When my husband and I got married, we decided to finally get some “grown up” dishware to replace the set I’d purchased when I was 18 and had been using ever since. (They were clear glass – not very exciting, but they didn’t conflict with any of the decor through my numerous moves and held up for over ten years!) We decided what better way to celebrate the new dishware – and silverware – than by hosting a little dinner party for some friends? Our theme was “Italian Pasta Night.” We had an enormous array of food, and everything was delicious.
Our menu included:
– Two kinds of homemade pasta (spaghetti and fettuccine)
– Two kinds of homemade pasta sauces (pesto, and a red marinara sauce)
– Garlic bread with a delicious herbed garlic butter
– Caesar salad with homemade Meyer lemon Caesar dressing
– Vanilla panna cotta topped with grated dark chocolate, accompanied by almond brittle
What would a dinner party be without the decor though, right? OK, maybe I get a little bit more excited about this kind of thing than other .. normal.. people do, but I really wanted an excuse to be fancy and try out some projects that were on my DIY list!
I spent a little bit of time sourcing out different candle holders for the center grouping. I found some for .49cents each at Ikea, which conveniently can hold either a stick candle or a votive! I also went to our local thrift store and picked up a few other clear glass candle sticks in varying heights.
The blue goblets were already part of my collection. They are vintage “Kings Crown” style goblets, by Indiana Glass company. They were made somewhere around the 1960s-1970s. I loved them so much when I first got them, that I ended up buying the same ones in different colors for the head table at our wedding. (You can view those here!)
The silver colored chargers were on sale at Michael’s craft store, 2 for $3. They added a nice touch!
I am quite obsessed with these place cards! Obviously they weren’t necessary for a small dinner party, but when I saw the idea, I just couldn’t resist. They were one of the easiest crafts I’ve ever done. You simply take a sprig of fresh rosemary and bend it into a circular shape, then secure it with a little piece of floral wire. Adorn it with a bow of your choice, and a name tag clipped from a piece of printed cardstock. My rosemary stalks were pretty sturdy, so I had to break them just a little bit in a few places as I formed the circle. It wasn’t noticeable at all, and it achieved the nice wreath shape for each of them. I used a little bit of kitchen twine for the bow. You could use colored ribbon or whatever you’d like!
One of the biggest projects was the lemon leaf garland. I didn’t take too many in-progress photos, but have included one so you can get a better idea of what I did. I found a tutorial online, and it was actually a really simple project!
I used about 2 large bunches of fresh lemon leaves, which I purchased at a florist. I clipped off each leaf, leaving about 4-5 inches of stem below it. Cut a long length of twine and attach each leaf/stem to the twine by wrapping floral wire around it. Wrap the stem, lay the next branch over it, and wrap again. You will keep overlapping each branch with the new leaves until you get to the end. How close or far apart you wrap them is completely up to you. I ended up wrapping 2-3 at a time for a full look. The garland extended the entire length of the table!
I made this in advance, so I stored it in our guest shower, and misted it with a spray bottle of water 2x a day for 2-3 days. I wouldn’t advise making this more than 3 days in advance, or it will dry out. 1 or 2 days is preferred, or even same day if you have the time available.
To accent the garland, I simply placed fresh lemons around it on the table. So easy, and beautiful! As you can see, our dinner party looked really elegant without a whole lot of time or money spent to decorate the table.
Don’t worry, I am not leaving you without any recipes.. here’s the recipes for the vanilla panna cotta, and the almond brittle. Both are very simple and incredibly delicious.
Vanilla Panna Cotta
yield: Makes 8 to 10 servings
This recipe was created by chef Lachlan Mackinnon Patterson of Frasca Food and Wine in Boulder, Colorado. It’s part of a special menu he created for Epicurious’s Wine.Dine.Donate program.
Start this recipe a day before you plan to serve it. Both the pear jam and the panna cotta are best if chilled overnight.
- 4 teaspoons unflavored powdered gelatin from 2 (1/4-ounce) envelopes
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 vanilla beans, split lengthwise
In small bowl, sprinkle gelatin over cream. Let stand until gelatin softens, about 1 minute.
Meanwhile, in medium saucepan over moderate heat, whisk together milk and sugar. Scrape in seeds from vanilla beans; add beans. Heat, whisking occasionally, until sugar dissolves, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in cream mixture. Strain through fine-mesh sieve, discarding vanilla beans, then ladle mixture into 8 (4-ounce) ramekins. Cover and refrigerate at least 8 hours or overnight.
Unmold and serve:
Run thin sharp knife around inside edge of each ramekin to loosen. Dip bottom of 1 ramekin in bowl of very warm water 6 seconds. Put plate over ramekin, then invert panna cotta onto plate, gently lifting off ramekin. Repeat to unmold remaining panna cottas. (Note: I poured my mixture right into a fancy glass serving dish, as shown in the image earlier in this post. I did not unmold it, and instead left it in the pretty dish. I topped it with grated dark chocolate.)
Yield: 13 servings
1/2 cup light-colored corn syrup
3/4 cup coarsely chopped almonds, toasted
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda
Line a jelly-roll pan with parchment paper. Combine sugar and syrup in a 2-quart glass bowl. Microwave at HIGH 3 minutes (sugar mixture will be clear and bubbly). Stir in almonds. Microwave at HIGH 3 minutes or until mixture is a light caramel color, stirring every minute. Stir in butter, vanilla, and salt. Microwave at HIGH 1 1/2 minutes or until mixture is the color of peanut butter. Add baking soda, and stir until texture is foamy. Quickly pour mixture onto prepared pan. Spread to 1/4-inch thickness. Let stand 30 minutes. Break brittle into pieces, and store in an airtight container for up to a week.