Dining

Party of Six

Host a cozy fall dinner party before Thanksgiving

My favorite dinner parties aren't elaborate. I much prefer cozy gatherings, with a big pot of stew dished out at the table, a crusty loaf of bread and a few close friends who won't notice if I forgot to vacuum. At the end of the day, it's the people who matter.

Last week I released my first cookbook, The Yellow Table: A Celebration of Everyday Gatherings, a collection of 110 simple, seasonal recipes that can be thrown together any day of the week. I wrote it to inspire people to host small, frequent gatherings around their own tables—without waiting for a holiday to roll around.

But I hear all the time that people are intimidated to host because their food or home might not be Pinterest-perfect. My goal in writing the book was to make the process of cooking and entertaining as fun—and non-intimidating—as possible, with a series of practical guides, such as a section of easy-to-follow planning tips and menu ideas.

All that said, it's actually the perfect time to throw your own cozy fall dinner party, with Thanksgiving around the corner. Why now? Friends will actually be available, and you can treat this as a practice run for Thanksgiving, if you're hosting. You'll feel so much more confident having a larger, more formal gathering in a few weeks.

Here's how to keep your dinner party small, simple and stress-free:

Limit the guest list to six to eight people, max. Just invite your closest friends. You know, the ones who are happy to sip wine out of mismatched glasses.

Before the party, set out Champagne glasses and a few bottles of bubbly on ice. This way, guests can serve themselves while they're mingling. Put out some olives (make them extra special with a little grated citrus zest, red pepper flakes and a splash of sherry vinegar), and a board with goat cheese, jarred tapenade and good crackers. Super easy, but elegant.

Make your main course ahead of time. This takes the stress level way down. The Roasted Pork Loin with Prosciutto and Rosemary-Fig Butter in my book is a perfect example: You can assemble the roast earlier in the day and keep it refrigerated until about an hour and a half before dinner. Let it come to room temperature for half an hour, roast it for about 45 minutes, then let sit until ready to serve. It's fantastic with haricots verts and simple herb-roasted new potatoes.

Let someone else take care of dessert. Have a friend bring it, or go to your favorite bakery. Avoid hosting burnout by letting go of some of the responsibility.

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Use seasonal ingredients as a centerpiece. Isn't that what gourds and those pretty little pumpkins are for? A simple bowl of apples does the trick, too.

Serve the meal family-style. People love passing around platters. It feels more intimate and communal—plus, you don't have to take the time to plate everything individually.

Spark conversation. Write out little cards at each place setting with a different question on each. What was the weirdest thing you saw this week? What celebrity do people say you look like? Even if your guests know each other, it's a fun way to get conversations going.

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