Anyone else frequently conjure up fantasies of gathering your friends and family for a beautiful meal and some fun, but feel overwhelmed with the idea of cooking, prepping, and setting an acceptable table? In my head, I'm perfectly coiffed and dressed in a pretty garden dress, amazing Jimmy Choo's, and my lipstick, (a luxurious shade of red), is not at all faded. The table is fragrant with gorgeous florals and sparkling glassware, and I am completely carefree as I serve the most beautiful meal ever. Hmmm... And if I waited for all that, it'll never happen. OK, but seriously...
A beautiful tablescape with flowers, candles, and linens is always nice, but just as nice is a delicious meal in a beautiful setting, sans the bells and whistles. No need to worry about formalities... these are the people who just want to enjoy some time together and build a few memories with people they enjoy.
So keep it ultra simple! Set out chairs around a clean table of any sort. Make sure there is ample room for guests to sit and enjoy the meal in comfort, but go for a close enough seating arrangement that people are able to have easy conversation with everyone at the table.
Keep things relaxed by serving family or buffet style and letting everyone help themselves to whatever degree you are comfortable with. Set your table with random, everyday dishes and glasses... mismatched tableware is always a fun way to keep things light. Place napkins and a stack of flatware in a lined basket, or make flatware rolls ahead of time. Add a couple of pitchers of iced water with lemon for your guests to access as needed. Uncomplicated and fun!
Take the pressure off of having to both prep AND cook on the day of your gathering, by preparing a make-ahead entrée. I personally appreciate the ease of a good one pot meal, so here are two ideas for impressive ones that can be served right in the pan.
1. This awesome Slow Cook Chicken Pot Pie is a perfect choice. The creamy chicken and vegetable filling is made in a slow cooker ahead of time. I cooked it the day before and stored it in the fridge. When it's time to assemble your meal, just scoop the filling into these little cocottes and bake until hot, (about half an hour). Serve with biscuits, or top with a philo or puffed pastry topper. If you are serving a nice loaf of bread, skip the topper.
2. Another good choice is a beautiful one-pan bake that can be served family style. This tried and true easy Sausage Bacon Brussel Bake with a Maple Mustard Drizzle recipe is a regular go-to for me. It can be assembled up to two days ahead of time, or when you have some time during the day. Cover tightly and store it in the fridge until ready to bake. The simple two-ingredient drizzle can be stirred together just before serving. I haven't met a person who doesn't love this dish once they've tried it!
To complete your "skip the frills" meal, set bread out on a cutting board. In a culture where bread is no longer as important to a meal as it used to be, I buck that trend on occasion. Including a crusty loaf accompanied by some warm goat cheese or soft butter, makes your meal just that much more satisfying.
That's it. No frills, no fuss. Just kick back and enjoy the evening.