Hosting Dinner, Without the Stress

Somewhere in the middle of the second hour of the fourteen hour drive back to New York from South Carolina, I looked over at Ian in the driver's seat and thought, "Here I am, driving back to our home, with my husband. If this isn't a time to reset and start fresh, I don't know what is." Immediately following this romantic reverie I glanced at my calendar for the first time in two weeks and thought, "SHIT! It's the High Holidays and I have to host dinner on Sunday."

I love to celebrate the weeks of the Jewish High Holidays, starting with the New Year- Rosh Hashanah. The holiday always coincides with the beginning of Fall and always feels like a great fresh start. Nothing better than a meal with friends and family to usher in a new year and season.

Because Rosh Hashanah dinner this year happened exactly three days after we got back from our wedding it was the perfect opportunity to flex my hosting muscle. In the past, pulling together dinner for six people in less than a day would've sent me running for Valerian root. But over the years I've tested some foolproof tricks to help avoid stress and actually enjoy getting ready for a dinner party.

This past Sunday, I felt a bit brave and logged the entire day on Instagram Stories. (As I grow this project, it's only natural to try new mediums of communication and I am so appreciative of those of you who followed along.) I want to make sure I continue to regularly post on the site so I've written out my tried and true tips for hosting a big dinner for a crowd. Just to clarify, when I say "big dinner" I mean one that involves more than one course, several appetizers, and a dessert. 

Dinners don't have to be difficult and stuffy. Having friends over doesn't mean you spend three days straight slaving away in your kitchen only to emerge dripping in sweat and covered in flour. You can cook food for a ton of people and actually enjoy yourself! Surprise. (Pouring a glass of wine along the way helps too.)


Hosting Dinner, Without the Stress

1. Confirm guests. It is so important to know how many people you're cooking for. There's nothing more stressful or embarrassing than running out of food or having to make something last minute. I always send an email and ask for an informal RSVP. Then, once I've confirmed the number, I make enough food for one extra. That way I always have more than enough and am prepared in case someone changes their mind and decides to come!

  • Most guests will ask if there's something they can bring to the meal. I always request bread, cheese, wine/beer, or a salad. These are not expensive, easy to assemble, and don't require your friends to go too much out of their way. (It's alright to ask people to contribute something as long as it's not too much of an imposition.) I know I always like to bring something to the table and do my part in helping the host and I'm sure my friends do as well.

2. Decide on recipes ahead of time. Hosting a meal is not the time to experiment with new recipes. It's a guaranteed way to stress yourself out and take all the fun out of preparing the meal.  In order to make things easier I like to pick my recipes based on this format:

  • 1 time consuming recipe: this is usually the main course.
  • 1 easy starter: soup or this can be a special salad.
  • 1 base: rice, quinoa, etc.
  • 2-3 easy to assemble dishes: roasted vegetables, pickled sides, cheese board.
  • 1-2 salads
  • 1 dessert
  • fruit: not everyone has a sweet tooth, always have some fruit on hand as an alternative

3. Prep all your ingredients the day before/morning of the meal. The most labor intensive part of cooking anything is the prep. Make sure you go grocery shopping the day before your dinner. Cut, chop, slice, dice what can be done in advance the morning of your meal.

4. Schedule what you are preparing depending on recipe cook time. I stick to a few rules when preparing any large meal.

  • Always make dessert first. Most cakes, pies, cookies need to cool and rest regardless - make them in advance so you don't have to worry about last minute mixing and measuring. Also, desserts tend to be messy. The last thing you want to be doing is cleaning up flour off your kitchen floor 5 minutes before people come over.
  • Soups/stews can be made the day before or morning of and kept in the fridge. There is nothing wrong with reheating. That's all. Most soups and stews taste better after the flavors have some time to hang out.
  • Green, fork + knife, and generally most veggie salads can be assembled when guests arrive. No one likes a soggy salad so save that for when your guests are almost walking in the door. Also, you're not a superhero and there's nothing wrong with your friends seeing you putting vegetables in a bowl. They do it too. 
  • Marinate protein right after you prepare dessert but cook it last. If you can show me one person who likes steak that's been sitting around for a few hours, I'll show them the way to an Olive Garden.

