Posts Tagged ‘entertaining’

How to Host a Cookie Exchange

The holidays can be so busy with the hustle and bustle of decorating, shopping, wrapping, and family obligations that sometimes I wish I had a little time to enjoy seeing close friends during the holidays. What better way than to get some baking done while enjoying a little “girl’s night”  With your closest buds. To read about ways to deal with December without going crazy, check out that post.  Here are some logistics on how to host a cookie exchange and the things I like to include when I’m hosting.

Host an amazing cookie exchange for your friends at Christmas. yourstrulyjenn.com

INVITES

I have found inviting 5-7 people makes for enough cookies for everyone, but a small enough group to make it an intimate gathering.  I found some really cute invites on Etsy and Evite that could possibly match your theme.  As you know I don’t do anything without a theme in mind.  Keep in close contact with your guests.  RSVPs are a must for each person to know how many cookies to bring.  Each person will also need to tell you what cookie they are bringing so there aren’t any duplicates.

PROCEDURES

Let your guests know the amount of people to bake for and how much for each person.  Usually the rule of thumb is to bring 6-12 cookies per person attending and 12 cookies for tasting. You will also want each guest to write out or print a recipe card for each guest.  As a hostess, you should have extra cards out for guests that may have forgotten to bring their recipes.  This helps just in case there is someone who has food sensitivities or dietary restrictions.  I always try to make a clean eating cookie so there is a healthy option.

Host an amazing cookie exchange for your friends at Christmas. yourstrulyjenn.com

DISPLAYS

Setting up the tasting table is always my favorite part.  Anything dealing with decor really gets my creative juices flowing.   You will want to have cake stands, trays, platters, and apothecary jars of varying heights and sizes.  Then you can bring in colors of linens that go with your theme. Adding small details to your table with give it the look you are going for.

Make sure you have supplies like: bags, tins, boxes, labels, scissors, hole punch, twine, cellophane, baggies, ribbon, and paper plates for guests to pack their cookies to take home.  You can find tons of this stuff at the Dollar Store or on sale after Christmas.

Host an amazing cookie exchange for your friends at Christmas. yourstrulyjenn.com

BEVERAGES AND FOOD

You will also want to have a beverage station with plenty of options for your guests.  After talking all evening and tasting lots of cookies, your guests will be plenty thirsty.  I like to have coffee, tea, water, soda, wine, and milk.   I also like to put out other appetizers like a veggie tray, fruit, and something else savory to balance out the sweet.

Host an amazing cookie exchange for your friends at Christmas. yourstrulyjenn.com

Don’t forget as a thank you favor you could give out little cookie cutter favors, or whisks and spatulas.  It just adds a nice touch for your guests.  Having a holiday play list going throughout the party is also a nice touch.  I hope you are having a wonderful December.

Yours Truly,

Jenn

Tips for Stress Free Holiday Entertaining

I love to entertain especially around the holidays.  With all the decorating, shopping, and events to attend; it can be quite overwhelming to prepare your home for a party.  I have come across several things that have helped me over the years and I wanted to share these tips with you.  I always say work hard, but work smart.  You don’t have to reinvent the wheel.  I hope something in this post will be new to you so you can implement it this holiday season.

Holiday entertaining doesn't have to be stressful. Here are some tips to help you entertain. www.yourstrulyjenn.com

