean up so that you have room and aren't left with a massive amount to clean at the end. This will also help avoid the need to aggressively scub your dishes, which is often necessary when you leave them dirty for too long. I learned that the hard way. 

4. Time it right

When you're making multiple dishes at once, you have to time what goes in the oven or on the stove when so that everything is ready at the right time and warm when it's served. This is a very difficult art, and I have not mastered it whatsoever. I was really scrambling to simultaneously sauté the zucchini and shrimp while checking on the carrots in the oven. Prepping ingredients in advance will help you time everything better, but I also advise reading over all the instructions of the recipes you are going to make and making a timeline in advance. Write out the times that you will do each step so that you can stay on track. This way, you'll know what to do when and can have a list to reference to ensure that you're not forgetting about something in the oven or on the stove, preventing overcooking or burning. 

5. Double check the oven, stove and outlets when you're done

When you're so focused on making the food, and then focused on enjoying it with your friends, you may totally forget the basics, like turning off the oven and stove and unplugging appliances. I remember deliberately checking the oven and stove because I was afraid of making that very mistake. Only until we finished eating all three courses did I realize that I had left the Foreman grill plugged in the entire time, right near paper products. It was about a million degrees, so I am extremely lucky that I didn't burn my entire house down. No dinner party should end with a fire alarm going off, so seriously make sure to check - and then double-check - that you've turned absolutely everything off when you're done using it. 

 

From figuring out what to make and trekking to the grocery store to actually cooking it and serving it, hosting a dinner party can be a big to-do. But it's a should-do, in my opinion, because it's a really fun way to get your friends together either before a night out or as a girls' night in. What could be bad about catching up over a home-cooked meal and wine? The fuss pays off, I promise!