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Dinner Party

How to host a simple fall dinner party

Guys! I have this secret obsession with starting a dinner club. It’s not a secret anymore since I just told you about it, ha. Seriously, anyone who knows me, knows I love to host gatherings. I mostly love hosting when it involves food (which is always). Also, you probably know I have an obsession with all things fall. So, of course I had to put those two things together! Recently, I co-hosted a fall inspired dinner party with my co-worker and I think it was a huge success. Here are some of our tips and pics!

Our guests enjoying their dinner on a crisp fall night
Our guests enjoying their dinner on a crisp fall night
  • Pick a location – We wanted to have the party outside so we had to decide between backyards. When doing a party outside make sure you have a fairly flat yard if you want to put a table on the grass. Know where your electrical outlets are if you want to use any sort of lighting or music. HAVE A RAIN PLAN! We live in Pittsburgh and we have our fair share of rain, make sure your location allows for flexibility if you have rain or snow. (It did start pouring an hour before our dinner but we waited it out and luckily our guests were more than happy to help us get things set up when it was dry.)

    Simple can still be elegant! Candles and flowers go a long way.
    Simple can still be elegant! Candles and flowers go a long way.
  • Sketch out a menu before you send the invite – This was a really crucial step. We actually made some pretty good decisions on the theme of the menu and number of dishes before we sent out the invite. We decided to focus on a Mediterranean feeling menu but wanted to make sure there were fall elements in each dish. We also decided on our protein early on because we knew that would drive a lot of the expense. Chicken is always a cost-effective way to go and there are plenty of ways to make it sexy! Also – remember your veg friends; they appreciate you thinking of them and making sure they don’t have to just eat salad.

    Carrots are a great side dish for any fall dinner! We found this recipe on Pinterest which includes a lemon tahini sauce!
    Carrots are a great side dish for any fall dinner! We found this recipe on Pinterest which includes a lemon tahini sauce!
  • Make a Pinterest board – Shortly after menu planning we set up a Pinterest board where we could both pin things that inspired us and dishes that looked yummy. Ultimately, most of the recipes we chose came from Pinterest. This is also a good way to focus in on specific elements of the party that you want to make sure you capture (i.e., I was committed to having a blanket bench and luckily she had a bench so I brought the blankets!)

    Appetizers can be simple - bread with different olive oils, olives, and cheese!
    Appetizers can be simple – bread with different olive oils, olives, and cheese!
  • When it comes to decor, simple can still be elegant – I subscribe to the notion that when you want something to look really classy, just add candles! We kept the decor very simple, the tables were covered in butcher paper (a roll from Michaels cost $7.00) and we used mason jars with tea lights as decoration along with two vases of dried flowers (see picture below). A simple accent of burlap and twine helped to keep the rustic fall look. The food was all served family style which means you need plenty of room for your dishes on the table. A strand or two of lights can also make a huge difference. Don’t fuss with fancy dishes or glassware! If you want to spend money, spend it on more candles!!!! Fun platters can also serve as a great way to bring color or detail to your table.

    A simple centerpiece with dried flowers, burlap, twine, and mason jars.
    A simple centerpiece with dried flowers, burlap, twine, and mason jars.
  • Buy in bulk – We made a Costco run a week before the dinner to pick up ingredients that were non-perishable or had a long shelf life (nuts, cheeses, dried fruits). Buying in bulk can be a great way to save on the cost, we had also planned dishes that had similar ingredients so things could be used in multiple dishes.

    Appetizers can be as simples as dried fruits, nuts, and cheese. Filling your platter to the brim can make an impressive statement.
    Appetizers can be as simples as dried fruits, nuts, and cheese. Filling your platter to the brim can make an impressive statement.
  • Full bar vs. wine or beer – We talked about this a good deal. Do you go with specialty cocktails? Do you get a bunch of wine and beer? Ultimately, you should do whatever you think your guests will like. We had a feeling a lot of our guests would bring some wine so we decided it would be easier to just have wine (we ended up going through lots of wine!!). To save on money, encourage your guests to bring their favorite wine or beer. Most people want to bring something as a token of appreciation so let them!
  • Time out cooking so that you don’t have to stand in the kitchen the whole time – We did some prep work the night before (mostly sauces and cutting). Make sure you pick recipes that are simple enough that you can execute in a few hours. Time everything out based on prep time and cook time. If you want to pre-bake anything make sure you don’t overcook it. Your guests wont know what things are supposed to look like so you get to be the judge before things go out!

