Ahh, welcome to the first ever Proper Binge Gatherings menu! I am so excited to give this to you all! One of my very favorite things to do in the whole wide world is throw a dinner party. Fancy or casual I don’t care, I love to get people around a table. However one thing I’ve learned from throwing dozens of dinner parties is that it’s not that easy. It’s takes a lot of practice and planning and timing to have a dinner that goes off without huge delays, a smoke detector going off because you got distracted, or even worse, ruining the food! I’ve learned a ton of lessons along the way, and I wanted to pass along my tips, tricks, and of course FOOD to you!
Proper Binge Gatherings will include menus that span casual to elaborate, and will be published on a seasonal basis. Each menu will include the following:
- A menu spanning cocktails to dessert and everything in between
- A full downloadable shopping list split up by grocery section
- Table set up suggestions
- Meal prep tips and suggestions I’ve used in the past
- Paper goods! Invites, seating cards, small printable menus!
I hope that with these menus, the intimidation of putting on a meal for 8-10 people is less daunting, and that using these guides, you can shop confidently, set up the party with ease, and sit back, have a cocktail and enjoy your hard work. The best part? No Uber, no reservations, no waitstaff wandering around waiting for you to wrap up your conversation, and the wine is SERIOUSLY cheaper at home than in a restaurant. So quick- invite your friends and let’s get a date on the calendar!
For my first menu? Well, put on your ski sweater and practice your French. It’s time to fondue!
Have you ever fondued? If not, you are missing out on a seriously fun get together. It might make you think of that old 70s cookbook your mom had, or something that is reserved for pre-prom dinners at The Melting Pot, but Fondue is one of the most communal and just plain fun dinners I’ve ever had the pleasure of hosting.
I had never even really considered the idea of fondue at home until I was in college. I was dating my now husband Chris, and we were in Florida after Christmas with some extended family. His family traditionally fondued (not sure if that’s a real verb but we’re going for it) on Christmas Eve before mass, but they hadn’t in awhile. His aunt had packed her trust fondue pot and so suddenly i found myself wandering the aisles at a Publix near St. Petersburg, FL, searching for cheese that would melt (I hoped).
Mind you, this was years ago. Before Hygge was a thing (in the US), before Buzzfeed would show viral clips of people pouring melted raclette cheese all over their food, when fondue was limited to a “special occasion dinner” (pre-prom anyone?) at The Melting Pot and nothing more.
Since that winter in Florida, we’ve continued to fondue with Chris’ extended family. Typically we gather in the week between Christmas and New Years, sometimes a bit after. It’s a casual affair– we pitch in with various vegetables and other dippables– and maybe most importantly, we don’t limit it to cheese. The Swiss and their cheese are great and all, but if you want to take your fondue from a fun appetizer to a full meal, offering some oil for fonduing can really take it up a notch.
But don’t I need a fondue pot?? In a word: YES. Fondue parties are great, but you do in fact have to have a fondue pot to have them. There are a few different types of Fondue pots. If you are doing oil, you’ll definitely want to use an electric fondue pot. I have the Cuisinart Fondue Pot which has not ONLY a lovely stainless steel design, but keeps nice even heat on the oil. My old fondue pot, which was gifted to me for Christmas not too many years after my first fondue dinner, was flame-powered like this (but this one is way nicer). With these, you prepare the cheese ahead of time on the stovetop, transfer it to the bowl, and then keep the cheese warm by using a sterno fuel canister. These DO work, and generally are less expensive, and more romantic/traditional. Plus they don’t have any pesky cords on the table that you have to work around. The downside is that there is (obviously) a hot spot at the bottom of the pot, which tends to burn and harden the cheese on the bottom. This turns it into a dark fried cheese cracker you can dare each other to eat after you open the 3rd bottle of Chablis! See? Party games included! If you only have one fondue pot and want to do both cheese and oil, it’s easy! Just do it as a first and second course. Enjoy the cheese, pour another glass of wine for everyone while you get the oil going– and continue on from there.
