Monthly Archives: January 2015

Diane’s tips – The list

The first thing I do when I am getting ready for any occasion is start “The List”. This includes the guest list of course, theme and or color scheme of the party and then we move on…

For parties in a restaurant or catering hallonce you decide where you want the event to take place, call and set a date and time, meet with the catering manager and take it from there. Don’t be afraid to discuss what you would like as far as a menu and if they can accommodate your theme or color scheme.

For parties at home-

Once the theme or color scheme have been decided, I write the menu.

When I have some idea of my menu, I gather all my recipes that I will need and write one shopping list for my groceries separated between perishable and non-perishable. ( I don’t usually make this the time to try out any new recipes- keep it simple and stay with the recipes you are familiar and comfortable with.) The non-perishable items you can start buying immediately to take some of the pressure off grocery shopping closer to your event. Decide if there will be any store bought items or anything catered as well and add that to the list with the store, restaurant or deli’s name and phone number.

After the grocery list and menu are complete, I put printed copies of all the recipes I will be using in a folder (either recipe cards or if a recipe is online, a printed copy). You don’t want to go from one place to another to gather the recipe directions that you need the day you start cooking. Make your life as easy, streamlined and stress free as possible. In the folder I also include a printed timeline for getting everything done, so there is no last minute panic…we’ll discuss that later.

Next, decide on the tablescape – dishes, linens, serving pieces and centerpieces. Which brings us to my next step “preparation”.

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Diane’s tips- Preparation

Once you have decided on the tablescape, my next tip will definitely be a blessing. Whatever the occasion (party, sit down dinner, buffet or family holiday), make sure you set your table at least 2-3 days before the event. It sounds crazy but trust me, you will be a lot happier. It allows you enough time (while you are relaxed) to wash all the dishes, cutlery and stemware and see if anything is chipped or broken and has to be replaced and you can take your time ironing your tablecloth and napkins if needed. You have a chance to calmly look at the entire tablescape and decide if you are missing anything and tweak any little problem.

I also take out my serving pieces at this time, wash them and put post-it notes on them listing what I am serving in that particular platter or bowl. This eliminates the last minute rushing around looking for another serving bowl or platter that you forgot you needed, while the doorbell is ringing and guests are arriving.

Back to the timeline list…I usually start my timeline list for 1 week before the event and check off every item when it is completed. The list includes shopping for perishable food items and a cooking schedule ( what dishes can be made ahead of time, what needs to be made the day of the event and what has to be delivered or picked up from a caterer or restaurant). The list guarantees you don’t forget anything and all the entrees are put in the oven or on the stove top with enough cooking time to be done before your guests arrive.

A little preparation will have your get together off to a good start and you will be a happy relaxed hostess ready to enjoy all your guests.

New Year’s Eve

Even though it is after New Year’s Day, I still wanted to start this blog with my

first tablescape of the New Year

Ah, New Year’s Eve, the end of the busy holiday season, and 

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a time of reflection and hope for all good things in the New Year.

This year, before we left for dinner at a local restaurant, I set the table for the usual midnight hors d’ oeuvres and champagne. But when we got home from dinner we were too full to move, let alone eat one more bite, so I left the table set for the morning and this is where we had New Year’s Day breakfast (always, William Sonoma chocolate and plain croissants- if you haven’t tried them, order a box. They arrive frozen and you bake them fresh, you will not be disappointed.)

This tablescape is an example of a “mix and match” table- don’t be afraid to experiment -the table setting ranges from paper plates from Party City to champagne flutes from Tiffany’s and it all works out in the end.

(Click on photos to enlarge)

For the centerpiece I used an old square glass vase that I kept from a floral arrangement I received and Christmas ornaments from the Dollar Tree store.

Centerpieces can be simple, no need to call the florist all the time.2014-12-31 17.25.28The place setting:

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New Year’s Eve table details:

Placemats from HomeGoods

Tablecloth and napkins from Macy’s

Glass charger plates – from Crate & Barrel

Gold dinner plateplastic plate from Party City

Silver and white glass accent plate from Fortunoff’s (purchased many years ago.)

Theme paper plate from Party City

Flatware was a bridal shower gift (don’t ask how long ago)

Champagne Flutesfrom Tiffany’s

  I served dessert later in the day with New Year’s dishes from Pottery Barn

and a coffee set from Fortunoff’s.

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Holiday noisemakers and party hats are from Party City to complete the celebration and start the year off right.

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So that is my 1st tablescape for the New Year. I hope you enjoyed the pictures and tips and come back for my next post…

From my family to yours, have a wonderful 2015…cheers!

2015-01-01 00.29.05And for some “Italian” good luck, don’t forget the lentils for New Year’s Day

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Diane’s Lentil Soup

Ingredients:

2 tbsp. olive oil, plus extra for drizzling

1 medium red onion, chopped

3-4 carrots, peeled and chopped

3 celery stalks, chopped

3-4 garlic cloves, chopped

Salt and fresh ground black pepper

Pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)

1 (14 ½ oz.) can of diced tomatoes with their juices

1 bag of lentils (1 bag usually equals 1 ¼ cups)

8 cups low sodium chicken broth (2 boxes) or homemade broth

4- 6 sprigs fresh thyme

2 bay leaves

1 cup grated cheese

Optional: I always make lentil soup when I have the bone of a spiral ham. You could use a ham hock or skip this ingredient entirely

Directions:

