Hosting a Great Casual Night In With Friends

| October 1, 2013 | 71 Comments

Lunch with Friends 2

One warm June evening a few years ago, I sat at my kitchen table, digging into a dinner I’d just made. The table was loaded. There was risotto, swirled with fresh herbs that they’d picked from the herb garden on my porch while I was cooking. A salad with fresh strawberries that we’d picked that morning, sweet candied almonds and salty feta cheese. A steak hot off the grill. Icy water. Maybe some wine. Around the table sat two of my closest friends — ones who’ve traveled the road from the carefree days of teenagedom to the very grown-up moments of adulthood.

Whenever I think of that evening, I smile. But it’s not the food that I remember most. It’s the warmth that comes with feeding the ones you love. The night was filled with laughter, joy and all the good things that come with friends sharing a meal.

Gallo Family Vineyards

It’s with those same friends that I’ve spent countless nights sipping something delightful and talking. They know my inner most dreams (and weren’t at all surprised when I started talking about the crazy need I have to live by the beach). And when something worrisome happened last spring, they were there before I even said anything. Whenever I think about the people in my life closest to me, they hold a spot high in my heart, among my family members.

When Gallo Family Vineyards, a family-owned wine company that I love, asked me if family meant more than blood to me, the answer was clear. Of course. I love my family. And my friends are included in that grouping.

How to Plan a Great Casual Night In

Honestly, when it comes to hosting dinners, I prefer casual to formal. So I like to keep it easy, simple and fun. Here are a few of my best tips for having an awesome night in.

  • Keep the Menu Simple – Of course you want to feed your friends and family well, but that doesn’t mean it has to be complicated. Instead, stick to a simple, easy, fresh meal. And don’t be afraid to have everyone gather in the kitchen while you whip it up.
  • Remember the Small Bites – Tossing some veggies and dip out or maybe a cheese plate may seem like a simple thing, but it also is great for munching while the food cooks — and that takes a lot of pressure off the cook.
  • Take Your Time – Having a casual night in? Don’t rush! Instead, take it slow and enjoy every minute of conversation and every bite of food.
  • Let Them Bring Something – I am always up for someone to bring dessert (which I love to eat more than I love to make). When your friends and family ask if they can bring something, always say yes.
  • Offer a Selection of Beverages – Ice water is always a must for us. So is a libation — and lately, many of my friends and I love to enjoy a glass of wine. Choosing a red and white (like the Gallo Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay) offers a little something for everyone.
  • Keep the Music Mellow – When I am cooking alone, I love a great beat. But when friends are dining over, mellow tunes are the perfect background music.

My Crest
Gallo Family Vineyards has recently launched the Gallo Family Vineyards Crest Creator. It’s a fun, interactive tool where you can create, share and download fun personalized family crests. I play with it a little bit and made up this one that makes me think of my friends. A few times over the last few years, we’ve taken the four hour drive north to Cape Cod for weekends away filled with seafood, beaches and lobster — and more.

Making the crest is so easy. You choose from 17 templates, and then customize them with whatever icons and personal mottos speak to you. And if you really love your crest, you can even order it printed on shirts, cups, totes and more through a partnership with

“We designed the Crest Creator to be something fun that pays homage to families, however they’re defined,” said Stephanie Gallo, third-generation Gallo family member and Vice President of Marketing at Gallo Family Vineyards, “It’s our way of saying thanks and celebrating all the families who have invited us to the table for the past eighty years.”

Want to make your own? Check out the Crest Creator website.


What is your definition of Family?

Share your answer in the comments below for a chance to win a $100 VISA Gift Card!



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This giveaway is open to US Residents (excluding Colorado, Puerto Rico, Tennessee, Utah and where otherwise prohibited by law) age 21or older. Winners will be selected via random draw, and will be notified by e-mail. You have 72 hours to get back to me, otherwise a new winner will be selected.

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Category: Celebrate, Entertaining

About the Author ()

Sarah Walker Caron is a writer, editor and recipe developer who loves to create delicious recipes the whole family can enjoy together. Her work has appeared in countless publications including iVillage, BELLA NYC Magazine, Yum for Kids magazine and more. She lives in Maine with her two food-loving kids.

Comments (71)

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  1. Kate says:

    When I read about your dinner I think “how lovely and relaxing that seems. I’m betting it was before kids!”