Tips for stress free entertaining

  • SET THE TABLE DAYS IN ADVANCE–  Wash up all your dishes and arrange your table several days before your party.  This way you can see if you have everything you need and if your vision will turn out the way you “think” it will. Use a faux center piece and then add fresh flowers or other pieces at the very end so they keep their luster.
  • IF YOU CAN, HAVE YOUR PARTY CATERED- This is the best investment you will spend.  You will be able to mingle at your party instead of filling food trays.  Also most caterers will have items that you can rent from them like linens, tables, and decor.  This makes everything so simple for you.  They also have servers so it really takes the work off of you during the party.
  • USE WHITE DISHES- If you don’t have white dishes that is what you need to invest in.  Having white china and everyday dishes has really helped me when coming up with tablescape ideas during different seasons.  I have been able to change my themes easily because I have a neutral background. I can change out placemats, napkins, and centerpieces while adding pops of color to match my themes.
  • USE CANDLELIGHT TO CREATE BEAUTIFUL AMBIANCE- I love using candles on my tables for added light and to create a beautiful atmosphere.  I have a ton of candles.  I have the tapered kind for my crystal holders, but I also have the battery operated candles that are so easy to use.  They can be turned on by remote and are great for seasonal decorating.
  • CHECK YOUR BATHROOMS DURING THE MIDDLE OF YOUR PARTY- I always go through the restrooms in my home to make sure the bathroom is working properly and is clean.  I empty the trash, make sure the toilet is clean and working properly, and I check to make sure there is enough soap, toilet paper, and guest towels.   It’s also important to empty the trash.  This doesn’t take long, but is noticed if you don’t do this.
  • USE SOME KIND OF CHRISTMAS SCENT IN YOUR HOME- if you don’t have a real tree it’s always cool to have the scent of a real tree in your home.  Candles are an easy way to make your home smell great.  I like the pine smell, but I’m obsessed with my home smelling like I’ve baked all day.  Anything by Bath and Body Works that has vanilla bean in it will smell fabulous.  I love Merry Cookie and Gingerbread Latte for the holidays.
  • HAVE A FABULOUS PARTING GIFT FOR YOUR GUESTS- It’s always nice to give your guests a token of your appreciation for coming out to your party.  It takes effort to get all dressed up and leave your busy schedule so something special when you leave a party is a great idea.  It doesn’t have to be anything big.  Something just to say, “thanks for coming out.”
  • HAVE A BARTENDER ON HAND OR MAKE SIGNATURE DRINKS BEFOREHAND- This one is similar to having a caterer.  You don’t want to be behind the bar mixing up signature drinks all night.  Hiring a bartender makes sense so you don’t have to be watching the drinks all evening.  This will take a lot of stress off you.
  • HAVE SEVERAL DESIGNATED PLACES FOR TRASH- Check on trash often.  You don’t want the trash overflowing.  Especially if your party is inside your home.  I like to put several trash cans out in major locations so they are easy to find and are near the “go to” areas.
  • WATCH THE TEMPERATURE- Most people want to have a roaring fire going for ambiance, but lots of people are wearing velvet outfits for Christmas parties.  I actually turn on the AC at these kinds of parties.  There are so many people placed in a couple of rooms and it can get quite warm.  It’s the worst to be warm at someone’s home.  Think about this ahead of time and how you will handle this.

What kinds of things have you learned from hosting your own parties?  I’m sure you have several tricks up your sleeve that you’re willing to share with us.  Leave a comment below if you have a great tip to share. HAPPY HOLIDAYS!!!

Yours Truly,

Jenn

 

Entertaining with Chobani Flips

The summer is heating up and if you’re like me you don’t want to stay cooped up in the house.  We just had a big Fourth of July party, but I would love to have some smaller more intimate get togethers. If you want some summertime party ideas, I have just the cool refreshing treat to keep your guests happy.  I have been eating healthier these days and so has my family. I have found that there are certain desserts that are super healthy without sacrificing the taste.  Have you ever thought of using Chobani Flips at a party? Why not use what you already love to make yourself look like an entertaining rockstar?

Entertaining using Chobani Flips in your treats. www.yourstrulyjenn.com

Chobani has 13 amazing Flip flavors. These Flips are all the craze with adults and kids.  The yogurt is on one side paired with great combinations on the other side.  Then you just flip these incredible ingredients in the yogurt and you have a pairing that is healthy and will crush any craving you have. Think of some classic pairs like Mac and Cheese, Peanut butter and Jelly and hamburgers and fries.  Soon you will become very familiar with all of Chobani’s new Flip pairings. THEY ARE THAT GOOD GUYS.

Using fruit in your yogurt is a healthy addition. www.yourstrulyjenn.com

I used their flow chart to see what category of Flips I would like most. I fell in the sweet N sweet category. Use the chart below to figure out what path leads to your flavor soulmate.  This is just a guide to help you with some of your first choices when trying Chobani. I’m obsessed with the Salted Caramel Crunch flip. Eating this actually gave me the idea to create a parfait bar. I love the way bars are set up so you can personalize your own dessert and make it exactly how you want it.  They are perfect for showers, Mother’s Day gatherings, and brunch.

