Tag lasagna

Boo! A Scary Question is Lurking on Your Place Card!

Contributed by Guest Blogger Julie Reitz

Place Setting

Have you ever thumbed through old photos with friends only to encounter something along these lines?

“This one is from Chris’s 40th birthday party. Sally had a dinner party for him.”
“Yeah, I was there.”
“No, his 40th. You weren’t at that one.”
“Yes, I was. I was at the other end of the table.”
“Oh, I had no idea who was way down there!”

Well, Parties That Cook Founder Bibby Gignilliat has a party tool that gets everyone engaged with each other, and it’s so effective, it’s scary. Well, it’s not scary unless you have something to hide!

This weekend we gathered for an autumn dinner party with hints of Halloween (when else is it appropriate to serve KitKat bars to adults?) to celebrate the third annual reunion of a special group of friends. We all have busy schedules and often treat time with high priority friends as a low priority. And then when we do get together, we rarely leave the scene feeling socially satisfied, closing each transaction with a heartfelt but usually unfulfilled “we should get together to really catch-up!” Rest assured every guest left this particular fete socially as well as culinarily satisfied.

Using place cards to direct everyone to their assigned seat, Bibby pondered over and picked an appropriate question for each guest and wrote that question on the back of each card- then sealed the card so no one could peek before their time. Of course appetizers, drinks, mingling and quick introductions defined the first half of the party, while dinner, dessert and glimpses into everyone’s personal philosophies on life permeated the second half.

One by one, each guest presented the group with an answer to their question. The results were thought-provoking, enlightening and personally revealing. And, of course, there was a ton of laughter- this was one funny cast of guests, for sure.

Questions included ‘What was your most embarrassing moment?’, ‘How do you define integrity?’, ‘If you had one year to live, what would you do?’ This was a particularly savvy group – Toastmasters – so you can imagine the flare that came off each answer!

And the menu? Like the conversation, it sparkled. Polpettini (little meatballs) with melted fontina centers, vegetarian Porcini and Portabello Mushroom Lasagna that I still dream about, hearty fennel sausage lasagna, fresh from the farm Arugula and Persimmon Salad with Candied Pecans and a dessert that makes me think it’s okay to sleep with cupcakes: chocolate cupcakes with peanut butter frosting (dressed in a delicate paper web of spiders no less).

Chocolate Cupcakes

Don’t put it off any longer- start planning your dinner party today, so you can catch up with old friends before the holidays sweep everyone away. Use your own questions to get to know yourself and friends a little better. The group momentum will really take off. And you’ll never have to say “You were there? Where? I never saw you!” again.

Click here for Parties That Cook’s fall dinner party recipes:

Polpettini: Little Meatballs Braised in Tomatoes, Garlic and White Wine Recipe

Porcini and Portabello Mushroom Lasagna Recipe

Arugula and Persimmon Salad with Candied Pecans Recipe

Now through Halloween Day, Parties That Cook is offering $200 off any cooking party – great for anyone who wants to throw a fall dinner party, but doesn’t have time to plan it themselves!

For ready-made place cards with conversation starter questions on them, visit our party favors partner site, Beau-Coup.com: Party Topics Place Cards with Conversation Starter Questions or Party Table Topics Cards (box of questions, no placecards).

Can We Still Have Fun in These Trying Economic Times? You Betcha! (wink)

Hosting a dinner party can be daunting, but entertaining shouldn’t instill the same trepidation you feel when thinking about your stock portfolio. Let’s take a step back and review these best practices for stress-free entertaining, as concocted by the experts here at Parties That Cook.

From a BBQ with the neighbors to formal holiday celebrations, our simple step-by-step party prep timeline never fails!

First Themes First

Decide on a theme. It will help you determine how many people and whom you should invite. A cocktail party means a larger guest list with people from various social circles. A themed dinner party calls for a more intimate guest list with people you know will get along. Here are some of our favorite international dinner party themes.

Prep Time: One Week
Develop a specific timeline at least one week out from your party’s date:

7 Days Before
Plan your menu. Choose dishes that have related origins, but don’t hesitate to add a new twist. Going with a Mexican theme? Update a classic crowd-pleaser– why not a Mexican chocolate bread pudding?

Choose three key pieces. Include one starch, one protein and one vegetable in your menu. These can be combined into a one-dish meal, like classic lasagna, or three separate components. If you start your meal with a salad, your main course should contain a starch and a cut of meat. Starting with a fresh bread crostini? Move your vegetable to accompany your meat.

5 Days Before
Create your shopping list. Doing this in advance allows you to focus on cooking on the day of the party. You can always add small items that you may have forgotten or alter the menu based on your guest list.

3 Days Before
Choose the music. Select a few CDs or build a playlist to correspond with your party’s theme. Listening to it a few times over the next few days will help get you in the party mindset.

2 Days Before
Research farmer’s markets. Local specialty shops or farmer’s markets are the best way to ensure that the freshest, highest-quality ingredients are in your meal. Using high-quality ingredients is an important part of creating a delicious meal.

Set the table. This lets you focus on cooking the day of the party. Remember that you eat with your eyes first, so serve your meal on white plates. This sets off the colors in the food and makes them the star of the table.

1 Day Before
Freshen up. Purchase fresh flowers and place them on your table and around your home. This will give the buds a day to blossom. If they haven’t bloomed completely by the day of your party, add warm water to the vase to encourage them to open up.

Day Of
Make final purchases. Pick up any ingredients you didn’t purchase in your first trip to the store.

Prepare for the party. No matter the theme, purchase two or three cheeses from a region that complements your menu and leave them out with a combination of crackers, almonds, grapes and sun-dried tomatoes. It’s an elegant appetizer that only requires plating before it’s ready to be served.

Consider the easiest way to serve your meal. If it’s a small group, plate everything before you bring it to the table. Larger groups are best served through a buffet or from family-style dishes on the tabletop.

Remember, the party planning process doesn’t have to be tedious! It can be just as fun as the evening’s events.