5. Build in breaks. If there's one thing I learned from watching hours of Ina Garten (other than reserving 1/3 of my salary for "good olive oil"), it's to make sure you're not exhausted by the time dinner starts. What's the point of cooking a huge meal if you're too tired to enjoy it? Rhetorical question. The point is, make sure you have time to rest before people come over. I always take a 1-2 hour break during the day to shower, relax, nap, whatever.

So, now that I've written out my tips for a stress free dinner I want to give an example of how I planned out a real meal. My Rosh Hashanah dinner for 6 people, mapped out, below. I've linked the recipes for the soup and the cake, in case you want to try them!


Appetizers/Nibbles: apples + honey, pomegranate seeds, challah, arugula salad w. apples + shaved Parmesan

1st Course: Mushroom, Spinach, + Chickpea Soup

2nd Course: Roasted, dry rub chicken w. yams, apples, and carrots.

Dessert: Honey cake, more apples and pomegranate.


  1. Prepare honey cake first thing in the morning. Cover, set aside.
  2. Dry rub chicken and set in the fridge. 
  3. Cut, slice, dice, rinse all vegetables for 1st and 2nd course. Place in Tupperware in refrigerator for later.
  4. Take a break.
  5. Early afternoon, prepare the soup. Cover, let cool, place in fridge.
  6. Clean up a bit, do all dirty dishes accumulated so far.*
  7. An hour before guests arrive place chicken in baking dish with vegetables, roast and then keep heated until ready to serve. 
  8. Put out all appetizers and snacks.
  9. Prepare all beverages (beer, wine).
  10. Assemble salad as guests arrive.

*Shout out to husband who swept and washed all the floors so I didn't have to.

L'Shana Tova!!

L'Shana Tova!!





Starting from Scratch

Hello! It's been almost 4 months since I've written in this space. I've taken a short hiatus to move to a new city, start a new job, and wholly restructure my life. Suffice to say it's been a stressful and incredible few moths full of change and overwhelming happiness. Before I jump into the meat of this post- sharing how I went about building a kitchen from scratch, on a budget- I want to share some very happy news. Last weekend, in a quiet and lovely moment in Central Park, Ian and I got engaged. 

Let's rewind to 2 month's ago when we packed up a UHaul with our dog Jack, fish Harry and set out for NYC. In DC, we were living in a fairly cramped space with a roommate, sharing our kitchen along with all the ins and outs of daily life. We had no need for a lot of basics- they were shared- so the move to Bed Stuy and an apartment of our own meant starting our kitchen from scratch. To prepare, I did due diligence by researching helpful tips for what kitchen basics entail. You know, the bare necessities of cooking: spices, pots, pans, utensils, etc. I'm not sure why, or when the trends changed, but per usual I was reminded why I started this blog. Every single source I referred to from Food52 to Martha Stewart to Rachel Ray (I went there.) provided lists and tips that were for the most part inaccessible for someone living on a budget, working full time, or not looking to compile a pantry of trendy kitchen ingredients. I love Food52 but a search for the founder's essentials brought me to this list which... well, let's just say that if a $12 "finishing salt" is an essential, you haven't just spent your savings on a 1 bedroom security deposit in NY. 

I wanted to find something accessible, all encompassing, and more than anything else- reasonable. When I say reasonable I mean the down and dirty basics that will allow you to both plan and throw together a healthy, delicious, quick meal after you've worked a 9 hour day. I'm also talking about ingredients which are functional to store in a compact, urban space. When I read recipes calling for rose petals or half of a half teaspoon of dehydrated passionfruit zest the first thing that comes to mind is not price but where are these people storing these things?! My kitchen is small- every item which takes up counter/cupboard space must be functional and always in use.  That's why the first thing we did was hang up as many items as we could around our kitchen- everything within arms reach and best of all, uncluttered. 

Pots and pans, kitchen utensils, on the wall: Easy way to free up cupboard space.

