Someday I will hire a personal chef to cater a party for me. Actually, someday, I absolutely will hire this personal chef team and sit back and enjoy being served throughout an entire party. That will be a treat in itself, however, I also really love to cook and serve for my parties. I enjoy the whole process of planning, executing and serving dishes to my guests. Many of my parties are fairly simple with serve yourself or buffet style dishes of foods. Occasionally, I like to serve multi-course meals (either plated or family style) and when I do, I like to use the following tips/tricks/hacks to make the dinner more enjoyable for everyone involved.
I am the first person out there that will recommend hiring out (or purchasing out and bringing in) for large parties and life events. I value the talents of others and their ability to make my life easier more than I can say. These tips will work for just about any type of party, big or small, but they still require the work be put in. Hiring a chef, ordering catered items, renting dinner ware, hiring a cleaner or hiring a server are absolutely time and sanity saving options for important events. This list is for someone who really wants to do it themselves, whether because of circumstances or because they enjoy it.
These tips will also help for those trying to save money in their party budget for other area. I do stress that you know your limitations however because saving a few dollars here or there and being disappointed in the end will only make it feel like you wasted the money you did spend. I enjoy throwing parties, preparing dishes, and cooking foods. I’m pretty good about timing things out as well. I am terrible at getting the house spick and span before a party. I often hire that portion out and do the entertaining part of it all myself. Know your talents, your limitations and your resources and have a fantastic party!
This seems easy, right? Prep anything and everything you can for your party before the big day hits. It is trickier than it seems however because some items don’t keep as well as other items. Anything that you can prep without compromising the quality should be prepped as far in advance as possible. When creating my menu, I often try to get at least one or two items that can be prepped prior to the big day on the menu. Some menu items that can be prepped early include soups, sauces, vegetable cutting prep and many dessert and drink items. Need a simple syrup for your speciality cocktail? Whip one up nearly a week in advance and store in your fridge. Want to serve a dessert of cookies under ice cream? Prep the cookie dough up to a couple of months in advance and store in your freezer. This works great for home made crackers as well!
A lot of my multi-course parties combine a mix of serving dishes family style and plated. Family style is easier on the chef (and whoever does the dishes afterwards) and the plated style of serving is often easier on guests. I tend to serve the dishes that have to be made or finished during the party as family style and pre-plate (or even pre-dish for an all family style meal) what I can. Salads can often prepped an hour or so before the party, wrapped in cling wrap, and stored in the fridge. If you are serving an individual cheese course or a cheese platter you can also prep these early and put in fridge, just make sure you get it out with enough time to get it to room temperature before serving.
Include some form of entertainment at your party so that time between courses goes unnoticed. A little time between courses is actually great because it gives your guests time to really savor the course before it. Too much time can be a drag, but with the rest of these tips and a little entertainment no one will notice a time slag. I often do a photo booth, music, questions at the table or even drink pairings that guests can talk about in between courses.
Planning your menu carefully is very important when you are doing it all and wanting to actually sit down and enjoy your meal with your guests. I try to serve at least a couple of items that can be serve chilled or at room temperature. Salads, appetizers, cheese plates and desserts are easy places to put in items that do not have to stay hot before serving.
Take advantage of any and all warming and cooling appliances that you have in your home. I clean out my fridge as much as possible before a coursed meal so that I can pile in pre-prepped plates of items or pre-cut elements that will come together for a portion of the meal. My oven, if not in use, is set to warm and all hot dishes are carefully stored in the warmer so that they can still be served. (Be careful to not let hot food dry out in your warmer. Cover with foil and try not to put in to stay warm for too long.) My crock pot is typically in use for sauces or soups that are prepped in advanced, but need to be served hot.
Pregnancy cravings are no joke. Add to that my desire to entertain… well, a simple craving for an Italian meal turned into a multi-course extravaganza. I researched formal Italian meal courses and found out that Italians, they know how to dine! Out of my research (and cravings) came a 9 course meal that lasted four hours long!
