YOUR GUIDE TO FESTIVE ENTERTAINING THIS
THE MOST WONDERFUL TIME OF THE YEAR…
Eagerly anticipated every year, the festive season is all about beautiful lights, colourful decorations, delicious treats, and of course, exciting presents. Christmas, it seems, is universally the most wonderful time of the year. Spending time with our loved ones and catching up with friends is what we associate the Christmas holidays with. While Christmas will certainly look different this year, it doesn’t mean we cannot celebrate in our own way. The key to a safe and healthy 2020 Christmas is to keep gatherings and celebrations as intimate as possible.
Before you try to fast forward into the new year, why not look for ways to find some fun this holiday season? It is the perfect time to get creative and find some new traditions and alternative ways to celebrate—some of your ideas may be so good we bet you will make some new traditions along the way! In a year of the unexpected, one thing has come to be expected: change. While your office party and large gatherings may be postponed this year, small family dinner parties are needed now more than ever!
A smaller guest list does not have to mean you have to compromise. Whether you are doing a small dinner at home with your family, a slightly bigger celebration with your social bubble, or hosting a virtual gathering over Zoom, there are plenty of ways to enjoy your holiday favourites on a smaller scale. This Christmas will probably be our most memorable yet because it will be different, so let’s all find a way to make the most of it!
HOW TO THROW A LUXURIOUS AND INTIMATE DINNER PARTY
Delicious cuisine, festive cocktails, family, friends and good conversation — a dinner party is a classic combination of ingredients, made unique by what hosts and guests alike infuse the evening with.
It is so important to preserve the essence of the holiday season by spending time with those we love. Kick off the festivities with a cosy evening full of good cheer.
Keep your guest list as small as possible, and look for ways to make your intimate gathering feel just as special as a large one.
A small guest list is no reason to set a run of the mill place setting. From festive tablecloths to winter-appropriate rustic colour palettes, there are so many ways to bring the spirit of Christmas to your table. Pick up a bouquet of fresh florals, add some berry branches and light some candles. Incorporate nature into your tablescape with pine cones, seasonal citrus and evergreens.
Even if it’s only your family attending, setting place cards at each plate makes your dinner party feel less like another meal and more like a fancy feast.
ADVANCE PLANNING IS KEY TO A SUCCESSFUL DINNER PARTY
Think about the atmosphere and aesthetic you would like to create.
Check with your guests to see if they have any dietary requirements before you plan the menu.
Bear in mind what ingredients are in season, what local produce is available and what can be prepared in advance.
Figure out what festive décor you will need i.e. candles, centrepieces and flowers.
Theming your luxury dinner party is a great idea to create an atmosphere. It serves as a talking point over dinner and also gives your event that little bit more of a wow factor. You could theme your dinner party from the invitations, to the dress code, menu and table styling.
We highly recommend preparing a mise en place. If you are not familiar with this term, it entails setting out all the ingredients in advance, along with sauces, side dishes and garnishes, chopping boards, pots and pans.
You can also be prepared in advance with the food. Try and get as much done as possible the day before. Whether it is a dauphinoise potato gratin that needs to be set and pressed to achieve neat perfect squares or even par boiling and fluffing your potatoes for perfectly crisp roast potatoes.
If you are under pressure for time, you could make dessert in advance and have wine delivered from your local store.
Set up a cocktail station for guests on arrival with some delicious canapes.
It is always wise to provide an alternative drink for those who are driving or don’t consume alcohol, as well as offering a vegetarian option on your menu.
Arrange your tableware and serving dishes in advance to ensure you are not missing anything.
Use your beautiful china, crystal, and gorgeous silverware when having a dinner party. Why save it?! Take the time to polish your silver trays and put them to good use!
Ensure that your linen is clean, free of stains and freshly ironed. Creased table cloths will really take away from your beautiful table setting. Cutlery, crockery and glassware should be clean, polished and chip free. Where possible, ensure that all the tableware matches, this makes the table more uniform and really reflects luxury.
