Chop, Sizzle, Gather

Desert Companion

The warm domestic vibe of the season makes this a great time to have people over. Here are some tips to make it easy — especially for the novice party planner

1) This poke and the fried wonton chips are easy. Pair with store-bought lumpia from 99 Ranch, and serve with sauces, like sweet chili and peanut.

2) Spam fries? Cut spam like fries; serve crunchy, hot, and oily from the can. (People love the kitsch of the can.) Serve with garlic-mayo dip.

3) Break down a lamb shoulder into little slabs, marinate in cumin, fennel, and chilis, then flash-fry right before serving. You can feed a crowd. 

4) Kids at the party? Make sure you have something they like — noodles or chicken. These deep-fried panko-crusted chicken thighs with a Sriracha-mayo side are sure hits.

5) This shrimp tempura is totally store-bought at 99 Ranch. Bake or fry; no one will care you didn’t make them from scratch.

6) Take care of your vegans and vegetarians! This chili-garlic fried tofu steak is easy and pretty and even carnivores will eat it.

7) Apps aren’t supposed to fill people up. Small things like pickles, peas, shrimp chips, and lotus root chips will give guests a little nosh without stuffing them for dinner.

Mix it Up, Make it Pretty

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For apps, snack trays and charcuterie boards loaded with meats, cheese, bread, pickles, nuts, and fruit are your friends. They feed lots of people, can be totally no-cook, and take care of lots of different diets. Choose a few expensive cheeses, and a bunch of affordable salamis and sopressatas; buy jarred artichokes and mushrooms; make a chickpea salad or Spam fries; and throw down some jarred cornichon. Do some things homemade and mix with store-bought, and everything will feel home-made. As for the mains, whatever you cook, make it pretty: Think chopped scallions, parsley or cilantro, a few pea sprouts for color, little slices of red-hot Thai chillies. Did you make too little? Don’t let Uncle Fred mound all of the pork larb onto his plate. Instead, make little parcels of meat already in lettuce cups.
This will stretch your food.

For recipes, visit

Dial the Vibe

You don’t need to be Ina Garten to pull off a great party. Play to your strengths! Do you have a great eye for design? Create a beautiful tablescape with fruit. Love music? Put together a killer playlist. Have an amazing cabinet of mid-mod glasses and cutlery? Go vintage. I have none of those, so my thing is a secret nosh in the kitchen; if you come into the kitchen to hang with me while I cook, I’ll make you a special snack — think chicken egg rolls or fried vegetable wontons — and hand you a secret tequila. Do what you can do to make your guests feel special. And remember: If you are stressed, your guests will be stressed. No matter what kind of fresh hell is happening at the stove, smile, relax, be chill, laugh it off — and your guests will, too. Most importantly, never apologize for a dish that isn’t perfect. Trust me, no one will know. Pick up the chicken off the floor, smile, and carry on.

Curate Yr Peeps

Steal this concept from Australian chef Bill Granger: Invite friends over for Thursday Night Kitchen Suppers. It’s the anti-dinner party. Thursday is not the weekend. There isn’t the pressure of a weekend party. Manage expectations by keeping it light. In the invite say: I’m making a new dish! If it sucks, we’ll order pizza! Invite one couple, the family down the block, that guy at work and his husband who seem so cool. Keep it small, and make a one-pot meal: Chili with your mom’s famous cornbread, or pork-belly fried rice and ice-cold Sapporos. Or sheet pan harrisa chicken with roasted potatoes. Eat at the kitchen island instead of in the dining room. And if you’re nervous? Invite that one friend who can break the ice with anyone and make everyone feel warm. While you are serving up the food, she can be warming up the crowd. It sometimes takes a village to raise a dinner party! And if you are worried about people judging you, you have invited the wrong people.

Try these Cookbooks for Your Next Party

Chop Sizzle GatherNothing Fancy: Unfussy Food for Having People Over
by Allison Roman

Feed Your People: Big Batch, Big-Hearted Cooking and Recipes to Gather Around
by Leslie Jonath

Platters and Boards: Beautiful, Casual Spreads for Every Occasion
by Shelly Westerhausen

Taming the Feast: Ben Ford’s Field Guide to Adventurous Cooking
by Ben Ford

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