Today, we are writing about the basic ingredients that make elegant entertaining easy. This is Part 2 in the series ... if you missed Part 1: The Key Ingredients, you can find that post from October 6, 2016.
If you have the right things on hand, it is pretty effortless to pull together a great looking table. Here are a few basics that I consider essential starting points.
White Serving Pieces
When I told my daughter I was writing this post on entertaining essentials, the first words out of her mouth were “white platters!”. She knows me well. White or off white decorative serving pieces are number one on this list. Start with a few bowls and a platter or two and add as you come across them – they do not need to all match, they just need to work together. Platters with shallow sides are great for containing things like entrée salads or pasta dishes…anything that might have a sauce or is bulky and that would overflow a flat platter. This Williams Sonoma ceramic basket platter is a favorite. I received it as a gift many years ago and it has appeared at nearly every gathering I have hosted since.
Clear Glass Dishes
I started buying clear glass dishes as a young adult when I first started entertaining. Every time I had company, I would drag home another boxed set of 4 place settings from Crate and Barrel of their basic, inexpensive glass dishes. They were cheaper than buying pretty paperware and a set contained dinner plates, salad/dessert plates, mugs, and bowls…I still have these 30 years later (I think we ended up with service for 32) and they play nicely with everything. They are dishwasher and microwave safe and we use them every day. I also started collecting clear cut glass and pressed glass dessert plates and have amassed a fair number of these as well.
Again, I have two or three sets of white embossed dishes that came as 4-piece place settings with service for 8…I rarely use them as full place settings but, like the clear glass, they mix well with other things and so are a great foundation for mix-and-match tablesettings. While these are now our 'everyday' dishes, they also work for entertaining basics...anything that works double-duty is definitely a keeper!
Enough Flatware and Serving Utensils
I started with service for 12 of my “good” flatware and added to it over time, replacing my casual colored plastic-handled flatware with more of my "good" stuff as it disappeared or self-destructed. Now this is our multi-purpose flatware for everyday AND for entertaining. I have added 2 sets of the serving utensils, 2 dozen extra teaspoons and 2 dozen extra dessert forks. This ensures that I always have enough ‘real’ silverware so that I never have to resort to plastic. There is NOTHING elegant about eating with plastic utensils, and plastic knives are completely useless for actually cutting anything. If you don’t have enough flatware for the size of party you are hosting, rent it or borrow from a friend with something compatible. Also, acquiring some attractive serving utensils is important…utilitarian cooking utensils can undo the elegant the look you are after here.
Stemware in Various Sizes
Nothing screams 'elegance' like stemware! Something about stemmed glasses just instantly evokes leisure and luxury. You can even use large white wine glasses as water goblets next to smaller white wine glasses, champagne flutes or red wine glasses. Boxed sets can be found inexpensively….and you won’t cry if someone breaks one while helpfully loading your dishwasher. PRO TIP: keep the boxes…it is SO much easier and safer to store and transport your glasses in their original boxes with the dividers.
For dinner service, keep some large (22”) white or off white cloth napkins on hand. I have some gorgeous monogrammed cotton damask ones, but my ‘go to’ ones are a poly blend and can be folded right out of the dryer so they don’t need ironing, because really, who wants to spend their time doing that? A white tablecloth that hangs at least 10” -12”over the edge on all sides of the table is a nice addition, but for dinners with just three or four friends, I have also been known to use napkins turned on the diagonal as placemats instead. For cocktail parties, a quick afternoon tea, morning coffee visit, or large dessert buffets, I always stock an assortment of pretty paper luncheon and cocktail size napkins.
With just these few basics and some home-cooked or purchased food (or some combination of the two), it is effortless to pull together an impromptu party.
Civilized dining is always in style!
The next post in this series will focus on tips for mix-and-match table settings that will show you how to tailor your table to the theme, holiday, or mood you want to create.