Chobani Flavor Soulmate Chart www.yourstrulyjenn.com

A Chobani Flip parfait bar is actually quite easy to set up.  I got these adorable dessert glasses on clearance at Pier 1.  They make this simple dessert look so fancy.  Your guests will think you’ve been slaving in the kitchen all day setting up this bar. The great thing about Chobani Yogurt is you can use it year round. So this bar can be used for any type of gathering. Bar set ups bring your guests together while they make their parfaits and it’s a great way to mingle with everyone you’ve invited. Making sure I speak to every guest is just as important to me as having the right food at my party.

Try the Salted Caramel Crunch. It's my favorite. www.yourstrulyjenn.com

Seasonal fruits make great toppings for bars. www.yourstrulyjenn.com

Summer is an amazing time to put together your bar because there are so many seasonal options. Of Course you will start with your favorite Chobani Flips and then whatever toppings you think would make great combinations. I love to use granola, fruit, nuts, and anything else I can think of.

A parfait bar makes for a great dessert at a party. www.yourstrulyjenn.com

On your next shopping trip try a Flip flavor that you think you would love.  My favorite one is only 190 calories and is packed with pretzels, chocolate, and praline pecans.  There aren’t many snacks for that caloric amount where you get to savor sweet and salty treats like that.

Yours Truly,

Jenn

 

 

How to Start Planning A Big Party

My husband and I entertain quite often, but our big party every year is the 4th Of July.  We really get into the fireworks and have it catered so I can mingle and enjoy our guests.  It takes a lot to pull off having large numbers of people at your home, but there are key points to planning any party that can keep you on task and organized prior to the big day.

Secure All your Vendors

The first thing I do is secure all my vendors (DJ, caterer, party rentals etc….).  I have done this for so long now.  I just go back to my party notebook from last year and see what worked out and what I would like to change.  Actually most of the companies call me now and say, “Are you having your party and should we secure this date for you?”  It’s actually kind of nice when you do an annual party and you use amazing people.  You take care of them and they take care of you.  I’ve had the same DJ and caterer for 4 years now. Getting someone you’re comfortable with really helps take that part of the entertaining off of me.  I like to roam around and greet everyone and feel like part of the party.  If I’m constantly refilling food dishes then I really can’t  be with my guests the way I like to.  I just say the word and choose my theme and we work on a menu together to create the right feel for the party.

Here are some pictures from last years’ party!!

Sailboat from 4th of JULY 2015 party

The menu is something I spend extra time getting it just right.  I feel like the food really sets the tone for your party.  You want to have food for adults, but items the kids would enjoy as well.  I also have some “old favorites” that are requested every year like the mini funnel cakes and fried oreos that I have to have or I would have some very disappointed guests. If you are in the Hampton Roads area and are looking for an amazing caterer check out Chesapeake Bay Catering.

If you can’t have your event catered here are some tips to think about when planning your food set up.

  •  Keep your menu items simple.  You don’t want to spend your entire time in the kitchen.
  • Think about the food prep and how to keep it cold/hot.  Your food can be the most amazing dish, if it is supposed to be hot then you want it to stay hot for the guests.
  • Try to prep as much food prior to the party as you can.  This will help you save a lot of time the day of your party when you’re running around finishing last minute details.

Dessert and drink station 2015

Once I have all my vendors locked down and know for sure the party is going to be happening on a specific date then I work on invitations.  I still like to use evite. They have the free ones still as an option, but they also provide a premium version if you want something with a little more pizzazz. For this fourth, I was able to find a free one I liked.  Then you just gather your guests’ list and start emailing your evite out. The evite keeps a tally of who has replied to your party and who still needs to respond.  I like this because it gives you a place to look at a quick glance for a head count.  I like to send out my 4th of July evites a month in advance because it is a holiday.  However, I don’t expect the RSVP until a week before because people are still making their holiday weekend plans. Some people already know they will be out of town and I have found those people tend to go ahead and let you know that immediately.  This always helps me get a head count to give my caterer as an estimate.

Love using layered tiers to put my food out so everything can be at different heights.

