What I’ve learned about entertaining

entertaining

 

Am I the only one who feels like they are still catching up after the holidays? We finally put our Christmas tree away this week and it felt so good! Don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas and seeing all the beautiful ornaments we’ve collected over the years but it was time to have my house back.

I took a week off in between Christmas and New Year’s – what I call “family week” – and during that time I was thinking about how much easier this Christmas Eve felt to host. This is the third year we’ve hosted and I felt like I finally was in a groove after learning from all my previous party “mistakes”. Here’s what I’ve learned to have a fun, easy, stress free and memorable party…

 

Set up beforehand, if possible. I like to have the table set up a day or two before Christmas Eve so Ryan and I don’t have to stress about taking folding chairs and folding tables in from the garage the morning of the party. This year we ran out of time and set up last minute, but it worked out because our curious almost-three year old was very curious and would have moved everything around anyway. :)

Cook some, buy the rest.  Pre-baby, I used to go crazy trying cook everything, proving to myself and my guests just how domestic I was. Ha!
Post-baby I realize how crazy I was! If you’re hosting dinner, make the meal and buy the appetizers and/or desserts. No one wants to go to a dinner party where the host is stressed, so do yourself a favor and let other people help! Plus you don’t want to be in the kitchen all night feeling like a caterer. Accept help so you can actually enjoy your guests!
If you’re hosting a big group, like I do, do a potluck. I make a ham and some roasted veggies while our families bring sides and appetizers.

Have sternos on hand to keep meals hot. Someone will always be late. No matter how organized you are with planning your meal times, someone will be late and all your food may get cold. I only have one oven, so I keep these on hand to keep the meal hot as guests arrive.

Always have a bottle of champagne in the fridge. You never know if someone will share news to celebrate! I love drinking champagne even on days where there’s nothing to celebrate but life itself, so I usually have a bottle chilling in the fridge.

Take stock of dish soap, paper towels, and toilet paper. A few years ago when we were hosting a party, we had only one roll of paper towels and one clean dish towel. Party foul. The next year I made sure all the dish towels were clean so clean-up was easier. Also, make sure all bathrooms are stocked with toilet paper so your guests don’t get embarrassed asking for it mid-party.

Set the mood. I’m a bit of a pyro, so every party I have there are tons of candles. On Christmas Eve, we try and get our neighbors involved to do luminaries, so our house had 48 candles outside alone. We may have had three times that inside on the tables!  For table settings, I like to keep it simple: lots of candles, plates all in the same or similar colors, and small flower arrangements.  I feel like the candles and the flowers elevate the mood and make guests feel special. At least that’s my intention!

Have the dishwasher empty. You’ll likely go through a lot of dishes cooking and eating, so have the dishwasher ready to do it’s job! This way you don’t have to wake up to a kitchen counter filled with dirty dishes.

OK to have dishes in the sink. Nothing is more annoying than when you go to someone’s house that appears spotless and they say “oh, don’t mind the mess” just to be polite. Do you agree?! I like to keep a few dishes in the sink: 1) because I’m lazy and hate doing dishes and 2) it makes guests feel like your home isn’t too precious and they can kick back and relax.

OK to entertain barefoot. On the same note as above, I read a tip years ago to entertain barefoot so you’re guests feel more relaxed and at home. I am typically barefoot at home anyway, so the same thing goes when I have people over.

Have ice made. If guests want a cocktail or a glass of water, they’ll need ice to keep it cold. (duh.)  One of my first parties I hosted, I forgot to make ice and I felt awful that my friends were drinking warm cocktails. Lesson learned!

Don’t go crazy buying desserts. If you’re cooking dinner, you’ll likely be too full to binge on sweets. Make/buy one or two and call it a day.

Do not mop your floors beforehand. I repeat: do not mop your floors beforehand. Ryan’s just as OCD as me, if not worse, and we would always mop before a party. As clean as you think your friends and family are, a big party tracks in a lot of dirt and stickiness from spilled drinks even if the party is mainly outside. I’ll vacuum before a party and do a very quick cleaning, but always mop the day after.

Have the garbage and recycling empty. Similar to the note about the dishwasher, have the trash ready and empty to throw things away so you don’t have to bring it out during a party.

 

Extra Curricular Activities

This summer was a busy one: newish baby, going back to work, packing, renovating, moving, unpacking, not sleeping. :) Even so, I forced myself to also do some fun things so I didn’t get burned out. I managed to get to the beach once (yay!) and celebrated two of my best friends getting married. I also explored our new town by taking walks in the local park, joined a local women’s group, started a play group with some lovely women I met after having Cole, and took some cooking classes.

I’m pretty confident in the kitchen but seeing other techniques is fun for me. (A perfectly relaxing day to me is reading design magazines while binge watching The Barefoot Contessa.) Last month I took a pasta making class and an Italian sauce making class and learned so much. I just have to find my kitchenaid mixer in the pile of boxes in the basement and buy this attachment and I’ll be making my own pasta in no time!