    Chicken can be sexy! We served a simple roasted chicken with a series of fun sauces (pesto, harissa, hummus). This allowed our guest the option to jazz up their chicken however they wanted!
    Chicken can be sexy! We served a simple roasted chicken with some fun sauces (pesto, harissa, hummus). This allowed our guests the option to jazz up their chicken however they wanted!
  • Don’t Stress! – I have had my fair share of kitchen meltdowns but I have learned that the biggest part of entertaining is the time spent with your guests. Unlike a restaurant, your guests usually don’t come in with a lot of expectations (unless you have hosted before and then of course, you have to live up that haha) so just roll with it! If it rains, it rains. As long as you have plenty of wine I am sure it will still be a great time!

 

An Evening in Provence

Dinner Table #1

Before the summer began I was determined to have a fancy dinner party for my birthday. I expressed my idea several times to my family and was generally given a “yeah, sure…” response. Eventually I wore everyone down and made them see the greatness that was my idea of having a classy summer dinner party.

The only catch was it couldn’t just be a party for my birthday (wah wah) and instead had to be a combination of our annual Bastille Day party and my  fancy dinner party. No problem with me! I was so excited to get started on the planning. We spent a few family meetings coming up with the perfect guest list and trying to focus in on a French inspired menu. The task proved to be challenging from the start, picking a guest list of interesting and inspiring folks was the easy part, it was the menu that proved to take much longer to commit to.

Olive Mix

We wanted to focus on seasonal food but at the same time try to highlight some of the dishes or flavors that have come to represent the Provence region of France. I found myself visiting websites and flipping through several French cookbooks in order to find the dishes that had to be on the menu. What was I thinking?!?! I am not a French trained chef and I wouldn’t say I spend most of my time making French inspired dishes. I was starting to feel some pressure.

Prosciutto Wrapped Asparagus

Thankfully I had my mom by my side in the kitchen and she was the best sous chef a girl could ask for. She assured me that everything would work out and we even did a few test runs just to make sure the food would not disappoint. A big thanks to the hubby and dad for eating those dishes and giving honest feedback.

So the night was finally upon us. The food was coming together in the kitchen and the house was starting to fill with the intoxicating smells of France. We were getting closer to show time and then the sky opened up and decided to pour buckets of rain. AGH! Even though we had a tent (a tent of epic proportions) there was still the whole idea of sitting in a rain storm trying to enjoy a summer meal.  We decided to plow through and pray that skies would clear and the rain would cease. With some minor adjustments to the cocktail hour, we were able to hold out for the rain to subside.

As it rained our guests were able to enjoy a wide variety of French wines (price of admission for our guests, hehe) and bites including my French Onion Tarts, Prosciutto wrapped Asparagus, and an assortment of pates and cheese. The rest of the meal flowed beautifully and we hope everyone enjoyed eating as much as we enjoyed making.

1st Course – Beet Salad on Baby Arugula with candied Walnuts, Goat Cheese (not pictured) and a Honey Vinaigrette

Beet Salad

 

Main Course – Provencal Potatoes, Stuffed Flounder with a bread crumb topping, herbed Lamb Chops, and our version of Ratatouille (not pictured because I am an idiot).

Provencal Potatoes

Herb Stuffed Flounder

Lamb Chops

We finished the meal in true French fashion with a beautiful cheese board accompanied by fruits, nuts and fresh local honey. Unfortunately by this point in the meal I had enough wine and spirits to completely forget about taking a picture to capture the moment, you’ll just have to believe me when I say it was wonderful!

The night was exactly what we hoped for and rain aside, it still turned out the way we hoped it would. I want to personally thank all of our friends and family who helped make the night perfect and for sticking it out through the wind in the rain in order to get a little taste of France in our backyard.

Table Set #2