For the 4th of July we always do fireworks at the end of the party, but I think you need to have some kind of entertainment set up whether it is structured games, a pool, water games so people have something to do.  I like to keep a loose timeline for the way I want the party flow.  These are some of the things I like to include in my party timeline.

Sailboat and food- 4th 2015

Party Timeline

6:15 Dinner is starting to come out

7:00 first structured game

7:30 DJ run songs to get crowd going

7:45 dessert and candy station go out

8:00 structured game

9:15 Fireworks

That kind of gives you a look into how I would run my outdoor party.  Of course any inflatables or water games would be going on simultaneously.  I hope this gives you a little peek into how I plan my parties.  If you have any tips or ideas on party planning I would love to hear them.  Leave me a comment below and I will get back to you.

Yours Truly,

Jenn

A Review of My Favorite Entertaining Books

If you know me and my background you know I’m a certified Reading Specialist.  I LOVE books.  All kinds of books.  BUT, books about entertaining have a special place in my heart. I wanted to share with you my favorite entertaining books.  I am a very visual person and some of these books have the most gorgeous pictures.  The food and table settings are just amazing.  Whoever styled the shoot and photographed these photos, are very talented people.  I want to get right into describing these books.  If you love entertaining or books about the subject, you may want to check some of these out.

Here is a list of my favorite entertaining books that you need to check out.

My Favorite Entertaining Books

Hamptons Entertaining by Annie Falk is one you won’t want to miss.  If you do a lot of outdoor entertaining, this book will fit your needs. It is filled with fabulous pictures of table settings for outdoors as well as some indoor parties. The menus are elegant, but very doable for someone trying to recreate a recipe.  This book has all the visual elements you need to create a beautiful party from start to finish.  I look at this over and over especially during the summer months.  That is when we tend to entertain the most.

The next book, What’s a Hostess to Do? By Susan Spungen,  is a great reference book.  It is helpful to look at for specific info or etiquette.  It answers questions like:

How do I specify this is a kid free party?

How far in advance do I send out a wedding invitation?

How much cheese should I buy for this party?

How do I get wax out of candleholders?

How do I keep these fresh flowers lasting longer?

It also has recipes and SO MUCH more…….

This is a must read if you entertain guests frequently.  It is always good to have one book that you can go to that can answer all your burning questions.

Camillle Styles Entertaining is great for all around seasonal entertaining.  It is perfect for the hostess that literally hosts parties all throughout the year.  It is broken down into seasons and how she hosts seasonal events. It starts off in fall.  My favorite season that she covers is summer.  Maybe because that is the season I host most frequently.  We have a huge fourth of July party every year.  We are definitely grill out type of folks.  We like to be around the pool and entertain outdoors. I love the summer recipes, cocktails, and grilling tips in this book.

My mother-in-law gave me Southern Living’s Year-Round Celebrations.  The special edition exclusive book is presented by Dillard’s.  There are tons of recipes in this book.  However, my favorite part of this book are the beautiful tablescapes and gorgeous ways the tables are set up for all types of parties.

If you like to entertain, I feel confident in recommending any of these books for you to try.  I am not affiliated with any of these books and this is not a sponsored post.  I just enjoyed these books and I wanted to pass them along to you.  Leave me a comment of your favorite entertaining books.  I would love to hear from you.  I’m always looking for new books to read.

Yours Truly,

Jenn

Valentine’s Day Family Brunch

As I’ve stated in other posts, Valentine’s Day is not my favorite holiday.  I don’t think you have to have a Valentine to celebrate this day.  You can think of it as spending extra time with your loved ones or doing something nice for a friend. People really just want to know that you appreciate them.  I thought it would be a great idea to hold a little brunch for your girlfriends or your family to show them how much they mean to you.  It doesn’t have to be anything extravagant, but just something to show you care.  Plus, I always love a good reason to have a mimosa.

Mimosa

Use Champagne and Juice to make a great mimosa

Brunch

The family Valentine’s Day Brunch

Let’s start off this brunch with some wonderful beverages.  To make some fabulous mimosas use a dry champagne of your choice and juice.  You can go with the traditional OJ, but the Mixed Berry is a wonderful alternative and that is the one I chose to make.  You use half part champagne and half part juice.  I chose to use cute glasses I got from Target and some decorative straws to add to the festivities.

brunch

Mixed Berries and Doughnuts make great brunch choices.

