“You’re having how many people over?” my wife asked, her voice rising in pitch.
“Not more than 12 or 15,” I said. Never mind that our house at the time was 864 square feet, including two bedrooms.
“Well, have fun with your wine dorks,” she said. “I won’t be here.”
We usually entertained as a team, so doing this solo was a daunting prospect. How was I going to enjoy the afternoon when faced with all of the cooking and serving?
More importantly, how can you spend time with your guests instead of in the kitchen?
Outside of hiring a caterer, the only realistic option is to do as much of the work ahead of time as possible. It’ll make for a busy few days, but consider these do-ahead dishes that pair beautifully with wine and can please a crowd.
Fancy enough to be served as starters at restaurants like Eleven Madison Park and Per Se, your guests will love these little puffed pastry balls of cheesy goodness. You’ll love the fact that they’re easy to make. Make the dough, form the individual gougères and freeze them unbaked. When the guests arrive, pop them in the oven so that you can serve them warm, alongside your favorite Champagne.
Purchase a filleted side or half-side of salmon and poach it in fish or vegetable stock and a little white wine. After refrigerating it overnight, serve it chilled as part of a buffet with two or three simple sauces. A citrus-herb dressing lends itself to pairing with Chardonnay, while a soy-ginger mayo favors Gamay or Pinot Noir.
Slow-cook full racks for six or more hours a day or two before, then reheat under the broiler or on the grill just before serving. You can tailor the spice by adjusting your dry rub, and even more if you make your own barbecue sauce. Contrast the fatty pork with a bright, peppery Zinfandel or Côtes du Rhône.
This can be prepared a day ahead and served chilled as thin slices to be enjoyed on crusty bread, or you can try to time it so that it reaches medium-rare just as you’re ready to eat something substantial. Either way, serve a young Cabernet Sauvignon or Bordeaux-style blend—the richness of the meat will ameliorate the astringency of the wine’s youthful tannins.
This is the ultimate make-ahead dessert. Plus, when you churn your own, you can play with the flavors and sugar levels to match your favorite dessert wines. From vanilla-peach and Sauternes to dark chocolate-cherry and Port, the possibilities are limitless.