You’re Invited

Hey guys! How are you?? Hope you’re having a wonderful weekend so far <3

Thanks again so mucho to those of you who voted for the Next Food Blog Star. Here’s my entry for Challenge #3: Luxury Dinner Party 😀me (2)
















It’s always the sign of a good night when you take your kitchen from this:

house (3)

to THIS:


As you guys know, I love throwing dinner parties and prepared a special fall menu for this particular challenge, including many of my favorites.

Note: Because the Pilot is off doing the work thang, all of our stuff is in a POD (including my serving ware and life), and I’m temporarily homeless (and so thankful my aunt and cousins are letting me stay with them), this is a compilation of some of the highlights from recent dinner parties.

The standard Gina appetizers:


Cheese plate with olives:


Heirloom tomato caprese:

caprese (2)

Pita with homemade hummus:




Lemon and garlic roasted asparagus


Sweet potato mash (with cinnamon and Earth Balance)


Green salad with balsamic, pears, goat cheese and rawnola


Orange and Maple Glazed Salmon topped with red peppers






Pumpkin cheesecake with gingersnap crust.

I know, right? 🙂

To plan a menu for a dinner party, here’s what usually goes into consideration:

What’s fresh and seasonal right now?? If it’s the dead of winter and I want to use strawberries, that would kind of be a bum deal (and wouldn’t taste too fabulous), so I always try to focus on what I know will be fresh at the market. Not only will it be less pricey, the flavors will be even more amazing

What can I do to cut costs in the meal? Hosting dinner parties can be very expensive, and I usually like to have at least one big fiesta per month. I try to choose meals that I can either inexpensively feed a lot of people (Enchiladas and butternut squash lasagna are great choices for a crowd) and if we’re having a smaller amount of people over, I’ll splurge on more expensive items since I won’t need as much. For this party, there were 6 of us (instead of 16) so I could get wild caught salmon for everyone without breaking the bank.

Go for a theme. The goal is to have a menu that makes sense from start to finish. I try to pick flavor combinations that go well with each other and stick to the same type of cuisine for each meal. For example, it would be silly to do a Mediterranean-style side dish (say, stuffed grape leaves) with an Asian dish (stir fry). The flavor combos wouldn’t go well together. I also like to do flavor themes that repeat themselves a coupon of times throughout the meal- for example, the orange infusion in the rawnola pairs beautifully with the orange zest in the salmon and POMtinis.

Pick a stand-out ingredient. For this above meal, the standout ingredient (to me) was the rawnola in the salad. So much more exciting than store-bought candied nuts and adds extra pizzazz to what would otherwise be a standard salad.

What can I make ahead? For a dinner party, I choose items that I can make before the party so that I can enjoy myself while company is over. Ideally, I like to have 75% of the prep work done the day before the party.

Never try a new menu item the day of the party. Go for tried and true options that you’ve made before and know you can cook well. If you *really* want to try something new, experiment a couple of weeks beforehand, just to make sure there are no surprises.

Here’s how I would get everything ready to go for this amazing soiree:

– 3 days prior (1.5 hrs): Create list and grocery shop

– 2 days prior (1.5 hrs): Make the balsamic dressing, cheesecakes (put in the freezer), and hummus.

– Day before (less than 1 hr): Make the rawnola and dehydrate overnight, bake the sweet potatoes for the sweet potato mash and whip (keep in a plastic container in the fridge), last-minute clean, set the table and set out serving ware.

-Morning of (1 hr): Prepare salmon marinade and allow fish to marinate all day. Thaw cheesecakes in the fridge. Chop the veggies and put into plastic baggies in the fridge (including the chopped red pepper garnish for the salmon), prepare the caprese (minus the basil on top), prepare the cheese plate and cover with plastic wrap in the fridge, make orange zest strands for the POMtinis. Put salad together (minus dressing) and cover with plastic wrap and chill.

-30 minutes before guests arrive: set out drink supplies and all appetizers. Garnish cheese plate and caprese. Preheat oven to 375 and heat sweet potatoes.

-15 minutes before guests arrive: Pan-sear salmon and bake off in the oven.

-Grab a POMtini and enjoy the party 🙂

I hope you guys liked this dinner party post! Voting starts tomorrow AM if you’d like to do the voting thang.

