I’ve made it to Challenge #3, my friends. There are 200 terrific bloggers still in this contest at the moment. After this challenge, that number will get whittled down to 100: the pressure is on! If you’d like to vote for this entry, you can do so here. Again, a huge thanks for all of your support.

For this challenge, Foodbuzz asked us to host a luxury dinner party.

A luxury dinner party. Hmmm…..

I’m trusting that the word “luxury” is open to interpretation. Because while I do love throwing dinner parties and my food is always rather “luxurious”, I’ve got young kids, lots of pets, and live in a small town. Gatherings at my place aren’t about getting dressed up and eating on fancy dishware; my parties are about family and friends relaxing, having fun, and enjoying a terrific meal.

Foodbuzz didn’t give us much time to plan our luxury shindigs, so I called my mom and stepdad at 8 am and told them to come over that night for an end of summer/fall-inspired dinner party. I honestly wasn’t sure I’d be able to pull it off, so I’m happy to report it turned out to be a lovely evening.

Despite the fact that dark clouds threatened rain all day, the temperature was just perfect and I was determined to eat outside.

I adorned the table with lavender sprigs and zinnias from my garden, and the centerpiece was one of my homegrown pumpkins (an heirloom Long Island cheese pumpkin, to be exact). Like I said, parties at my house are not very fancy…

…you can even wear your pajamas :)

The menu, though planned last minute, was perfect. We started with a salad of organic baby spinach and arugula, with heirloom cherry tomatoes and nasturtiums from my garden:

Then we had this fresh pasta with butternut squash, sage, pine nuts and bleu cheese:

Our main course was glazed local, grass-fed beef brisket (it was amazing and the recipe is below):

And for dessert, my mom baked this Chocolate Pumpkin Tart

…and these adorable cookies:

We all had a really great time.

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If you’re new to hosting dinner parties (or if you’re just a perfectionist type who always gets stressed out by this sort of thing), I put together a list of tips that you might find helpful:

1. Plan out your menu in advance. Figure out everything you want to make and create a shopping list. Look to your favorite magazines (in print or online) for guidance. I was inspired to make the menu for this party when I saw the Nigella Lawson fall party in this months Better Homes and Gardens Magazine. I suggest figuring out your menu and doing the shopping at least 1 day before your party, if possible. If you have no idea what dishes you want to serve, pick a theme. Choosing a type of cuisine (or a seasonal theme) is always a good bet.

2. Don’t get too adventurous. Unless you’re a complete free-spirit, never-get-stressed-in the-kitchen kind of person (or a really awesome cook), the day of your party is not the time to test out your recipe development skills. It’s also not the time to try a recipe from a blog you just stumbled upon for the first time (I assure you…there will be plenty of other opportunities to try recipes from that blog). You don’t want any surprises…you don’t want to make a recipe and find out that it doesn’t really work, or that it’s just not very good. If you see a recipe in a magazine or online and you are just dying to make it, make sure it’s simple- not something extremely complicated with a technique you might screw up because you’re stressed or short on time. The pasta dish I made for this party was a new recipe to me, but I was fairly certain it would work and be great because I adapted it from a Nigella Lawson recipe.

3. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. I gave up on needing to make everything for my parties long ago. Don’t you have enough to do if you’re cleaning the house, getting the table ready, and cooking a couple of dishes? I have no problem asking guests to help out by bringing wine, appetizers, or a dessert. If a guest likes to bake, then asking them to bring a home-baked dessert is perfect. For this meal, I called on my mom to make a seasonal dessert- something with pumpkin or apple- and she was thrilled to contribute. If your guest is not a baker, be very specific about what you’d like them to bring. I don’t know about you, but I get really bummed if someone brings a generic dessert from the supermarket to a party…avoid this by requesting a specific dessert from a specific bakery, if possible.

4. Do as much of the recipe preparation as you can ahead of time. Don’t choose a recipe that requires a lot of last-minute tending. There is really nothing less fun than standing at the grill babysitting a fussy beef tenderloin while everyone else is inside hanging out (I know because I’ve been there). It’s better to make things that are low maintenance, and that are fine served room temperature (the brisket for this meal was perfect in this regard because I was able to get it started early in the day, then it just rested until dinnertime). If your recipes require a lot of vegetable chopping or other similar prep work, try to get this done the day before your party.

5. Set the table in advance and keep the decorations simple. Use this time to inspect all of your plates and silverware to make sure they are clean. I don’t know about you, but in my house, it’s pretty much par for the course that everything needs to be run through the dishwasher before I have people over. I like to take care of all of this well before anyone arrives, again to minimize last-minute stress. When it comes to decorating the table, I look to nature for inspiration, and use items from my garden whenever possible. When in doubt, candles and/or a bouquet of flowers always make the table look lovely.

