As the evenings lengthen and the holidays approach, you may find yourself wanting to invite friends over for a cozy meal at home. But what if you’re not an absolute whiz in the kitchen, or you get stage fright at the thought of putting your entertaining skills in the spotlight? We turned to a pair of entertaining savants—sisters Hanna Ray Flores and Lea Raymond—for tips to help you pull off a perfectly simple, simply perfect autumn dinner party.
Hanna and Lea are the brains behind Hauste (pronounced host), which produces digital dinner party guides featuring easy-to-follow, 1-2-3 instructions that take the stress out of entertaining. The sisters come by their love of entertaining naturally: They were raised in Folsom by parents who hosted dinner parties nearly every weekend. “Some people have generational wealth,” Hanna jokes. “We have generational hosts.” As adults (Hanna is 31, Lea 22), they’ve made it their mission to instruct a new generation in the art of entertaining graciously.
For this autumnal dinner, they teamed up with local winemakers Sean and Nicole Minor, who supplied both the wine pairings and their beautiful backyard for the party. Hanna and Lea settled on an apple-forward menu, with apples featured as an ingredient in every course, from appetizer (a creamy whipped goat cheese spread topped with honey-glazed apples, dates and bacon) to dessert (an impressive-looking brown butter tarte tatin that’s a snap to make). For the main course, they chose brick chicken, also known as chicken under a brick: Roasted chicken legs are weighted down with a foil-wrapped brick and seared in a hot skillet for seductively crispy skin, then served with tarragon-scented beurre blanc and an apple thyme chutney that brings the apple theme home. They also made silky mashed potatoes, colorful roasted carrots and a shaved Brussels sprouts salad with apple cider vinaigrette.
According to Hanna and Lea, preparation is the key to a successful dinner party. Do whatever you can in the days leading up to the event so that you aren’t frazzled when your guests arrive. That way, you can enjoy your own party. Plan the menu and shop for groceries at least a week in advance. Set your table the day before. Pro tip: Set out your serving pieces and label each with a Post-it note so you know what food goes where. You won’t want to have to scrounge around for a bowl at the last minute.
Hanna and Lea are inveterate thrifters who frequently score beautiful glassware and serving pieces at Goodwill and secondhand shops. Mixing vintage with new ensures your table won’t ever look boring or basic.
SETTING THE TABLE
Hanna and Lea decided on a palette of neutrals and naturals to let the food shine. They used a cream-colored linen tablecloth topped with a cream woven runner, along with rustic wood chargers, scalloped-edge plates in speckled oatmeal from World Market and delicate gauzy napkins tied with thin velvet ribbon. Tapers and tea lights provide a warm glow. And instead of florals, they opted for a bit of greenery. (You can purchase greens from Trader Joe’s or forage from your own backyard.) Pro tip: If your table isn’t big enough to seat everyone, Hanna and Lea recommend covering it with a larger sheet of plywood and topping it with a pretty tablecloth. No one will know the difference!
SETTING THE MOOD
Greet your guests with a cocktail, like this fruity sangria made with Pinot Noir.
KNOW YOUR PLACE
Where do I belong? That’s the dilemma guests face when the host calls everyone to the table. Lea and Hanna have an easy fix for that: place cards. “We always do place cards,” says Hanna. “People are shy about seating themselves. This tells them where to go, and also helps introduce them to others at the table.” Adds Lea: “So much awkwardness—gone!” The sisters also like to leave a menu—either printed or handwritten—at every place setting. “It gets guests excited for what’s to come,” Hanna explains.
It’s not only the host who has responsibilities for making sure the party is a success; guests do, too. Here are Lea and Hanna’s tips for great guesting:
– First and foremost, be on time.
– Be respectful of your fellow guests.
– Ask questions and be open to conversation.
We all know we’re not supposed to show up to a party empty-handed. But instead of bringing flowers (which may inconvenience your hosts as they search for a vase), bring a bottle of champagne or good whiskey. You can also have something delivered the next day: either flowers or something sweet, like chocolates from Ginger Elizabeth. And if you really want to endear yourself to the host, send over a housecleaner the day after a big party.
THE RIGHT NUMBER
According to Hanna and Lea, six to eight people is the sweet spot for a dinner party. Fewer people and the conversation may lag. More and you’ll feel like a traffic controller. Consider inviting people who don’t know each other. “Who knows?” says Lea. “You could create a new friendship, or someone might meet their future husband.” Make sure to include at least one guest who likes to ask questions: That person will mix things up like the swizzle stick in a cocktail.