Anyway yes, if you choose to embark on this fondue journey, you might need to shell out some money for a new piece of kitchen equipment, but I assure you– once you have a fondue party, it’s hard to not have another. When it’s cold and snowy outside and it’s dark at 6pm, there’s nothing better than lighting a fire in the fireplace, putting on that wool sweater, going FULL hygge, having friends over, and sitting around a table sharing a meal.
- Cheese fondue with comte and aged white cheddar cheese
- Oil Fondue
- Bittersweet Chocolate Fondue with Grand Marnier
- Cubed and seasoned New York strip steak
- Boneless skinless chicken breast
- Old-Bay Seasoned Shrimp
- Sourdough bread
- Garlic Smoked Sausage
- Roasted Brussels Sprouts
- Roasted Broccoli
- Roasted Cauliflower
- Roasted Potatoes
- Sliced banana
- Roasted Strawberries
- Pound Cake
- Pickled vegetables
- Garlicky Mustard Aioli
- Creamy Horseradish Dip
- Homemade Yum Yum Sauce
- Dry white wine
- IPA beer
- Hard Dry Cider
- Blood Orange and Ginger Mocktail
So throwing a dinner party requires planning, timing, and somehow the ability to pull it off with a smile when you are kinda freaking out that you’re running behind. Yes, it’s cooler to play it casual and call it “having people over” than it is to call it a dinner party, but if you’re pulling off a menu, no matter how elaborate, it helps to have timing tips and suggestions. That’s what I’m here for! I’ve made enough last minute sauces and messes of my kitchen as my guests are sitting down at the table to know what NOT to do, and I’m here to help!
Invites: Are paper invites worth it?
In the world of party invites I <3 a paper dinner invite, but admittedly a lot of this really depends on the kind of person you are combined with your event. If you are someone (like myself) who geeks out in paper and stationary stores and swoons when you pick up a nice thick card stock, paper invites are obviously a great option. Not only does it make the occasion feel more special for you and your guests, but it also forces you to plan ahead a bit (which is a GOOD thing). I’ve also found that people are much more inclined to RSVP if they get a formal invite in the mail (as long as you aren’t sending them three days before)! I love using paper invites for evening occasions, especially if it’s all adults, and no matter the occasion, I think there’s something really special about receiving a beautiful envelope in the mail (that isn’t a Christmas card!) with an invitation to dinner at a friend’s house. It’s throwback charm makes you feel VERY ADULT.
I was thrilled to partner with Basic Invite on the paper invitations I sent out for my Fondue party. It was a cold weekend in February, the Christmas card rush had passed, and what is lovelier than getting that friendly yellow envelope in the mail buried under real estate ads and utility bills? One of the best features of Basic Invite is that they offer is an insane amount of customization. In addition to beautiful templates, they offer almost unlimited color customization– with immediate previews while you design your invite. While a lot of other online invitation companies offer various color options, I’ve never seen one that lets you customize almost every aspect of the invitation– you can make your invites warm, cool, neon or black and white! Or all of those things together! To top it off– the customization doesn’t end there– I also loved the envelope color customization. They have over 40 colors so it was super fun to pick the perfect color to go with my newly customized invites! I chose a really cute lemon yellow envelope to contrast against my navy and green invite, and I just felt like it was the perfect little pop of sunshine in my friend’s mailboxes.
On top of all this color action, Basic Invite has a really cool feature called Address Capture that I know I’m not alone in loving. Paper invitations only work if you have the right address, right? But it gets super awkward to hunt down people and text them and ask for their address (and then promptly LOSE said address in a string of text history), so get this: Within 2 seconds, Basic Invite can create a cute customized, themed “Address Capture” page, inviting people to submit their mailing address to you, which automatically gets stored in your account’s address book on Basic’s site. Here’s mine:
I cannot tell you how many texts I have sent at Christmas time, for a baby shower, wedding shower YOU NAME IT where I am awkwardly asking people en masse for their mailing address. This makes it so simple I can send a quick email to everyone that is on the invite list and BOOM, it’s in the cloud. What a time to be alive.
