Mom Knows Best: Entertaining Tips from Mothers In Our Lives

By Peyton Ladt Sterns May 11, 2018 

I'm constantly in awe of how the Mothers in my life manage parenthood, work, a social life, and making sure no one in their house goes hungry! What I appreciate most about my tribe of mothers is that they're honest about the realities and challenges of all the demands, and the fact that as much as we all may strive for perfection, perfection is not the reality. All we can really do, is plan for the best outcome, and adapt when a change of plans comes our way.

In honor of Mother's Day, I hope you enjoy this roundup of entertaining and dinner party tips from our Mothers. Wishing you and the Mothers in your life, a very Happy Mother's Day weekend.

What are your favorite appetizers to serve for a cocktail party?

BLT dip with Fritos Scoops, cucumber rounds with salmon and creme fraiche, and warm cheese bites. - Anna Bain (Bainie) Slater, Vero Beach, Florida 

Many different cheeses, a goose liver pate, rolled slices of ham, and melon wrapped with prosciutto (thin and not too big as finger food). I'll also place silver bowls around the room filled with hazel nuts and raisins. - Monique Knowlton, New York, NY

Pigs in a blanket for the win! Excepting super healthy vegetarians and vegans, guests of all ages perk up when offered one of these. - Anna Bain Reynolds, Summit New Jersey 

If I make myself I like crudités, hummus, good olives and different kinds of nuts. Also deviled eggs. - Wenke Thoman Sterns, Delray Beach, Florida

We usually serve a combination of appetizers that I make and some that are store bought. I love to make fried chicken, a dip of some sort, and a cheese board. Depending on the time of year, I switch up what we serve. No matter when, it is important to have lots of finger foods because trying to use silverware while standing tends to complicate the flow of guests mingling. - Elizabeth Sullivan, New York, New York

If I’m doing it myself, I do cheese, charcuterie, pate and olives with lots of cracker options. - Alexis Rudisill, Denver, Colorado 

My favorite appetizers are simple—I want folks to be hungry for dinner! I often fix a baked onion and parmesan dip with blue corn chips, a cheese plate with 3-4 types of cheeses ranging from mild to strong, and some fancy nuts. - Gail Ransler, Paducah, Kentucky

An abundant charcuterie board filled with favorites including dried fruits, bite size veggies, interesting dips, relishes, same day canned dill green beans. - Lori Tauer, Ada, Michigan

No matter when, it is important to have lots of finger foods because trying to use silverware while standing tends to complicate the flow of guests mingling

What is your go-to meal for a dinner party?

Tenderloin of beef, corn pudding, spinach salad with feta cheese, pecans and cran raisins, yeast dinner rolls and chocolate coffee toffee parfait! - Bainie 

A capon stuffed with apples, mustard, and roasted shallots. - Monique

I basically use the same meal my mother always used growing up to impress guests: beef tenderloin, corn pudding, and a simple salad. - Anna Bain (Daughter of Above)

Swordfish with dill and capers or New York sirloin steaks with baked potatoes. -Wenke

We typically host dinner parties after putting our kids to bed. Which means there’s little time for an elaborate meal! I need a dish that I can prep mostly ahead of time and that doesn’t take too much time to cook. That being said, it’s still important that our guests experience a nice, home cooked meal. I usually serve a simple shrimp pasta dish with some garlic bread, and of course, wine! Lots of wine! - Elizabeth

Steak, sautéed swiss chard, roasted mushrooms, caesar or a caprese salad. -Alexis

Living in western Kentucky we serve smoked meats, either from our home smoker or our neighborhood smoker restaurant. With the smoked meats, I serve a variety of sides-trying to stay away from the predictable coleslaw, baked beans and potato salad. I like to fix an amazing hominy recipe with poblano peppers and bacon, (don’t knock it til you’ve tried it!) roasted tomatoes, a wild rice salad and green beans amandine and skillet cornbread. For dessert I like to make a dark chocolate cake with white icing or a coconut cake. - Gail

Koreen Ribs and Chicken Marbella. They look like a gosh darn big deal, but I always prepared them a day in advance. I never want to prepare a dinner the day of my event (I save that for fluffing and detailing). These entrees allow me to change up side dishes to keep the menu seasonal, fresh. - Lori

I need a dish that I can prep mostly ahead of time and that doesn’t take too much time to cook.

What are your tips for making sure you don't get relegated to the kitchen and can enjoy your guests?