I’m off to yogaaaaa 😀



Something to talk about: Are there any party prep tips that I missed? What’s your fall entertaining dish of choice?

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  1. Jessica @ How Sweet It Is on October 2, 2010 at 11:08 pm

    That pumpkin cheesecake looks incredible! I think you hit it all, girl!

  2. Mara @ What's for Dinner? on October 2, 2010 at 11:15 pm

    Looks like the spread at a party of my dreams! Someday, we will cook for a party together and all will be good in the world 🙂

  3. Jessica@tastyandtrim on October 2, 2010 at 11:15 pm

    Absolutely everything looks amazing! You sure know how to throw a dinner party. You definitely have my vote 🙂 My favorite Fall dish is a mixture of baked apples, roasted sweet potato, celery, carrots, and onion all sauteed with a dash of cinnamon. It not only tastes delicious, but it scores big points in the presentation department too!

    • Fitnessista on October 2, 2010 at 11:15 pm

      wow that sounds ridiculously amazing! can’t wait to try it 🙂

  4. Allie (Live Laugh Eat) on October 2, 2010 at 11:29 pm

    We had some similar ingredients 🙂 I’d love the recipe for that pumpkin cheesecake!

  5. The Pilot on October 2, 2010 at 11:30 pm

    The post looks amazing! It makes me miss the amazing food at home. You’re a great cook, babe. Love you!!

  6. Toronto Girl West on October 2, 2010 at 11:35 pm

    Great tips and great results!

    Your dinner parties are kind of like the ones I like to throw. At least if I want to keep my sanity that is! 😛

    You see, in the past I threw parties that were way too labour intensive and left me absolutely exhausted. I also never had the chance to enjoy the evening with my guests. Major Fail.

    Then I learned how things should really be done, courtesy of the Barefoot Contessa!

    Best of luck!!! I’ll be voting for you! 🙂

  7. Amanda on October 3, 2010 at 12:25 am

    All of those party planning tips are so helpful! And your cheesecake looks BEAUTIFUL! I mean, those swirls…

  8. Maria @ Oh Healthy Day on October 3, 2010 at 12:30 am

    Beautiful dinner party – can you please cater my wedding next year? 🙂

  9. hippierunner on October 3, 2010 at 12:45 am

    All of it looks so yummy!

  10. Allison @ Food For Healing on October 3, 2010 at 12:51 am

    all of that looks SOO amazing, well done

  11. els on October 3, 2010 at 12:55 am

    can you tell me the recipe for POMtini please?

  12. Neha on October 3, 2010 at 1:01 am

    Can you do a post on how you manage to maintain your eats, while living in some one else’s house where others have their own preferences for meals (and without incoveniencing them – no matter how close they are and how well they know you)?


    • Fitnessista on October 3, 2010 at 8:34 am

      that’s a great idea for a post! thanks! 🙂

      • jessica on October 3, 2010 at 4:45 pm

        Yes I second this request!

  13. caroline on October 3, 2010 at 1:47 am

    you are AMAZING gina!

    what is your recipe for balsamic dressing? Any favorite salad dressings?

  14. jassy on October 3, 2010 at 4:33 am

    the pumpkin cheesecake looks great…you have quite a gift 🙂

  15. Allie on October 3, 2010 at 7:18 am

    looks delicious. aside from the food, what i like best is your directions on HOW to put it together. i often stumble of this- i have the recipes and can make them all, but am not sure of the timing. thanks for a great entry!!

  16. Little Bookworm on October 3, 2010 at 7:19 am

    Great post Gina! All the food looks amazing. 😀

  17. Karen on October 3, 2010 at 7:34 am

    That looks fantstic! Did you want to include some tips on your planned “table scape” like Sandra Lee on Food Network? I always admired how for a dinner like that she would have on an outfit the color of fall leaves, matching place mats and napkins, dinnerware, etc… It is 7:20 in the morning but I would eat that salmon right now!

    • Fitnessista on October 3, 2010 at 8:52 am

      hahah! sandra lee is outta control. usually i plan the food and add one special touch to the table– for this, it would probably be a fall bouquet and little pumpkins on the place settings

  18. kellyO on October 3, 2010 at 8:13 am

    Looks great – you’ve absolutely got my vote. My fall go-to food for entertaining is soup!

  19. Chelsea @ One Healthy Munchkin on October 3, 2010 at 8:44 am

    You’re the queen of dinner parties! 😀 Everything looks amazing, especially that pumpkin cheesecake!