  • Sort lentils for any stones, rinse with cold water – set aside
  • Heat the oil in a heavy large pot over medium heat
  • Add the red onion, celery and carrots and a pinch of salt to sweat the vegetables.
  • After 2-3 minutes add the garlic and pinch of red pepper and sauté until all the vegetables are tender, about 5-8 minutes
  • Add the tomatoes with their juices
  • Simmer until the juices evaporate a little and the tomatoes break down, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes
  • Add the lentils and mix well to coat. Sauté 1-2 minutes
  • Add the broth, bay leaf, thyme springs, and ham bone, if using
  • Bring to a boil over high heat
  • Cover and simmer over low heat until the lentils are tender, about 30 minutes
  • Remove the ham bone; when cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the bone. Discard the bone; dice the meat and return to the soup. Discard the bay leaf
  • Add salt and pepper and taste for seasonings
  • When serving, you can drizzle soup with a little olive oil and serve with grated cheese

 

Diane’s Tips- Casual Occasions

Tablescapes do not always have to be for a formal sit down dinner with your fine china and linen napkins. It can be a simple buffet or a fun and casual get together using paper plates and paper napkins.

Below are a few pictures from a Dessert Party I quickly put together a few years ago for a group of friends…

Perfect example of shop what you own first… The centerpiece is one of my many cake plates (I collect those too) with my pancake batter bowl, cupcake spatula and some fresh flowers

(click on pictures to enlarge)

Dianes Dessert Party 004 - for blog (2)The table was a nice mix of fruit, pastries, scones, cookies, sorbet, gelato, cakes,

linzer tarts and cupcakes.

I can’t take credit for all the desserts.

The carrot cake, black forest cake and cupcakes were from

Jacqueline’s Patisserie in Babylon, NYDianes Dessert Party 018

Dianes Dessert Party 037Dianes Dessert Party 075Scones, linzer tarts & chocolate almond tarts were from

Robinson’s Tea Room, Stony Brook, NY

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Dianes Dessert Party 027The gelato and sorbet were from Fresco, Holbrook, NY

Dianes Dessert Party 050Candy, wafer cookies and crème puffs from Costco

The rest was me …

Dianes Dessert Party 076Dianes Dessert Party 031

Dianes Dessert Party 073Dianes Dessert Party 070- for blog (2)

Just for fun, I even included a mini candy bar

 Dianes Dessert Party 064 - edit for blog

Dianes Dessert Party 069

Remember your theme and shop what you own. I just happened to have glasses that were shaped like ice cream cones that I bought in Crate and Barrel many years ago that I used for the cutlery display, candy display and the gelato. Cupcake candles I bought in a party store on one of our vacations (yes, I am always shopping for tablescape supplies) and some hand embroidered chocolate covered strawberry designed cloth appetizer napkins that I purchased from Sur La Table 5 years ago because I couldn’t resist and had no idea what I was ever going to use them for. The tablecloth is covered in a sprinkles and cupcakes design that I use for family birthdays. Since the predominant colors were pink and brown and I had a guest list of 20 women, I used pink and brown plastic plates, and paper cups and napkins with a cupcake design. All the cake plates were mixed and matched from my collection of cake stands, plates and serving pieces. I tried to keep them all in white not to throw off the colors of the party.

And what is a party without a favor?

I am famous for my favors at parties, so at this party I bought wash cloths that were folded to look like slices of cake and ice cream cones and also handed out cake boxes I bought at the bakery so that guests could take some desserts home to share with their families (because I couldn’t trust myself in a house with all these goodies). I am definitely addicted to sugar and I didn’t want to gain 25 lbs. It was a close call for my waistline but the desserts safely made in out of the house.

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Needless to say, we all had a great time, and then 20 women needed a nap after the sugar high.

Diane’s Tips – Enjoy Your Party

The biggest tip I can give you is be a part of your party. Enjoy your friends and family; don’t spend all your time serving guests or worrying about every little thing and then the party is over and you are exhausted and didn’t enjoy yourself. Some things will not go as planned (and that happens more times than not) so go with the flow. Most of the time only you know there was a mistake.

There are the occasions when people will notice and that is ok too. Don’t sweat it. I know this sounds odd coming from a person obsessed with party planning down to every last detail, but if you don’t have a good time at your own event, it’s just not worth it. Remember, we all have those days when everything seems to be crumbling around us. Make lemonade out of lemons.

For example, a few years ago (in June), I set up tablescapes for my son’s high school graduation party on the patio of a restaurant which took me quite some time to set up ; for each table I set up beautiful floral arrangements with balloons, color coordinated linens, and beautiful favors. Unfortunately the temperature reached 102 degrees midway through the party and my guests (and the staff) were wilting in the heat. So we had to rush inside for the air conditioning, leaving the decorations outside. The restaurant was full so we had to crowd into the only space they had (and I mean crowd) into the back corner of the dining area. The tablescapes wilted outside along with the flowers but the food was good, the company was great and we had a good time…just not too many pictures that day. No one wants a picture of themselves, sweating and gasping for air from the heat. At least we have pictures from the ceremony.

On another occasion, (my husband’s 50th birthday) after months of planning with the hostess of another restaurant and going over every little detail, the restaurant served the main entrée before the passed hors d’ oeuvres went around- no one noticed that but me. Guests were just mingling, eating and talking, having a good time and I think they thought this was a new trend to serve hors d’ oeuvres after dinner- it all worked out.

So I am not telling you to never have a party at a restaurant because there are problems, I am just saying to relax and enjoy the party, the moment, the occasion, no matter where you are. Make the memories…

Diane’s Tips – Every Day is Special

DON’T save the good china for special occasions! Every day is special. Use the dishes, enjoy them. You bought the china because you love the pattern so use them! I saved my Lenox china that I received for my bridal shower for years before I used them and once they were out I didn’t want to put them away (they were so pretty). So I made a deal with myself right then and there to use and enjoy all my dishes and not just have them collect dust…