Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Perfect Dinner Party + Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta, Garlic, Pinenuts and Blue Cheese

There is a certain art or finesse to throwing The Perfect Dinner Party.  Let me stop for one moment since I use the term “perfect” with caution.  Every person defines “perfect” differently.  Perfect could mean all of the china, crystal and silver are utilized.  Perfect could mean handmade baked lasagna served with a fresh salad and crunchy bread.  Perfect could mean Chinese take out simply placed in large white bowls and served family style. Whatever is perfect for you is YOUR perfect.

My definition of the perfect dinner party is bringing people together for an evening of comfort, conversation and cohesiveness. A dinner party is a reason to be creative and give your guests a gift of yourself.  The gift is bringing together old and new friends to share great food, wine and conversation around the dining table.  A good dinner party means clean plates, numerous wine glasses, and empty bottles of wine, laughter and lovely music.  It is the kind of evening where everyone wants to linger and no one wants to say goodbye.

Mark, Me and Dean

Over the years I have learned the art of throwing my perfect dinner party.  The key is to make your guests feel comfortable the moment they arrive through the front door until the last goodbye.  Planning and working backwards will aide tremendously in the success of your soirée. My trusty list that I create on 5x7 index cards is my savior.  First comes the menu, then the shopping list along with the basic entertaining checklist (cleaning, setting the table, choosing the music) and the final checklist for the day of the dinner party.

Work backwards to set your personal timeline that will weave in between career, family and daily errands then add to the list with dates and times to complete. Utilize your index cards and keep them in the kitchen area for ease of use.  Planning will reduce stress and increase the wonderful time you will have with your guests. 

Preparing a menu that is both easy and flavorful takes a bit of skill, but something you can master quite quickly.  Think about dishes you can prepare as many of the ingredients ahead of time.  For example, have everything for a flavorful salad done ahead from cutting vegetables to having the dressing made and you then simply toss together and serve.  Braised dishes are one of my favorites – simply dump ingredients into a dish and bake for hours while the flavors develop those rich aromatics and your guests think you slaved over the stove for hours.  The more you practice putting together menus, the easier and more adventurous you will become. Speaking of menus, I always create a personalized menu for each dinner party.  Guests can take one home as a memento.  I have been keeping a large binder for years that houses all of the menus from dinner parties.

The one rule of thumb I always practice is being 100% ready a minimum of 30 minutes prior to my guests arriving.  It gives me the chance to sip a bit of chilled wine along with walking through the evening in my head and checking for last minute touches.  Drinks and appetizers are always ready for the guest’s arrival with a customized cocktail playlist in the background.  Often it is fun to have a signature drink for each event along with the usual suspects – wine, sparkling water, beer and spirits.  A signature drink can set the tone and add some whimsy to the event.

Keep a timeline in mind when moving through the evening from the cocktail/appetizer hour to dinner to dessert to after dinner drinks and conversation.  No need to rush your guests, but they will appreciate a flow to the evening.  As the hostess you are the conversation starter, contributor and listener. Try adding some dinner conversation by introducing “Dinner Party Table Topics” to spice up the chatter. Ensure your guests have enough to drink, eat and are comfortable. If your guests are lingering and having a wonderful time, enjoy these special moments and cherish them.

It brings me joy to open our home, create a special menu and share great conversation with friends.  Recently I threw a perfect dinner party for our wonderful friends and I am dedicating this post to you both.  Mark and Dean you are simply divine!

Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta, Garlic, Pinenuts and Blue Cheese

1 Pound Brussels Sprouts, trim bottom and cut in half
2 to 3 T. Olive Oil
4 to 6 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced
Salt and pepper
4 oz. Pancetta, small dice
½ Pinenuts
1/3 C. Blue Cheese, crumbled

In a large pan, add a tablespoon of olive oil and then add the pancetta.  Cook on medium until the pancetta is crisp.  Remove from the pan.  Add the Brussels and a couple more tablespoons of olive oil.  Season with the salt and pepper. Cook for 5 to 9 minutes on medium until golden brown and just turning tender.  Add the garlic and cook for one more minute. 

Remove from the heat and toss into a large bowl.  Sprinkle with the pancetta, pinenuts and blue cheese.  Serve immediately. 

Mark, Charles aka Hubby and Dean 


  1. Looks like so much fun! Love your personalized menus and all your menu choices;-) Your side dish of brussels sprouts looks 'to die for' good;-)
    I'm pinning this one on both my entertaining and special meals board, thanks Lisa;-)

  2. What a great side dish, Lisa! I love your entertaining tips - you make it look so effortless! Hope you're having a great Sunday!

  3. Your way truly is the only way to be relaxed and enjoy :) ! Your lists and my lists are exactly the same: daresay they are for most who dearly love to give friends a pleasurable evening!!

  4. What fun, great ideas for entertaining. The side dish looks so colorful and full of flavor. Great photos love the one of you and the big smile, also your writing is gorgeous wish mine looked like that.

  5. I am so glad I have found your blog!
    I love bruxelles sprouts and it's so difficult to find yummy recipes for them.
    this looks delicious and I am going to try it!

    Love, Ylenia from Longuette

  6. You created the most lovely dinner party Lisa. It all looks incredible. I'm a huge brussel sprout fan and can't wait to try this out:)

  7. Your idea of perfect dinner party is similar with mine. Good food, great friends and a wonderful time.
    Love your personalized menus and discussions ideas :)

  8. That looks delicious!

    Xo Jill

  9. Great tips!! I really want to come to one of your parties - sounds like you are one amazing hostess!

  10. Wow! You made all that food? Nice! It's so awesome how we are all connected to each other in a way. Over the weekend, my cousin (who I am very close to) made me sweet potato and brussels sprouts with pancetta! Now, she rarely cooks, but because it was my birthday, she made an effort! And now that I am seeing your post, I'm feeling a deja vu kind of thing...heehee. Delicious!

  11. GIRL - you are speaking my language with these brussels sprouts! YUM! Bookmarking. Great party too!!

  12. You are the best hostess with the best entertaining tips! So glad to see pics of the dinner you spoke so fondly of :) And are we talking brussels sprouts already!? I am so ready for them, you know how much I love them so! These look delicious!

    Have a wonderful weekend! xo

  13. Lisa, you're definitely the best, most organized hostess ever! And, I always love your brussels sprout recipes. Enjoy the rest of your weekend :)

  14. When I think of someone throwing the perfect dinner party, I think of you and I don't use the word with caution at all in this case. You think of everything and always add such a nice personal touch to your events. I still remember your binder of the dinner menus you've saved--I love it! I've said it before and I'll say it again--you're the queen of entertaining! Let's get together soon. :)


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