  2. Lisa Brown says:

    My definition of family is closeness and support. People you can go to when times get tough, and always will have someone who will care and listen to you.
    jslbrown_03 at yahoo dot com

  3. Elena says:

    Family are the people who love and support each other

  4. Mami2jcn says:

    To me, family means loyalty. It also means having a feeling of belonging.

  5. Mami2jcn says:


  6. stephanie says:

    family means love

  7. D Schmidt says:

    My definition of family is people that choose to spend time together, cherish each other and enrich each others lives

  8. D Schmidt says:

    My tweet is not copying and pasting, unsure why, hope this works

  9. April G says:

    I think “family” is anyone who loves, supports, and cares for each other through thick and thin! That closeness can come from blood or shared times!

  10. April G says:

    I define family as those who are present in one another’s lives, via face to face contact, phone, internet, etc, and are there to support and care for each other!

  11. Cynthia C says:

    My definition of family includes all the people who care for me and want the best for me.

  12. Jessica To says:

    To me family is a group of people who love and support each other.

  13. Erika says:

    My son, daughter, and husband! :)

  14. Susan Smith says:

    A family are people who support you and are there for you in good times and bad times.

  15. Jessie C. says:

    To me, family means people in my life who accept and love me for who I am.

  16. Jessie C. says:


  17. Accepting and loving unconditionally.

  18. Jen says:

    Family is:
    Love, support, guidance, and understanding… sometimes even when you don’t want it or don’t deserve it!!! :)

  19. rachel says:

    Those who I have years of great memories with!

  20. Tina M says:

    people who will be there for you no matter what and love you unconditional

  21. Tina M says:

  22. Melinda says:

    Family consists of the people who love you and support you unconditionally whether related by blood or not

  23. Sean says:

    Family: The people you would do ANYTHING for

  24. Erica says:

    Family mean loving and care about each

  25. Tabathia B says:

    They always give you a shoulder to cry on and always listen to what you have to say

    tbarrettno1 at gmail dot com

  26. Carolsue says:

    There’s an old “joke” that says: Home is wherever they have to take you in. I guess the same could be said of family.
    Digicats {at} Sbcglobal {dot} Net

  27. Kerry says:

    Family to me is my favorites in my life. The people that will be there no matter what!

  28. Debbie B says:

    my favorite people in the whole world!

  29. steph says:

    family means those who are with you no matter what! family is love.

  30. Wild Orchid says:

    My definition is the people in your life who you can always count on and be yourself with.

    Thanks for the chance to win!
    wildorchid985 at gmail dot com

  31. Wild Orchid says:


  32. To me, family would be the people who love you and accept you just the way you are. It’s not what runs through your veins, it is what lives in your heart!

  33. Family is love! And that is all! Thanks for a chance to win!!!! kmassman gmail

  34. Amy Tong says:

    I really enjoy reading your post. thanks for sharing. my definition of family is the people I love, we share everything, good or bad. And love each other no matter what.

    amy [at] utry [dot] it

  35. LAMusing says:

    Family – that bond that means unconditional love and support for each other, no matter the miles apart or the distance of time.

  36. Norma says:

    Some family we are born into, others we choose. Trust, support, and pleasure in each others company are what family should be about.

  37. Harmony B says:

    The people in my life who accept & love me for who I am are family to me.

  38. maria cantu says:

    Family to me is unconditional love.

  39. Nicole Larsen says:

    Family is loyalty and kindness–people you can rely on no matter what and people that you just can not live your life without!

  40. paige shannon says:

    Family are those who support and love you, whether they are a blood relative, neighbor or a friend. My 14 year old daughter has been battling cancer since August 2012 and my 18 year old son is now a freshman in college. With my daughter being sick I have spent most of my time in the hospital with her and I was not able to do the college thing with my son. My friends knew I would be home for a rare evening home and decided that we would get together and discuss our college freshmen and all of the emotions that go with it! Good wine, food and “family” is all you need.

  41. Betty C says:

    Family are the ones who support you and have the courage to tell you when you are wrong, but love you anyway.

  42. Anna Pry says:

    family are the folks you share your life with, folks you can count on in a pinch

  43. Whitney says:

    My definition of family is unconditional love

  44. angie lilly says:

    my husband, plain and simple.

  45. Amanda Sakovitz says:

    My definition of family is people that you love and can be yourself with.

  46. Thomas Murphy says:

    My definition of family is people that are there for you no matter what.

  47. Ellie W says:

    My family is those that I love and put their happiness before my own. The ones that I would die for.

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