Dinner Parties 101

I love to host a good party. What’s better than inviting friends and family into your home for great food, drinks and conversation?! As much fun as a party is, it can be quite stressful to plan and prepare for. I have 6 “game changer” hostess tips that can help you throw a party with ease! Okay, I will give you tip number 1 now as it’s a theme throughout this post- PLAN AHEAD. Plan your appetizers, and dishes ahead of time.  Do your research and have some fun with it! You don’t want to spend your whole evening with your head in a cookbook instead of spending time with your guests. Figure out your cooking timeline and how long each dish needs to cook. I selected my menu gradually throughout the week and looked up the best way to cook each dish, while jotting down some notes. Figure out what you can prep ahead of time to make the evening that much smoother.  Check out the rest of my 5 dinner party tips below! Continue reading to the bottom and you’ll see what dishes I served and how I was able to get ahead on them!

Tip number 2: Have an appetizer to hold your guests over and serve as a conversation starter. My menu started with a tomato and mozzarella crustini appetizer.  It included colorful grape tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, basil, mozzarella cheese and a french baguette.  I was able to prep some of this in advance! The night before I cut my tomatoes in half and tossed them with some balsamic vinegar, olive oil, basil, salt and pepper. I covered this combination and let it marinate.  All that was left for me to do on party day was to cut the bread and toast it in the oven with some olive oil, and add a slice of mozzarella cheese with a spoonful of my (already made) tomato mixture!

Tip number 3: Delegate what guests can bring wisely. Many times, guests will offer to bring a side dish, drinks or even a simple dessert to help out. This can be a huge help when you want to focus on making the main components of the meal. I let my guests take over some easy, non time consuming parts to the meal.  Someone brought the wine, another brought the salad and someone brought dessert. Each of these can be super simple (you cant go wrong with a fresh salad, and who doesn’t love sweets and wine??) , but each component allows the guests to get creative if they choose to!

Tip number 4: Clean and tidy ahead of time! Two days before the party, my husband and I cranked up the record player and got cleaning! We scrubbed and organized, did laundry and ran the dish washer so it would be empty for all of the dirty dishes to come during “party clean up”. Who wants to worry about a dirty house on the day of the party? All you need to do is maintain your newly cleaned home and it’s ready to host!

Tip number 5: Set up an aesthetically pleasing party environment. I chose my table setting ahead of time and made sure to set the table with glasses, plates, utensils, fun napkins and fresh flowers. I also set aside a spot where my appetizer would be displayed and laid out some plates and disposable napkins nearby. I lit the candles, chose my favorite music playlist and cracked the porch door open so guests felt welcomed to wonder onto the porch to enjoy a cocktail. Lastly, I set out my serving dishes and utensils that I wanted to use for each dish component so I could simply transfer it onto a plate and have it ready to go!

My Menu (and time saving tips)!

-Appetizer: Listed above^ under tip 2.

-Fruit: Watermelon pizza (see my last blog post for this beautiful picture). I simply cut a whole watermelon into discs. From here, I cut it like a pie- ending with triangular pieces that fit together and end up looking like a pizza. Remove any black seeds you can find and then top it with feta, mint and balsamic vinegar. This was all done right before guests arrived.

-Veggies: Roasted rainbow vegetables. I precut ALL of my veggies the night before and bagged them individually with a squeeze of lemon juice to preserve the color of the vegetables. So that evening I simply laid them out onto a pan and roasted them at 400 for about 25 minutes with some fresh time, garlic salt and pepper. I chose my vegetables so I would have (almost) every color of the rainbow (radishes, carrots, yellow peppers, zucchini, red onion). I served it in this order once finished to catch the eyes of my guests! I also cooked down some mushrooms stovetop with garlic, butter and thyme for depth of flavor and an added side component that works well with the steak. 

-Starch: Roasted potatoes. I diced all of my potatoes ahead of time. PRO TIP- submerge them in water and refrigerate to keep them from browning.  On the day of, I just tossed them with some olive oil, paprika, fresh rosemary, salt, and pepper. I cooked them at the same temperature as my veggies, except I stuck them in the oven to roast for 15 or so minutes longer. I served these on a nice white dish with some freshly chopped chives and a sprinkling of sea salt.

Meat: Flank steak. I marinated this a day before. This is a great meat to serve for a party! It cooks quickly, and doesn’t break the bank! Two pounds of this meat can easily feed six people. I marinated this beautiful steak in soy sauce, worchester sauce, garlic, lemon juice, sweet onion, pepper, red pepper flakes, dijon mustard, and red wine vinegar. This meat needs about 4 minutes per side (or until the thermometer reaches 130 degrees for a tender medium rare) and it needs 15 minutes to rest, so plan accordingly-do not skip the resting! This allows the juices in the meat to settle, creating an evenly cooked, juicy meat. Hit it with a bit of sea salt as it comes off of the grill to amp up the flavor. Once properly rested, cut the mean in slices against the grain and display it nicely. I laid the steak on a bed of arugula with some chopped chives on top for added color.

Sauce: Chimichurri sauce. I made this the day before and the flavors really settled in and became even more delicious the next day! This sauce was for the steak and included: fresh cilantro, fresh parsley, garlic, olive oil, cumin, oregano, red wine vinegar, salt and pepper. This sauce was to die for and really elevated the dish. I would dip pretty much anything into this sauce….It was a huge hit! AND we made enough for the rest of the week! (Cue happy dance)

Enjoy these 6 tips and meal ideas, and go throw a rockin’, stress free party!

Tastes Like Home 

Tonight’s recipe: Black Bean Corn Salad. I have had my food instagram and blog since early January and I can’t believe I haven’t posted this recipe yet! As I’ve improved and learned throughout my culinary journey, I have tried some great new recipes and techniques, but sometimes you just have to go back to the basics. This salad reminds me of home.. this was a staple snack in our household growing up, and I have made it a staple snack in my own home now. It is super simple and can be made in large batches so you can eat it throughout the week! It’s pretty open ended as well. You can use canned items or go the fresh route! I used canned black beans that I rinsed and drained, diced fresh green peppers, diced fresh tomatoes, diced fresh onion, diced jalapeño (you know I gotta have the kick), I boiled a couple of ears of corn on the cob and cut off the kernels once they cooled, lime juice and some chopped fresh cilantro. I seasoned it with salt, pepper and drizzled some olive oil and golden balsamic vinegar to taste.

Bowl of “This and That”

Today we have another one of my “this and that” meals! I’m a veggie lover and my goal was to make these ingredients shine without doing much to them. Starting at the top and going clockwise we have lightly sautéed red peppers with basil, roasted Zucchini, diced roasted sweet potatoes, roasted asparagus, Worcester cooked button mushrooms, roasted garlic, and fresh avocado- all over a bed of roasted spaghetti squash that had been tossed with salt, red pepper flakes and a dash of olive oil. Everything in this dish was kept very natural and simple. I wanted to keep the integrity of these fresh ingredients. All of the roasted vegetables were simply seasoned with salt, pepper and olive oil. That’s a whoolleee lotta yum in one dish!😋**Fun Fact: When cooking with oil, one of the best to use is vegetable oil…not olive oil. Olive oil has a high burning point which makes it tricky to cook meats and vegetables that require longer cooking times. Olive oil is best used as a dressing for all types of salads or to drizzle over ingredients.