The holiday season is much more fun when there are parties to attend, but actually hosting a holiday gathering is another story (especially if you’ve forgotten how to entertain after a year of sitting at home alone). In this series, we ask veteran party-throwers to walk us through their process for a foolproof celebration — from baking cookies two weeks in advance, to greeting their guests with tarot cards, to, finally, hitting the Hanukkah-themed shotski.
For starters, you can replicate Lilli Sherman’s New Year’s Eve dinner party by serving Ruffles potato chips with the caviar. “They’re thin but can still hold the toppings without breaking,” explains Sherman, who’s the founder of Oma Loves Fun. Plus “they’re salty but not too salty.” She also suggests putting chicken wire in your flower vases (“you can space out the stems more easily this way and have such an easier time making an arrangement you’re impressed by”). And for later on in the night, she says a colored-light machine is “the best $15 you’ll ever spend.”
Beyond all these little details that go a long way, Sherman has also shared her entire multicourse menu for this ten-person party, which she has been hosting on and off for the past seven years. Cocktail hour involves the aforementioned caviar, plus DIY poached shrimp with cocktail sauce and mortadella on buttered toast with chives. For dinner, she does a rib roast with horseradish crème fraîche. Alongside the meat are freshly baked rolls, creamed greens, a chicory-and-radicchio salad, and a no-dairy shingled-potatoes recipe, which was created by her chef-fiancé, Patch, the culinary director of Row Seven Seeds. For dessert: individual Baked Alaskas with Tartine Bakery brownie bases, store-bought ice cream, and Italian meringue. (There are also frozen pigs in a blanket in the freezer — what Sherman calls her “late-night party trick.”)
Even if you’d rather stick to your own go-to dishes, the steps below include plenty of advice to help you dramatically elevate any meat-and-potatoes meal — as will some Champagne and sparkling wine, of course. “If anyone coming asks what they should bring,” says Sherman, “I tell them their favorite bottle of bubbles, any color.”
One week before: Order the caviar
I order about three tins of caviar from various producers. You can stick to one kind, of course, but I consider it the educational portion of the evening and like to get a few to try. These are two of my favorite brands and they will ship across the U.S. A hot tip: If you’re in a bind and need last-minute caviar, Pearl Street has an NYC-based text messaging service with same-day delivery.
I place our meat order with our local butcher shop for the main dish, too. We get one 3-bone standing beef rib-eye roast, chine bone removed, bones unfrenched, as the recipe states. It should be about six pounds in total. Our shop has pickup available and we set that for a couple of days before the party.
A few days before: Write out the menus
I’m by no means an artist, so I just take watercolor paper and then use different colors to write each course of the meal in script. Because this is such a small party, I don’t do name cards, but placing the menus on each person’s plate makes it feel special.
Two days before: Make the baked alaska brownie base
This brownie recipe comes from Tartine and has an almost hot-fudge quality instead of being cakey. The instructions say to bake it in a nine-by-13-inch baking dish, but we spread the batter out on a quarter sheet tray so that there’s more surface area. When it’s done baking, instead of cutting it into squares, we punch out circles with a mold and wrap them tightly in plastic wrap.
The day before: Prep and store the appetizers and sides
You don’t want your fridge bursting at the seams from groceries for so many days, so the shopping and bulk of the work happens the day before. We clean and poach the shrimp. We make the cocktail sauce (if we didn’t buy it that year from our local fish shop, Greenpoint Fish and Lobster Co.). We make the horseradish sauce. We assemble and bake the potato dish (this one is a recipe from Patch, basically a potato gratin that’s dairy free and vegan). We clean our lettuces. We make an herby, garlicky vinaigrette for the salad. And we take the butter — a really nice French one — out of the fridge so it comes to room temperature for the toasts the next day. We love deli containers for storing everything. We have all the different sizes, all of which stack.
The evening before: Set the table
I set out the plates and silverware and cloth napkins — definitely cloth napkins.
I put out water glasses and then an assortment of coupes from my vintage collection. The more mismatched, the better.
The center of the table gets a couple of ceramic vases for small bouquets. I make balls of chicken wire and stick one in each vase. I think a secret not enough people understand is if you have chicken wire in a vase, you will have such an easier time making an arrangement that you’re impressed by. You can space out the flowers more easily this way and not overstuff the vase.
I also put a few of my antique candleholders with candlesticks in the center. My grandfather passed away a few years ago, and I use some he passed down to me. They’re plexiglass in the middle and then metal on either side, which is really cool. And I’ve been really into using color candlesticks recently.
