This year marks the fourth I’ve had some friends over for a dinner party!

My love language is cooking for people and it’s such a pleasure to have people over to share in good wine, company, and of course, food. Despite our rather small living house, we have made it work for the past several years and I finally took the time to document it.

I had planned to share the last two years dinner parties as well, but you know things happen and that just didn’t! I find it really helpful to have a theme for a dinner party, it helps me keep things organized and tie flavors together. This year’s theme was Mediterranean! The past few years I’ve done Mexican, Italian, and Spanish, the cuisines I know best, so this was a bit more of a challenge.

I have a few general rules when it comes to hosting people for dinner.

  1. I hate the rule to not make something you haven’t made before. While it makes perfect sense, one of the most fun parts for me is trying something new to share with my guests. My personal rule is to just go for it and try something new but give yourself enough time and options to have a back up plan if needed. If the homemade gelato does’ turn out have a carton in the freezer just in case…I’m sure it will still go to good use another night.
  2. Prepare as much as you can in advance. This seems to be a pretty common dinner party rule, and for good reason. For this meal, I made the beet hummus and eggplant caponata recipes the night before so they were ready to go the day of. *Note that hummus is seriously amazing and I added a couple of cloves of garlic, because well I’m Italian. I also roasted rather than boiled the beets!
  3. Make a timeline. Any one who knows me well knows that I prefer to be organized and I love a good list. I really find that a timeline helps keep me organized and prevent me from forgetting something. It also helps to make sense of how long it will take to make various things and when to start what. I made a timeline to make my appetizers the night before, chop my veggies and bake the shortcakes the morning of, marinade the chicken around lunch time, and then finish everything else about an hour before everyone was set to arrive.
  4. Don’t make everything from scratch! It is too much work to make every single morsel from scratch when you’re hosting, and that’s perfectly okay. Heck, Sandra Lee had a whole tv show about semi-homemade food. For this meal I bought some of the appetizers and the gelato, rather than making my own. This is a huge time and stress saver.
  5. Don’t expect perfection, just open a bottle of wine. As a self-described perfectionist, this can be tough for me, well not the wine part. I try to remind myself to just enjoy being the hostess and even when things don’t turn out perfect, we know they never do, my guests are still likely to go home with full bellies and happy hearts. That’s the goal anyway!

My Mediterranean-inspired menu for this year’s dinner party:

Appetizers: Beet Hummus, Grilled Eggplant Caponata, Trader Joe’s whipped garlic dip, pita crackers and chips, fresh carrots, sliced local cucumber.

Drink: Watermelon Lime Agua Fresca. The theme for this was summer!

Entree: Chicken breast and thighs, and shrimp all marinated in this lemon balm sauce. I cut the chicken into 1″ cubes and marinated it for about 6 hours, and marinated the shrimp for about 30 minutes. All were skewered and grilled on medium-high heat. (Remember to soak your skewers before grilling!).

Side: Grilled zucchini, summer squash and mushrooms. The squash was cut into 1″ cubes and all the veggies were skewered then drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and za’atar then thrown on the grill.

Side: Rice Pilaf with toasted almonds and golden raisins.

Dessert: Double chocolate strawberry shortcakes with local gelato.

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