Hosting An Intimate Dinner Party

While I love most things about winter – hot chocolate after sledding with the kids, a good book by the fire, the smell of homemade cinnamon raisin bread baking in the oven – the post-holiday let down of January can still feel cold and lonely. The presents have been unwrapped, the decorations are down, and extended family has gone home. Now what?

It may sound crazy after such a social season, but there is nothing better for the soul than spending a few hours around a table in the company of good friends, comforting food, and a few nice bottles of wine. In short: it’s time for a dinner party.

In order for your dinner party to solve those January-blues, it’s important that you actually get to sit down and enjoy the evening. Entertaining is often expensive and time consuming, so when it comes to throwing a successful dinner party, planning is everything. 90% of the work should be done before your guests arrive, which often means looking for options that embrace simplicity over extravagance. Here are a few of my own tried-and-tested tips to allow you to go from stressed-out host to relaxed guest at your own party.


First step: set the scene for cozy winter magic. I like to keep my winter tablescapes simple – I did just take down all my holiday decorations after all. Grab your pruning shears and head out into the backyard for inspiration. Clip a few boughs from a nearby pine tree and arrange them down the center of your table, letting the wispy needles spray out haphazardly towards your place settings. Add lots of candlelight; I like to incorporate a mix of votives and tapers at different heights.

You can lean into the simplicity of this natural design, or add a bit of flare by introducing some seasonal plaid to this simple winterscape. Look for a plaid table runner, placemats, or ribbon that can be cut and tied around the napkins. Palmer’s Market has a great year-round selection of candles, table decor, and ribbon.


Now that the stage is set, it’s time for the main actors. The key here is to pick a menu that can be prepped in advance. For an intimate dinner party of 8-10 guests, the right amount of planning can set you up to easily provide a beautiful spread of a few hors d’oeuvres followed by a three course meal. If you don’t feel like making everything yourself, you can always purchase a few items to help cut down on the cooking time.

 Secret fact about hors d’oeuvres:they don’t need to be complicated! Think of them more as something to get the taste buds excited. Anything wrapped in prosciutto and cheese is a winner. Think fresh figs & goat cheese, asparagus and boursin or apples and camembert. I love Palmer’s gruyere cheese puffs and wild mushroom risotto bites, which you can purchase frozen then reheat and serve for that fresh-from-the-oven warmth. 

Traditionally for the first course, I offer either soup or salad. Dress up your soup by ladling it into individual ramekins topped off with store-bought puff pastry brushed with an egg wash. These can be made the day before and stored in your fridge. The day of, preheat your oven to 425° and bake the ramekins for 20-25 minutes or until pastry is puffed and golden brown. If you prefer salad, save time by pre-plating this course one hour before guests arrive, remember to start with your dressing on the bottom, then pile the greens and other ingredients on top to prevent the dreaded soggy salad. Store in the fridge until serving.

For the main course, my winter staple is almost always something braised; think short ribs, osso bucco or pork shanks. The great thing about braising is you can make your dish 1-2 days in advance and it actually makes it taste better. The day of the party, you can keep it warm on the stove until you’re ready to serve. Plus, braising cuts are usually less expensive than the leaner cuts like tenderloin or chops and you don’t have to worry about over cooking them!

There are lots of options for side dishes that can be made in advance as well. Two personal favorites are potato parsnip purée with a hint of truffle and sautéed shredded   brussels sprout with bacon and cranberries. Cook both items the night before and place them in pretty baking dishes to simply reheat and serve on the day.

By the time dessert comes around I’m usually a few glasses of wine into the evening so the key is something as delicious as it is easy to plate! Sometimes I’m feeling ambitious and will make cinnamon raisin bread pudding or apple crisp that simply needs to be heated and topped with a big scoop of ice cream. Often though, I’ll opt instead for purchasing a dessert in advance. This was precisely the inspiration behind Palmer’s Bakery individual pear almond tarts and chocolate flourless cake, which I usually serve with whipped cream and raspberries.

Guaranteed your guests will leave satisfied. You’ll be basking in the rejuvenating warmth of good food and friendship at least long enough to get to February…

 Until next time, Happy Eating!  


Truffled Potato Parsnip Puree


  • 2 pounds parsnips
  • 2 pound Yukon gold potatoes
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 tsp Sabino Truffle Zest (add more to taste as desired)
  • Salt & Pepper to taste 


    1. Peel the potatoes & parsnips and cut them into 1” pieces
    2. Put the parsnips and potatoes in a large pot and cover them with about 2 inches of water. Season the water with salt 
    3. Bring the water to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook the parsnips and potatoes until they are fork-tender, about 30 minutes.
    4. Put the butter and heavy cream into a small saucepan and bring them to a simmer. Turn off the heat and whisk in the truffle powder.
    5. Drain the parsnips and potatoes and pass through a food mill.
    6. Gently stir in the butter & cream mixture. Season with salt and pepper

After graduating from The Culinary Institute of America with her Culinary and Baking & Pastry Arts Degrees, Megan joined the family business and opened Palmer’s Bakery & Palmer’s Catering.  Megan loves cooking & entertaining, dancing, gardening, skiing, and spending time with her daughters and husband.