Beautiful floral arrangements and sparkling votives are the perfect highlight and focal point for your reception room and your dining table. Candles always set the mood in a luxurious and intimate setting. You can get all different types of candles – stand-alone, pillar and floating candles, which are quite pleasant as they sit on water creating another interesting element to your centrepiece. Avoid scented candles as they take away from the flavour and aromas of the food.
Personalised place cards written in calligraphy and freshly pressed monogrammed linens will add so much to the decoration of your table.
Setting the atmosphere is probably one of the most important elements of a dinner party. This encompasses the décor, music and lighting. It sets the tone for the evening and can be easily achieved when done correctly. Ensure your rooms are lit with soft lighting; place scented candles in the hallway and bathroom; fluff down pillows on chairs and sofas; have a drink, relax, and greet your guests with a big smile!
THE FONDEST MEMORIES ARE MADE AROUND THE TABLE
When deciding on your dinner party dishes, it is always wise to cook something you are familiar with. You want to feel relaxed and confident and so sticking to tried-and-tested classics is always a wise decision. Another thing to consider when deciding what to cook for a dinner party is to avoid anything too out-of-the-ordinary, unless your guests are aware of a theme. It is also good to plan a little extra food to cover for if something does go awry or for last-minute guests who come along.
What your guests see in front of them, and what their meal is served on, is almost as important as the food itself. Your tablescape is all part of the experience and you want your guests to feel mesmerised by what they see. Flowers are always an essential element as they add colour and vibrancy to the table. Using multiples of vases in different vessels creates height and drama to build atmosphere and drama.
Delicious cuisine and good company are the basic foundations of a dinner party but it is always a good idea to plan some entertainment ideas to keep the laughter and the conversation going all night long.
You can choose to build a playlist specific to the dinner party you are hosting, or you can take the time to curate several with different moods attached to them to reuse time after time. It is a good idea to mix well-known songs with ones your guests might not have heard before so you have a blend of recognition and discovery which is a great conversation starter. Create a music playlist that is ready to begin as soon as your first guest arrives until the last guest departs.
GOOD FRIENDS, GOOD FOOD, GOOD TIMES
Food is arguably the most important feature of a dinner party. A delicious menu full of creative dishes that show off your culinary skills will ensure your dinner party will be a success. It is also equally important to find the right balance between being creative without being too ambitious. Trying to cook complicated and time-consuming dishes can add to both your stress levels and time pressures.
When creating a bespoke menu, keep it to a simple and try not to over complicate. Looking at the availability of seasonal ingredients is always a great place to start with for your festive feast.
Set the scene with some delicious canapes to let your guests know what is in store. For a more formal menu, go all-out with fresh sushi or caviar served with blinis and sour cream, or keep things less formal with sliders, smoked olives, cranberry brie bites or prawn pots. Crab, oysters and other variations of seafood are wonderful to tease into pâtés, place onto crispbreads or wrap up in pastry.
Whilst there is no specific rule in place in regards to how big or small your canapés should be, a general rule of thumb should be that they are big enough to be a satisfying bite, and small enough that they don’t cause any difficulty when trying to eat as your guests might also be holding a glass. As they are only intended as a nibble, perhaps portion them by allocating a certain number to each guest (4-6 is a good place to start) – that way they will be available and hopefully no one will go hungry! A glass of vintage Champagne is the perfect accompaniment to the first act of your decadent feast.
START AS YOU MEAN TO GO ON
So many underestimate the importance of starters. A well-chosen starter should excite and test all of the senses, setting the scene for what lies ahead. The options for delicious starters are endless. Saffron risotto, carpaccio of scallops, grilled lobster tails, watercress and celeriac soup, goat’s cheese tarte tatin or faux gras with toasted brioche are some of our dinner party favourites. They always go down a treat!
