Oh how I love a dinner party! You may remember me claiming – having dinner parties – was one of the things I was most looking forward to having time for after the wedding, and I have to admit that as much as I’m excited about our honeymoon I’m a little sad I don’t get to play host this Christmas.
Festive dinner parties are especially great aren’t they? Why? because we all let loose a little more during the holidays – we can relax, let our hair down and most importantly over-indulge. Truth be told, I’m rarely the chef when it comes to our own dinner parties (well unless you count canapes and desserts as chef duties), I’m more of a drinks and entertainment kind of gal, but I sure do own that area! For me having people over for dinner doesn’t mean cooking the most elaborate meal or wowing with MasterChef style skills, it’s about spending time with your guests and enjoying yourself as much as they do. To ensure that happens I’ve got a few top tips for having the ultimate festive dinner party.
The Art of Illusion
I think the styling is such a key ingredient when it comes to a dinner party, if you make the place look great people will rarely notice whether the food is up to scratch or not. Just like any magician’s trick it’s all about the art of illusion – table settings that become talking points, well styled displays, creative lighting, good music and food and drinks that look super pretty will all add to the overall feel of the evening. Make your home feel inviting by lighting candles, having the fresh smell of something delicious wafting through from the kitchen and decorating the place with pretty flowers, or in the case of Christmas I love foraged leaves and berries.
Top Tips for making your dinner party stand out even more; create a theme for the night and tailor your menu to suit that, design a menu and display it on your door, make place settings or name tags for your guests, or give each guest a favour as a talking point (fake moustaches, Christmas hats or reindeer antlers, miniature bottles of their favourite drink).
Preparation is Key
I’m definitely a fan of preparing as much in advance as possible when it comes to cooking for other people. I’m known to get a bit stressed out in the kitchen even when I’m only cooking for two, so the added pressure of extra guests will easily see me in a flap. There are plenty of dinner party food options that you can make the day before and keep in the fridge, and lots of easy hacks to save you having to spend too long in the kitchen. Because wouldn’t you rather be laughing, drinking and having fun with your friends than slaving over a hot oven? Canapes can easily be prepared earlier in the day and simply placed in the oven to heat up, or assembled ahead of serving. For your starter why not pre-make a soup and simply heat up once your guests arrive, or do something simple like a prawn cocktail and keep it in the fridge? When it comes to the mains, you may not be able to have everything ready ahead of time, but slow cookers are a wonderful invention for dinner parties, and slow cooking your meat all day so your guests don’t have to wait until midnight to eat is always advisable. Get peeling those potatoes and prepping your veg before anyone arrives and then all you’ll need to worry about is co-ordinating your timings on the night.
Top Tips to save you time; use ready rolled puff pastry and jars of chutney to make easy peasy tartlet canapes, whip cream and make custard ahead of time and keep in the fridge (after a few drinks you always forget and it never turns out quite right), and do ‘rustic’ roasted veg to avoid all the peeling.
Serve unfussy food
Even if you’re no Master in the kitchen, generally I think your guests will thank you for good, honest, tasty dishes. Personally I like the – little and often – approach, and preparing things in advance means you can bring out multiple dishes throughout the night and keep people interested while they wait for the main event. There are some people who may see canapes as fussy food, but while they’re small and sometimes fiddly, they’re usually ridiculously easy to make, are made up of only a few ingredients and need little to no cooking time. One of my fall back dinner party canapes options is the humble smoked salmon blini. You can buy a packs of around 24 blinis from the supermarket for a reasonable price which avoids you having to make your own, and then you can simply top with cream cheese, salmon and a sprinkling of dill for a winning pre-dinner appetiser. My go-to for a delicious dessert is the above chocolate pots (full recipe coming soon) as they only take around 15 minutes to make and don’t need to be cooked, meaning very little can go wrong. They also look far more impressive than their simple recipe would suggest and are both rich and indulgent yet light so perfect after a big meal. I make mine the day before and keep them in the fridge then on the night simply top with whipped cream and cherries before serving.
Top Tips for serving; make around three different canapes and bring them out in stages so your guests are constantly kept interested right up until the first course comes out. Alternatively why not forgo a three course dinner in favour of a series of party food nibbles? Cook things in stages and intersperse drinks and games with rounds of different foods.
Keep the Drinks Flowing
The number one rule as a dinner party host is to make sure a glass is never empty right? Personally I love being on drinks duty throughout the night and creating inventive tipples to keep people guessing. Bubbles are a popular choice over the holiday season but there are so many different ways to serve them as opposed to just pouring a glass of Prosecco. We all love a Bellini which is Champagne (or Prosecco or Cava) with a dash of Chambord, but why not switch that for a dash of Elderflower cordial for a different take on the cocktail. To go with my chocolate and cherry pots, I’m a fan of a cherry version of the Bellini; Prosecco topped with cherry liqueur and decorated with a cherry on the glass. It’s the perfect sweet treat alongside the rich dark chocolate. For Christmas celebrations, I like using traditional Christmas flavours in drinks such as cranberries, cinnamon and ginger.
Top Tips for playing barmaid; How about matching a different tipple to each course of your meal so your guests are kept hydrated in the best possible way?
All crockery c/o Dartington
With all that talk, I’m totally craving a Christmas get together, how about you? But instead I’m off on honeymoon in three days so I guess we’ll just have to recreate the festive magic in January once we’re back. What are your dinner party tips?
Don’t forget, this week the blog is dedicated to all things festive, check out my previous ‘Tis the Season posts here.
P.S sorry about the dodgy nail polish – shellac is such a pain when it starts to grow out no? Holiday manicure coming tomorrow hurrah!