Please let me know if you have any tips that I simply must add to this list… I’d love to hear about your party planning/hosting secrets!


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  1. 1

    Kristina — October 3, 2010 @ 7:44 am

    That’s great advice. I think it’s a very good idea to have people bring stuff, because they like to anyway. The only thing is that a lot of times, if I ask a friend to bake dessert, they’ll be pumped about it, then get stressed and decide at the last minute to bring grocery store cookies instead. Kind of a bummer, but still nice to get out of baking!

  2. 2

    Winnie — October 3, 2010 @ 8:42 am

    I so know what you mean! Grocery store baked goods are a total bummer, but it’s the thought that counts, right?

  3. 3

    Brian @ A Thought For Food — October 3, 2010 @ 7:55 am

    Those look some very happy dinner guests! Great post!

  4. 4

    Winnie — October 3, 2010 @ 8:27 am

    Thank you Brian!

  5. 5

    The Teacher Cooks — October 3, 2010 @ 8:03 am

    What a great post! I love your advice for entertaining, if followed everyone can give a great dinner party! The tablesetting is is beautiful. Good luck to you.

  6. 6

    Winnie — October 3, 2010 @ 8:27 am

    Thank you, my dear ;)

  7. 7

    Sunchowder — October 3, 2010 @ 8:40 am

    What a beautiful dinner! I loved the gorgeous photos, you did an amazing job.

  8. 8

    Winnie — October 3, 2010 @ 8:44 am

    Thank you so much….good company and good food makes the party, in my opinion…we had both!

  9. 9

    Robin — October 3, 2010 @ 8:49 am

    What a beautiful meal in a gorgeous setting- love the pictures of your family and the food!

  10. 10

    Winnie — October 3, 2010 @ 8:52 am

    Thank you Robin! Not sure how happy my kids will be when they realize they are front and center on the blog, but I love having them here ;)

  11. 11

    Tweets that mention Project Food Blog Challenge #3: A Fall-Inspired Dinner Party | Healthy Green Kitchen -- Topsy.com — October 3, 2010 @ 9:11 am

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Wendy Read, Winnie Abramson. Winnie Abramson said: My #pfb2010 dinner party post is up! http://www.healthygreenkitchen.com/project-food-blog-challenge-3-a-fall-inspired-dinner-party.html […]

  12. 12

    Nancy/SpicieFoodie — October 3, 2010 @ 9:49 am

    What a drool inducing dinner party. The colors and all of the food has such an Autumn spirit. Good luck with the challenge and continued success.

  13. 13

    Winnie — October 3, 2010 @ 10:01 am

    Thank you so much Nancy…I really appreciate your support!

  14. 14

    Kristi Rimkus — October 3, 2010 @ 10:49 am

    What a beautiful meal you’ve made. I love the grass fed brisket!

  15. 15

    Winnie — October 3, 2010 @ 11:28 am

    Thank you Kristi…it was totally delicious!

  16. 16

    Roxan — October 3, 2010 @ 12:35 pm

    Great job w your dinner party! The cookies are adorable. I think you did an awesome job with your table setup, I love that you used items from your garden!

  17. 17

    Winnie — October 3, 2010 @ 12:48 pm

    Thank you so much Roxan! My mom made and brought the cookies- she’s much better at those than me ;) And thanks for complimenting my not-fancy-at-all table!

  18. 18

    Liz the Chef — October 3, 2010 @ 1:03 pm

    Wonderful post! I always make a “cheat sheet” of times everything needs to be prepared/cooked before “zero hour” when we sit down. Keeps me organized while enjoying the party before we eat.

  19. 19

    Winnie — October 3, 2010 @ 2:02 pm

    Thanks Liz, and that is such a great tip!

  20. 20

    els — October 3, 2010 @ 2:08 pm

    could you please post the recipe of the pasta dish?
    thank you and good luck!

  21. 21

    Winnie — October 3, 2010 @ 2:58 pm

    Els- I adapted it from one that’s in Better Homes and Gardens this month…you can find it in the feature on Nigella Lawson’s Harvest Dinner, and it’s delicious!

  22. 22

    Shannon — October 3, 2010 @ 6:20 pm

    definitely good tips! love fall-themed meals :)

  23. 23

    Beth — October 3, 2010 @ 6:54 pm

    Great post. I love your place settings with the flowers, and the cookies are adorable!

