Pick recipes that let you spend more time hanging with friends and less time stuck in the kitchen

Dinner Party Tips

Thomas J. Story

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Hosting a dinner party does not have to be a monumental feat, particularly when you’ve invited good friends (the kind who don’t mind a little clutter and like to do dishes). Sometimes being in the comfort of my own home cooking, drinking wine, listening to whatever music we’re in the mood to hear is way more fun than eating out. It’s also the time to try out any big cooking projects I’ve been waiting to show off, like homemade gnocchi or leg of lamb — cooking for a crowd is way more fun. The key to success: timing. Get the majority of your cooking done ahead of time, before guests arrive (definitely don’t wait until the last minute to shape those gnocchi) so you don’t get stuck in the kitchen while everyone else hangs out on the couch. I often choose recipes like red wine-braised short ribs, a roast chicken, or pasta with a slow-cooked sauce so that I can throw everything together and let it simmer on its own. 

Other low-lift ways to make dinner special: light some non-scented use cloth napkins, and dust off the matching wine glasses. And, most of all, don’t stress about how things turn out — there’s always pizza.

—Ellen Fort, food editor

Maya’s Corner

Maya Wong

Smashed Cucumber Salad Is the Last-Minute Appetizer I Never Have to Stress Over

Hosting friends for dinner at my apartment is one of my favorite Saturday night activities, but I’m usually so focused on mastering the main dish that any potentially fun appetizers don’t get my full attention. After attending three or four Pasta Night soirees, my friends know to expect one constant starter dish on the table when they arrive: smashed cucumber salad. It’s the crowd-pleasing appetizer I can make ahead of time and not worry about it getting wilted or soggy. 

It is the most simple cucumber salad ever, only using whatever I have in my pantry at the time. I start with a pack of Persian cucumbers (likely from that week’s Trader Joe’s haul) and cut them into 3-inch spears. Put the spears in a plastic Ziploc bag, season with salt, and use the blade of a large knife or bottom of a pan (anything heavy, really) and smash cucumbers lightly. Don’t smash them to death! Put cucumber pieces in a bowl and drizzle rice vinegar, sesame oil, and chili crisp (I love Fly by Jing’s Sichuan Chili Crisp). Top with toasted white sesame seeds if you have them. If you don’t, no worries. It’s still the crunchiest, easiest, most refreshing five minute dinner party starter. 

—Maya Wong, assistant editor

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Looking for more inspiration? Head over to Sunset Recipes for our fall cooking highlights.