Whenever the subject of hosting a dinner party comes up in conversation, chef and cooking show host Natasha Feldman often hears the lament: “I love to cook, but I’m too intimidated to host people for dinner,” or “I don’t know how to cook. How could I ever have friends over?” Her newest book, The Dinner Party Project: A No-Stress Guide to Food With Friends (April 2023), shares the secrets to throwing fun and delicious no-stress gatherings.
Feldman, who appeared on the Yahoo digital series Cinema & Spice and the YouTube series Nosh With Tash, shares advice gleaned from hosting dinner parties for 15 years.
She shares recipes and tips on her Instagram, @noshwithtash, and on her website, NoshWithTash.com, and takes the same friendly approach to cooking in her new book, providing details on how to menu-plan, what to cook when you don’t feel like cooking and practical tips on how to ensure everyone enjoys the party — especially the host — and how to forgive yourself if they don’t!
For Feldman, 36, dinner parties are vehicles to forge connections between friends and strangers. The Los Angeles-based chef discovered her knack for hosting dinner parties when she attended culinary school and tested recipes at home. She shared the dishes with her roommates and told them to invite friends over, then those friends invited friends. This evolved into a structured weekly gathering where, as Feldman writes in the book, she “collected” her favorite people. The dinner parties are no longer weekly, so they’re even more special when they do happen.
Two elements are paramount when hosting dinner parties: the food and the people. In regard to the former, Feldman’s recipes yield six servings which, she says, is the ideal maximum number of dinner party guests. “I set it at six, but I really only did that because I think four is also a very lovely dinner party,” Feldman tells AARP. “Then it's nice because you have leftovers, so that you can have them for lunch."
Much like Feldman has collected people over the years, she’s collected recipes. “It's always funny where you find recipes,” she says. "I have a taco recipe in the book that I got from a [food] truck in Cordova, Alaska, where they do the Copper River salmon.” The recipe, “fish-fry tacos with smoky mayo,” draws inspiration from the various catch-of-the-day salmon species that the Alaskan taco stand would incorporate. It’s a choose-your-own-adventure-style taco, she writes in the book.
Similarly, the recipe for pizza with drunken onions and goat cheese was sparked by the best pizza she has ever eaten — at a restaurant in Santa Barbara, California. After returning home, she longed to eat the pizza again, but instead of going back to Santa Barbara, she tried to replicate it herself. “Often, for dinner parties, I think the best recipes are what you would do otherwise but with one fun twist that you're excited about,” she says. Drunken onions are simply a fun addition that takes the pizza to the next level (and the goat cheese is an added bonus).
Cook With Natasha
Feldman shared three recipes from The Dinner Party Project for AARP members to try:
This steak recipe is low-stress and tastes professional. Try it with either the Pistachio-Date Salsa Verde Sauce or Bistro Compound Butter.
Sometimes you just want a salad that seems fancy, and this salad seems fancy.
For me, the joy of this dessert is how easy it is. You’re just a few stirs and snips away from childhood nostalgia!
The book includes several themed menus to make planning easy. There’s taco night and burger night, as well as “Old Jewish Lady Night” with brisket and “latke-style smashed potatoes,” says Feldman, who dubs herself “Your 35 yr old Jewish grandmother” on Instagram.
If you’re new to dinner parties or easing back into hosting, Feldman suggests starting with the “bistro night” menu. It consists of an “extra fun French 75” cocktail, the “perfect seared rib eye with bistro compound butter,” fries with parsley and parmesan cheese, a simple salad and fruity Greek yogurt panna cotta. The dishes are basic enough to prepare the day-of and allow for shortcuts, such as using frozen french fries instead of making them from scratch. “I feel like a lot of people don’t want to take those shortcuts because they feel like it’s cheating. But I feel like if it’s just as good, you might as well enjoy the extra time that you have,” she says.
Feldman also recommends the “Pi Day” (March 14) menu for the novice crowd. Start with a cheese board, serve it alongside a veggie pot pie and a “very adult salad” (roasted grapes and arugula), and finish the meal off with pink lemonade bars. The pot pie relies on phyllo dough, which requires less effort than a rolled-out pie crust. Parmesan cheese layered into the dough amps up the crust’s crispness and depth of flavor. “It’s very nourishing, and rich and tasty,” she says.
Don’t stress about setting the invite list. Feldman embraces inviting people outside her friend group, and she isn’t particularly concerned about how the invitees will vibe. “You want to learn about people that are really different,” she says. “I think as long as the people that are coming to the dinner party are open-minded, then the mood can totally change depending on who's there, and it's perfectly fine.”
You can also think outside the box for your party’s ambience. Your dinner party doesn’t have to be a formal affair with everyone spaced out at a large dining table. “I'll want to make it so it feels a little bit more cozy, and I often find the best dinner parties are in smaller spaces where you feel a little bit cramped,” says Feldman. “You want to feel like you're in a grandma's weird kitchen in Copenhagen.” Turn the lights down, set a few candles and put on a playlist befitting the mood of the party, and you’ll have a warm environment in which your guests will feel comfortable.
Another tip Feldman shares is to Always Have Snacks (or AHS, as she says). “The worst thing … is when you go and you enter a friend's house and you see all of the ingredients in a grocery bag still, and you’re like, Oh, we’re not going to eat for four hours! There’s this sense of dread,” she says with a laugh. If you plan on making everything while guests are in your home, feed them while they wait. “As long as people have a little thing that they can munch on, then it doesn’t matter when the food comes out.” Feldman says.
Feldman just wants people to see that dinner parties are for everyone, apartment dwellers and shortcut-takers included. The goal isn’t to emulate mid-’90s Martha Stewart with plate warmers and taper candles. “That’s all the kind of stuff that’s important if you’re at a fancy French restaurant, or if you’re in culinary school and there’s tests on it,” Feldman says. “But I really hope that we can get back to a point in society where, at large, just going over to someone’s house for dinner can be as low-stress for the host as having your family sit down.”
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