Be My Guest!

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I love hosting and entertaining, getting friends together and enjoying food & drink in an intimate environment is my ‘happy place’! On Friday night, I held a dinner party for a group of my oldest girlfriends from school to celebrate Valentine’s day.

About a month ago, when I first emailed the gang to get a date in the diary I had just bought Supper Club, which is all about the joys of entertaining in your own home. Kirstin Rodgers however, entertains strangers with her Supper Clubs. She is a skilled cook, with much experience in catering for large groups of people, unlike me! She is also responsible for getting the Underground Restaurant craze fired up in the UK! However much I love to cook and bake, a group of more than 5 can come with it’s complexities and in turn, result in lost sleep leading up to the big day. So I came up with some pointers below, that help make the process a whole lot more efficient and enjoyable from start to finish.

In Advance

  • Invites! I personally email my invites to guests, as that is the most reliable form of communication with a large group of friends. As much as I would adore to use pen and paper at all times, it is not always viable time wise and can be expensive. My mum introduced me to the fabulous ‘Paperless Post’ which is ideal for any occasion. You can also see when the mail has been read and the guest can respond by the click of button. It adds charm & ease right from the start of the organising…
  • Putting your menu together– firstly, I would find out if there are any dietary requirements within your party. No point finding out once it’s too late and throwing you into a panic! When you have confirmation of this, start piecing together your seasonal menu using books, magazine tear outs, Pinterest…Keeping in mind your own level of skill and experience (I should mentioned my first attempt at making fresh ravioli on the day of was daring to say the least and resulted in a few fails, disaster! Read my next blog on pasta to hear ALL about that).

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(For Friday night, I printed out my menu’s and on the back of each one I put a different Love poem. Adding a romantic twist!)
  • Music- make a playlist that last lasts at least 4 hours, so you don’t have to worry about fiddling around with the ipod during the night. Bear in mind that this music is for your guests too and so you have to think about what they would enjoy? Choosing something like ‘Death Metal’ wouldn’t be everyones cup of tea for instance…
  • Shopping lists- a few days before the party I go through all the recipes and make a note of ingredients, I then go through the cupboards and start crossing off anything I might already have. Once I have a list of things to buy, I split the list into 3; ‘Fresh Produce’, ‘Supermarket’ & ‘To Drink’. Doing this keeps it all clear and concise and ensures that nothing is overlooked! 

The Day Before

  • Start Shopping– Head to the Supermarket with that list you have made and buy your condiments, juices, dairy produce etc. 
  • Got Everything? Do a count of all your crockery, glassware and cutlery to make sure you have enough. I realised the day before that I was short of one set, so lucky I checked! Phew!

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  • Your table- get your table ready and arrange your seating plan. Name places are lovely ‘extra detail’. Think about who should be next to who, things in common, any newcomers to the group? It is important to give this some thought so that you get the dynamic right.

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  • Drinks– Go on a booze run to your off license with your ‘Drinks’ list; having decided on your menu at this point, go for wine’s that compliment the meal. I asked the lady in the shop near me to recommend good wines having told her my menu and she was unbelievably helpful. We got the task done in under 15 minutes! A bottle of prosecco or champagne as an apreratif is a good starting point, 1 glass each as people are arriving is a nice gesture. 3 bottles of red & 3 white’s for the table for a group of 9/10 people (it is roughly 5 glasses per bottle by the way!) and there is nearly always at least 1 beer drinker in the group, so I like to have a 6 pack in the fridge just in case.

On The Day

  • Get cooking! Anything you can cook in advance and put in the fridge, then do it! I made the fresh ravilioli & filling, chocolate puddings and herb crust for the lamb as early as I could, that way I had an organised mise en place and was ready to go once guests have arrived.
  • Flower arrangements- do it yourself! It is a really nice touch to have fresh flowers on the table and I like to buy a few bunches from the market and put little posies together myself. I think 3 different flowers, with some sort of greenery works perfectly. Old jam jars are the perfect vase for a small arrangement and add a rustic flavour…buy flowers on the morning of, otherwise they will start to look a little sad.

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(I used Anenomies, Hyacinths and Roses brought together with Solidago. It’s colour theme was romance but that hint of yellow remind us that spring is on its way!)
  • Fresh produce-Your 3rd and final list. It is so much more cost effective to buy all your fresh fruit and vegetables from either a green grocer, or if you are lucky… a fresh fruit & vegetable stall in a local market or farmers market. On the day, I wake up at 7am and get straight to my local to pick out the best before it goes. You can sleep tomorrow… so an early rise is definitely necessary to get everything done.
  • Hoover! I am a messy cook, so once everything is set, it is essential that I hoover the kitchen/living area and make sure the kitchen is looking acceptable (especially as my kitchen and living room are all in the same space). Get rid of any bin bags and dirty tea towels too, very off putting.
  • Atmosphere. Just before the guests arrive and once you are dressed and ready, it is time to get everything just right. Music on, not too loud. Turn the lights down a bit and get  some candles going (just be careful not to put them in any precarious places).

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Now It’s Showtime!