Of course once those addresses are stored in the system, address printing is also available! I LOVE address printing for Holiday cards or big events where my ok-ish handwriting just isn’t going to cut it. For the Fondue Party, I hand addressed since it was a small crowd, but for anything over 20, I’m definitely going to let the printer do the work.
Basic Invite proves itself to be anything but basic. With endlessly unique party invitations for everything from a Fondue Party for 8 or a formal invitation for a wedding for 250, to save the date and baby announcement cards, I’m way more inclined to go paper for my gatherings.
On top of all these cool things, right now Basic Invite is offering 15% off with coupon code: 15FF51 Looks like it’s time for you to throw a fondue party!
Now that our invitations are on their way, we can focus on food! Food prep when it comes to hosting a dinner is one of the more stressful moments when planning a dinner party, but the more prep you get done ahead of time, the more fun you’re going to have at your OWN party! Nobody wants a sweaty friend slaving over the stove or mixing up salad dressings at the last minute! The more you prep, the more fun you have. Easy as that.
Fondue prep is definitely easier to prep than many other dinners in that nothing is really HARD, which makes it a great one to start with if you don’t have people over often, but there are definitely more components due to the variety of things you’ll be offering to take a hot bath in some cheese or oil. Here’s my suggested prep timeline for your Fondue Party:
3-4 weeks before: send invitations
2-3 days before: Grocery Shop! Here’s your LIST
1 day before:
Make all three sauces
Prep cheese fondue (shred cheese)
Make ginger simple syrup (if making mocktail)
Prep Chocolate Fondue (chop chocolate)
Start thinking about your table (aka are your dishes clean?)!
I’m going to set this prep plan up to eat at 7:00pm. Feel free to do more math if you want to eat earlier or later.
Morning: Go ahead and set the table now. It seems super early but believe me it’s worth it. Nobody wants to be fussing with plates and bowls 30 minutes to go! Make sure you have extension cords for your fondue pots if you need them, a plate for every guest (I like to use mismatched salad-size plates), and if you have small bowls for dipping sauces, set those out too. Each guest should theoretically have a dedicated color of fondue fork, as well as a regular fork at their seat. Water glass, wine glass, and a napkin round out the table. There’s not much room for anything else besides essentials at fondue, so no need to mess with candles, flowers, or other table decor.
After your table is set– go ahead and take a shower. Just do it. Get it out of the way. Throw on some comfy clothes while you prep for the rest of the day, because before you know it you’ll be down to one hour to go and you’ll find yourself still in your robe. Now is the time to scrub up.
3:00pm: Time to CHOP. Chop broccoli and cauliflower into roughly 1 inch pieces, and cut brussels sprouts into halves or quarters if they’re really big. Stick the broccoli and cauliflower together in a bowl, keep the brussels sprouts separate. Cover and refrigerate. Slice the smoked sausage into coins and refrigerate in a covered bowl. Cut bread into 1 inch cubes and put in large serving bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside. Remove leaves and cut strawberries in half. Add to serving bowl, cover and refrigerate. Cut pound cake into 1 inch cubes, add to bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Set aside with two bananas to slice before serving.
4:00pm: Cut steak and chicken breasts into 3/4 inch pieces. Season with salt and pepper and put in separate bowls. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to eat. Preheat your oven to 425F.
5:30pm: Saute smoked sausage over medium heat in a nonstick pan until lightly browned and crispy on both sides. Transfer to bowl and cover with foil to keep warm. Cut potatoes into 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch pieces. Toss on sheet tray with vegetable oil, salt and pepper. Set aside until ready to roast. Transfer prepped brussels sprouts to sheet pan and toss with vegetable oil, salt and pepper. Face all cut sides down (to ensure roasty sides!) Set aside with potatoes.
