With Thanksgiving quickly approaching, we’ve not only begun meal planning and grocery shopping, but it’s time to iron our festive linens, polish silver, and map out seating arrangements for the big feast! We love to use designated seating arrangements to encourage conversation and new friendships, which is why a simple, printable place card is a must-have for our Thanksgiving dinner!
A Beautiful Autumn Table: Layering
Think of the place setting the way you would an outfit: you might layer a shirt with a sweater and add a scarf to give it some interest. Apply that same layering idea to your table. Start with a crisp linen tablecloth, combine our Holiday Branch dinner plates with our Southern Living dinner and bread plates and layer in metal chargers for extra style. Now add in color with linens and flowers. These amazing greenery illustrations were commissioned just for us—and they work double-duty as a garnish for your food.
Hot Chocolate – What Could Be Better?
When it is cold outside, the thought of a great cup of Hot Chocolate is about as good as it gets. So here is a simple recipe to make a rich and special hot chocolate that you can make in the microwave and impress your family and friends.
1 (14oz.) can of Sweetened Condensed Milk
½ Cup of unsweetened cocoa
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
6 ½ cups hot water
Combine all ingredients except marshmallows in a 2 quart glass measuring cup. Microwave on high 8-10 minutes – stirring every 3 minutes. Top with marshmallow
Dennis Dean’s Tip
*To make the marshmallow swirl on the top, place marshmallows in A HEAVY-DUTY /FREEZER BAG –cut one of the corners of the bag off at an angle – now microwave the marshmallows for about 15 to 30 seconds – checking every 10 seconds until marshmallow is melted – remove from microwave carefully – HOT. Squeeze the bag and form a swirl on top of the cocoa – if you have a torch – you can crisp the top of the marshmallow.
This hot chocolate can stay refrigerated for 5 days – so it is always ready for your Holiday guests!
We’re all so busy throughout the year that the holidays always seem like a great time to throw open the doors and invite friends and family to gather together over food, drinks and plenty of good cheer. This year we asked renowned Atlanta caterer, Dennis Dean, of Dennis Dean Catering, for tips on how to throw a stress-free, buffet-style affair that’s as sophisticated as it is easy. Because, after all, you want to be able to enjoy your own party.
Step1. Create a Guest List
Start with a guest list so you can get a good idea of how many people to expect—and how much help you’ll need. A guest count over 20 and you really need help, Dean suggests. Hiring a kitchen, serving or bartending assistant can free you up during the party and help clean up go faster at the end of the night.
“Ask your friends, neighbors or waiters at a favorite restaurant for recommendations on help,” says Dean.
Step 2: Set a Vision for Your Party
Before you dive into the details, establish what Dean refers to as “the feel of the evening.” He’s careful to stay away from the word “theme,” which he says can often be overdone. Your vision of the event will help guide your selections in menu, décor and music, whether it’s a summer garden party or a winter night buffet.
Step 3: Plan the Menu
A buffet-style party is a more casual affair than a sit-down dinner. You want your guests to merrily munch and mingle their way through the party. People will be gathering, talking and drinking, so make the menu reflect the occasion with easy finger food and fork-friendly bites, recommends Dean.
Dean’s no-fail buffet combination: two meats, two vegetables, two starches, a cheese platter and dessert. Garnish with fruit and add unexpected pops of flavor to the table, such as his sweet and savory toffee popcorn. Serve a mix of breads in a single bowl for additional texture and color. Dean brought beautifully prepared bread sticks, ciabatta and whole wheat raisin to the photo shoot.
For dessert, Dean suggests setting out a variety of bite-size morsels or cookies to make it fun for guests to sample the sweets without feeling like they’re overdoing it.
The biggest factors to planning a menu are time, budget and seasonality. Before you plan your menu, pop into your local market and see what’s in season and what looks good. “Don’t just go for the most expensive,” Dean warns.
“If you have time to prepare days in advance, then try some more labor intensive recipes,” he adds. “Otherwise, choose a few easy recipes you can make the day of.”
Dean is adamant about having everything out of the oven and on the table an hour before the party starts. This gives meats just out of the oven time to rest before cutting. Plus, you give yourself plenty of time to shower, get dressed and relax before guests arrive.
Step 4: Stock the Bar
You can’t go wrong serving a variety of budget-friendly beer and wine. Dean points out that wine is so popular these days that it’s okay if you don’t serve liquor. But if you do, keep it easy. Prepare a specialty cocktail ahead of time and serve in a pitcher. Or, set out the ingredients, such as pomegranate, tonic and vodka, with simple instructions on how to assemble your own cocktail.
How much alcohol should you have on hand? Dean’s rule of thumb is to plan on two drinks per person the first hour and one drink per person every hour for the remainder of the party. A case of wine (12 bottles) serves 60 glasses of wine.
If you don’t have enough glasses on hand, it’s better to buy a dozen or two at a discount store than to use plastic. It’s the kind of detail that makes a difference, plus you get to grow your collection with every party. Trust us, it’s worth the investment!