Pots and pans, kitchen utensils, on the wall: Easy way to free up cupboard space.

A well stocked kitchen, even on a budget, will allow you to always have the right ingredients on hand without wincing at your bank account. The right ingredients allow you to create meal plans which encourage cooking at home, which all means you don't want to crawl under your bed and cry every time you look at your bank account. It's a truly gorgeous cycle.

In order to really get a sense of what I needed I took a few action steps: 

  1. Wrote down which items I am willing to spend the most money on: high quality meat and dairy. 
  2. Surveyed which stores are most accessible to me in terms of price/value/distance- in New York where getting anywhere is a huge hassle it makes a lot of sense to survey your grocery environment.
  3. Made a plan for how to purchase items on a monthly basis that would result in the least time and money spent on the most healthy/functional items. For me this means one trip every month to the nearest Trader Joe's (large variety of organic/hormone free options for a great value) to stock up on meat, cheese, pasta, and grain followed by supplementary trips to my local markets for fresh produce.  

Finally, I made a shopping list of the bare essentials which I needed to get my kitchen going. These are not fancy, trendy, or hip ingredients. These are healthy, functional, affordable items that will help with making meal plans and delicious food day after day. Use these as a guide- I intentionally left out brands so that you don't feel pressured to only buy the high end or off brand options. Budgets are individual and no one should feel pressure to only purchase organic or local if they cannot afford to do so. 


I don't have a ton of cupboard space in my kitchen and made it my goal to remind myself to eat more healthy grains, beans, and plant based foods. I set out all my dry goods in jars along my stove as an easy solution and incentive. 


  • All- purpose flour 
  • Rice: white, brown jasmine, basmati, etc. any of these are a good start depends on which you prefer.
  • Cornmeal: very affordable and perfect for breads, tortillas, bases, etc. 
  • Lentil
  • Farro
  • Couscous
  • Pasta: again, your preference. 
  • Buckwheat
  • Quinoa 
  • Rolled oats
  • Almonds
  • Walnuts


  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Red wine vinegar
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Coconut oil: this is trendy right now but it is very affordable and a great substitute for more expensive oils if money is tight and every glug of olive oil means pennies you're not saving. 
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Potatoes 
  • Lemons

Canned Goods:

  • Tomato paste
  • Canned diced tomatoes
  • Canned corn
  • Chickpeas
  • Canned beans: refried, black, cannellini, navy, etc. 
  • Chicken/beef/vegetable broth: I prefer canned to cubes but this is a very personal choice.
  • Roasted red peppers
  • Olives
  • Tuna


  • Baking powder
  • Baking soda
  • Granulated sugar
  • Brown sugar
  • Honey
  • Maple syrup
  • Vanilla extract
  • Chocolate powder, bar, chips

Herbs + Spices:

It's great if you can have some of these whole or fresh but not a must. (Not everyone has the sunlight/space to grow basil in a pot they glazed during their yearly yoga retreat. )

  • Ground cinnamon
  • Ground nutmeg
  • Ground cloves
  • Bay leaves
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Oregano
  • Basil
  • Parsley
  • Rosemary
  • Thyme 
  • Paprika
  • Ginger
  • Cumin
  • Turmeric 


  • Mustard
  • Ketchup
  • Soy sauce
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • Mayonnaise 
  • Tahini: surprisingly affordable and great for dressings, bases, etc. 



  • Frozen berries: strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, etc.
  • Frozen meats: I buy meat in bulk at Trader Joe's or similar locations with affordable organic meats and freeze them for the entire month. 
    • ground beef, ground turkey, boneless skinless chicken breast, one whole chicken every month. 
  • Puff Pastry Dough
  • Pre-made pie crust: sometimes you just won't have the time to make your own and That. Is. Ok. 


  • Plain Greek yogurt
  • Milk
  • Cheese: parmesan, mozzarella, feta, etc.
  • Butter
  • Eggs


This is a list of the items I began with before I very slowly started to build up my pantry further. Beyond this list of basics every cook has a very different approach to what he/she considers staple ingredients. Also, I didn't include bread because duh.