6:00pm: Spread broccoli and cauliflower on a sheet pan. Drizzle with vegetable oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 10-15 minutes until they are juuuust this side of tender. You want the fondue forks to be able to stab the vegetables without them falling apart, but you also want to get a little roasty flavor on them so they aren’t raw. Once the vegetables are done, add to serving bowl and cover with aluminum foil.
6:20pm: Add vegetable oil to fondue pot and start heating, transfer potatoes and brussels sprouts to oven to roast for 20 minutes or until tender. Make sure all water glasses are full and all your guests have a beverage. Make sure YOU have a beverage. Do a quick check of the table:
Cheese fondue with comte and aged white cheddar cheese
12 oz Comte cheese
12 oz aged white cheddar cheese
2 Tbsp cornstarch
1/4 tsp white pepper
1/4 tsp dry mustard
1 clove garlic, peeled and cut in half
1 1/2 C dry white wine
- Shred comte and cheddar cheese on a box grater (alternately this is really a time to let the grater disc on your food processor really shine), add to medium sized bowl. Add cornstarch, white pepper and dry mustard and carefully toss to evenly distribute. You can keep prepped fondue covered with plastic wrap in the fridge for up to 1 day ahead of time.
- At the table (this is your time to SHINE!), set fondue pot over medium heat and add white wine. When wine starts to bubble, slowly add one handful of cheese at a time, stirring with a whisk until smooth and melted and slightly bubbly, around 5 minutes. Enjoy, making sure to stir occasionally to prevent lumps.
1 quart of vegetable, peanut, or otherwise flavorless oil
Equipment: instant read thermometer or piece of bread
- Add oil to empty fondue pot and set over medium high heat. Heat until an instant read thermometer reads 325-350F, or until a cube of bread dropped in the hot oil turns golden brown in 40 seconds (read more about the bread test and cooking with oil here)
Bittersweet Chocolate Fondue
8 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine
1/2 C heavy cream
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 Tbsp Grand Marnier or other orange liqueur
- Finely chop chocolate and set in medium sized serving bowl. You can do this up to one day ahead of time
- Over medium heat, warm cream, salt and grand marnier until bubbles form around the edge
- Pour hot cream over chopped chocolate and let sit for 3-5 minutes. Slowly whisk to combine. Serve with marshmallows, strawberries, bananas, pound cake, really anything you want to dip in chocolate!
Seasoned New York Strip
2 10-12 oz New York Strip Steaks
Freshly cracked pepper
- Trim excess fat off of steak and cut into 3/4 inch cubes. Season with salt and pepper and add to bowl. Refrigerate until needed.
Seasoned Chicken Breast
2 6 oz boneless skinless chicken breasts
2 tsp Kosher Salt
1 tsp Freshly cracked pepper
- Trim if needed and cut into 3/4 inch cubes. Season with salt and pepper and add to bowl. Refrigerate until needed.
Old Bay Seasoned Shrimp
1 lb peeled and deveined large shrimp (26-30 size)
1 Tbsp Old Bay Seasoning
1 tsp Kosher Salt
Method: Toss shrimp with Old Bay and Kosher salt. Add to bowl. Refrigerate until needed.
1 boule of sourdough bread, cut into 1 inch cubes
12 oz of smoked sausage, cut into coins and browned on the stovetop
Roasted Brussels Sprouts
Pound Cake, cut into 1 inch cubes
Pickled vegetables, including jarred gherkins, baby dills, carrots, beets, whatever you love!
When fonduing with oil, it’s great to have a variety of dips for your delicious cooked meats or vegetables. You can use any dip you like, here are some of my favorites!
Garlicky Mustard Aioli
1 garlic clove
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/2 C mayonaisse
2 Tbsp Dijon Mustard
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
Method: Mince the garlic and sprinkle salt over the top. Using a mortar and pestle or the edge of your knife, scrape and grind the garlic and salt together until a paste forms. Stir mayonnaise, dijon, lemon juice and garlic paste together and season to taste with salt and pepper. Refrigerate.
