Vin and I hosted the dinner in our little Queens backyard to introduce his Croatian family to my southeast Texan brood. It was an exotic evening filled with food, fun and a whole bunch of different accents. I chose Middle Eastern food not only because our neighborhood of Astoria has a large Middle Eastern population (and great food sources), but also because some of the attendees from my Dad's wife's family are Lebanese, and I thought they might enjoy it.
Party Tip #1: Know your audience and tailor your menu and decor accordingly.
I picked up some colorful flowers down the street and plopped them in turquoise bell jars, then gave them an exotic jolt by taping gold doilies on each side ($2.50). The white candle holders are from Ikea ($2.99 each) and are fantastic because the high sides prevent the wind from blowing out the flame.
Party Tip #2: Look for creative ways to spruce up items you already have to make them look custom for your party. No need to buy new decorations/platters for every type of party.
I've yet to find a tablecloth to fit two long folding tables, so I used two cheapo gold plastic tablecloths as a base, then topped them with a more ornate velvet window curtain I no longer use. I still don't have a set of matching plates so I scooped up these hard plastic plates at Party City ($12.99 for 10) and thought they looked great. (Don't use real knives with plastic plates though--they look like a crime scene afterward).
Party Tip #3: Think outside the box. It doesn't have to be labeled tablecloth to become one. Old bedsheets, butcher paper and window curtains work just as well.
I bought some fresh pita and made a few dips for appetizers. The roasted red pepper dip, jalapeno-garlic-lemon feta, and roasted eggplant dip were all made by me, but I bought the hummus at a great Lebanese deli a few blocks away.
Party Tip #4: You do not have to make everything yourself. I'm a glutton for punishment and usually take on too many homemade tasks, but I'm starting to come around to the idea of making life easier and opting for a mix of homemade and pre-made foods.
I used one of my craft punches to make the food labels, then glued on some gold rhinestones for a little flash. I'm acquiring quite the Martha Stewart craft punch collection and will likely enroll in some kind of "scrapbooking for seniors" club in the near future.
Party Tip #5: Whether they're elaborate or not, I've found that guests really do appreciate food labels. People like to know what they're getting themselves into (it's especially helpful to give a warning if something is super spicy or has meat in it for vegetarians).
For the main course we had lamb meatballs with tzatziki sauce (the big hit!) and a tagine with spiced butternut squash, sweet potato, honey and currants. I also served a great orange salad with red onion, olive oil, fresh mint and salt and pepper.
Party Tip #6: If you're going to have lots of heavy dishes, try to lighten things up by adding a fresh fruit or green salad. It's also nice to add a splash of color to the table.
We also had a bevy of delicious desserts brought by Vin's mom as well as few that I didn't end up serving because everyone was so full. We washed everything down with a homemade mint tea.
Party Tip #7: Refer back to Party Tip #1--Know your audience. Skip the tea. Buy some booze.