Mixed fruit made for a great addition to the breakfast for something healthy to eat.  you could also have muffins and bagels with cream cheese if you so choose.  Doughnuts on a gorgeous cake plate from CWonder was the main attraction, but don’t forget the cupcakes on the heart appetizer plates also from CWonder.  These plates were embellished with gold and black polka dots.  I just love them. As soon as I saw them I just had to have them.

Appetizer plates

I love these adorable heart appetizer plates.

The ribbon garland was one I made for my daughter’s 13th birthday and it just so happens the colors worked perfectly with this theme. I also had the red pom poms and thought they added to the decor.  I chose to use my mirrored gold chest for my display instead of my kitchen island because I thought it was a little more festive for this occasion.

My Valentine’s Day brunch is actually a new tradition I’ve started for my family.  We have always had a special breakfast, but I’ve never included my parents. This year I want to include them as well.

Yours Truly,

Jenn

 

 

 

Best New Year’s Eve Table Setting

I’ve always wanted to do a New Year’s Eve table and just never have.  We’ve always gone out with friends or done something low key with the kids.  Once I had my color scheme, from there it really came together nicely.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed creating it.

 

I started with silver chargers from Joss and Main (Similar Here and Here).  These give a very timeless and elegant look and can be used over and over on many occasions.

Chargers & China

Base China with Silver Chargers

 

Table Place setting

Finished Table Place Setting

 

Next, I kept my Lenox Eternal China I used in my Christmas table setting, but used Nate Berkus’ line of Fall collection plates from Target.  I love the monochromatic pattern on these plates.  These had just the look I was going for.

 

IMG_1569

NYE Table Setting

New Year’s Eve Table Setting

 

The wintery table runner and the blue and silver napkins are all from Pier 1.  Then, I took silver and white ornamental decorations from around the house to finish off the centerpiece.  I already had all of these pieces so it made for a fun table setting, without breaking the bank.  Now, I can entertain on New Year’s Eve with a beautiful table.  I just have to decide what I’m serving for dinner.

Pier 1 napkins

Pier 1 blue and silver napkins

 

final touches

White, silver, and blue final touches

 

What do you normally do on New Year’s Eve?  Do you even make it to midnight? Do you go out with friends and ring in the new year with a bang?  OR….. Do you hang with family and have a more low key evening?  I would love to hear how you spend your evening.  Leave a comment below.

Yours Truly,

Jenn

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Christmas Cocoa Bar

There is nothing better than sitting by a warm fire, mingling with friends and sipping on a hot chocolate.  Setting up a hot cocoa bar is the perfect entertaining tool for any type of holiday party.  I have done this type of bar twice already.  Once after a family Christmas brunch and the other was for my daughter’s Cheerleading Christmas party.  Both times it was a big hit.

Christmas Cocoa Bar

Hot chocolate

A nice mug of Hot Chocolate

monogrammed mugs

My monogrammed mugs

Holiday Cocoa Bar Setup

The great thing about this type of bar is, once it’s set up it basically works itself.  You can make it as elaborate or as simple as you want.  I have only done different kinds of hot chocolate, but you could also do tea and coffee if you wanted.

Cocoa bar toppings

Cocoa bar stirring sticks and toppings

You will need a way of warming up your milk or water.  It is also fun to have the hot chocolate flavored stirring sticks.  They come in different flavors.

cocoa bar toppings

Your toppings bar can be elaborate or simple

marshmallows

So many marshmallow flavors

Cocoa Bar Toppings

You can set your display up on a table, beverage cart, or counter in your kitchen.  Here are a list of the items I used as toppings for my cocoa bar:

*whipped cream                                                                                *stirring sticks

*white chocolate chips                                                                    *chocolate chips

*crushed peppermint                                                                       *peppermint stirring sticks

*Gingerbread marshmallows                                                       *miniature marshmallows

*french vanilla marshmallows                                                      *hershey’s chocolate syrup

*caramel syrup

My cocoa bar

My Christmas Cocoa Bar

The last thing to do is enjoy your guests and make you a mug of hot chocolate.   What is your favorite way to entertain this holiday season? Leave me a comment below.

Yours truly,

Jenn