The $600 Holiday Hosting Kit
Throw the dinner party of the the year with this kit.
The Dinner Party is a woefully stigmatized social ritual. Too often, it signifies stuffy sit-down meals, forced small talk, and awkward seating arrangements. Throw in the “holiday” variable, and it’s enough to run for the hills.
You probably have very real memories of your parents’ nightmarish holiday dinners. Save those for your memoir (every great one dedicates a chapter to childhood trauma), and throw out the notion that your hosting will be a bust. Dinner parties can be fun! The secret? A simple principle we like to call KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid. All you need is easy food, a great playlist, loads of wine, and four or five (not 12) friends. Everything listed below can be repurposed for future events, so consider this kit a long-term investment.
Forget that you’re hosting a “dinner” party. You’re having some friends over, and you’ll end up doing some eating.
Set out a cheese board for snacking when your guests arrive. Or a bowl of Cheetos. It’s your party.
Cheese Board Set
Why Buy: There’s something about a walnut cutting board that makes manchego all the more tasty. This board from Snowe comes replete with three uniquely shaped cheese knives made from Italian stainless steel.
Rosa, Rosé, Rosam Sparkling Rosé
Why Buy: Jared McGuire, Wine Consultant at Astor Wines & Spirits, recommends this sparkling apéritif from a small estate in the Loire Valley. The husband and wife who helm the vineyard call it their “bubble bath” wine. McGuire describes it as “bright and refreshing, like watermelon rind and strawberries.” He says it’s simply “a joy to drink.”
We’re not at all opposed to ordering a few pizzas and calling it a day, but if you’re inspired to cook something, prepare a big batch of hearty chili, slice some fresh french bread, and serve it with a simple salad. Do as much as you can the day before or morning of so you’re not quarantined in the kitchen all evening. For the wine, McGuire has a couple loose rules for food pairing. He says the wine should be “quiet,” a subtle accompaniment to the meal rather than a loud show-off. For groups, he advises to stay away from overly aromatic grapes like sauvignon blanc and gewürztraminer, which some people love and others find offensive. “Look for something that’s not overt in any one direction,” he says.
Poco a Poco Zinfandel
Why Buy: To go with something smoky like chili, McGuire recommends a California zinfandel. This bottle, from a high elevation, organic vineyard, is a staff favorite. He says “the grapes retain a good amount of acidity, and they’re not big and intense fruit bombs, but they still have the brambly and smoky character that’s typical of the region.”
Domaine Bart Marsannay
Why Buy: For a fall weather meal, McGuire heads to Burgundy (well, the Burgundy section of the store). He says this bottle comes from “a storied house, from the descendants of the people who put Marsannay on the map.” It's from 2015, which he says yielded “a vintage that's ripe but perfectly medium-bodied, with good acidity and lovely earth notes.”
Le Mont Vouvray
Why Buy: McGuire says that even people who think they don’t like sweet wine should give this off-dry vouvray a shot: “We always say wine is about balance, so if there’s enough acid in it, you want a little bit of sugar to balance it out.” He describes it as “taut,” adding, “it can cut through fatty meat and rich stuffing, and it adds a little brightness to refresh your palate.”
Hamilton Beach Set n’ Forget Programmable Slow Cooker
Why Buy: You can feed a village with this six-quart slow cooker. Loaded with features like a temperature probe, integrated timer, clip-on lid and serving spoon, it’s a great device for your regular old meal prepping, but will come in especially handy for this party.
Zwilling J.A. Henckels Chef’s Knife
Why Buy: It might seem weird to spend more on a knife than on a slow cooker, but trust us: this is the thing to shell out for. A sharp, durable chef’s knife is the most crucial tool for every cook. This one comes highly recommended by chef Cara Mangini, aka “The Vegetable Butcher.”
Amazon Fresh Grocery Delivery
Why Buy: Grocery shopping is an unnecessary timesuck. Make your life easy and have your groceries delivered to your door. If you’re already an Amazon Prime member, it’s super simple to tack on Amazon Fresh. Considering the time and energy you’ll save, the monthly fee is peanuts.
Price: Monthly membership fee of $14.99, plus the cost of food order
Chocolate. Because, chocolate. Spend some money here—good chocolate is so much better than mediocre chocolate. Put it on a feature plate with sliced pears, clementine wedges, or whatever looks good at the store.
A Sexy Serving Tray
Why Buy: Arrange the chocolates and fruit on this Cabaret-inspired tray from maximalist modern décor designer Jonathan Adler. Little touches like this make it seem like you put a lot more thought into the dessert than you actually did.
Maker’s Mark Bourbon
Why Buy: The characteristic sweetness of Maker’s Mark bourbon comes from the wheat in its mash bill. (American whiskey distilleries traditionally use rye.) This bottle is smooth, balanced, and makes the perfect night cap for a crowd.
The sustenance is covered. Set up a party atmosphere with these last few elements.
A Killer Playlist:
The music might me more important than the meal (no offense to the gourmands out there). Heed the advice of Kyle Wukasch, a DJ and Designer working in New York City (who works at Fig, Quiddity’s parent company): “A great holiday playlist is the perfect accent to any spirited night. The key is in the arrangement of songs. Design the playlist to anticipate the build of an evening, starting with light, mood-setting songs at the beginning, and leaving the more energized tracks for the middle and the end. Therein lies the trick to keeping every guest at the party engaged and having a good time.”
Here are his go-to artists, past and present, for a curated playlist:
- Stevie Wonder
- Michael Jackson
- Neko Case
- DJ Koze
- David Bowie
- Cautious Clay
- Nina Simone
A Tasteful Candle
Why Buy: Soft candle light is universally flattering (and translates well for the inevitable Instagramming that will occur). Santa Maria Novella is synonymous with old world artisanship: the apothecary-parfumerie was first instituted by Florentine monks in 1221. The company’s lineup of balms, candles, and soaps are distinctive yet subtle, so you really can’t go wrong with any of the scents, but we like the spicy kick of tobacco for a festive get-together.
A Bespoke Flower Arrangement
Why Buy: Fresh flowers instantly signal “celebration.” Consult a local florist for a seasonal arrangement that checks out with your personal taste and the aesthetic of your dinner table. Here in New York, the East Village’s Popup Florist is our favorite shop.
Price: From $65.00
Frances Thomas is a writer based in New York City. She recently graduated from NYU.