I have dreams of being the ultimate hostess. In my head I throw elaborate parties with DIY photo booths, fun themes, and beautiful and delicious food. There’s floral arrangements and appetizers and everyone has fun and no one is stressed. In my head there’s music and laughter and cute little striped paper straws. And a bartender. There’s a bartender in my head.
In reality, as much as I (think) I love throwing big parties, I haven’t had much, if any, actual experience. My home in Boston was barely big enough for me and the cat, and the few times I did have people over, two people ended up perching awkwardly on bar stools that did not accompany a bar and I sat on the floor. I now live in a place big enough to throw parties, but every time I think of a party I want to throw, I get completely overwhelmed with the enormity of my dream get-together, and it never actually materializes.
Instead, I’ve taken to throwing little dinners. Most of the time it’s K, my parents, AJ and myself, and it involves some sort of theme (Make your own pizza! Panini night! Pizza delivery and Jeopardy!) This is a much more manageable idea for my easily cluttered brain to tackle and I end up having fun instead of stressing.
K’s parents visited last month and I decided to up my entertaining game and host a dinner party–still small–but more involved than my usual dinners which, no shame, are usually enjoyed in the living room in front of the TV. It’s how we do. I felt like this was my chance to take all of my tricks of the trade for easy entertaining and merge them into a version of my dream party.
The key? Planning. So much planning. Lucky for me, nothing makes me happier than planning and lists. So, here’s my humble How-To for hosting a stress free Holiday Party.
How To Throw a Holiday Dinner Party (And Stay Sane!)
1. Plan your menu. You’re going to want to think about how long things cook, where they cook, and at what temperatures they cook. You’ll also want to think about what you will be doing once your guests arrive. It’s really important to me to be able to actually hang out with my guests, so I want something that is either really fast to pull together, or is pretty much done before they arrive. Braised dishes are great for dinner parties because they get better the longer they cook and are pretty hard to mess up. Also, choosing at least one thing you can buy pre-made, like appetizers, is key. You can focus on the meal and apps are already done!
For this party I chose:
Cheese Plate Appetizers: I got some good olives at the grocery store, my favorite aged gouda, and made a quick marinated mozzarella. I also bought some good salami and broke out my new favorite olive oil for dipping.
Braised Pork with Fall Vegetables — It is hearty enough to please a crowd and cooks all day. It will be finished by the time your guests arrive so you’ll get to enjoy appetizers with everyone and not worry.
Marinated and Grilled Portobello Mushrooms–for the vegetarian!
Roasted New Potatoes with Rosemary and Olive Oil — potatoes can be prepped earlier that day, and will roast in the oven once the pork is finished. Hands off, no need to babysit.
Green Beans with Parmesan and Lemon — Green beans can be prepped in advance, then they cook in no time at all. They can be cooked, plated, and served while you are plating everything else.
AJ offered to bring a dessert, which I gladly took her up on.
2. Plan your table, clean your house, decorate. This means that you need to make sure you actually have all the serving dishes, serving utensils, place mats, napkins, etc… I set mine out the day before so I know what I’m going to need. Cleaning your house is a given, but you’ll need to plan for it and gives yourself lots of time. If you plan on having cut flowers or doing a lovely centerpiece, you’ll need to get everything you need for that as well.
3. Map your game plan. This is a trick I learned from Ina Garten, who actually writes down her “game plan.” She gets detailed, even writing down what time things go in and out of the oven and when she should get ready for the party. A list? I’m totally in.
My Aunt Joan has this uncanny ability to get all food out at the same time, hot. I needed a little more help, so I started with when I wanted to serve dinner, and worked backwards. I made sure to have all of my recipes in front of me so I could time when things would go in to the oven, when things would need to rest, and when I would need to be in front of the stove actually cooking. My game plan includes two days because the pork needed to marinate overnight and I could do some other prep work, like trimming and cutting the green beans and marinate the mozzarella for the cheese plate.
Another great thing to do the day before? Set the table. It’s one more thing you don’t have to think about on the day of your party!
My game plan included little notes I wanted to remember, like what my mom and dad offered to bring, and that I needed to remember to buy decaf coffee.
Take lots of time on this and make sure you have all of the details hammered out. You’ll notice I didn’t write the mushrooms down, and I almost forgot to make them. Live and learn!
4. Trust the process and enjoy your party! Something will inevitably go wrong, the timing might be a little off, you might forget something. At the end, though, it doesn’t matter. Your guests will still have fun even if you forget to put out the herbed crackers. They’ll still have fun if you serve at 8:00pm instead of 7:45pm. Relax, don’t self-deprecate (something that is hard for me, for sure), and enjoy!
We had a great time and everything was delicious. There was lots of laughter, story telling, and merriment. And, I got to throw my party!
The pork was delicious, and very easy to make. If you’re planning a holiday party I would highly recommend making this recipe.
The pork is succulent and deeply flavorful. It’s like fall on a plate; it’s spiced but not spicy and comforting. It was a huge hit and I highly recommend it for any dinner party.
Entertaining can be easy and stress-free. If you plan, prepare, and then sit back and let yourself enjoy the party, you and your guests are sure to have a blast.
Here’s the recipe.
Braised Pork with Fall Vegetables (Adapted from Amateur Gourmet)
- 5 pound pork roast, trimmed and cut into 3 inch chunks
- 1 tablespoon cumin
- 1 tablespoon ground coriander
- 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 6 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
- 1 tablespoon dried thyme
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large onion, sliced
- 1 large fennel bulb, sliced
- 5 carrots, chopped
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 cups veal stock
- 3 cups chicken stock
- Add cumin, coriander, fennel seed, cayenne, oregano, garlic, and thyme to a bowl. Add pork and toss to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight, or at least 4 hours.
- The next day, preheat oven to 275 degrees. Take pork out of refrigerator and bring to room temperature, 45 minutes before cooking.
- Add olive oil to a large dutch oven and heat over medium high heat until shimmering. Working in batches, sear pork on all sides and transfer to a plate. Reduce heat to medium and add vegetables. Cook for about 5 minutes, until softened but not browned. Add chicken stock and veal stock and scrape bottom of the pot to deglaze. Add bay leaves and seared pork.
- Cover with a lid and transfer to oven. Cook for 4 hours. 15 minutes before serving, take pork out and arrange on a serving dish. Add vegetables around the pork and garnish with fresh parsley. Bring remaining sauce in the pot to a boil and reduce until thick. Serve in a bowl or gravy boat, topping the pork with the sauce when plating.