Throw a Party Like a Pro

By , Jill Donenfeld, The Culinistas
Editor's Note: Coach Nicole and I recently had the pleasure of meeting Jill Donenfeld, a cookbook author, caterer, and seasoned party expert. She was home in Cincinnati to promote Party Like a Culinista: Fresh Recipes, Bold Flavors, and Good Friends. Jill's mom is a fitness instructor (who has modeled for exercise demos on SparkPeople!), and every night the family cooked healthy meals together.

Jill's philosophy: "The Culinista way to party is all about celebrating with the best ingredients—minimally processed whole foods, lots of greens and grains, seasonal and local when you can—to create incredible health-minded dishes that will wow your guests without weighing them down. Jill and Josie have written detailed menus that make dinner parties stress-free with lots of tips for pre-party planning and easy multi-task cooking. They even include a break for that essential wardrobe change so you’ll be looking great and frazzle-free when hungry guests arrive." 
Today Jill is sharing her best entertaining tips, plus three recipes from Party Like a Culinista: Fresh Recipes, Bold Flavors, and Good Friends! She's also giving away three copies of the book. Take it away, Jill!
Before you even begin grocery shopping, make sure your broiler, oven, and burners are working, if you are not in the habit of cooking. Prior to cooking, take out the garbage and make sure you’ve got enough room to trash odds and ends in the appropriate places (carrot tops in compost, tofu package in recycling, etc.) as you go. Be sure all of your dishes are clean. Get the place ready for cooking! It’ll only take a few minutes—you can do it!

As your guests start arriving, think about things from their point of view: They’re nibbly and could us a glass of wine after a hard day’s work. So, first things first: Put out some bites—our menus include some great appetizers—or prepare something simple such as popcorn or a cheese plate. Then, open a bottle of wine. Done!
Guests are taken care of for at least a half an hour. Now you can stop feeling like they are waiting for something. They’re not! They are here to see you, to plug in with friends, and to enjoy themselves. So you should, too!

Party Checklist:

Chill your white and sparkling wine immediately upon arriving home from the market. Chuck the bottles in the freezer if you’re short on time.
Have enough plates, forks, knives, and spoons; don’t worry if they don’t all match, just alternate the patterns for more visual quirkiness.
Buy some cute cocktail napkins.
• If there’s one thing you do décorwise, go buy flowers! It adds atmosphere to even the most boring room. If you have leftover fresh herbs they can act as your centerpiece. Make mini-bouquets in simple glasses or Ball jars.
Set out all your glasses and create a bar area. Buy ice and remember to get some seltzer for those not drinking alcohol.
Make a playlist. Load up your favorite tunes on a playlist that’s at least two and a half hours long. If you aren’t confident in doing this, ask that friend who loves to make mixes.
Make sure your bathroom is clean and stocked. Don’t embarrass your guests by making them ask for toilet paper!

Three Great Party Recipes

from Party Like a Culinista: Fresh Recipes, Bold Flavors, and Good Friends:

Miso Caper Glazed Salmon
So tangy, so savory--and so easy to make.

arugula + mozzarella salad with eggplant caponata

A light and delightful summer salad, perfect for entertaining.

Collard-Wrapped Burritos

A fresh take on a Mexican favorite.

Want to win a copy of Jill's book? To enter, click here! Be sure to read the rules. This contest will end exactly one week from today! Winners will be notified via email by dailySpark editor Stepfanie Romine.

What is your go-to party recipe?

About the author:

Jill Donenfeld and co-author Josie Gordon have been catering together since 2006 through The Culinistas (formerly known as The Dish’s Dish). Having cooked for every type of party, from sunset beachside gatherings with a few friends to celeb-dotted dinner parties, they have cultivated a collection of rock-out recipes for any occasion. Jill is the founder of The Culinistas, a personal chef and catering service, and travels extensively to deepen her connection to the cultural meanings of food. Josie is a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education and has cooked professionally since 1998 with a goal to heal people with whole foods.
Josie was born in Jamaica and lives in New York City; Jill is Midwest-born and now divides time between Malibu and New York City.

Cover image, headshot and food photos (except the salmon) were provided

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"Prior to cooking, take out the garbage and make sure you’ve got enough room to trash odds and ends in the appropriate places (carrot tops in compost, tofu package in recycling, etc.) as you go. Be sure all of your dishes are clean. Get the place ready for cooking!"

Also make sure your dishwasher is empty, so you have space for your used dishes and tools. Then if needed, run the dishwasher and empty it before the party (or Thanksgiving dinner) to make clean up easier. Report
Great article!!!. Thanks for sharing... Report
Great article - and oh how I wish I could have my food all catered!
My understanding about wine is first for STORING wine: The ideal temperature to keep wine is between 50 and 57°F (10 and 14°C)
Wine needs a constant temperature all year round to mature. A fridge is not a suitable place to keep wine as vibrations will destroy some of its components.
So I guess a wine cellar would be the ticket.
(I went to Gray's Restaurant in Nassau, Bahamas, and their wine celler has so many incredible wines it is hard to choose! The restaurant opened 250 years ago. IMAGINE! Some wines were tens of thousands of dollars. Yikes!)
Recommended temperature for chilling different wines:
Red wine: 55-60°F / 12.7-15.5°C
White wine: 49-56°F / 9.5-13.3°C
Rosé wine: 49-51°F / 9.5-10.5°C

Wine Temperature
Light and fruity red wine, (Beaujolais, Loire) 53.5 - 57.2F 12 - 14 C
Medium body red wine, (Bordeaux) 57.2 - 61F 14 - 16 C
Full body red wine, (Rhone, Burgundy, Bordeaux) 61 - 64.5F 16 - 18 C
Great white, (Burgundy) 53.5 - 59F 12 - 15 C
Regular white 50 - 53.5F 10 - 12 C
Rosé 50 - 55.5F 10 - 13 C
Great sweet wine, (Sauternes) 53.5 - 57.2 F 12 - 14 C
Regular sweet wine 50 - 55.5F 10 - 13 C
Champagne 50F 10 C

In addition, putting out hors d'oerves is a great idea because it buys you TIME. Time with your guests, or time in the kitchen. I look at appetizers as the first part of the meal. How wonderful it is to have help serving the meal! I often did that with neighbours when I was a teenager. It taught me a lot.
And I must say, after hosting many, many parties in my 30s and 40s, with all of the best of everything, catered in or in restaurants, it wouldn't take much to persuade me to enjoy another cullinary feast like some of the ones I used to have. But my company paid, not me. Now I might go out for breakfast once a month if I am lucky!!!
At least I rose to my top weight on delectable delights!
Gotta keep thinking of the positives, and keep Looking UP!
Andrea Report
Wow ... this sounds like just what I need! Report
Actually, reds shouldn't be chilled, except for sangria, but white, sparkling, and champagne are best chilled. Report
This sounds like a fun book ! Although, I will say I was taught that wine was always best at room temperature, not chilled. When wine is chilled, you really can't taste the flavor of the grapes.

One thing I learned when putting out appetizers is to only put out one appetizer at a time. If you put out all the food at once, everyone will gorge themselves instead of pacing themselves before the meal. So, if you don't want to over indulge, try putting out one appetizer at a time instead of everything at once. Report