THE MAIN EVENT
The main course should be a real showstopper of a dish. Instead of the traditional turkey dishes, why not change things up? Goose, duck, lobster, a prime cut of beef or a perfectly pink chateaubriand.
We decided to mix up one of our favourite festive mains with this fabulous Christmas Wellington. A make-ahead meal in one, this classic gets a smart makeover by incorporating prosciutto, mustard and mushrooms.
Christmas Wellington (Serves 8)
What you will need:
1.5kg centre-cut beef tenderloin
Sea salt and black pepper to taste
2tbsp rapeseed oil
60g English mustard
2 shallots, chopped finely
500g porcini mushrooms
3 garlic cloves, minced
300g prosciutto, thinly sliced
1 sheet of puff pastry
2 eggs, beaten
1. Let the beef tenderloin come to room temperature. Season with sea salt and pepper on all sides.
2. Add rapeseed oil to a large pan on high heat. Once the oil is hot, add the tenderloin. Without moving the tenderloin, cook until a dark brown crust forms, about 3 minutes per side. Repeat searing on all sides, including the tenderloin ends.
3. Remove the tenderloin from the pan and transfer to a cutting board or wire rack and remove ties.
4. Brush the mustard on all sides of the meat while it is still warm. Let the meat rest for while making the duxelle (mushrooms cooked and reduced until dry).
5. To the same pan, add the butter, mushrooms, minced shallot, and minced garlic over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until all the liquid evaporates and the mushroom mixture becomes a thick 25-30 minutes, dry-like paste. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
6. Remove the mushrooms from the pan and let cool completely.
7. Place a large layer of overlapping sheets of plastic wrap on your work surface that is twice the length and width of the tenderloin.
8. Lay overlapping strips of prosciutto on the plastic into an even square layer.
9. Spread a layer of the mushrooms evenly over the prosciutto.
10. Tightly and evenly wrap the tenderloin with the prosciutto, using the plastic wrap to wrap it even tighter and seal ends. Tie the ends of the plastic wrap together to hold the shape. Place in the refrigerator for 15 minutes.
11. Preheat oven to 400°F/200°C.
12. Place a new layer of plastic wrap on the work surface and lay a sheet of puff pastry over it. Unwrap the prosciutto-wrapped beef tenderloin onto the puff pastry, wrapping until the ends meet. Cut off any extra puff pastry, making sure there is no overlap.
13. Wrap the puff pastry in plastic wrap, tying the ends together to form a log shape. Place in the refrigerator for 15 minutes.
14. Place the beef Wellington on a greased, parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Brush the surface with the beaten eggs. With a fork, score a decorative design onto the surface of the puff pastry.
15. Decorate with additional pastry (optional). Sprinkle with sea salt.
16. Bake for 40 minutes or until the puff pastry is a dark golden brown and the internal temperature of the beef is 135°F (57°C) for medium-rare.
From espresso martini brownies, pistachio soufflé, white forest meringue roulade or the ultimate crème bruleé, finish your feast in style with something sweet and delicious.
Christmas incorporates so many wonderful traditions, with each family celebrating in different ways. And just because the crowd around the table is a little smaller, it doesn’t mean you have to skip out on your annual traditions. Even if some of your nearest and dearest can't make it to your celebration, there are so many ways they can still join in on the festivities.
With many people spending the holiday away from family and friends due to travel restrictions or safety concerns, and with some annual traditions also put on hold this year, this Christmas is an opportunity to think outside the box. 2020 might even inspire you to throw out your traditional recipe book and try out a completely different menu, as you will have less people to cater for and more time to enjoy the day.
Whether you are celebrating Christmas as a family, or from a distance, it is important to celebrate by counting your blessings and expressing gratitude for what you have, now more than ever. It is a rare occasion when we get to slow down, take time out and focus on spending time with the ones we love.
From our home to yours, we wish you a safe, healthy, and peaceful Christmas with your family and friends. If 2020 has taught us anything, it is to be truly grateful for all the love and life around us. Let’s make this the best one yet!