    I’ve never thrown a dinner party, but I did once host a tea party for my friends haha. I definitely agree with doing as much prep ahead of time as possible so that you can actually enjoy the party with your friends!

  20. Lisa on October 3, 2010 at 8:46 am

    You are an amazing cook! You should come out with a cookbook! Looks delicious! =)

  21. CaSaundra on October 3, 2010 at 8:55 am

    I’d love to be a guest at one of your dinner parties–you always seem
    to have everything so well planned out too, love it!

  22. Whitney on October 3, 2010 at 9:03 am

    Everything looks really yummy! Do you serve the sweet potato mash cold or do you reheat at some point?

  23. Elise on October 3, 2010 at 9:17 am

    That salad looks amazing!! I could eat it right now (it’s 8am)!! =D

  24. Kim on October 3, 2010 at 9:20 am

    I make the exact same cheesecake, only mine never looks that pretty. My family begs for it every Thanksgiving, i use a recipe from an old Bon Appetit issue. It all looks spectacular!

  25. christina cadden on October 3, 2010 at 9:36 am

    mmm, looks so good!

  26. Kate on October 3, 2010 at 9:46 am

    Wow it all looks so good! Can I come over right now??

    • Fitnessista on October 3, 2010 at 12:13 pm

      of course!

  27. Mary @ Bites and Bliss on October 3, 2010 at 10:46 am

    I bet the party was incredible!! The food looks so yummy 🙂 Good job

  28. Wendy @ Seriously Sassy on October 3, 2010 at 10:52 am

    Wowwwww, all those nomnoms look amazing – especially the pumpkin cheesecake with gingersnap crust!!!

  29. holly @ couchpotatoathlete on October 3, 2010 at 11:39 am

    Gina I think you throw great parties — lots of good eats and drinks. Your desserts always look phenomenal.

    For dinner parties, we are much more casual…but one thing I like to do is have meals that each guest can personalize: build your own burrito, make your own pizza, salad bar, sweet potato bar 🙂

  30. Brittany @ Bee Louise's Bites on October 3, 2010 at 1:18 pm

    Everything looks delicious! I LOVE fall foods- definitely all of my favorite tastes crammed into one season. I’m thinking I’m going to have to hit up some salmon for dinner…

  31. Leanne @ Simplicitlee on October 3, 2010 at 1:34 pm

    Your auntie’s kitchen is so pretty!

    What a great meal plan, it looks tasty 🙂

    • Fitnessista on October 3, 2010 at 5:21 pm

      thanks- it was actually our kitchen until we moved out two weeks ago 🙂 now i’m in orlando at my aunt’s house

  32. Faith @ lovelyascharged on October 3, 2010 at 1:56 pm

    Girl, what an elegant sounding menu! Entertaining is definitely worth all the worth that gets put into it 🙂

  33. on October 3, 2010 at 2:01 pm

    AMAZING JOB!!! u really knocked it out and put together a wonderful dinner!!

  34. Kristina @ spabettie on October 3, 2010 at 3:51 pm

    this looks amazing. I want to host a dinner party with you. 😀

  35. Salah@myhealthiestlifestyle on October 3, 2010 at 4:49 pm

    OMG that cheesecake looks so stinkin amazing!

  36. Ashley on October 4, 2010 at 12:30 am

    For the first 4 months we were in CO, 3/4 of our belongings were in a storage unit. It was so hard not having all of my kitchen appliances/dishes/knives/etc! Way to make do with whatcha got! Great tips too 🙂

  37. Sherice/Coatcheckgirl on October 4, 2010 at 1:39 pm

    WOW this food looks so good.

  38. @lickmyspoon on October 4, 2010 at 6:03 pm

    I’m a fan of your dinner party guide. Thinking ahead makes everything so much easier. Everything looks great, you’ve got our vote! I can’t wait to try my hand at some of my own rawnola.

    Lick My Spoon

  39. Jessica on October 6, 2010 at 12:24 am

    Looks beautiful! I would have loved to have been invited! Hope we both make it to the next round! 🙂 You have my vote!

  40. Liz on October 6, 2010 at 9:52 am

    Love reading about your healthy cooking!

    • Fitnessista on October 6, 2010 at 12:00 pm

      thank you!

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