We Ate…

Starter

Beetroot Ravioli with Ricotta & Sage Butter

Main Course

Herb Crusted Lamb with roast potatoes, Kale & Beetroot Top

Dessert

Molten Chocolate Pudding with Amaretto Cream

&

Cheese Board with Chilli Jam

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We Drank…

Moet & Chandon Rose Imperial

Glorioso, Reserva 2006 & Cosme Palacio, Rioja 2008

Pazo Do Mar, Ribeiro Blanco 2010

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We Listened…

My love-themed playlist starting with 1940’s early blues, moving onto 1950’s (Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone…), then the swinging 60’s with Elvis & Ray Charles. The tempo progressively became more energetic, which coincided perfectly with the gradual volume increase and liveliness of my guests.

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We Played…

‘Apples to Apples’ provided by my friend Parker, the Games Master. A hilarious game, especially when tipsy.

P.S. It definitely helps to know your opponents in this one!

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And One For The Road…

Mmmm, Amaretto Sours

(Made by me but special thanks to my friend & colleague Chris who kindly text me the recipe, on demand, at 01:00 a.m. Gotta love him!)

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Why don’t you let us into some of your dinner party secrets….

Thank you Molly, Emily, Parker, Charlotte, Simon, Rupert, Lara & Skippy for being wonderful guests.

(Readers, I apologise for the lack of quality and of photographs but I was having far too much fun to snap!)

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For a Rainy Day…

I woke up bright an early this morning to blue skies, so decided to don some warm clothes and go for a walk. Five minutes in and grey clouds appeared as if by magic. Drizzle soon followed. Back home now and ready for a cosy day inside.

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The books I am browsing through at the moment are particular handy on a day when the weather can’t decided what it’s doing….

1. Drink Me by Matt Walls (see blog post here)

2. Supper Club by Kerstin Rodgers; secret restaurants & underground supper clubs! Sounds amazing! Ex-Rock band photographer Kerstin Rodgers was one of the first people to start this dining phenomenon in the UK. This book is full of quirky illustrations and ideas for starting your own ‘Supper Club’, (which I am currently in the process of organising for my friends and I- you’ll hear more about this next month). Along with her yummy recipes and personal photographs it is a really fun book with plenty of hosting and culinary tips polished off with a directory of people doing this in their homes worldwide. So you too can venture into the unknown….

3. Baking Bible by Annie Bell; I love baking but have so much to learn. I make mistakes (often) and get very frustrated when I see the sponge sinking in the oven. Annie Bell was a food writer for Vogue, The Independent & more, who has gone on to write books like ‘The Camping Cookbook’ & ‘Soup Glorious Soup’. This is her ‘bible’ of 200 very trustworthy recipes for cakes, puddings, bread, tarts… the list goes on. It is pretty much fail-safe & easy to understand for beginners, yet still exciting and enticing for the more experienced. Totally delicious.

4. Eat London: All About Food by Peters Prescott & Terence Conran; If you live, or have visited London, then you may have realised that there are restaurants and cafes popping up at two-a-penny. This is the ultimate directory for someone wanting to discover old and new put together by the well-known Terence Conran. Plenty of recipes to keep you entertained in between reviews and a front cover that doubles up as a big map of London, so no worries about getting lost whilst in the depths of Dulwich, looking for a butchers!

5. Little Paris Kitchen by Rachel Khoo; Following her perfectly kitsch, Paris based TV show. Rachel Khoo has let us into the secrets of her life, style and recipes. Her illustrations are adorable and thankfully there are no overly complicated methods or long winded techniques to try and follow. If she can make it work, so very well, in such a small and intimate space then there is nothing stopping us all from trying it out….follow her lead. Oh and her ‘madeleines à la crème au citron’, are a must! Mmm.

6. The Simple Things; a glorious monthly magazine of all things home & garden with recipes, crafts and inspirations! A total gem. WHSmith sell the mag, but you can also look on their website to find out about the subscription. January was filled to the brim with pasta making, lantern stitching and home made pizza nights! The February Issue 6 is out now. This could be the only reason I venture into the rain again today!

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A small Arpeggio coffee from my Nespresso machine sets me up nicely for the day ahead. My pastel pink cup is from Ikea, perfect for espresso’s but also for desserts like ice cream, or a mousse! I am not sure if they are in stock at the moment, but a lovely alternative are the Ikea 365+ pastel espresso cup and saucer.


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My candle of the moment is Roses by Diptyque. It is so gorgeous and fills the entire room in seconds. For me the smell of Roses reminds me of my childhood. It is nostalgic, romantic and puts a gentle arm around me in times of need. Diptyque candles are not cheap but they are, in my opinion very, very good. Their standard size are £40 and the mini candles are £20. I got this mini Rose for Christmas, they make a really special present!

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Listening to Classic FM. Yup, tis’ true. I EVEN downloaded the app! This is coming from the same person who used to squirm when anyone (my sister!) put it on in the car, I thought it had to be ‘cool’ music or nothing at all. How things have changed. All I want on a day at home, is to have classical music playing quietly in the background. I find it so unbelievably calming and so does the cat…

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Daffodils are ALREADY in bloom in some parts of the UK. My mum excitedly informed me of such a carpet of sunshine spotted on a walk at the weekend. I decided to get myself a few bunches to have a big, early dose of Spring time in my home! Tesco’s currently have £1 a bunch on offer so forget S.A.D. and treat yourself.

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Right then, I have procrastinated enough. On with some writing!

And have a great day come rain or shine…