Solutions for dinner party disasters

When dinner party disasters – i.e. burned entrée, not enough food, guest having an allergic reaction to dessert – occur, even the most good-spirited host is tempted to slink from the house and hide in embarrassment. Though the most obvious solution is to order in or simply send your guests packing, you really can recover gracefully from a dinner party debacle. Here are five fuss-free solutions for your worst entertaining nightmares from entertaining expert Colleen Mullaney, author of Punch and It’s 5 O’clock Somewhere.

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Solutions for five dinner party disasters

The old adage “When given lemons, make lemonade” couldn’t be more applicable when it comes to entertaining. No, you don’t expect the wine sauce to scorch on the stove and fill the house with acrid black smoke minutes before your guests arrive nor do you want your boss to have an allergic reaction to the ground nuts in your signature dessert. But things happen.

These unplanned “catastrophes” don’t have to deter you from entertaining in the future and they don’t have to be the finale on your disastrous dinner get-together. Simply have an action plan, hope for the best, plan for the worst and you will do better than make lemonade. You can surprise your guests by turning the unsavory situation into a metaphorical mouthwatering Meyer lemon cake.

Dinner party disaster #1: Burned entrée or singed side

According to Westchester-based Colleen Mullaney, the go-to gal for glamorous dinner party tips that don’t break the bank, you should always have a back-up plan.

“Look in the freezer, I always have something in there, like chicken cordon blue or chicken tenders,” she says. “And if you are short on [chicken cordon blue], cut them in slices after baking and make a quick gravy, no one will know. Chicken tenders are also a good Hail Mary play, whip up a rich francaise or Marsala sauce, and you are good to go.”

And if you destroy the side dish, Mullaney suggests replacing it with rice. “Rice is a great side, and cooks itself, so you can mingle with your guests. Toss some frozen peas, fresh mint that has been chopped, and you have a wonderful, tasty side,” she explains.

The entertaining expert also suggests making more salad or adding fresh fruit to the menu if you happen to obliterate the vegetables.

Dinner party disaster #2: Run out of entrée or side

You’ve excitedly invited your guests over for an impressive get-together only to realize as you are divvying up servings that you’ve underestimated your fare.

“The rule here is always serve yourself last. If it looks like you are going to have a problem, cut the meat thinner, or cut up the fish or chicken into pieces. For a casserole, just serve smaller portions, with more rice or noodles,” advises Mullaney.

If you come up short on sides, let the freezer be your friend and go for a frozen vegetable. No veggies in your freezer? Mullaney suggests making more salad, or serve a cheese course after the meal, before coffee. “Stuffed potatoes take no time if you start them off in the microwave, then cut them open, and mash each with salt, pepper, butter, sour cream, and splash of milk. Top with parmesan cheese and bake,” she adds.

Dinner party disaster #3: Major wine spill

To your horror, you accidentally spill a glass of red wine on the lap of your new boss – who is wearing a gorgeous snow-white ensemble. What do you do?

Instead of freak out in fear of getting fired, take a deep breath. “I’ve never met a wine stain that didn’t respond to Spray and Wash. The main lesson here is to keep your composure and cool,” suggests Mullaney.

And if the red wine happens to douse your best friend’s new cream-colored sweater, lend her one of yours and take care of the stain promptly. Mullaney adds, “What’s a little wine stain between friends? Besides, if she can’t get over it, she shouldn’t be you friend in the first place.”

Dinner party disaster #4: Food allergy reaction

The best advice here is to avoid an allergic reaction before it happens. When you send out invitations, request that your guests let you know about any food allergies or sensitivities immediately so you don’t unknowingly put them in danger with a menu of anaphylactic-prone food.

However, if the unthinkable occurs – your father-in-law is allergic to nuts and you’ve included ground nuts in the spice-crusted chicken dish or your new client can’t eat anything with shellfish and you’ve made a dill and shrimp mousse – stay level-headed and attend to them immediately.

“Most importantly, be sure your guest is not in a dangerous situation. Make sure they have their proper allergy medicine and a phone to call the doctor if need be,” advised Mullaney. “Give them water and a quiet place to lie down and let the reaction work through. It is unfortunate that this happened, but if you’re entertaining the boss for the first time, manage it so it won’t take over the festive dinner party, especially given the fact your guest didn’t inform you of the allergy beforehand.”

Dinner party disaster #5: Dessert failure

Your next big business deal rests heavily on the impressiveness of your dinner party and your sweet finale comes out a big failure – can you recover? Absolutely. Whether your cheesecake has cracked or your signature mousse has fallen, there are dessert-worthy strategies to save the day.

“What works wonders with a cracked cheesecake is sauce. Use strawberries that have been sliced and sprinkled with confectioners’ sugar and make a fantastic blanket of lusciousness hiding the blunder down under,” recommends Mullaney.

She adds, “Unmoussed mousse is great layered in small glass bowls with cubes of butter pound cake and fresh fruit. And if there’s time for a second attempt, a fruit crumble is foolproof and is divine with a healthy scoop of vanilla ice cream.”

Foods to always have on hand

For expert entertaining, always have “rescue foods” readily available so if a dinner party faux pas occurs, you are prepared. Mullaney recommends the following 10 foods:

Frozen chicken or meatloaf
Frozen carrots and peas
Vanilla ice-cream
Pound cake
Fresh fruit
Gourmet cheese
French bread
Lemon juice (for flavoring, sauces and dressings)
Extra bottle of wine

More expert tips for dynamite dinner parties

10 Tips for dinner party success
Hosting your first dinner party 
Throw an eco-friendly dinner party


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