Fall Table Dinner Party: How To’s and Tips

Here I am again, challenge #3 of project food blog.  I am having a great time with this contest and reading all the wonderful submissions.

This challenge was a doozy, but I think it’s probably the most fun.

Challenge Prompt: Celebrate! You’ve made it this far, and the next challenge is to hold a party for your friends and family (at least four guests, you can include yourself in the 4 person count). Whether you’re an experienced host or an entertaining newbie, get creative and host a luxurious dinner party where your guests will discover new tastes and exotic flavors. Share your hosting secrets with readers, like how to cook for a crowd, plan a menu, or involve guests in the prep.

A challenge that tells you to get all your friends together around a table of fabulous food. You can’t go wrong.  The challenge after this is step-by-step photos and I hope that I get to compete because step-by-step is kind of my thing.  In trying to stay true to the spirit of The Noshery I decided to try and do a sort of step-by-step on how to plan a FA-BU dinner party.

When I was presented with the challenge I was very excited because I love any excuse to throw a dinner party.  First thing was first, invite guests.  You can’t have a proper dinner party without guests.  I used Evite.com to invite my guests and then followed up with a few phone calls later in the week.

Now I had to come up with a theme for the dinner party.  A theme isn’t necessarily required in order to have a dinner party but it’s fun to give the party a twist.   I debated on several themes.  Tapas?  Around the World?  Paris in the Fall?  But I decided that since I am in the Mid-West and not all of my guest are super adventurous to just dress up the traditional.  That is when I decided the theme would be Fall Table.  It’s also very appropriate because Fall happens to be my favorite season of all time and what better way to welcome it then with a celebration of friends and delicious food.

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Once I had decided on the theme and invited my guests I jumped on to the super information highway and started searching out recipes and bookmarking them.  I wanted a full four course dinner.  Go big or go home right?

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Once I decided on all my recipes I wrote down all the ingredients in a notebook.  I think it is best to write it out because you finish with a more unified and organized list.  You also inadvertently end up storing it in your head since you had to write it out.  Kind of like when you took notes in college…..if you took notes in college.

When I have my ingredient list written out I take it and go through my fridge and pantry, checking off what I already have.    The checks on the right are for items I already have.  I then use the iPhone app IQ Grocery and make my shopping list.  The checks on the left are the items that I add to my grocery list.

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Once I got my shopping list together I go through all of the recipes and determine what parts of it I can do ahead of time.  Doing things ahead of time is very important when planning a dinner party.  It is a must if you want to keep your sanity and not get overwhelmed come D-day.

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Now that my shopping and “do ahead” lists are all done, I got on the phone and ordered a few necessary things.  I needed a table large enough to fit everyone, 12 chairs and a big 10 lbs crown roast.  I then start playing around with the place setting so I have an idea how my table would look.  This place setting is on the cheap.  My “placemat” is two beverage napkins taped together.  The glass and bowl are from the dollar store.  I gathered acorns in the backyard and put a little slice into the acorn top to use as a place card holder.  I printed the place cards myself using scrapblog.com.   The napkin is a paper napkin and the napkin ring is made out of scrapbook paper.  Like I said….on the cheap. :D  I also went shopping for other decorating supplies which you will see further down the post in more detail.

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Three days out of the dinner party I started making a few things.  I stared with the salted caramel sauce first, which was drizzled over the Pumpkin Brioche Bread Pudding.  It was a risky idea to make this sauce so far out because I ran the risk of eating it before the dinner party, but it survived.  I love this salted caramel sauce!  It is perfect over any dessert or a simple bowl of ice cream.  Heck, I would sit with it and eat it straight out of the bowl if no one was looking.

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Two days out from the dinner party I collected my final number of guests and felt comfortable enough to put my dinner party prep into full throttle.   I made an awesome and very simple tapenade with a festive twist.  The tapenade was served on a crostani with a goat cheese spread.  The tapenade is made of pecan, cranberries, green and black olives with a bunch of other goodies mixed in.   I was weary of making a tapenade for this group, but in the end it turned out to be a big hit.

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For the Roasted Pumpkin Soup  I wanted to roast my own pumpkins.  However, I didn’t know I was going to need a machete to break into these little pie pumpkins.   The recipe said to quarter and seed the pumpkins before roasting.  The only problem was I couldn’t hardly get my knife to even punchier the skin.  I tried to whack it with my sharpest knife and it just nicked it.   Finally I decided to roast the pumpkins whole until the skin softened enough where I could quarter them, which worked perfectly.

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For the Pumpkin Brioche Bread Pudding, I decided to bake my own brioche.  I pulled my bread recipe bible off the bookshelf, Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day. I love this book for bread recipes and I basically live by it.  With little effort I had two beautiful fresh loaves of brioche sitting on my counter.

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Now the day before the dinner party had arrived, time to kick it into high gear.  As one of the appetizers I was making Tiny Roasted Pecan, Pancetta and Ricotta Tartlets.  I thought this was a great opportunity to make my own fresh ricotta cheese.    I found a wonderful recipe from David Lebovitz for making ricotta cheese and it turned out perfect.  I was shocked how simple it was to make your own ricotta cheese.  No worries, I documented the whole process for a future post.