  24. 24

    Monet — October 3, 2010 @ 10:00 pm

    You did an amazing job…those place settings were just gorgeous, and I loved seeing all of those beautiful, smiling faces. You created a gorgeous meal, but more importantly you brought people together through food- a wonderful endeavor! Thank you for sharing. You will have my vote tomorrow. I want a slice of that tart though!

  25. 25

    Lori Lynn — October 3, 2010 @ 10:58 pm

    It all sounds so lovely but the photos of your family are what really moved me. Terrific! Best of luck in the competition.

  26. 26

    Cristina, from Buenos Aires to Paris — October 4, 2010 @ 1:30 am

    As I said in my post, for my private life, I love the ‘no-frills” atmosphere, this is why I enjoyed your post so much !! It is great! Congrats!

  27. 27

    GrandBob — October 4, 2010 @ 7:51 am

    Winnie the photos are terrific – great subject matter! And I attest that the meal was absolutely delicious – the pasta perfect and the beef was the best brisket I have ever had. Bravo!

  28. 28

    Winnie — October 4, 2010 @ 10:31 am

    Thanks GrandBob- it was lovely to have you, as always…

  29. 29

    sippity — October 4, 2010 @ 8:55 am

    This looks so well done. Another terrific entry. GREG

  30. 30

    Winnie — October 4, 2010 @ 10:30 am

    Thanks Greg- that really means a lot to me!

  31. 31

    Lisa Orgler — October 4, 2010 @ 9:32 am

    So beautiful! You have pulled together a lovely post.

  32. 32

    Winnie — October 4, 2010 @ 10:29 am

    Thank you so much Lisa ;)

  33. 33

    Diana@Spain in Iowa — October 4, 2010 @ 9:49 am

    I loved the outdoor setting Winnie. The brisket looks great, wonderful post!

  34. 34

    Winnie — October 4, 2010 @ 10:29 am

    Thanks, Diana!!!

  35. 35

    meseidy — October 4, 2010 @ 11:31 am

    Beautiful! I would love a bowl of that pasta right now. Hope to see you in the next round!

  36. 36

    Winnie — October 4, 2010 @ 1:48 pm

    Thank you…and the pasta was a huge hit.

  37. 37

    stephchows — October 4, 2010 @ 12:16 pm

    beautiful job! i did a fall theme too :) voted!

  38. 38

    Winnie — October 4, 2010 @ 1:48 pm

    Thank you ;)

  39. 39

    Eva — October 4, 2010 @ 12:36 pm

    Oh my goodness, these dishes are so gorgeous! And they look absolutely delicious to boot! Thanks for sharing, and I’m definitely going to pick up a Better Homes and Gardens issue for that pasta dish, I’m practically drooling over it!

  40. 40

    Winnie — October 4, 2010 @ 1:49 pm

    Hi Eva- thank you, and definitely pick up the magazine- it’s a great dish.

  41. 41

    Whit @ Amuse Bouche — October 4, 2010 @ 1:38 pm

    What an amazing dinner! Voting for you right now!



  42. 42

    Winnie — October 4, 2010 @ 1:48 pm

    Thanks Whit! I’ll make sure to check out your entry, as well!

  43. 43

    emily (a nutritionist eats) — October 4, 2010 @ 4:01 pm

    I also had kids at my “luxury dinner party” – but I think the company and enjoying yourself is so much more important than having “luxury” food! You’ve got my vote!

  44. 44

    Winnie — October 4, 2010 @ 6:12 pm

    I agree with you 100%!

  45. 45

    Jacob's Kitchen — October 4, 2010 @ 4:07 pm

    Simple, earthy, and chic. Nicely done. I voted for you! =)

    Good luck! Fingers crossed that we both make it through to the next round! =)

  46. 46

    Winnie — October 4, 2010 @ 6:12 pm

    Thank you Jacob, and I hope so too!!!

  47. 47

    obparker — October 4, 2010 @ 5:26 pm

    your table and homegrown decorations were beautiful. i’m marking this brisket recipe. thanks!

  48. 48

    Winnie — October 4, 2010 @ 6:12 pm

    Thanks- it’s delicious!

  49. 49

    Allison — October 4, 2010 @ 5:34 pm

    Nicely done! I love the simplicity of your table.

  50. 50

    Winnie — October 4, 2010 @ 6:11 pm


  51. 51

    Kimmy — October 4, 2010 @ 6:34 pm

    So beautiful. I definitely am going to try my hand at the butternut squash pasta, yum! Good luck in the competition! I added you to my reader, and can’t wait to continue on seeing what you come up with!