Have extra help to serve drinks, pass appetizers, serve plates to the guests when seated at the dining table and clean afterwards. If I don’t have help available, I prepare the dessert the day before, have one food item that is served at room temperature, and one that can be in the oven while the guests have cocktails. Buying an item from a gourmet shop is totally acceptable too! - Bainie

Identify all the pots and pans you need the day before to make sure you have eveything you need, and set the table the morning of the dinner. - Monique

So many dishes are easy to make ahead of time for one. But also, our friends tend to gather in the kitchen area no matter what. Most of our dinner parties are informal and teeming with small children, which makes the kitchen the best gathering spot! - Anna Bain

I don’t like buffet style serving so I like to make boeuf bourginon or other stewy things that can be served at table. But mostly I excuse myself and do quick stove top dishes like fish or steak. All sides and salads done in advance. - Wenke

For a mid to large size party, my biggest tip is to hire help! It’s not as expensive as you may think and you could always hire a college student looking to make some cash. Having someone to help plate, serve drinks, and clean up makes a tremendous difference in my ability to enjoy the evening. What’s the point of having a party if you can’t relax?! - Elizabeth

I do all the prep work in advance and I put any side dishes in the oven when guests arrive which gives me the cooking time to enjoy cocktail hour 🙂 - Alexis 

I actually love it when the guests join me in the kitchen after the meal and we visit and bond in a fun way, but, I am quick to hire help to do the dishes if I really want to steer clear of the cleanup! - Gail

All cooking, baking is done a day ahead. I’m only in the kitchen briefly to serve up prepared food. All bathrooms are cleaned, guest ready. House dusted and vacuumed the day before. Kitchen is clean - no miscellaneous prep dishes in sink or drying. - Lori

I actually love it when the guests join me in the kitchen after the meal and we visit and bond in a fun way.

What's the kitchen staple you can't live without? 

My Kitchenaid mixer! - Bainie

Good French country bread, Irish butter (unsalted) cream, bouillons, sea salt, pepper mill, spaghetti tomato sauce through sieve, no skins or pits, vanilla beans and yoghurt. We always have three ice creams in the freezer or a New York Cheese cake. Raspberries with sugar and a top of fresh lemon in the blender makes a great looking and tasting sauce over ice cream or cake. - Monique

Olives, cheese, peanuts. - Anna Bain

Olive oil, salt and lemon. - Wenke

A wine opener. Self explanatory! - Elizabeth 

Good quality olive oil. - Alexis

My favorite kitchen staple is the lemon! I always have lots of them on hand. Lemon goes in almost everything I make. I am especially a fan of the zest. When I’m finished with the lemon I throw the rind down the disposal for a nice clean scent. Which brings me to another staple as far as equipment goes and that is a microplane! -Gail

Rice, apple cider, balsamic vinegars; fish sauce - all these serve as ‘secret sauces’ that can brighten flavors of anything! - Lori

When I’m finished with the lemon I throw the rind down the disposal for a nice clean scent. 

What makes a memorable dinner party?

I will either have a meal that has a theme (Mexican, Valentines Day, etc) or I add some fun items at the table, like some cards from the game Mad Gab! - Bainie 

Having a mix of people who know each other, and introducing new people. A diversity of professions is also a plus. - Monique 

A lot of laughs. I think connecting with people and swapping clever commentary and wit is the best part of dinner parties. - Anna Bain

I believe the guests make the party, but I always take care to set a scene. Buy a gorgeous arrangement, break out the expensive china, and light some candles! It may seem excessive for a small get together, but it sets a tone and lets your guests know that you are going out of your way for them to enjoy their night. - Elizabeth 

A good cocktail hour! The right mix of people! Followed closely by good food and wine. - Alexis

An interesting group of people, some nice background music (thank you, Alexa!), obviously good food, a beautiful table and then spending time after dinner to visit outside on our porch for after dinner drinks. - Gail 

The host and hostess having unworried, hassle-free good time. Obvious effort and thought put into a gathering. No stale bags of chips and left over dip or animal hair floating in your glass of box wine. Inclusive atmosphere, engaging all guests in conversation. An activity, icebreaker, game, action gets everybody up and moving. - Lori 

Connecting with people and swapping clever commentary and wit is the best part of dinner parties.

What is your favorite gift to give another host?

Enstrom’s Almond Toffee Petites! I buy several at once to have on hand when invited to a party. They are always a hit! -Bainie 

Wine and flowers and chocolates if I can get around to buying.  - Wenke

It changes all the time! But bringing flowers already arranged in a vase with water is a long time favorite. - Anna Bain

Flowers to arrive the next day at the hostess' house or even a few days later when their own flowers have wilted. Leonidas Chocolates or cumquat from Fauchon. - Monique

I always tailor the gift to the host and to the event. For a cocktail party, you can’t go wrong with a bottle of nice champagne. It’s not ground breaking, but it’s always welcome! - Elizabeth

Wine, if I know what they like, or a bouquet of flowers already in the vase. - Alexis

My favorite hostess gift is something out of my kitchen! - Gail 

Flowers in a vase (hostess has no time to arrange when guests are arriving); bottle of good wine or small bottle of quality spirits and martini olives; interesting cocktail napkins, beeswax candles....stuff that I use to entertain and find I’m so disappointed when I realize I’m out-of-stock and don’t have time to run to the store. - Lori

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Peyton Ladt Sterns

Chocolate chip cookies are my spirit animal.

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