“Oh, and don’t forget to set out a few munchies at the bar, such as a bowl of nuts or cheese and crackers,” Dean adds.
Step 5: Set Up the Buffet
One of the best-kept secrets to planning a beautiful buffet is to set the table ahead of time. Arrange your platters and bowls how you want them, and label each dish with a sticky note to remind you where the food goes once you’re ready to plate it.
Just as Dean likes to create interesting layers of taste, texture and aroma in his menu, he uses a similar logic when decorating the table. Vary height, texture and color for the best presentation. You can introduce texture and color with items such as a table runner, napkins, china, candlesticks, flowers and, of course, the food. Use different size dishes and set them at different levels so the table feels less crowded and is visually appealing. Look around your house and use your imagination. At the photo shoot, Dean found a big roll of twine and set a bowl of toffee popcorn on top, instantly adding loads of natural texture and height.
Don’t be afraid to scavenge the house and use what you already own, says Dean. Mix and match dishes and décor for an eclectic feel—everything doesn’t have to be too matchy-matchy. Flowers out of your budget or you ran out of time to pick some up? Seasonal fruit and herbs from your refrigerator are just as pretty when arranged in vases and bowls.
“Make your table interesting and visually appealing through food and presentation,” Dean stresses. “You know the saying – people eat with their eyes. It’s true!”
There’s always one detail Dean never misses at a dinner party: he displays a menu or labels the dishes on the table. Guests with food sensitivities or allergies will feel more comfortable asking about certain ingredients. Depending on the feel of your event, you can go easy and low budget, such as hand writing items on a paper bag or displaying a menu in a picture frame.
One last tip for the table: set up silverware on the opposite end from the plates, so guests don’t have to handle both when serving themselves.
Step 6: Add a Little Ambiance
It’s up to you to set the mood for your guests. Start at the entrance with luminaries lining the drive or path to your front door. Inside, dim the lights. If you don’t have a dimmer switch, turn off the overhead lights and use lamps. Set out clusters of votives near the buffet and bar, and don’t forget the bathroom. If you have a fireplace, use it. “There’s nothing more homey than a lit fireplace,” says Dean.
It’s not a party without music, and it’s not something you should wait until the last minute to think about. Dean recommends creating a playlist a day or two before the party. You want to enjoy mingling with guests and not spending your time playing DJ. Let your vision of your party guide you in selecting the right music. However, you can rarely go wrong with a mix of standard jazz tunes.
Most importantly, create an atmosphere that’s easy and relaxed. Stuffy parties are no fun, right? Chances are, if you’re having a great time, your guests will, too.
- One 9×13” Pan of Brownies – Use your favorite recipe, but remember the fudgier, the better
- One Package Milk or Dark Chocolate Bark, or White Chocolate
- Assortment of Sprinkles, Chopped Nuts, or Coconut (whatever topping you like)
- Parchment Paper
- Popsicle or Lollipop Sticks
Line a 9×13” pan with greased parchment paper, pour in brownie batter, and bake brownies to a slightly firm fudgy consistency.
Let brownies cool slightly and remove from the pan with parchment paper backing. With a greased knife, slice crusts off of the brownies, and slice the remainder of the brownies into approximately 24 squares. Allow brownies to cool further until they are comfortable to handle.
With greased hands, roll each brownie square into a ball shape, taking care to roll the crisp top parts into the center so that you have an even consistency on the outside of the sphere, which will result in a smooth chocolate coating. After all brownies have been rolled into spheres, insert either popsicle sticks or lollipop sticks firmly into the center of each brownie ball. Place in freezer to firm them up.
Melt Chocolate Bark over a double-boiler until it is a smooth, even consistency, making sure to not allow any water into the chocolate, as it can cause it to seize up and make it difficult to dip the brownies in.
Take brownies out of the freezer and dip each individual brownie pop in the melted chocolate. It is easiest to dip it 2/3rds of the way and then roll them to completely cover up to the base of the stick. Let the chocolate set for about 10 seconds and roll in sprinkles or nuts as desired.
Set bottom-down on parchment paper to cool.
Makes approximately 24 brownie pops.
Food labels are great for buffets – not only do they identify the food – but help people identify foods that they are allergic or sensitive to. The labels are super simple to make and really give your table that extra little touch! First you will need some 3/16″ diameter wooden dowels easily found at your local craft store.
Then we chose an oval and a rectangle and some wooden Holiday ornaments to create our labels. You can paint them with chalk board paint and write the names of the food on them - erase them when done to be used over and over again.
For the ornaments, we painted them white and green, used a glue gun to attach the dowel on the back of each of the Ornament Labels. These are so simple to make that you could do a family project with them. To make the labels stand up on the table, we used some votive candle holders with small decorative stones in the bottom.
We think Food Labels are a personal touch that make your guests feel special at your buffet table!