Once the ricotta cheese was done and set, I prepared the filling for the tartlets and stored it in and airtight container in the refrigerator, until ready to use.

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I also made the tartlets crust and pre-baked them.  This way on the day of the dinner party all I had to do was fill and finish them off.  Pre-bake the tart shells, let cool, cover with aluminum foil and store in the fridge.

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That afternoon Obed arrived with the crown roast I had ordered from my butcher earlier in the week.  I rubbed it down with a mixture of olive oil, thyme, sage and garlic.  I also went ahead and wrapped the bones with foil, covered it with foil and place in the refrigerator overnight.

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I had most of my “do ahead” list done, but it was time to get my “mise en place”  all set up.  That is when I asked a friend with a steady pair of hands, who loves to chop and dice, over and put her to work.   My friend Laurie here is a fellow blogger and lover of all things food.  She is also available for weddings and bar mitzvahs.

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When I plan a party that has such an extensive menu it is great to get every thing in it’s place (mise en place) and prepped.  I like to get everything chopped, diced, measured and put into Zip loc bags and prep bowls so all I have to do is dump when it’s time to cook.

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The day of the party has arrived.  First thing I do in the morning is start pulling things from the refrigerator so it all has time to come to room temperature.  After running a few errands in the morning and cleaning up the house I put a big pot of soup to stew on the stove top.  I then do all the little things. I toasted the bread for the crostinis, baked the tarts and mixed the stuffing together for the roast.

The last thing I put in the oven is the roast because it needs the most time.  Once the roast and stuffing is ready I drop the temperature of the oven  as low as it will go and put everything in it to warm up.

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While the roast is in the oven we cleared some of the furniture out of the living room to set up the dinning table.  Obed arrived with my very large table and 12 chairs that I had ordered earlier in the week.  It was very important to me that all my guest were able to sit together and enjoy themselves, so I rented the biggest table they had, 6ft square.  Go big or go home! :D

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Because I was still traumatized about trying to break into those little pie pumpkins I gave Obed the job of gutting this behemoth of a pumpkin.   I had gone to the pumpkin patch earlier in the week and picked up the biggest pumpkin I could carry.

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We cut off the top, gutted it and stapled gunned a plastic bag into it.   Odd?  Perhaps..

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But if you fill it with ice it makes and awesome cooler for drinks.

I set the pumpkin on a bed of faux leaves that I picked up at the dollar store.  Cute right?

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I then raided the bottled soda section at Target and bought a bunch of Fall coordinating colors of soda.  We had ginger beer, sarsaparilla, black cherry cream soda and orange cream soda.  I set them all up on the glass shelves of the bar area in the living room.  I think it made a great display.

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I decorated the mantel with a garland of faux leaves, from you guessed it the dollar store, and mason jars filled with acorns and a candle.

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Finally it was time to start setting the table.  In order to get a table cloth big enough for the mammoth table I got a 9 x 12  canvas painters drop cloth and pinned it under with some safety pins, so it wouldn’t be too long.  My wonderful husband did a great job setting the table while I was in the kitchen finishing up on the final details.

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We decided to forgo the place cards and just give each guest a menu.

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I picked up fresh flowers at the grocery store and used mason jars as vases.  The runner is some crinkled packing material that I ironed down to flatten a bit.

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I arranged some beautiful sunflowers in an old milk bottle and speckled the runner with silk leaves, mini pumpkins and candles.

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The guests were soon to arrive and the  menu was ready to start making its appearance.

MENU

The appetizers were set out and ready for the guests to enjoy with a beverage when they arrived.   Here we had Tiny Roasted Pecan, Pancetta and Ricotta Tartlets along side some Crostinis of Goat Cheese, Cranberry, Pecan and Olive Tapenade.  My husband was scared at first to try a crostini because he is not a fan of goat cheese.  When he finally did try a crostini he said, “This is actually good!”    It was a moment of shock and awe.

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My guests began to arrive and quickly got their drinks and picked their seats.  This was a great group to get together because not everyone knew each other.  Not only were they here for a fabulous dinner but they were also quickly making new friends.

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It was then very kindly pointed out to me by one of my editor friends that I had a minor error on the menu.

Oopsy, bread Pudding or Budding…..same difference. :/  It still was going to taste good whatever it was called.   That reminded me I needed to pop it into the oven so it would be nice and warm when ready to serve.

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After everyone enjoyed their appetizers, which were polished off, it was time for the second course, Roasted Pumpkin Soup with Cider Cream.

Some of my guests got creative with their cream and made little designs in their soup.  Mrs. Laurie made a little heart in her soup….how sweet….awwww!

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Finally the main course was about to make it’s arrival.  Don’t be fooled by the somber faces, they all had just over did it a little with the soup.

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The crown roast came out beautiful and it smelled absolutely divine. I was pretty proud of myself since it was my first crown roast.

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I also prepared some Apple and Pecan stuffing and Caramelized Apples to spoon over the pork.