Creamy Horseradish Dip
1/4 C Mayonaisse
1/4 C Sour cream
2 Tbsp prepared horseradish
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
salt and pepper
Method: In small bowl, whisk together mayonnaise, sour cream, horseradish, and Worcestershire sauce. Season to taste with salt and pepper, adding more horseradish if you like a little more heat!
“Yum Yum Sauce”
inspired by the savory sauce many Japanese Steakhouses serve, it’s hard to go wrong with this one
1/2 C mayonaisse
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
salt and pepper
Method: Combine all ingredients in a small bowl. Season to taste with pepper and more soy sauce if necessary. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use!
So drinks are obviously a huge part of a party. They can lighten the mood, elevate the food, and generally increase everyone’s good time. They can also kind of suck. Let’s try to avoid that. Here’s what we are drinking when we fondue:
For the cheese fondue, I waltzed into my local wine shop and let them know what we were having so they could help me choose. We stuck to Northern France, and chose a couple of wines from the Alsace region which knocked it out of the park. Look for a dry or off-dry Riesling like this one, or a Pinot Gris from the same region to cut through the rich cheese.
Looking for something to pair with oil? Sparkling wine offsets the greasiness in fried foods, an Italian Prosecco or Spanish Cava might be just the thing you need.
Is beer more your style? I opted for a Citra IPA to cut through the richness of the cheese and a dry cider to serve the same purpose as the sparkling wine.
Not drinking but still feeling festive? One of our friends who joined us for our party is pregnant so I thought a mocktail was in order!
Blood Orange & Ginger Mocktail
2 Tbsp fresh minced ginger
1/4 C sugar
1/4 C water
4 oz blood orange italian soda
6 drops orange flower water
blood orange slice for garnish
Method: To make the ginger simple syrup, combine minced ginger, sugar and water in small saucepan set over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and let steep for 15 minutes. Pour liquid through fine mesh strainer to remove ginger pieces, and let syrup cool. Makes 1/4 C.
Fill rocks glass with clear ice. Combine simple syrup and blood orange Italian soda, and orange flower water. Stir gently to combine and garnish with orange slice.
So. You hosted a fondue party! You dipped! You cheesed! You fried your shrimp! You let that one piece stay in the oil just a TOUCH too long and made a beef crouton! Now what?
For the oil– You CAN re-use frying oil, but I would base that on if you plan on frying again soon. Here are some tips for dealing with leftover oil.
If you have leftover uncooked proteins, don’t throw them out! You can turn your fondue leftovers into a delicious meal. This is a rough formula, so adapt as you like– but it is pretty tasty:
-Cook a hearty grain like Farro or Freekeh
-Saute the seasoned meat either with the salt & pepper, some cumin and cilantro for a Mexican take, or jazz it up with some Sambal Oelek.
-Toss the leftover vegetables with the same seasoning you used for the meat. Re-heat in a 300F oven until starting to sizzle (remember they are already roasted so this is just re-warming not cooking!)
-Add grain, protein and vegetables to a bowl and top with your fave condiment. Going mexican? Add some tortilla chips, a drizzle of sour cream and salsa. Asian? A few teaspoons of soy sauce and sriracha mixed with a little bit of sour cream or mayonaisse makes an excellent quick dressing.
So that’s it! That’s a fondue party. It’s easy, tons of fun, and something I look forward to doing every single winter. It’s possibly the only dinner party I’ve come across that pleases vegetarians, meat lovers and kids alike. You can be picky, you can be gluttonous, you can drink wine or you can drink water. It’s communal, it’s warm, and a great way to kick off my series!
I’ve also distilled ALL this information down into a downloadable PDF complete with grocery list and checklist included. I hope this inspires you to gather around the table with friends and family. Enjoy!
ALL IMAGES AND TEXT © REBA TOLODAY / THE PROPER BINGE