I was thrilled to learn that I won a copy of Annette Joseph’s Picture Perfect Parties from a Design*Sponge giveaway. Out of over a hundred comments of the perfect Halloween decoration, my idea (a frozen hand, made with water and a latex glove floating in the center of a festive punch bowl) was decided to be the best by my favorite design blog. The book’s publisher, Rizzoli, promptly mailed me of a copy of this beautiful recipe DIY entertaining guide, densely packed with colorful tight photos of perfect party settings.
I wasn’t familiar with Annette Joseph before reading the book, but I learned that she’s a big deal when it comes to food styling and entertaining, having been featured on all of the prominent lifestyle media outlets, from The Today Show to Southern Living to Better Homes and Gardens. Like most lifestyle icons in the industry, she’s empowering all of us ordinary people by sharing her expertise – which makes perfect sense now that we’re living in the age where everyone is ‘gramming (as in adding photos to Instagram) the details at parties and events.
Picture Perfect Parties is broken up in chronological order by seasons with sample parties one could throw throughout the year. There are pages on hosting An Easter Lunch for Friends & Family, Fourth of July Picnic and Thanksgiving Celebration, but Joseph also includes unexpected, creative parties that aren’t as traditional – such as Italian Spring Feast of Squash Blossoms, Palio Celebration (raising a glass to the horse race of Sienna, Italy) and Retro Riviera Party. This book takes fun up a notch, and it’s not intimidating at all.
Joseph’s philosophy is anyone can create a memorable event, and you don’t have to invest a lot of time and money doing so. All you need is to make all of the guests feel special and make food that everyone will love to eat, Joseph says in her introduction. With that in mind, I decided to try out the book by preparing Sunday Supper, one of the most casual sections. It made sense because, as Joseph points out, “if you are just starting to host your own dinner parties, this is a great one to start with.” Baby steps. Plus, I knew the close friends I invited over to test the recipes enjoy comfort food. On the menu: Sun-Dried Tomato and Olive Bread, Porcini Mushroom Risotto, Hot Garlic Broccoli Rabe, My Roast Chicken and Homemade Chocolate Chip Ice Cream Sandwiches. I skipped making the bread and rabe and simplified the workload for the ice cream sandwiches by purchasing Lick ice cream (rather than making it from scratch) and using the Toll House recipe. Why compete with a good thing? The chicken was delicious and succulent, the risotto was soothing and easy to make, and the cookie sandwiches were a hit!
Every chapter spotlights simple decorations you can make to accessorize your dishes. My approach was not to go out and buy things I wouldn’t use again, so I didn’t spent too much time decorating. However, I did have some secondhand flowerpots and berry branches in the garden, so I made these festive candle pots with just a few materials! The cost of my meal and the decorations was under $40, and it took me a total of two hours to put everything together.
The book has inspired me to try hosting a few other “picture perfect” parties. I might just make that my New Year’s Resolution.