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I had planned to prepare a Gingersnap Gravy but I didn’t get enough brown bits on the bottom of my roast pan, which was very sad.  Of course there needs to be some form of vegetable to round off the meal.  I prepared some beautiful Fresh Green Beans with Sage and Pancetta.  I did just a quick blanch and saute to keep them crisp and flavorful, they turned out perfect. Dinner Party

Obed was tasked with carving the roast, because he is the man of the house and the man of the house carves meat.  Beside I was busy taking pictures.

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Here is my plate with all the fixings.  Maple Glazed Crown Roast topped with Caramelized Apples, Apple Pecan Stuffing and Green Beans with Sage and Pancetta.    Wow that is a plate full!

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After the main course we took some time to digest.  Also the guys got on their phones to check the latest football scores.  Tis the football season after all.

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Finally the cherry on top of the Sunday. The Pumpkin Brioche Bread Pudding Budding served with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream and Salted Caramel Sauce.

Oh my love where have you been all my life?   This dessert was a HUGE hit, loved and raved over by all.  If I had been on the ball I wish I would have captured the expression on my friend Amanda’s face when she had her first bite.  I would have framed it up on my kitchen wall.

This bread pudding was phenomenal!  It was warm, soft and filled with all the Fall spices that make you feel warm on the inside.  Topping it off with the salted caramel sauce was sinful but oh so right.

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Finally you can’t come to a Puerto Rican’s home for a dinner party and not expect a strong cup of cafe con leche in a very tiny cup.

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I love to watch burly football coaches drink coffee out of very tiny cups.  It make makes me smile.

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The evening was splendid.  We enjoyed a wonderful meal and had conversations that consisted of football, The Office and embarrassing stories that only seem to happen to you.  We all laughed….some to the point that brought tears to their eyes.  Good times!

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Would I have another dinner party in the future?  Without a doubt!  I love planning, decorating, cooking and hosting.  It’s the aftermath that I am not a fan of, but I will not allow myself to be deterred.  I will climb that mountain of dirty dishes, pots and pans and live to tell the tale of a fabulous dinner party!

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Fall Table Recipes from:

Appetizers:

Tiny Roasted Pecan, Pancetta and Ricotta Pies & Crostinis of Goat Cheese with Cranberry, Pecan & Olive Tapenade

First Course:

Roasted Pumpkin and Sage Soup

with Cider Cream

Main Course:

Maple Glazed Pork Crown Roast with Caramelized Granny Smiths and Apple Pecan Stuffing

Green Beans with Sage and Pancetta

Dessert:

Pumpkin Brioche Bread Budding

with Warm Salted Caramel Sauce

and Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

Comments

  1. Damaris says

    Looks delicious! Is there anyway that I can get my hands on the Bread pudding recipe? I would love to make it this Thanksgiving.

  2. KellyK says

    Love the idea of roasting the pumpkins whole. Is it harder or easier to get the seeds and stringy fibers out after the pumpkin is cooked? I just made pumpkin pie from scratch, and the struggle to cut the little buggers open and get all the stringy gunk out was enormously frustrating, even if it did taste better than the Libby’s can version (which is pretty awesome, actually).

  3. says

    Great post!Your photos are really lovely. And this menu is incredible. You can really tell the care you took with every little detail. Very nicely done. I voted for you! =)

    Good luck, fingers crossed for us both to go through to the next round! =)

  4. Raquel Rivera says

    Dear Mese: We are very proud of you. You are doing and EXELENT job !!! No matter what happens you are our WINNER !!! Love you very much, Papi Gil & Mami Raquel !!! See you soon !!!

  5. says

    Personally, I’m glad you didn’t have the camera to catch my oh-so-lovely reaction to the bread pudding. The whole world doesn’t need to see me drool. Everything, especially the bread pudding, was fantastic and I am honored to have been a part :) Voted!

  6. says

    It almost looks like early Thanksgiving from the photos – warm, welcoming, full of laughs. I also love the little acorns as placecard holders – so cute! This is a party I’d love to be invited to! :)

  7. says

    That looked like a great party! I love all your photos, they really give a sense of what it was like to be there. Loved your menu and your execution of it was spot-on! Good luck moving forward! (VOTE!)

  8. says

    Congrats for advancing to Challenge 3! I love your tablescape – its so hip, stylish, and chic, colorful, elegant but not intimidating. Your dishes are really feasible and homey. I can feel the coziness and the warmth you have for your guests. You have my vote and I’m linking you on my blog as one of my faves in Challenge 3 entries. Good luck!

  9. Mai says

    Your table setting is beautiful. I wouldn’t have known the place mat was two napkins unless you said it ! LOL! The pumpkin ice cooler is amazing! The bread pudding looks delish! Thanks for the planning tips. I get frantic whenever I have to cook for a big party. Your wrap-up is so informative. I can’t wait to have a dinner party now!

  10. says

    I had to laugh, I thought I was the only one that made a list of all the ingredients that I need in a recipe and then go shopping in my own kitchen first and then checking them off (to the left) of those that I need to run to the market for.

    Love your table decorations.. very creative on the cheap! And the menu looks fab!

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