Thursday, February 23, 2012

{host your own series: prep-ahead dinner party}

With all the wedding madness, our weekends fill up pretty quickly which is why I really love hosting dinner parties during the week.  The only issue with a weeknight party is the limited amount of time allowed for prepping the meal based on mine and Chris' work schedules.  We decided to throw this particular dinner party in honor of my one year blog-anniversary and developed a menu which could almost entirely be prepped the night before.  The folks over at Lean on Lamb generously offered to send us some lamb shanks for this meal so we based the menu planning around those.  Here is the full menu we served with links to recipes:




 (provided by Heather of

A few quick notes on the above menu....
  • If you are looking to save even more time on the meal prep I would recommend subbing the baked brie bites for a simple cheese plate or one of Trader Joe's amazing frozen appetizers such as the Feta & Carmelized Onions Bites or the Parmesan Palmiers.  You are making an entire meal for your friends, they wont be disappointed if you didnt make the appetizers from scratch.
  • We followed the Kale salad recipe in the link, but we also added toasted pine nuts and thinly sliced red onions.  
  • For the polenta, we followed 101 Cookbooks recipe, but left the polenta in the fridge overnight rather than baking it into "fries". 

For a simple tablescape, I picked up a roll of Kraft paper from our local office supply store to use as a table runner.  Rather than doing traditional place cards, I wrote each guest's name directly onto the kraft paper at their designated seat.  Another simple use for a kraft paper roll is to cut it into individual placemats and stamp the guest's names a la Camille Styles.  I then sprinkled some tealights around the table and used this floral arrangement for the centerpiece. 

{purple potatoes}

{cilantro to garnish}

{we place salt and freshly ground pepper on the table in these small dishes}

{simple place settings with tealights}

{kraft paper table runner with place settings written directly at each seat}


{braised lamb shanks}

{roasted vegetables straight out of the oven, we added rosemary to this recipe and it made all the difference}

{polenta stored overnight in a large ziploc}

{plating the meal starting with a bed of creamy polenta}

{making up a batch of cocktails before guests arrive}
{opening a bottle of Tenuta La Luma Cadetto, which turned out to be the favorite wine of the night}

{kale & tahini salad}

{plated meal ready to be served, garnished with lightly pickled red onions & fresh cilantro}

{citrus pudding garnished with a rosemary shortbread cookie}

{chris' secret to keeping everything in order right before guests arrive: chicken 
scratch written schedule taped to the cupboard}

Because we developed this entire menu with the goal of being able to prepare 90% of the meal ahead of time, I thought it would be helpful to share a simple timeline of what parts of the 
meal/dish to prepare and when.  Even if you are hosting a dinner party on a weekend night, 
I think being able to spend your Saturday and Sunday relaxing out of the 
kitchen (i.e. drinking wine on the couch) is invaluable. 

two days before:
  • Make a grocery list and check it against any items you already have in your pantry.  You can pick up all items for this meal ahead of time.
  • Confirm you have enough spices, salt, oils, butter- I am sure that you don't make this mistake, but I can't count the amount of times I haven't purchased butter because I had some in the fridge, but when I started cooking I realized I was one stick short.
  • Clear out expired and old items from the refrigerator to create adequate space for the dishes- the worst thing is to be rearranging tupperware and throwing out old half & half to make room for a big container of prepped salad.

the day before:
  • Braise the lamb (once complete, refrigerate the meat and strained cooking liquid in separate containers)
  • Assemble the salad (for the Kale salad we were able to dress it the night before)
  • Make the Polenta and store in a large Ziploc bag in the fridge
  • Par-boil the root vegetables and store in the fridge.
  • If you choose to make the brie bites; you can completely assemble these the night before and store in the fridge wrapped tightly with saran wrap so that the filo dough doesnt dry out.

1 to 2 hours before guests arrive:
  • Reduce the braising liquid and season to create a sauce for topping the lamb shanks
  • 1 hr before guests arrive: reheat the lamb in the oven with 1/2 of the sauce, basting periodically (allow the meat to rest for 10 minutes once done)
  • heat the polenta in a large dutch oven or pot about 20 to 30 minutes before you want to plate the dishes.
  • Broil the root vegetables with garlic, rosemary, olive oil, and sea salt on the top rack of the oven
  • Plate the Lamb, polenta, and root vegetables with the reserved sauce.  Serve kale salad on a separate side dish.

{guests enjoying the meal}

This meal turned to be out rich and flavorful, but not overly filling even with the creamy polenta everything was served on top of!  The kale salad was a great side dish to add that crunch of fresh greens and sharp dressing to cut through the morroccan spices of the main entree.  A simple dessert that combined refreshing citrus flavors perfectly topped off a truly satifisfying meal.

All told, I think this was by far one of the best meals we have ever made and the standout favorite dish was actually the Tahini Kale salad!  I hope the ability to make this meal well in advance of your guests arriving inspires you to try this menu for yourself.  We already have plans in motion for the next dinner in the Host Your Own Series and this one is hopefully going to include a little video footage!


  1. Natalie Norris, elegant down to every detail!

  2. crap, totally spelled your last name like chuck "norris," and I can't delete it. anywho, still beautiful. hope you are doing well!

  3. our guys have the same handwriting. except yours wears an apron and mine typically goes shirtless, so... you totally win. :)

    This looks incredible! Must try those root veggies soon!

  4. I am definitely archiving this for a future dinner party!

  5. Love all of these recipes and your blog! Totally inspired me to plan a spring dinner party. Thanks for the inspo!

    La Petite Gigi