Celebrity Jo Gartin's Elegant (And Easy!) Dinner Party By Amy Elisa Keith Published on November 9, 2009 03:00 PM Share Tweet Pin Email Photo: Lisa Romerein Hosting a holiday soiree doesn’t mean you have to transform your dining room into Santa’s workshop. “There’s nothing wrong with adding some ornaments, but I say keep it simple,” says celebrity party planner Jo Gartin, whose A-list clients include Courteney Cox-Arquette and Brooke Shields. “I try to choose one theme or color.” For this Italian-inspired feast for 12, Gartin focused on the color green. Succulents decorate the table and herbs are infused in cocktails and entrées – which are served buffet-style to give the gathering a “homey” vibe. “It’s not too formal or regimented and a bit more intimate,” says Gartin. Plus, as a host, “it takes you out of the kitchen,” she says. “You’re not prepping plates and serving food forever. You just put everything out, and people can help themselves.” Just remember that simple doesn’t mean boring. “Do things that have a little element of surprise,” says Gartin, who encourages adding personal touches to the menu and a bit of whimsy to the table decor. “It’s important to bring your personality into the party.” Menu: Basil Martini (see below) Arugula Salad with Avocado and Pine Nuts Crumbed Chicken Butter Sage Penne with Spinach Caramel Apple Cheesecake Basil Martini 2 oz. gin2 tbsp. lemon juice1 ½ tbsp. simple syrup*1 fresh, slivered basil leafIce cubes Combine gin, lemon juice, simple syrup, basil leaves and ice cubes in cocktail shaker. Shake well and strain into a martini glass. Makes 1 drink. *To make simple syrup, mix 1 part sugar with 1 part boiling water. Stir until sugar dissolves and cool. NEXT: Arugula Salad with Avocado and Pine Nuts & Crumbed Chicken> Arugula Salad with Avocado and Pine Nuts 10 oz. baby arugula½ cup pine nuts½ cup diced red onions1 large avocado, pitted and cubed2 tbsp. fresh lemon juiceSalt and pepper¼ cup olive oil Gently mix arugula, pine nuts and red onion in a large salad bowl. Add cubed avocado on top. Toss with salt and pepper. Finish off by drizzling olive oil and lemon juice. Toss to mix. Crumbed Chicken 18 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, pounded thin4 cups seasoned breadcrumbs4 eggs, lightly beaten3 tbsp. butter3 tbsp. olive oilSalt and pepperLime wedges 1. Put breadcrumbs, salt and pepper in shallow bowl.2. Dip chicken into eggs, then coat with breadcrumb mixture.3. Heat butter and olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches, cook chicken on one side until brown, about 2 minutes. Turn and brown on the other side, about two minutes more. Continue cooking until done, about 3 more minutes. Serve with lime wedges. NEXT: Butter Sage Penne with Spinach > Butter Sage Penne with Spinach 36 oz. whole-wheat penne (approx. 2 boxes)1 cup sage leaves½ cup butter1 tbsp. agave nectar (or honey)3 cups baby spinach2 tbsp. milk or fresh creamSalt and lemon (or black) pepperGrated Parmesan 1. Boil penne pasta. Wash and dry the sage leaves. Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the sage. Cook very gently over a low flame taking care not to let the butter burn.2. Add the agave nectar (or honey), washed baby spinach and cooked, drained pasta. Stir on high heat for 1-2 mins. Add fresh cream, salt and lemon pepper to taste, serve and top with grated Parmesan cheese. NEXT: Caramel Apple Cheesecake > Caramel Apple Cheesecake Crust:1 ½ cups graham cracker crumbs (about 8 cookie sheets)3 tbsp. melted butterCooking spray Cheesecake:1 ¾ cups sugar½ cup sour cream3 tbsp. all-purpose flour½ tsp. ground cinnamon1 ½ tsp. vanilla extract¼ tsp. ground nutmeg3 (8-oz.) blocks cream cheese, softened4 large eggs Topping:½ cup sugar3 tbsp. water½ tsp. fresh lemon juice1 tbsp. butter2 tbsp. half-and-half1 ¾ cups chopped and peeled Granny Smith apple (about 8 oz.)Dash of nutmeg 1. Preheat oven to 350º F.2. Make crust: Combine the crumbs and melted butter in a bowl; toss with a fork until moist. Press mixture lightly into bottom of a 9″ x 9″ x 2″ pan coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350º F for 10 minutes. Remove from oven; cool on a wire rack. Reduce oven temperature to 325º F.3. Make filling: Place 1 ¾ cups sugar and next 7 ingredients (through cream cheese) in processor (or blender); process until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time; process until blended. Pour mixture into prepared pan. Place pan in a large roasting pan; add hot water to larger pan to a depth of 1 inch.4. Bake at 325º F for 1 hour or until cheesecake center barely moves when pan is touched. Remove from oven; let stand in water bath 10 minutes. Run a knife around outside edge of cheesecake. Remove pan from water bath; cool on a wire rack to room temperature. Cover and chill at least 8 hours.5. To prepare topping: Combine ½ cup sugar, 3 tbsp. water, and lemon juice in a small, heavy saucepan; cook over medium-high heat until sugar dissolves, stirring frequently. Cook 4 minutes or until golden (do not stir). Remove from heat. Add butter to pan; gently stir until butter melts. Stir in half-and-half. Cool slightly.6. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Chop apples into small cubes. Add apple cubes to pan; sauté 5 minutes or until lightly browned. Stir in sugar mixture and nutmeg. Cook until juices evaporate and mixture starts to thicken. Let cool. Cut cake into 16 squares or 32 bars. Top each piece with a small amount of apples.