Come on in, darlin’. You’re just in time to meet super salonnière, Lisa McRee. A television journalist – you’ll remember her as a co-host of Good Morning America – and the founder of The Skinny, a website filled with healthy recipes, Lisa is one of L.A.’s most skilled and gracious party hosts. Lisa’s hubbie, Don, may be producing the next Mission: Impossible film but, where parties are concerned, every mission is possible for this gorgeous gal. Dinner for 100 without a caterer? No problem! Join us as Lisa dishes about everything from how she stays party ready for drop-in guests and her favorite entertaining products to that little breakfast soirèe she once had with the late Julia Child.
How would you describe your entertaining style?
Whether I’m hosting a casual Sunday supper or a formal sit-down dinner, I always hope to hit that sweet spot of easygoing elegance and eclectic energy.
Lisa’s dinner parties always include a mix of interesting guests
How often do you entertain?
Whenever I’m asked…or have an itch! I’m a sucker for school and parent events. Over the last few months, I’ve hosted a lunch for 70, a taco and margarita night for 130 and a cocktail buffet for 50. Visiting house guests always deserve a dinner for 12 or 16. Book club is a party for 20 and, because we have dear friends in the neighborhood, we love easy dinners for three of four couples whenever it’s been too long since we’ve all been together.
Where does your love of entertaining come from?
It was a way for me to have a life while doing television news! Whether anchoring the 5 and 11 pm news in L.A., getting up at 4 am and going to bed at 8 pm for Good Morning America, or working for ABC’s overnight show, World News Now, I’ve had some pretty lousy schedules. Planning a party at home was the only way I could make sure my friends didn’t dump me for ignoring them!
Who would join you at your dream dinner party for 10?
My husband, Don Granger, Don’s grandfather, Armand Deutsch, Bill Clinton, George Walker Bush, Walter Annenberg, Cher, Bette Midler, Joan Didion and Angelina Jolie because she is more amazing as the years go by.
The “piano bar” at Lisa and Don’s lovely L.A. home
What are your tips for putting together a great guest list?
Find commonality. Here’s an example: I did a party for my visiting friend, Liv Rockefeller, who is half Norwegian. Her mother’s husband was the Kon Tiki explorer, Thor Heyerdahl. I invited one of my dearest friends, Lucy Dahl, whose father Roald Dahl, the author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Matilda and many other books, was born to Norwegian parents. I also invited my publicist friend, Bumble Ward who is half Norwegian. Liv’s husband is an art dealer, so I invited art collectors, Maria and Bill Bell and Liane and Richard Weintraub. It was such a fun night and everyone left as great friends and knowing how to swear in Norwegian!
What are your tips for engaging a shy or boring dinner partner?
My favorite is one I learned from the Annenbergs – send a note to everyone who is coming to tell them who else is coming and why you think they’d like to meet each other. There are also fun table games you can play. You can ask your guests to answer any one of these questions: “What was your best summer and why?” or “When you were 15, what did you aspire to be?” or “What is the secret that no more than two people at this table know about you?” or “What about your first girlfriend or boyfriend led you to the partner you’re with today?” It’s surprising how people open up when talking about their past.
Indian Grilled Chicken with Pineapple Jalapeno Sauce and Fresh Pineapple
You recently cooked for 100 guests, which is a brave undertaking! How did you do it?
In a way, big parties are easier than small parties because you tend to make a battle plan and stick to it. Sauces, pesto, tapenades, hummus and dressings can be made three days out. Meats can be marinated two days out. You can make a quinoa salad the day before and add the rest of the ingredients on party day. Veggies can be poached and chilled or roasted ahead and drizzled or tossed with a sauce or pesto just before serving. If you want gorgonzola stuffed dates wrapped in sage leaves and bacon, you can assemble them the day before and pop them in the oven for 25 minutes as guests arrive. If you concentrate on filling the table with all those pre-prepared dishes, you’ll only have to worry about cooking your major proteins at party time.
Do you ever hire a caterer?
I hire caterers like Helene Henderson of Malibu Farm and Wolfgang Puck Catering for weddings, anniversary parties and other huge events. But the key to the events I do for more than 10 people is to hire a sous chef. She’ll arrive a few hours before the party, cook all the proteins and any hot appetizers that I’ve prepared, and plate and place everything how and where it needs to be. I pay her $40 or $50 an hour – it’s money well spent and much cheaper than hiring a caterer.
How do you stay party ready?
I make batches of crab cakes and freeze them, uncooked, on a baking sheet. Once frozen, I store them in freezer bags by the dozen so they can be popped in the oven and cooked on short notice. If you have canned garbanzo beans, tahini, garlic and lemon, you can make hummus on the fly. Keep pita or naan in the freezer and veggies in the fridge to serve with it. Of course, there are always nuts in sealed jars and dark chocolate covered berries to help fill in the gaps.
I understand that you had a Julia Child moment. Tell me about that.
Back when Julia was a regular guest on Good Morning America, she’d be there at 5 am to get her dishes prepared and was very keen on a little breakfast red wine. I thought it would be rude to not join her!
You’re having a spring dinner party. Tell us about your:
Dinnerware: I have a weakness for collecting dinnerware and use every bit of it. In spring, Herend’s Chinese Bouquet in Green. I also have stacks of mismatched vintage china collected from flea markets. They’re perfect in the garden because, if one breaks, there’s always another flea market before the next party!
Flatware: My wedding silver is by Tuttle, it’s heavy and beautiful and I always use it for formal dining room parties. But I also have several sets of antique silver that I’ll use for more casual affairs outside.
Stemware: For dining room dinners, William Yeoward’s Fern wine goblets are my favorite, but I use Waterford water glasses because they’re not as precious and are sturdy enough for the dishwasher. For casual parties outside, I’ll use my hand-blown blue Mexican stemware and glassware or some funky but interesting sets from Anthropologie.
Linens: For fancy pants parties, I have some beautiful antique linens handed down from my husband’s family as well as some gorgeous linen and lace cocktail and dinner napkins and placemats that once belonged to Gary Cooper. His daughter is my husband’s Godmother and she gave them to me when her mother passed away. For more casual dinners, I’ll use William Sonoma Home linen napkins in white or cream and, for BBQs or lobster bakes, you can’t beat IKEA’s linen dish towels with the red stripes on the edge.
Powder room candle: Aquiesse in Luxe Linen
Powder room soap: L’Occitane Verbena liquid hand soap
Finally, what advice would you give to someone who wants to be a great party host?
Relax. Relax. Relax. It’s not about showing off or being fancy. It’s about the people you love and the food you want to eat. That said, plan ahead, fill the table with easy dishes and hire someone to do the washing up so you can enjoy the party fully. Oh, and keep floss near your compact. There’s nothing worse than making a toast that ends up on Facebook and realizing you have a pound of broccolini in your front teeth!
For more information about Lisa, and to download her favorite healthy and delicious party recipes, visit her website, The Skinny here.
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