Make a simple but festive centerpiece for your table.

 

Planning Your Dinner Party

Get ready to make lists! Lists are absolutely essential for any party, as you can jot things down as you think of them. Once you have the basics well planned and written down, your mind will be free to be creative with the food, fun, and decor.

Plan your menu. Have fun with this, but don’t overreach! If you are a beginning cook, choose a main dish that you have made before, then build upon it by buying dessert, a salad, and some crusty bakery bread. It’s a good idea to never make a recipe for the first time for a party. There’s nothing worse than struggling with an unfamiliar recipe when you can hear your guests having fun in the next room. Try to plan a mix of make ahead recipes and those that require last minute baking or preparation. I really prefer having everything done, and ready to heat or bake and serve.

Think about how you want to decorate. Decorations for a party can be as simple as candlesticks on the table, or more elaborate flower arrangements and tablecloths. Decorate with the seasons in mind, too. Fresh flowers in the summer, a bowl full of polished apples and spruce tree branches in the winter, or a vase with colorful leaves and cattails in the fall are simple, inexpensive, and beautiful.

Block out time on your calendar for house cleaning, shopping, decorating, and setting the table. Make sure to save some time before the party so you can get ready and relax before your guests arrive.

Go over your menu, gather your recipes, and plan shopping lists directly from the recipes. Don’t rely on your memory for this! Check your pantry too. If you are low on staples like baking powder, sugar, or flour, add those to your list.

Plan to shop for foods and supplies that can be purchased in advance (like staples) and those that need to be bought the week of the party. You may have to revise the party menu if you can’t find certain ingredients.

Check which recipes can be made ahead, and make sure you have freezer or refrigerator space to store them.

It’s best to choose some recipes that can be made well ahead of time, and are just served cold or at room temperature, or heated at the last minute. Planning this well will help make sure that all of the foods are ready to eat at serving time.

 

Dinner Party Menu

Appetizers

Red Wine of Choice

Crusty White Bread with Olive Oil

Stuffed Cherry Peppers

Stuffed Zucchini

Main Course

Italian Beef Rolls in Tomato Sauce

Angel Hair Pasta

Broccoli with Garlic and Hot Pepper

Dessert

Chocolate Pecan Cake

 

Do Ahead Tips:

Set the table the day before the party.

You can prepare the beef two days ahead and reheat it on the day of the party. The braciola takes about three-four hours to prepare, so be sure to leave plenty of time to make it.

The stuffed cherry peppers can also be made two days in advance.

The zucchini rolls can be made the day before serving and the broccoli ingredients can be cut or chopped one day ahead.

The cake can also be made the day before the dinner party.

 

 Appetizers

Stuffed Cherry Peppers

Ingredients:

  • 5 oz. canned tuna in olive oil, drained
  • 8 anchovies in oil, drained
  • 1 1/2 cups extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup plain bread crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons capers, minced
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 32-oz. jar red, hot cherry peppers, drained, rinsed, and stemmed (jar reserved)

Directions:

Finely chop tuna and anchovies; mix with 1/3 cup oil, bread crumbs, capers, parsley, and salt and pepper in a bowl; stuff each pepper with tuna mixture. Transfer to reserved jar; pour remaining oil over peppers. Chill for at least 8 hours to marinate.

 

Stuffed Zucchini

Serves 6

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1 slice white sandwich bread
  • 4 medium zucchini, trimmed, cut into 1 1/2″ lengths
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 cup Pomi strained tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red chili flakes
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 4 oz. prosciutto, minced
  • 1 oz. pancetta, minced
  • 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons thinly sliced basil

Directions

Heat oven to 400° F. In a bowl, pour milk over bread; soak for 10 minutes. Squeeze bread to drain milk; discard milk. Return bread to bowl.

Using a melon scoop, hollow out zucchini pieces, leaving 1/4″ walls, to form “cups”; season insides with salt and pepper. Stir together tomatoes, 2 tablespoons oil, chili flakes, garlic, and salt and pepper in a bowl; set sauce aside.

Mix bread with prosciutto, pancetta, Parmesan, parsley , egg, and salt and pepper. Stuff mixture evenly among zucchini cups. Heat remaining oil and butter in a 12″ skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches, add cups; cook, turning once, until browned on both sides, 2–4 minutes. Transfer cups, stuffing side up, to a 9″ x 9″ baking dish; pour sauce over and around cups. If made ahead cover dish and refrigerate until the next day.Bring to room temperature before heating. Bake zucchini 30 minutes. Sprinkle with basil.

Main Course

Braciola (Italian Beef Rolls in Tomato Sauce)

Serves 6

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup raisins
  • 5 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 12 6″x 4″ slices boneless beef top sirloin or round steak, pounded to 1/16″ thickness
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes
  • 2 (26-oz.) containers Pomi chopped tomatoes
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Angel Hair pasta

Directions:

To make the filling, mix together raisins, 4 tablespoons parsley , pine nuts, Parmesan, and garlic in a bowl; set aside. Place a slice of beef on a work surface perpendicular to you, season with salt and pepper, and place about 1 tablespoon filling on the bottom half; starting with the filled half, roll beef up around the filling into a tight cylinder. Secure roll with toothpicks and repeat with remaining beef and filling.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a 6-qt. Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Working in batches, add half the beef rolls, and cook, turning as needed, until browned on all sides, about 6 minutes. Transfer to a plate and set aside. Add remaining oil and brown the rest of the beef rolls. Transfer to plate with the previously browned rolls.

Add onion to pot, and cook, stirring, until soft, about 5 minutes. Add wine, and cook, stirring to scrape bottom of pot, until almost evaporated, about 5 minutes. Stir in chili flakes, tomatoes, and bay leaf, and then return beef rolls to pot.

Bring to a boil; then reduce heat to medium-low; cook, covered partially and gently stirring occasionally, until meat is cooked through and tender, about 2-3 hours.

Cook pasta according to package instructions. Drain and place on a large serving platter.

Remove meat rolls from sauce, remove toothpicks, and transfer to the platter with the cooked pasta. Bring sauce to a boil and pour sauce over meat rolls and pasta, and sprinkle with remaining parsley.

 

Broccoli with Garlic and Hot Pepper

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 bunch broccoli (about 1 lb.), stemmed and cut into florets
  • 3 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red chili flakes
  • Kosher salt, to taste

Heat oil in a 12″ skillet over medium-high heat. Add broccoli; cook, turning occasionally , until lightly browned, 6–8 minutes. Sprinkle in 2 tablespoons water; add garlic; cook until golden, 2–3 minutes. Add chili; cook until toasted, about 2 minutes. Season with salt.

Dessert

Chocolate Pecan Cake

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 6 ounces bittersweet chocolate
  • 1 cup pecans
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup sugar
  • Dash of salt
  • Powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan with parchment paper and spray with cooking spray.

Using a double boiler or pan over simmering water, melt together chocolate and butter. Set aside to cool.

Using a blender, chop pecans finely. Add eggs, vanilla, sugar, salt and melted chocolate mixture, blending until smooth. Pour batter into pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes; cake should be moist but not wet. Allow to cool completely. Dust top of the cake with powdered sugar just before serving.