Don’t forget music; it sets the tone and puts guests at ease. For this dinner, Hanna and Lea came up with a jazzy playlist that leans heavily on ’70s standards from the likes of Fleetwood Mac, Billy Joel and The Beatles, plus music by Taylor Swift, Kasey Musgraves, Margie Rogers and others. For a link to the playlist, download the Spotify app and create a free account. Press the top-right camera icon in the search tab to scan the Spotify Code below.
Sean Minor Wines has winemaking operations both in Sonoma and on the Central Coast. But owners Sean and Nicole chose to raise their four children in Sacramento, where they do a lot of entertaining and hosting of their own—over Sean Minor Wines, of course. Their wines are sold in all 50 states as well as in 15 countries. Nicole supplied tasting notes for the wines paired with the meal:
SEAN MINOR CALIFORNIA SERIES SAUVIGNON BLANC 2021: Vibrant and juicy with aromas of fresh ruby grapefruit, citrus and tropical fruit. On the palate, the combined flavors of lush melon, fig and lime are balanced perfectly to form a crisp, mouthwatering texture. A compelling finish leads to another sip. Serve with Whipped Goat Cheese With Rosemary Honey Bacon, Apples and Dates.
SEAN MINOR SIGNATURE SERIES PINOT NOIR 2021: Leads with well-knit, rich flavors of cherry, plum, blueberry and hints of cedar bark. Elegant velvety texture; blood orange, dark cherry and earthy notes glide across the palate. Beautifully structured with sleek, bright acidity and a clean finish. Serve with Brick Chicken.
SEAN MINOR SIGNATURE SERIES CHARDONNAY 2021: Merged flavors of baked green apple, soft rounded hints of lemon scone, and sweet cream finished with a hint of cardamom and spice. Serve with Brown Butter Apple Tarte Tatin.
HAUSTE: WHAT IS IT?
Hauste supplies downloadable party guides called Hauste Its. Each one includes a three course menu, recipes, shopping list, prep schedule, wine and cocktail pairings, styling tips and curated playlist—everything you need to achieve your inner Martha. “We’re a steppingstone to those entertaining skills,” says Lea. Each party guide has a theme, an estimated cost per person and a difficulty level, from easy to pro. Cost: $16–$26. For more information, go to hauste.co.
Sean Minor Sangria
1 orange, sliced
1 apple, cubed
1 bottle Sean Minor
California Series Pinot Noir
⅓ cup apple brandy
2 cinnamon sticks
5 whole star anise
Add apples and oranges to a pitcher and muddle with a spoon to release juices.
Add wine and brandy and stir to combine. Add cinnamon sticks and star anise to the
pitcher. Serve over ice, adding some fruit to each glass.
Whipped Goat Cheese with Rosemary Honey Bacon, Apples and Dates
6 slices of bacon, chopped
⅓ cup honey
1 teaspoon brown sugar
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper (or to taste)
12 Medjool dates, pitted and
torn into bite-size pieces
1 apple, cut into bite-size pieces
2 logs (16 ounces) creamy goat cheese,
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking
sheet with parchment paper. Place the
bacon on the sheet.
In a small bowl, combine honey, brown
sugar, rosemary, cayenne and a pinch of
salt. Drizzle half of the honey mixture over
bacon and toss until coated.
Scatter dates and apples around the bacon.
Bake for 10–12 minutes, until bacon is crisp.
Meanwhile, combine goat cheese, cream
cheese, olive oil and a pinch of salt in a food
processor and pulse until smooth
Spoon goat cheese mixture into a serving
bowl or onto a charcuterie board and top
with warm bacon, apples and dates.
Drizzle with the remaining honey mixture.
Serve with crostini.
Make ahead: The goat cheese spread
can be made 3 days ahead and kept in
the fridge. Bring to room temperature
8 chicken leg quarters (extra fat and skin trimmed and patted dry)
¾ tablespoon dried rosemary
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground
2 lemons, sliced
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Equipment: You will need 2 bricks wrapped in heavy-duty foil and a castiron
Lay chicken leg quarters on a cookie sheet and season with dried rosemary,
salt and pepper.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place a cast-iron skillet (or heavy-bottomed
pan) in the oven to heat.
Remove hot skillet, drizzle with olive oil and put seasoned chicken leg quarters
in a skillet, skin side down, and top with lemon slices. Place foil-wrapped
bricks on top of the chicken and put the skillet in the oven for 30 minutes.
After 30 minutes, remove the skillet from the oven, turn the chicken over,
remove juices from the pan, retop with bricks and return to the oven for 30
minutes, or until internal temperature of the chicken reaches 165 degrees.
