You’ll probably want to roll your eyes at me when I say this, but preparing our home and a meal for our 14-person holiday dinner party wasn’t that much work and really wasn’t stressful. I swear. We actually spent the most time cleaning because we might have let dusting, vacuuming and sweeping slide for the past few several weeks!
Last week I shared our menu plan and now I’m back to let you know how it all went down. We took a similar approach to this meal as we did for Thanksgiving, which means I made a ton of lists, timelines, grocery shopped days before and did a few things each day ahead of the party to make things easier.
I dragged out an extra table and set the place settings on Thursday. I went very easy and simple on the table decor since we really didn’t have much extra space. (Chris told me I needed to up my centerpiece game because he thought I could do better. But I didn’t.)
Don’t you love our mis-matched chairs? We borrowed some banquet chairs from Chris’ office, and no one seemed to mind that the tables we put together were two different sizes…we were just cozy, that’s all. And sorry about the lighting in that picture. I forgot to snap table pictures until just before guests arrived!
I also made some menu items ahead of time. I made the pound cakes for the trifle on Thursday night and the cranberry fruit relish on Friday night.
On Saturday morning I assembled the trifle and made our triple layer chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting (a birthday cake for one of our guests).
While Chris cleaned the house top to bottom, I prepped things for later in the day. I set our appetizer table in the living room and pulled out the serving dishes that I planned to use for each food item. I know it seems silly to set out empty dishes, but it is a good way to make sure everything fits and that you don’t have one serving dish in mind for two different items.
I also set out everything we would need for dessert and drinks. I don’t know about you, but I hate rummaging for coffee mugs or glasses while guests are waiting, so I pulled it all out ahead of time and made a little dessert/drink station.
To make life easier, I even pre-set the coffee maker so we just had to switch it on when it was time for dessert. Again, who wants to be counting scoops of coffee when you have a table of guests waiting?
The rest of the cooking timeline took place later in the afternoon. We calculated how long our ham would take to heat and when we wanted it to come out and worked backward from there. I knew I wanted our butternut squash lasagna to come out just before the ham went in, so I started making it at about 3:15 p.m., leaving just enough time to prepare it and bake it before the ham went in at 4:45 p.m.
This is a next-day picture of the lasagna, but you can imagine the whole pan full, right? (I’ll be posting my simplified version of this recipe next week)
When the lasagna was done, I covered it in foil and set it aside to be re-heated later once the ham was almost done.
While the lasagna was cooking Chris and I both took quick showers and got dressed. At 4:45 p.m. (one hour before guest arrival) we finished up the rest of the menu. The ham went on the bottom rack of the oven and I got the completely-unphotographed-but-lovely baked brie onto the top rack (it’s as simple as wrapping a brie wheel in puff pastry and baking on a pizza stone for 30 minutes). Then I boiled up the spuds for our mashed potatoes. At the same time I boiled our green beans for about 5 minutes and then topped them with some almonds that toasted in the stove next to the baked brie.
By 5:30 p.m. the potatoes, green beans, sliced bread and lasagna were all set to the side of the stove, ready to be popped back in for warming. I quickly sliced the cheese and veggies and set out the appetizers. Our first guests walked in just as I was finishing up and lighting candles around the house!
I did a few last minute things while the guests were here (like slicing butter pats to go on the table and filling pitchers of ice water) but, for the most part, we were able to cross everything off the list before guests stepped in the door.
Once the ham was ready at about 6:45 p.m., we let it stand for about 15 minutes while all the other items went back into the oven for a few, and before we knew it dinner was served!
And if you’ve made it this far into this long and drawn-out post, then you are a super blog fan and I send some virtual dinner party leftovers your way. Except for the dessert. We ate all of that.
But truly, I hope that this post shows that with a little planning and advance preparation, hosting a dinner party can be fun and relatively stress-free. And trust me, if I can do it, anyone can!