I can’t say that the entire inspiration for this party was my pregnancy cravings… though, they certainly took a big role! The other inspiration was Kohl’s. When Kohl’s asked me how I celebrate summer I knew the answer was “Dinner al Fresco” and went shopping with that in mind. After coming across the Bobby Flay Home collection of melamine tableware I knew that I’d be serving an outdoor Italian feast.
Read on for my Italian dinner al fresco menu, table decor resources AND free printables so you can throw your own outdoor Italian feast!
In my massive craving for Italian food I went on a research binge to find out different ideas for a coursed out Italian meal. What I discovered is that Italians LOVE their food! A formal Italian meal has several different courses to it. Now, typically they wouldn’t list the aperitivo course on a menu because it is meant as a sort of opening to the meal. But, I just love a big full menu, so I included it. Below is what I did for our Italian meal. Please note that I am not Italian, nor have I had the pleasure of going to Italy. I wrote my Italian menu from researching different ideas and coming up with recipes. They may or may not be authentic Italian food. However, the menu items are delicious. Also, I used Google Translate to help me figure out how to word the menu items on the menu I created.
The opening course that usually features a cocktail, Prosecco, champagne, wine or sparkling water may also be accompanied by light appetizers. I served Prosecco, Italian Olives & Caprese Bites.
The antipasto course is slightly heavier than the apertivio course. Sometimes you’ll see either an aperirtivo or antipasto course offered at restaurants, but I went all in and did both. I chose to serve my garlic and parmesan stuffed grilled artichokes for this course.
The primo course is a heavier course than the antipasto, but lighter than the secondo course that comes next and is often served hot. Typically it is a pasta dish, risotto or soup. I chose to serve a clam spaghetti or Spaghetti alla Vongole. I’ll be sharing my recipe for this soon because I make my Spaghetti alla Vongole a tad different than other people out there, but in the meantime you should check out the Spaghetti Vongole from Jamie Oliver! YUM.
The secondo course is quite a bit heavier than the primo course and is typically the meat dish. It is often served alongside a contorno which is a vegetable side, either cooked or raw. An insalata (salad) can be served with this or after this course. I chose to serve my meat on top of my insalata or contorno (whichever you please) with a beautiful grilled flank steak served on a bed of arugula with freshly shaved parmesan and lemon. (Recipe coming soon!)
A cheese and fruit plate comes next in this extravagant meal. While most of our meal was served family style I prepped individual plates for the cheese and fruit course. I served a beautiful Italian gorgonzola and fontina cheese alongside grapes and grilled figs that were drizzled in honey. Just so you know… figs and gorgonzola are beautiful together.
One of my dear guests asked if she could bring anything to the event and I happily took her up on making a dessert because she is one of the best people in the world to ask to bring dessert. She never disappoints and didn’t disappoint on this lovely evening. She brought locally baked shortcakes to top with local strawberries and fresh whipped cream. Such a nice way to round out the meal.
Just when you think you are done… there is more! The caffè course is typically served last unless followed by an ammazzacaffè. I got this part wrong on my menu originally but fixed this for the printable. I put the digestivo after the caffè. It honestly didn’t make much of a difference though. We served a nice rich espresso. For all those non-Italian palates in the room (everyone) we had some whipped cream to top the strong coffee and sweeten it a bit.
The digestivo is a drink to conclude the meal. It is typically a liqueur of some sort. We served Limoncello.
To say we were full after this evening would be an extreme understatement.
If you’ve been reading long then you know that I’m obsessed with the ease of printables. This party was no different. I created up some fun Italian-inspired printables to bring together the table. Today I’m giving them away… for free! If you like free printables then please take a moment to sign up for my newsletter. All of my newsletters promise never before seen content, goodies, opportunities or printables for subscribers ONLY. And, of course, if you use some of my free printables I’d love to see them in action! #awellcraftedparty on any social media images so I can see and share. Now… onto the goodies:
Instructions are listed on the printables. To download, click on your selected printable, hit download, and save to your computer. Print according to instructions. Printables are for personal use only.