  52. 52

    Winnie — October 4, 2010 @ 6:56 pm

    Thanks Kimmy,
    I really appreciate your support, as well as having you as a reader of my blog ;)

  53. 53

    Natty — October 4, 2010 @ 8:07 pm

    There’s nothing like grass-fed beef and I’m so glad you featured it! In my big city, it’s really hard to find, so your small town is offering something dear! I love the sunny flowers on each plate setting and I really want jammie pants with cupcakes on them now. Great post!

  54. 54

    Winnie — October 4, 2010 @ 9:09 pm

    Surprised you have a hard time finding grass-fed beef…where do you live?
    Yes, those cupcake jammies are great- I’d like some, too :)

  55. 55

    Jean — October 4, 2010 @ 9:05 pm

    Beautiful menu and gorgeous tablescape. You did a great job! Voted. :-)

  56. 56

    Winnie — October 4, 2010 @ 9:08 pm

    Thanks Jean- your support is much appreciated :)

  57. 57

    Laurie @SimplyScratch — October 4, 2010 @ 9:30 pm

    You got my vote with the grass-fed beef brisket… and pasta…. and choclate pumpkin tart!! Looks amazing!!

  58. 58

    Winnie — October 5, 2010 @ 6:08 am

    Thank you Laurie ;)

  59. 59

    Katrina — October 4, 2010 @ 9:57 pm

    That sounds absolutely delightful. I loved the flowers and the you have your own version of “fancy”. I loved it!
    you have my vote!

  60. 60

    Winnie — October 5, 2010 @ 6:07 am

    Thanks Katrina- such a sweet comment.

  61. 61

    fooddreamer — October 5, 2010 @ 4:56 am

    Beautiful job, I voted for you.

  62. 62

    Winnie — October 5, 2010 @ 6:07 am

    Thank you so much!

  63. 63

    Food o' del Mundo — October 5, 2010 @ 7:05 am

    Truly a lovely post/dinner! Your menu sounds amazing, you’ve got my vote!
    ~ Mary

  64. 64

    Winnie — October 6, 2010 @ 5:52 am

    Thank you Mary, and you’ve got one from me, as well!

  65. 65

    Lindsey @ Gingerbread Bagels — October 5, 2010 @ 10:17 am

    I love how you had the dinner party outside, such a beautiful and relaxing setting. Your tips are fantastic and I especially like the tip about asking your guests to bring something. I usually don’t ever think of asking others to bring something and from now on, I definitely will. It’s such a wonderful way to get others involved in the dinner party.
    The food looks so delicious. I wouldn’t mind diving into that brisket.. Wow does it sound incredible!!! :)

    Great job on the 3rd entry and best of luck to you! You did fabulous with this challenge!

  66. 66

    Winnie — October 6, 2010 @ 5:52 am

    Thank you so much Lindsay- what a super sweet comment ;)

  67. 67

    The Duo Dishes — October 5, 2010 @ 11:52 am

    If a dinner party encourages PJ wear, it’s the one to be at. Even without much time, you pulled together a beautiful party. You’ll definitely make it to the next round!

  68. 68

    Winnie — October 6, 2010 @ 5:51 am

    Thanks- and I hope to see you two there, as well :)

  69. 69

    Heena @ Tiffin Tales — October 5, 2010 @ 12:56 pm

    Dear Winnie,
    It would have been a joy to be a guest at your dinner – your warmth shines through every element of this party. My vote’s in. Good luck!

  70. 70

    Winnie — October 6, 2010 @ 5:51 am

    Thank you Heena- your support means so much to me- and I love your party post, as well.

  71. 71

    riceandwheat — October 5, 2010 @ 1:38 pm

    I love the simplicity and casual feel of this party – exactly the kind I like to go to! Nothing fussy, nothing fancy, just good food with people you love (and pajamas allowed!) Simply lovely. Good luck in PFB!

  72. 72

    Winnie — October 6, 2010 @ 5:50 am

    Thank you so much for sharing my sentiments, esp. re: pajamas!

  73. 73

    Niki — October 5, 2010 @ 7:19 pm

    that’s my kind of dinner party – casual, outdoors, with family. good luck in round 3. voting now.

  74. 74

    Winnie — October 6, 2010 @ 5:49 am

    Thank you Niki- I appreciate your support so much!

  75. 75

    Oui, Chef — October 5, 2010 @ 7:29 pm

    Winnie – Looks like you have all the luxuries anyone could ask for, a healthy loving family, a bountiful garden, and a tableful of delicious food to share. Nicely done, you got my vote! – S

  76. 76

    Winnie — October 6, 2010 @ 5:49 am

    Thanks Steve- so so much!

  77. 77

    Lisa — October 5, 2010 @ 8:10 pm

    Cyclos. You have my vote. Lisa.

