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How to throw an impressive dinner party
...without going through too much trouble
As I type this I’m sitting indoors with a cup of coffee in my hand, hunched over my keyboard, while outside it’s cold, grey and rather uninviting with those 'scatted showers' that our local weathermen keep going on about. It’s not all doom and gloom though because winter represents the perfect time to throw a party. It’s time to gather those close to you around your table and commune over a home cooked meal.
I have a slew of recipes stashed away for just such occasions from simple soups to more elaborate dishes like the beef and Guinness stew with dumplings I’ve been meaning to try.
Food, wine and fellowship
I don’t subscribe to a party needing a theme per say, but it needs to contain a couple key ingredients: food, wine and friendship.
Though the menu does bring with it logistical problems as I have a couple vegetarian friends and while I’m an omnivore I respect their choices, but it does rule out that aforementioned stew...
My menu would probably look like this: starters would be a thick Tuscan tomato pappa, followed by my good friend and chef to stars, Neill Anthony’s take on a classic French staple, a mushroom and cabbage cassolette, ending off with my perennial winter favourite, Malva pudding, paired with a nice red blend, nothing too heavy, more merlot than shiraz, let your wallet and palate be your guide.
For meat eaters I’ve found mushrooms are great substitute as while I’m an omnivore I practice responsible and sustainable eating habits, having cut down on my meat intake and switched to free-range, ethically sourced meat, which I largely purchase through Gogo’s Deli in Newlands and Richard Bosman.
Gone are the days of being limited to white or brown button mushrooms as you can now buy great varieties like oyster, shiitake and enoki from most supermarkets, so experiment, each has a unique texture and taste which can reinvent even the most classic dishes.
I happen to be blessed with having a kitchen garden a metre from my back door in which I grow about 60% of the produce we eat, covering over 40 different vegetables and herbs, but for the remaining 40% I make a concerted effort to support sustainable and organically grown produce farmers/farms like The Drift Farms who sell their goods at Neighbourgoods Market on Saturdays and Heike’s All Manna of Mushrooms with weekend stalls at both Willowbridge and Stellenbosch Slow Markets.
Ready, steady, go
So we’ve set the date, got the menu, now how do you seat your guests? My dining room table seats 4, 6 if I’m lucky and the breakfast bar is on the other end of the house... making seating somewhat of a nightmare.
It is in part why I selected my the menu, with pappa your bread is in the soup, doing away with the need for a side plate and it only requires a soup spoon and all the others require a traditional setting, no extra forks/knifes required, my kind of party. I have a couple ottomans that operate as occasional chairs and a 3 seater couch which comes into play for the larger gatherings, so be inventive as even an overturned crate or coffee table makes for a great occasional stool.
While I’m not one for decorations, I do have a fun vice, colourful napkins, which add an air of playfulness along with my chalkboard place mats from The Happy Napkin, which provide hours of entertainment.
Being a father of a 10-month-old, while I love company, there comes a time when you need to gently persuade your guests to leave and I always find a great way to drop the hint is over a cup of coffee or tea. I’m not a fan of decaf, I understand it’s virtues, but why wreck those beautiful beans? So if the evening is pushing on and it’s nearing pumpkin hour I’d settle for a nice pot of tea, my personal favourite is Earl Grey, but I have a few variants tucked inside the pantry as a selection is always needed for hosting such events and makes me seem rather cultured.
by Matt Allison
Matt Allison is a husband, stay at home father, urban farmer, eco advocate, closet designer, photographer, designated household cook, writer and blogger at www.imnojamieoliver.com.