Having friends over to your home is true gift, but as busy as we all are these days, it seems like hosting parties at home has become more of a rarity than a regular occurrence. Sad, but true. We had a thought, though. What if we could find a way to make entertaining easier – meaning spending less time and money, while still hosting a great party. With this notion in mind, we made a call to Amos Gott, one of Nashville’s most creative event planners. He was voted Best Event and Wedding Planner by the Nashville Scene, is the 2013 Editor’s Pick as the preferred Wedding Planner for the state of Tennessee by The Knot, and was chosen to design the Swan Ball in 2011. We knew he was the perfect person to help us come up with a foolproof, easy party plan that would solve this problem and, as you’ll see in his post today, he came through in spades!
Your mission – should you choose to accept it – is to conquer your fears and hesitations of hosting your friends at your house for a party before the holidays. And I’m going to tell you how you can do it… The answer is by going to Costco!
Now I’m not saying you won’t still have to do a little bit of preparation to throw this stylish soiree, but by following these simple tips and directions you can whip through the store tonight after work and be party-ready tomorrow. With just a little time in the kitchen you can be “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” as opposed to having an otherwise “Silent Night.”
With just a little bit of preparation and just a little bit of investment, your guests will be wow-ed by your prowess as a host or hostess.
Let’s start with the menu. Items that are pre-made can be bought ready to go or tweaked to become a new family-favorite in your recipe repertoire. You want to make sure you have a good balance of items. For this spontaneous party, I have put together the following menu selections.
- Roast Pork Tenderloin with Raspberry Chipotle Sauce
- Chicken Salad on Croissants
- Sushi-Grade Salmon on Crackers
- Toasted Ravioli
- Cheese Tray
- Brie en Brioche
- Madeleine Tree
- Brownie Santa Hats
You might think it sounds adventurous on such short notice, but trust me – you can do it!
Meat Department – Pork tenderloin (one two-pack actually contains four loins), salmon slices and chicken salad
Bread Department – Rolls for the tenderloin, mini-croissants for the chicken salad, madeleines and brownie bites
Cheese Section – You may select whatever variety of cheeses you prefer. Keep colors, sizes, shapes and textures in mind, as you don’t want a tray of cheeses that are all the same color and size. Try something new, but definitely purchase the Ford Farm Wensleydale with Cranberries. It’s always a hit. And also pick up the Brie en Brioche.
Fruit Section – Fruit to garnish your fruit tray, and some additional to add to your centerpiece. Pomegranates, red and/or white grapes, raspberries and pears are seasonal and colorful favorites.
Freezer Section – Ravioli (You may pick the kind, but consider the shape as well as the flavor) and spanakopita
Refrigerated Section – Cream cheese
Grocery Aisles – Raspberry Chipotle Sauce, crackers for the salmon and for the cheese (the sampler pack offers several selections in one and is the best deal), peppermints, frying oil, such as canola, peppermint bark and marinara sauce
Roast Pork Tenderloin with Raspberry Chipotle Sauce
Probably the one item that sounds the most intimidating, this pork recipe is quite easy to make. You can find the recipe HERE. If you’re feeling less adventurous, you can make it easier by simply liberally covering the loins with salt and pepper and placing them in an oven-safe skillet over high heat to brown on all sides. Then place the skillet in the oven and bake for 25 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees.
Once you get the pork loins cooked and sliced on an angle and on the tray, then you can add the sauce at the end as the garnish. After slicing, open the rolls and place them into a basket or bowl, then line a tray with romaine lettuce. Lay the pork on top of the lettuce, add a bowl of the sauce, and voila! A beautiful dish ready for your guests.
Chicken Salad on Croissants
Couldn’t be simpler… Slice open the croissants with a bread knife and scoop on the chicken salad. Display on a tray, and done!
Sushi-Grade Salmon on Crackers
Well, maybe this one is simpler… Lay the crackers out on a tray. Add a slice of pre-sliced salmon. Top with Greek yogurt and a little sprig of dill that I bought at the grocery store. Check!
This has become a favorite of mine. And this recipe is so good – even cold as a leftover! (Not that you’ll have any left though…) You can find the recipe HERE. Note that I did cheat here: I bought the Parmesan cheese and the buttermilk at the grocery store because I didn’t want the larger quantities.
