Contrary to popular belief (or what Hallmark tries to tell you) Valentine's Day isn't solely reserved for high-priced, couples-only dinners drenched in Champy and chocolate. And just because your relationship status reads "solo" doesn't mean you have to drown your sorrows by crying into an oversized glass of red wine, slouched on the couch, Bridget Jones-style.
Seriously, we're kind of fed up with the traditional V-Day date suggestions, and are all for bringing everyone together — couples, singletons, whomever — for a night of wining and dining. So, we tapped the local entertainment experts at Rebecca Jean Catering to show us how to whip up a wondrous Valentine's Day dinner that you can DIY. From grocery-bag-covered books scrawled with romantic quotes to a so-worth-the-indulgence dessert station, here's how to have the greatest group date, ever!
Photographed by Maria del Rio
Meet Rebecca Jean Alzoni, owner and chef at Rebecca Jean Catering
— she's about to provide some serious party-throwing intel!
Tell us about the concept for this party.
"We’re throwing a DIY Valentine’s Day dinner party that celebrates the many aspects of love. We often forget that the four-letter word means more than staring into a special someone’s eyes over a cozy candlelit dinner. So, we’re opening up the traditionally for-two holiday to our closest friends — with or without partners — and inviting them over for dinner and drinks."
What ingredients do you think go into throwing a fabulous dinner party?
"Hitting all the basics: Delicious food, plentiful libations, and a beautifully decorated space to do the eating and drinking. I think one of the best ways to make a statement at a dinner party is by building a beautiful buffet scene full of food, flowers, and festive décor. But, you don’t have to be a professional caterer to pull it off! By getting creative with the use of your space, repurposing common household items, and crafting the decorative details, you can transform your night in into a night to remember."
Putting the final touches on the grub!
How did you plan the menu for the party?
"We always think seasonally, because when you use the freshest ingredients in a dish, you don’t need to over manipulate the food. So, we used what looked good at the farmers' market. If you start out with a naturally vibrant ingredient like blood oranges or purple cauliflower, you don’t have to fuss with it much for it to look beautiful. And since the food is sitting on a buffet, we crafted a menu of items that taste great at room temperature, like stuffed dates and a grain salad. We stayed away from leafy salads that can wilt, fried foods that can get soggy, and other dishes that only hold up well in extreme hot or cold."
These dates are no joke. The tastiest!
What’s so great about a group Valentine’s Day party?
"It’s a way to celebrate love and friendship in a very inclusive setting, and a reminder that a reserved table and a hot date don’t make or break this holiday. The casual atmosphere is a great way to take any unwarranted pressure off of newer couples and can be a great change of pace for those who have been making a night of it with the same partner for many years. There might not be anything better to toast to than the joy of each other’s company."
The decadent drink station — bottoms up!
What creative elements are you most proud of?
"We love all of the DIY crafted décor elements because they add rustic charm to the space. It’s very gratifying to see your guests’ reactions to the handmade decorations, especially because they were so simple to make!"
Yum! White-wine sangria.
What are some suggestions to get people mingling?
"Create a good flow by spacing your food and drinks throughout the apartment. This gives your guests plenty of room to wander to what they’re craving instead of bolting to the cramped corner to grab their share of the night’s offerings. When the guests feel at ease, they’ll naturally begin to mingle. Conversation topics shouldn’t be hard to find with the wealth of DIY decorations and vibrant dishes at every turn."
It's the little details — check out these adorable embellished paper straws.
Tell us the inspiration behind the floral arrangements.
"Since we’re celebrating close friendships and toasting to future gatherings at this party, we wanted the flowers to represent more than just love on one particular day. So, in the spirit of looking forward, we used springtime as inspiration. Lush hydrangeas served as a clean canvas for an enchanting palette of dusty silver, bright green, and blush pink. But what’s a Valentine’s bouquet without roses? So we took the subtle approach to festivity and dotted the arrangements with gorgeous full, long-stemmed roses."
Front-of-house manager and event-production extraordinaire Isabel Cespedes knows how to whip up a mean floral arrangement.
Okay, these book covers are amazing — tell us about them! Are they easy to do at home?
"Height is an important yet often overlooked element in buffet building, especially for an at-home dinner party. Normally, a caterer uses glass blocks or other risers to achieve this effect, but for a DIY buffet, we wanted to use something that most hosts would already have at home. Hardcover books are perfect for this: They’re sturdy enough to hold a food-filled platter and can be stacked to various heights. If you’ve ever had to cover a textbook for school, then it’s guaranteed that you’re already a pro at making this simple decoration. First, choose a hardy covering, like butcher paper, and embellish it before you wrap your book! We scrawled our favorite Shakespeare quotes across butcher paper with a black Sharpie, but this detail is completely customizable: You can scribble quotes from movies, song lyrics, books, or even your own inside jokes."
Sweet nothings scribbled on paper! Such a cool idea.
What are the major "do's" for throwing a dinner party at home, but making it seem professional-slash-high-quality?
"Tailor the party to your space, and not the other way around! Similarly, cook to your equipment. You’re not going to plan a barbecue if you don’t have a backyard or a grill, right? So, come to terms with what you have and then brainstorm about how to best use it. For this party, we covered a slender bookshelf with burlap and turned it into a self-serve sangria station and dedicated the coffee table to light snacks. For food prep, we used ingredients that were readily available and intentionally used various cooking methods to spread out the use of kitchen equipment."