Remove from the oven. Place the skillet on the stovetop and cook the
chicken on each side over high heat for a few minutes to crisp the skin.
Silky Mashed Potatoes
3 pounds of Yukon Gold potatoes
4 ounces cream cheese,
1 cup half-and-half
1 teaspoon salt
Peel potatoes and boil until soft in heavily salted water, about 25 minutes. Drain the
potatoes and mash with a hand mixer. Add half-and-half and cream cheese and mix
until very smooth. Season with salt and white pepper.
Tarragon Beurre Blanc
2 shallots, peeled and roughly chopped
½ cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1½ cups heavy whipping cream
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 tablespoons fresh tarragon, finely chopped
Juice from half lemon
Salt and white pepper to taste
In a heavy saucepan, boil shallots, wine and vinegar
over high heat until liquid is syrupy and reduced by half,
about 8 minutes. Turn heat down to medium, add cream
and simmer 10 minutes. Drain liquid and discard solids.
Return liquid to saucepan over low heat. Whisk in
2 tablespoons of butter and the tarragon. Add remaining
butter a few pieces at a time, whisking constantly
and adding new pieces before previous ones have
completely liquefied. (The sauce should maintain
consistency of hollandaise.) Lift the pan from heat
occasionally to cool the mixture. Do not boil.
Remove from heat, add lemon juice and whisk until
completely emulsified. Season to taste with salt and
pepper. Serve warm with the chicken.
Apple Thyme Chutney
1 large yellow onion,
cut into ½-inch wedges
2 green apples, peeled,
cored and cut into ½-inch dice
¼ cup cider vinegar
1 tablespoon brown sugar
½ teaspoon grainy mustard
½ teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
Salt and pepper to taste
In a large saucepan, heat oil over medium heat and add onions. Saute until translucent
and starting to caramelize, about 10 minutes. Add apples, vinegar, brown
sugar, mustard and thyme. Stir well to combine and cook until the apples soften,
about 10–15 minutes. Add butter and season with salt and pepper. Serve the
chutney alongside the chicken.
Honey Roasted Carrots
2 pounds carrots, peeled and tops removed
3 tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
3 tablespoons honey
1½ tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2½ tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place carrots
on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with olive
oil, season with salt and pepper, and toss to
evenly coat. Spread into an even layer. Roast
for 20 minutes, then remove from oven.
In a small bowl, stir together honey and apple
cider vinegar. Drizzle carrots with honey
mixture and toss well to evenly coat. Return
to the oven and roast until tender, about 5 to
10 minutes longer. Remove from the oven,
toss again and sprinkle with fresh parsley and
thyme. Serve warm.
Shaved Brussels Sprouts and Pomegranate Salad
⅓ cup olive oil
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
1½ pounds Brussels sprouts,
halved and thinly shaved
¼ cup freshly chopped parsley
½ cup pomegranate seeds
¼ cup chopped almonds, lightly toasted
To make dressing, add ingredients to a jar with lid and shake until combined.
To make salad, place Brussels sprouts, parsley and pomegranate seeds in
a serving bowl. Toss with dressing. Add shaved Parmesan, top with toasted
almonds and serve immediately.
Brown Butter Apple Tarte Tatin
2 sheets frozen puff pastry, thawed
1 stick (8 tablespoons) salted butter
½ cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 Honeycrisp apples, sliced into ½-inch
rounds, seeds removed
Vanilla bean ice cream for serving
Flaky sea salt
Equipment: You will need an oven-safe skillet
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
On a lightly floured surface, press the 2 sheets of puff pastry together
to make 1 large sheet. Trim to fit the size of the skillet you will be using
for the tart. Wrap puff pastry dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate until
ready to use.
Heat the skillet over low heat and brown the butter, about 10 minutes.
Add brown sugar, cinnamon and vanilla and cook, stirring until the
mixture is well combined. Remove pan from heat. Lay apple rounds in the
pan, working from the outer edge in, fitting as many as possible.
Place skillet over medium heat and cook until the apples become golden
brown, about 10 minutes. Flip over each apple round so the cooked edge
faces up and the uncooked edge is face down in the mixture.
Place pastry over apples and press down gently, tucking the sides of the
pastry under the apples as best you can. Make 3 small cuts in the center
of the pastry. (If making ahead, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until
ready to use.) Place skillet on a baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes, or
until the pastry is deep golden brown.
Remove from the oven. Let cool in the skillet for 15 minutes. Run a knife
around the edge to loosen. Carefully invert onto a serving plate. If any
apples fall out of place, just rearrange them. Serve warm topped with ice
cream and sprinkled with flaky sea salt.