The Concept

As much as we love to cook and drink good wine, (often at the same time), we love to cook for others even more which is why we like to host dinner parties. Normally we choose a theme based around the food using a region or an ingredient as the star but this time the dinner had both a food theme and a social theme. The idea was simple: we invited one friend, who then invited another friend, and so on, until we had 10 people who all knew at least one other person, but didn’t necessarily know everyone else. Seemed like a great way for people to meet. So how to keep this all together? Good food and good drinks.

The Most Important Part: The Drinks (duh!)

We started with our Get-to-Know-You Sangria. We call it that because by the end of the night you’ve drunk so much that you feel very comfortable with everyone around you. So much so that you start belting out songs, terrible admissions about your co-workers and love everyone at the party. This drink has a multitude of different types of juices, liquors and of course, the standard fruit. Sweet and perfect.

Sangria. Yum!

Because the food theme was Spain, we asked everyone to bring a bottle of Spanish wine. What was interesting about this was that not everyone brought the typical, classic red Rioja. We had some white Riojas, some Albariños, and some wines that we quite honestly didn’t know if they really came from Spain. But we drank them all.

But admittedly, most of our wines were Riojas. Rioja is the Spanish wine most associated with Spain. Who hasn’t heard of the classic red Rioja? As a red wine, it isn’t too tannic, meaning it’s super-drinkable for even the most squeamish of red wine drinkers (read: Dana). What you may not know is that the wine is named after the region that it is made in, not the grape. This is similar to the Champagne region in France (Champagne is an area and style of wine, not a grape). La Rioja, the region in the north of Spain, is split into three regions – Alta, Alavesa and Baja. These regions all produce different types of wine. Riojas can be Tinto (red) or Blanco (white). Rioja is a DO (Denominación de Origen) protected wine, so it can only be made in that region, under specific regulations. Rioja is also typically oaked, so you get some interesting fragrances and tastes from it.

Side note: how can you tell that a wine is aged in oak? You can usually smell it. It smells kind of woody/vanilla-y. This is from the actual wood as well as the oxidation (exposure to the air through cracks in the wood).

The Food

We followed that with some amazing Spanish tapas (appetizers), among them super easy bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with almonds and blue cheese. When we say “easy,” we mean it. You literally take a bag of dates, pop some blue cheese (Spanish Valdeon is perfect for this) and a marcona almond in it, and then wrap it in some bacon (or turkey bacon, as we did). Keep these together with a toothpick. Put these on a cookie sheet and bake at 375º until the bacon looks crispy.

Dates with blue cheese, almonds and bacon

For the main course, we served a chicken cooked in Spanish sherry, Spanish paprika and garlic with parsley. Sherry is native to Spain and the word “Sherry” is actually the anglicized version of “Jerez,” the town from which it originates. We served this with a side of Macaroni and Cheese (so not Spanish), and a spinach salad with pepitas and cojita cheese. We’ll be posting these recipes in the coming week.

Chicken with paprika, sherry, parsley and garlic

The Table

We created a printed menu which was placed at each table setting and allowed the guests to know ahead of time what was being served. This helped build anticipation among the guests and hopefully provided a more enjoyable eating experience as the guests knew what ingredients were in each dish. The black and white table really allowed the food and wine to be the focal point, which they should always be. Instead of plating the meal we placed the entire dish of chicken and macaroni and cheese on the table and passed plates around. This allowed for a more communal experience and helped facilitate discussion (it also created some silliness and confusion!).

The place setting with menu

Conversations starters, etc.

If you feel your party has hit a snag, people seem bored or the conversation is waning, there are ways to spice things up and get people talking:

  • Break out the karaoke machine! Come on, who doesn’t love to belt out some Journey or Bon Jovi songs? Some people need liquid courage to sing in front of a room full of people but once the singing starts everyone will want to join in.
  • As host, you can bring two people together by letting them know about things they have in common.
  • Use the food or wine to start a discussion about travel. People can share information about their favorite country or city they’ve visited.

Really, it’s not difficult. People will naturally mingle at parties and usually people who are painfully shy don’t go to dinner parties so. Every time we throw a party we’re nervous about whether the food will turn out right, if people will have fun, if it will be a “success.” And you know what? It always works out.

By the end of the night, everyone was giggly, stuffed full of food and wine and we had lots of cleaning up to do. That spelled success for us.

~Christina and Dana