Two weeks ago, we threw our first dinner party in Melbourne. Well, if you can call it a dinner party when there’s just one guest. But despite the small guest list, I was a bit apprehensive about hosting.
That’s not to say I’m afraid to host in general. I’ve organised plenty of get-togethers – Christmas parties, pumpkin carving parties, Cards Against Humanity parties (I like a good theme). Food was always an integral part of these gatherings, but the focus was on whipping up theme-appropriate finger foods (like pigs in a blanket that resemble mummies for Halloween or vegemite scrolls for Australia Day) rather than main course dishes. And since I pretty much plan my life around what I’m eating next, most of these parties had enough finger food to fill up on in lieu of a meal.
I always reasoned that my friends and I were too young for formal, sit-down dinner parties, but that’s only part of the story. The truth is, as a vegetarian, I’ve always secretly worried that my arsenal of plant (and dairy) based dishes weren’t quite tasty enough for non-vegetarians. Though I firmly believe a vegetarian diet can be both nutritious and satisfying, I feared guests would find my cooking bland.
I know some vegetarians cook meat for their friends and families but I’m not one of them. I’ve tried. It was too off-putting. What I can do is make a decent marinade. And though my significant other doesn’t cook much, he does barbecue. So I put my fears aside and we fired up the grill for our dinner party.
With some guidance from our guest (because men seem to universally gravitate towards a grill – funny how the same can’t be said about a stove), my significant other grilled some lamb chops and steak. I made an avocado salad, grilled veggies and a lemon and rosemary-based marinade for the chops. And you know what? The meal was a success! Our guest said the veggies had just the right amount of balsamic vinegar on them. He thought the marinade added a great flavour to the lamb chops and loved the steak. I like this kind of specific feedback – it allows me to know exactly what I’m doing right (or need to tweak).
The night went so well that my significant other promptly invited his parents over for dinner the following week. If there was pressure cooking for one friend, it was significantly amplified for his parents. I didn’t want them to just be satisfied with their meal, I wanted them to be at least a little bit impressed with my cooking abilities – because who doesn’t want to impress their future in-laws?
Meeting all of our dietary requirements was a bit of a challenge, however. I’m not only vegetarian, I’m largely gluten free, whereas his dad won’t eat anything that doesn’t have at least a bit of meat in it, with ample bread on the side. His mom, on the other hand, is a somewhat picky eater in general.
After racking my brain (and bookmarked recipes), I decided to make a Mediterranean orzo dish. Though I wouldn’t be able to eat it as I’ve yet to find gluten free orzo in Australia, it was one of my favourite dishes to make pre-stomach issues. I was pretty sure his parents would enjoy it. I also made an arugula salad and some grilled asparagus. My significant other was back on grill duty and barbecued lamb chops and cevaps. And we bought a good baguette for his dad.
As our outdoor table is bigger than our indoor one, we decided to dine al fresco. Luckily, it was the perfect day for it – warm and sunny with a lovely breeze. His parents arrived just as I had finished setting the table and we promptly sat down to eat.
The meal seemed to be well-received. Most of the food was eaten, including my carefully arranged fruit and dessert plate. My significant other’s dad commended the perfectly cooked lamp chops. Aside from that, neither offered up much praise – but they didn’t complain either. With them, that’s almost as good as a compliment.
With two seemingly successful dinner parties under my belt, I’m starting to become a bit more comfortable in my ability to feed others. And it’s a good thing too – my significant other has already invited another couple over for a meal in April.