  78. 78

    Lisa — October 5, 2010 @ 8:10 pm

    Cyclos. Your food. You have my vote.


  79. 79

    Winnie — October 6, 2010 @ 5:49 am

    Thanks Lisa ;)

  80. 80

    Jessica — October 5, 2010 @ 8:52 pm

    Everything looks great! Love your menu! Hope we both make it to the next round! :-) You have my vote!

  81. 81

    Winnie — October 6, 2010 @ 5:49 am

    The feeling is mutual Jessica- certainly hope to see you in round 4!

  82. 82

    5 Star Foodie — October 5, 2010 @ 8:55 pm

    Great autumn menu! The desserts look so gorgeous! Will vote!

  83. 83

    Winnie — October 6, 2010 @ 5:48 am

    Thanks- everything was really yummy!

  84. 84

    Joanne — October 6, 2010 @ 5:43 am

    I would venture to say that just being able to spend this time with your family around a table of good food is luxury enough! What a glorious spread! I love that the beef is grass-fed and that it’s all made from good quality ingredients. I would have loved to have been there and you certainly have my vote!

  85. 85

    Winnie — October 6, 2010 @ 5:47 am

    Thanks Joanne- you are so right- a dinner like this with my family, esp. on a Tuesday night- was luxury! And I’d love to have you over for dinner sometime :)

  86. 86

    Stay-At-Home-Chef — October 6, 2010 @ 8:29 am

    What a wonderful post – LOVED the cookies…so super cute! Hope to join you in round four :)

  87. 87

    Winnie — October 6, 2010 @ 6:45 pm

    The feeling is very mutual!

  88. 88

    Daily Spud — October 6, 2010 @ 6:20 pm

    Beautiful! A party that you can wear your pyjamas to is one I’m happy to attend :) And that pasta looks excellent – I feel the same way in general about not trying out too much that’s new for a dinner party but I, too, would tend to trust a Nigella recipe if it came to it. Lovely job and best of luck with getting through to the next round!

  89. 89

    Winnie — October 6, 2010 @ 6:46 pm

    Thanks Daily Spud…you can wear your PJs if you ever come to my place…hope to see you in round 4!

  90. 90

    Danielle@Runs With Spatulas — October 6, 2010 @ 9:28 pm

    That pasta dish sounds delicious! And your party looks like lots of fun! Good luck in round 3!

  91. 91

    eataduckimust — October 7, 2010 @ 7:09 am

    that pasta looks to die for. yummm!

  92. 92

    Dana — October 7, 2010 @ 8:16 am

    Everything here looks fantastic… especially that pasta… it’s making my mouth water! I love your place settings and the pop of the red flower. Great job with this challenge!

  93. 93

    Butter — October 7, 2010 @ 9:53 am

    What a menus and beautiful setting! Everything looked delicious! Love that you had it outside AND could wear pajamas – how perfect. And love #3 Don’t be afraid to ask for help…Voted!

    – Butter
    (from Running On Butter)

  94. 94

    Jenni — October 7, 2010 @ 6:47 pm

    Love your table–your plates are lovely. Plus there’s nothing more luxurious than eating in your jammies! Looks like a great time. Voting:)

  95. 95

    Katrina — October 8, 2010 @ 10:37 pm

    Congratulations!!! You had an excellent post and I look forward to your next challenge. :-)

  96. 96

    Virginia — November 3, 2010 @ 1:35 pm

    Here’s the PERFECT table cloth to accompany a special dinner! Check out http://www.tablevogue.com! This table cloth form-fits standard size folding tables without exposing ugly table legs!

  97. 97

    Project Food Blog Challenge #7: Video 411 | Healthy Green Kitchen — November 15, 2010 @ 7:25 am

    […] A Family Picnic Challenge #5: Pizza 3 Ways, Barry Wine Style Challenge #4: Gluten-Free Hortopita Challenge #3: Fall-Inspired Dinner Party Challenge #2: Injera and Wot (A Traditional Ethiopian Meal) Challenge #1: Ready, Set, Blog! […]

  98. 98

    Home Improvements Guide — February 3, 2013 @ 10:46 am

    it’s making my mouth water! I love your place settings and the pop of the red flower. Great job with this challenge!

  99. 99

    Professional Kitchen Utensils — February 14, 2013 @ 8:06 am

    What a beautiful presentation for dinner ! I love the photos as well the dishes served, really an amazing job.Go a head!

  100. 100

    http://www.bookofseven.com — February 25, 2013 @ 10:23 am

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    .. I will bookmark your blog and take the feeds also.