Finally, I pull out the servingware we’ll need for the next day, label what each piece is for with a Post-it, and put them out of the way. That trick comes from being in events. This is especially helpful if you’re the only one hosting. It makes it easier for people to jump in and help. If they say, “What can I do?,” you can say, “Grab the rib-roast platter,” and they’ll know exactly what you’re talking about.
11:00 a.m.: Make a flower run
The morning of, I put the wine in the fridge to chill and fill up bottles of water from our filter and put those in the fridge to chill too. I thought NYC had the best drinking water, then I got a Berkey.
I run out and grab a couple of bouquets of flowers from the bodega in my neighborhood. I think keeping it to one type of flower, like lilies, makes the arrangement feel more elevated. When I get home, I trim the stems and put them in the vases with the chicken wire.
1:00 p.m.: Take out the meat and make the rolls
In the afternoon, I take the meat out to get it to room temperature. That makes the cooking process go faster. I’ve usually picked up the meat a couple of days before and salted it on a wire rack set on top of a baking sheet. You can do this closer to, but the longer it sits, the better that flavor will penetrate.
I also start the rolls, which involve multiple steps with a lot of inactive rising time in between.
2:00 p.m.: Scoop the ice cream
I put the bases of the Baked Alaskas on a sheet tray. I scoop ice cream on top of each one, and then put them in the freezer. They don’t have to be perfect, because they’re going to get covered with meringue and then flambéed. But you still want them to be somewhat uniform.
2:30 p.m.: Roast the meat
I do the finishing steps for the meat and put it in the oven to roast for about two hours, when the inside registers at 110 degrees (the temperature will rise as it sits, eventually hitting 125). This thermometer takes all the guessing (and anxiety!) out of cooking a huge slab of meat perfectly.
While the meat is cooking, I take the potato dish that we made the day before out of the fridge, make the creamed greens, and fully assemble the Baked Alaskas.
7:00 p.m.: Set up the lighting and cue the music
This fun colored-light machine is the best $15 you’ll ever spend. It makes it like a little club in your home. I won’t actually turn it on until later in the night, but you don’t want to have to figure out logistics once you’ve been drinking for a while. You want to just be like, “Ta-da!”
I also light the candles and make sure the music is working. I like to break down my playlist so that it starts with more sophisticated songs for cocktail time and then goes into fun dinner vibes. And I’m always hoping that it turns into a dance party.
7:15 p.m.: Arrange the apps
Finally, I assemble the cocktail-hour snacks and bring them to the coffee table in the living room. I arrange the poached shrimp. You can stack them and make a tower, you can put a ton of ice in a bowl and scatter them on top, you can take a coupe and hang them from the outside. I’ve done it all different ways. I slather the toast with butter, place the mortadella slices on top and then sprinkle each piece with chives. The caviar accoutrements — sour cream, Ruffles potato chips, and more chives — go in bowls. The caviar tins themselves will go on top of crushed ice in some sort of vessel, but you don’t want to do that until just a few minutes before guests arrive or even after they do. Otherwise it will get too melty.
7:30 p.m.: Guests arrive
As people arrive, we pop open nice Champagne: I like Ca De Noci Quericole 2020, Tissot, Stéphane NV Crémant du Jura (Non Dosé), and Pierre Peters, Champagne Cuvee Reserve, NV (750 milliliters), in order from least to most expensive. I get a total of seven bottles of Champagne and red and white wine for a dinner party of this size. Depending on how the night’s going, I like to have some sort of grounding or reflective moment. I like tarot, which you can all do together, or you can just talk about what you want to bring into the next year. I think it’s nice to bring some intentionality to the holiday.
9:00 p.m.: Eat dinner
There’s some final prep that happens in the hour before dinner time — we put the rolls in the oven, broil the meat and potatoes, reheat the greens, and dress the salad. And then we dig in.
11:00 p.m.: Flambé and digestif time
We set up the Baked Alaskas to flambé in the kitchen. You light the meringue on fire and watch it go up in flames; whoever wants to do one gets to. If anybody wants to have amaro with their dessert, they can. I put a couple of different kinds of glasses on the table along with a few digestifs for an end-of-night choose-your-own-adventure.
After midnight: Mezcal and frozen wieners
At this point, I turn up the music and a bottle of mezcal comes out. Yola is distilled and owned by women, and it’s the perfect slightly-smokey-and-smooth mezcal to keep you dancing in the kitchen far past midnight. I turn on the colored lights. We don’t usually watch the ball drop. It’s more like suddenly it’s after 12 and everyone hugs. It’s more about the whole night, as opposed to waiting for that one moment. If it’s really late, and we’re hungry again, I make frozen pigs in a blanket.
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