A big thank you to Kohl’s for asking me how I celebrate Summer. This was a lot of fun to put together. Kohl’s provided me with a gift card to help in celebrating summer. Thank you for reading posts that help support this blog. I only talk about companies that I have used, liked and feel that my readers would benefit from knowing in my blog posts. I regularly shop at Kohl’s for their great selection and prices. Please refer to my policies for more information.
The warmer days of Spring are here and Summer is just around the corner. For me this means that it is time to bring dinner OUTDOORS! Spring and Summer holidays and special occasions (Mother’s Day is Sunday!) are the perfect opportunity to bring a meal outdoors. The change of scenery can help make any meal feel like a special meal. But, not every meal makes for a great outdoor meal. You’ll want a meal that can hold up to the weather, be easy to serve and not too complicated to pack up and bring to wherever you are having your outdoor meal. When Grocery Outlet asked if I wanted to work with them on a post I immediately thought of all the fun outdoor items that they get this time of year, and wanted to throw a little outdoor party in honor of Mother’s Day. Below are some of my tips for creating a great outdoor meal. Check in tomorrow for a few recipes that anyone can make that are great for an outdoor meal!
I think that there are a few factors that make for an outdoor meal, including simplicity. Part of eating outdoors should be that the whole meal has a more relaxed feel to it. Even if you are going super fancy and formal, the meal itself can be made simple and easy to eat while still being elegant. Last year I went to a wonderful outdoor farm to table meal that completely hit all my favorite notes of an outdoor meal! Here are my tips for what makes a great outdoor meal:
1. Keep it Simple – The meal does not need to be complicated nor have a lot of steps. The perfect outdoor meal can either be cooked outdoors, or packed up and easy carried outdoors. When planning an outdoor meal you’ll want to keep your ingredient list down (at least the items that are going to the table, if you want to prep a complicated many ingredient meal at home that still carries nicely and is easy to serve then by all means, go for it!), keep the garnishes to a minimum and let the meal really be the centerpiece of the experience.
2. Make sure it holds up to the weather- Besides food safety, considering the weather is important for the overall meal experience. If the meal you are serving really tastes best piping hot then you’ll need to figure out a way to cook or at least reheat outdoors so that the wind doesn’t take down the temp. Or, you can choose a meal that can be served at room temperature or cooled. If it is really hot then you might need to think about whether your desserts or meal items are going to just melt while waiting to be served. Of course, don’t forget about food safety as no one likes food poisoning. Items that are sitting out need to be properly cooled or heated to keep the items out of the danger zone.
3. A pretty setting – Eating outdoors can be a wonderful experience that can make any meal feel like a special occasion. Of course, if that meal is served in a not-so-ideal space and handed out wrapped in plastic it can feel more like a fast food experience than a special occasion. Take a few moments to make the meal special by taking care on how it is served. Even dressing up your picnic items a bit can make an ordinary meal feel extraordinary. When throwing parties in my back yard I often opt to cut flowers from my yard and use my basic dishware from the house. I leave my really nice dishware inside, but the basics can still feel dressed up when surrounded by nature! When I picnic I try to make things nicer by wrapping them in parchment paper and twine rather than just plastic baggies, or serving items on bamboo plates or reusable outdoor plastic plates instead of opting for paper.There are also a lot of great brands of really beautiful paper plates out there that can be perfect for making an outdoor meal feel special.
4. Think about pests – Nothing can ruin a meal faster than a few pests. Supply bug spray, plant bug repellent plants around your yard, or use some citronella candles to ward off pesky mosquitoes and flies. I found these adorable yellow tins with citronella candles at Grocery Outlet for less than $2 and bought a whole bunch of them for my outdoor parties. Not only do they look cute on the table, but they help ward off unwanted bugs!
Don’t forget to check back tomorrow for some super easy recipes that ANYONE can make for a great outdoor meal!
Grocery Outlet wants to help you serve a great outdoor (or indoor) meal and are sharing a $25 Gift Card with one lucky reader. Grocery Outlet operates 210+ stores in California, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Washington. Check out the Grocery Outlet website to find a store near you!
This post was created in collaboration with Grocery Outlet. All opinions are my own. Thank you for reading and sharing posts that are created in partnership with brands that help support this blog.