As I mentioned, when shopping, look for different shapes. Here I used triangular pasta, and then arranged the pieces in different directions on the tray. So many tasty appetizers may look bland because of their neutral colors. This is a way to add some interest to the tray. And a bowl of marinara sauce contributes some color.
Take the Spanakopita out of the freezer. Bake it. On to a Tray. Then out on the table. You’re sailing through this now, aren’t you?!
This is one place you can really get creative. I love putting together a cheese tray. There’s a certain art to it, but also simply a matter of taste. I first start with the cheeses, placing them on the tray based on their shapes and sizes. The ones that lay down or are shorter should go in the front. The taller and bulkier ones should go in the back. Keep in mind, they shouldn’t be close enough where you can’t cut one because another is in the way. I like to add fruit to my trays for garnish, but also for color. Here I used green and red fruits like grapes and raspberries because they are the typical colors of the season. Sometimes I incorporate the crackers onto the tray. However this time I opted to keep them separate, arranging them on a long glass tray vertically instead of the expected horizontally.
Added to this display was a warm, baked brie that I simply bought, warmed up per the directions and put on it’s own small, beautiful tray surrounded by crackers. Looks laborious and expensive, but was actually minimal in cost and required practically no effort.
If you read December’s Southern Living, you might have seen the beautiful red velvet Madeleine tree on page 83. But this party is supposed to be simple, and I didn’t have time to make red velvet Madeleines. So instead, I picked up a couple of containers of Madelines and some toothpicks, bought a Styrofoam tree form from Michael’s, and made my own version. I laid out the Madeleines on a cookie sheet and sprinkled them with powder sugar (bought from the grocery store, otherwise you’ll have enough to last you until the end of the world – oh wait…according to the Mayans that’s next week!), and then I followed these INSTRUCTIONS.
Place your completed tree on your tray, and surround the tree with peppermints. Warning – the peppermints from Costco are individually wrapped. That was probably the most labor-intensive process of this entire party! So needless to say, I put Elizabeth to work…
Brownie Santa Hats
This has got to be the cutest thing on the table… And one of the simplest. Place the brownie bites onto a tray. Beat together cream cheese and a little powdered sugar (I used 1 cup of sugar for two blocks of cream cheese) and spoon this ‘icing’ into a large plastic baggie. Snip one corner and you now have a pastry bag! Pipe the icing around the rim of the brownie, drop on a strawberry that has had its stem cut off, and then pipe a dollop of icing on top and “ta-da” – you have a Santa’s Hat!
It’s a crowd favorite. One of those things you can’t stop eating when you start. So add a tray of peppermint bark to the table and your guests will think you made it yourself!
Setting the Table:
Now with food in hand, it’s time to set the table. If you think you need all new things to set the table, then think again. Gather things from around the house. Leftover Christmas decorations, pillar candles, holiday plants like poinsettias or paperwhites, ornaments in an attractive vessel, votive candles. Anything can be used singularly or combined to creative a festive tablescape. For this gathering I used items literally within arm’s reach. The vintage lantern was already on the farm table. To that I added both a poinsettia and a red amaryllis from the hallway for both color and different textures. Boxwood topiaries added some green and another unique shape to the table display. I arranged these items down the center of the table, not letting them look too formal or intentionally set in place.
Next came the trays. Working from one end of the table to the other, I started with the plates and napkins, then the platters, letting their size, shape and food type guide me. I typically start with the proteins and work my way to the desserts at the end. Remember to elevate some of the platters, which you can easily do with either footed or stemmed trays, three or four votive candle holders, or even canned foods concealed under a tablecloth or fabric fluffed on the table.
Continuing the gathered, casual appearance of this table, I incorporated fresh cypress greens surrounding the platters and throughout the center, and I also added whole and halved pomegranates and large pinecones to complete the festive tablescape. You could also add pears or other fruits of the season.
This table looks like it was styled for a photo shoot, but in reality it took very little time and produced a comfortable, but elegant party theme for friends – and me – to be able to enjoy.
Thank you, Amos, for these wonderful ideas, and to the Haynes family for the use of your lovely home! And thank you, Ashley Hylbert, for the beautiful photographs!
For more information about Amos and his event planning and design services, visit his website: www.amosevents.com. And for more information about Ashley’s photography, visit her website: www.ashleyhylbert.com