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Here is a delicious and fresh tomato sauce recipe we learned:

Prep time: 15 minuets
Cooking time: 75 minutes

Ingredients:

  • Can whole peeled italian plum tomatoes (2 p0unds)
  • 1 medium yellow onion, sliced
  • 4 table spoons olive oil (not EVOO. I just realized I love this taste so much better)
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 4 fresh bay leaves
  • fresh basil

 

Intructions:

Warm the olive oil and add bay leaves. Add the sliced onions and cook for 10 minutes on medium heat. Bring the onion to caramel color then add the tomato, sugar, and simmer for 60 minutes. For best results cook at least 60 minutes. Let the sauce cool for 20 minutes and blend the sauce in a blender or run through food mill. Ass salt and fresh chopped basil and refrigerate for 24 hours. Enjoy!

Did you know there’s a difference between tomato and marinara sauce? The base of tomato sauce is sauteed onions, where marinara sauce is a based of sauteed garlic. Interesting, right?

Easy Holiday Appetizer: Stuffed Mushrooms with Spinach

I hope you all had a nice holiday! I had a wonderful Christmas and have been taking advantage of my down time since this pregnancy is catching up to me. I had intentions of posting this recipe before Christmas, but life often gets in the way. Better late than never, right? If you’re hosting a party for New Year’s Eve these mushrooms are the perfect appetizer! My nephews literally beg me to make them which secretly makes me feel like the Barefoot Contessa. Those kids know how to butter me up!

This week I hosted my first Christmas Eve dinner with both of our families which was really fun, and if I’m being totally honest… really crazy. :) (I posted a few pictures on instagram, if you’d like to see.) We had 27 people total which is by far the biggest dinner party I’ve hosted so far. It went really smoothly and I was joking that every party I’ve had previously was just training for that night! In addition to other finger foods, I made my go-to appetizer which was a hit. I definitely recommend this recipe if you’re looking for something quick and easy to impress your guests.

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french onion soup

Homemade French Onion Soup Recipe

I had such a great weekend and not only because we won a vacation! (I still can’t believe it!) Ryan’s sister and her hubby went away for the weekend to celebrate their 10 year anniversary so our nephews stayed with us for the weekend. On Saturday we took them to Union Beach to volunteer and they were such good sports! I felt like it was a really great opportunity to teach them a lesson and to give  back to the community. I wasn’t sure how they’d react, but my oldest nephew came up to me at the end and said how good it felt to help others. How sweet is that?!

I’ve been meaning to try making french onion soup for a long time now and figured this was the perfect Autumn lunch since our family would be over! This recipe is based off of several different recipes I pulled from books or magazines and was delicious and filling!

 

French Onion Soup Recipe
6 Servings, 15 minutes prep and 30 minutes cooking time

Ingredients

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1.5 pounds onions
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1.5-2 large boxes of low sodium beef broth
  • 1/4 cup red wine
  • 6 slices french bread
  • 6 ounces sliced Gruyere cheese
  • 6 ounces shredded Parmesan
  • 6 beef bullion cubes

 

1. Melt butter in a very large, deep pot over medium heat. Add onions and stir to coat. Cover and cook for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally until onions are very soft and begin to turn a golden brown color. (Yum!)

2. Uncover and increase heat to medium/high heat. Add sugar and cook uncovered for 10 minutes, stirring often. Sprinkle onions with flour and cook for another minute. Stir in broth, wine, 1 cup water, and beef bullion cubes. Simmer, uncovered for 5 minutes.

3. Toast slices of bread in the broiler until lightly toasted, about 1-2 minutes on each side. Place six ovenproof bowls (I love these) on a baking sheet and divide soup equally.

4. Place a piece of toast on the top of each serving of soup and top with Gruyere slices, followed by a generous sprinkling of shredded Parmesan. (The cheesier the better!) Heat under broiler for about 3 minutes or until the cheese is bubbly and deliciously melted. Carefully remove from oven and enjoy while warm!

garden party

This weekend we had some friends over for a casual little garden party. I kept the food simple and made my go to shrimp scampi, a garden salad, and my sangria that always gets people silly. I set the table with a simple white linen table cloth, and made a runner out of burlap from the local craft store. I didn’t even sew it, I just got 3 yards of fabric and folded it length wise! (I asked the cashier if they had any coupons and got it for only $8!) I love the way the candles and flowers dress up a typically utilitarian fabric.

Garden party tablescape - white tablecloth with burlap runner and sunflower centerpiece

Delicious shrimp scampi

Garden party with friends

Garden party sunflower centerpience tea light candles and white sangria

Pan seared scallops with rice and green beans

seared scallops

Pan seared scallops with rice and green beans

Ryan and I both had busy work weeks, so on Wednesday I decided to make a “fancy” dinner to make the middle of the week feel a bit more special. Trying new recipes and cooking is relaxing to me and was exactly what I needed to pause this hectic week. I found this recipe in Cooking Light (my new favorite magazine) and paired it with a Chardonnay we got on our recent wine tasting tour. It was so simple to make, and gave me an excuse to start using fresh herbs from the garden!

I’ve been a busy bee working on a few different projects, so this weekend I’m going to do some gardening, celebrate Ryan’s birthday(!) , and catch up on some reading. Take a look at my facebook page to sneak a peak at some project updates!

WE WOULD LOVE TO HEAR ABOUT YOUR DESIGN PROJECT!