We're obsessed with this easy-peasy book cover DIY!
What menu item are you most excited about right now?
"The cauliflower — winter gets a bad rap for being an uninspiring produce season, but how can you say that when gardens are sprouting gems like purple, green, and cheddar cauliflower? With an ingredient this bold, you want to treat it simply to preserve its allure. Instead of chopping it into tiny florets and blanching it, we sliced it into thick slabs and seared each side until it turned a glistening hue. Cooking it this way brings out the cauliflower’s natural sweetness and allows for caramelization, which adds a rich nutty flavor.
Project and media manager Kate Puhala ogles the pretty — and tasty — cauliflower.
Okay, party dilemma; You just found out some of the guests don’t eat what you’re serving. What’s a good solution to rectify a pinch like this?
"A host should always inquire about their guests’ dietary restrictions before planning a menu. But, because a plus-one can throw off the most efficient planner, there are some precautions you could take to squash this scenario. Since the most common allergens are nuts, dairy, and gluten, try to isolate these ingredients from your dishes. Instead of tossing the quinoa salad with goat cheese or sprinkling nuts on top of the entire platter of cauliflower, fill small ramekins with these ingredients for guests to add to the dishes themselves. Be sure to place these toppings at the very front of each buffet item so that there is absolutely no chance of cross contamination."
Putting veggies in a mason jar? Love it!
This cupid stand is too cute — how can we replicate this at home?
"Dessert should be decedent and playful, so we thought we’d bring the lightheartedness of a beach bonfire indoors with a s’mores brownie bar. We thrifted a delicate red-rim glass stand and a vintage plate as platters to place the brownies, each topped with gooey marshmallow fluff and graham-cracker crumble. For décor, we stuffed traditional s’mores ingredients like whole chocolate bars and sheets of graham crackers into mason jars and toy pails, which we scattered around the station. Our favorite decorative element was definitely Cupid’s arrows. Any craft store carries the supplies to complete this project. Just secure four to five feathers around a wooden dowel with a rubber band then hot glue twine around the base of the feathers. We shot them into a large vase of chubby marshmallows as a final touch!"
Okay, now this dessert station is the bee's knees. Peep the handmade arrows.
What shops do you recommend shopping for amazing serving trays?
"Thrift stores are our go-to places for finding unique and inexpensive serving trays. Prioritize shops that have a larger homewares section like Mission Thrift
and Alta Bates Showcase in Oakland. We also love supporting fellow DIY-ers by shopping on Etsy
— it’s where we got both of our vintage deviled-egg platters. We also love antique hunting at flea markets in Alameda and Healdsburg, where we haggled for the glass stand and plate that ended up on the s’mores station."
Don't mind if we do!
What are some cool sites or tools we can use to get us inspired for such a shindig?
"Visual aids are most inspiring for us, which is why we love TasteSpotting
. Both websites are great stimuli for generating ideas and are also invaluable tools for sharing your vision with friends. We used Pinterest to hash out our plan décor for this Valentine’s Day party — we stumbled upon the DIY arrows and doily vessels on the site and pinned them along with butcher-paper-lined tables and potted succulents to create our casual yet elegant holiday theme."
What are some quick tips for decorating for a DIY Valentine’s Day party?
"Enhance your surroundings by choosing a color scheme that matches both your theme and your party’s personality. Since this Valentine’s Day soiree is for more than two lovebirds, we ditched the holiday’s traditionally flashy reds and pinks for more natural tones like woods, greens, and creams. This familiar palette creates a comfortable atmosphere, and when your guests pick up on that vibe, they’ll start to let loose and fully enjoy themselves."
Cool DIY flatware holders, right?
We love how you integrate so many natural elements into the setups. How do you decide what plants or flowers you want to accompany the spreads?
"We like to use what we see growing around us, which is why we’re so smitten with succulents. It’s also what makes us sticklers for seasonality. We like using plants to evoke the spirit of the season, like sunflowers in the summertime and pinecones in the winter. When adding floral to a food-filled buffet, make sure to avoid plants with strong scents and be extra conscious of where you place each arrangement. Don’t hang plants over food — no one deserves a plate dusted with fallen soil — and encase thorny plants inside a vase or terrarium — you don’t want to get pricked reaching for more punch!"
These definitely seem be things we can do at home, but let’s be honest here, how much time really goes into planning such a party?
"Give yourself two weeks from the moment you decide to throw a party, and then immediately write yourself a timeline. Know what you can do ahead of time and then integrate that prep into your daily routines, like picking up ingredients for your meal during your regular Sunday farmers' market excursion. Start a Pinterest board to collect your ideas and organize your inventory. Don’t feel like you have to do all the work yourself: Share your Pinterest board with your friends and ask for their input, or invite the crew over for a craft night. You’ll be able to knock out all the décor details over Thai takeout and good conversation."
Too lazy to whip this up on your own? Hit up Rebecca Jean Catering
for all your party-throwing needs! And be sure to check out the recipes for all the fantastic grub here.
Okay, now dig in!