Winter dinner parties can be luxurious without being expensive. Look for warm vibrant colours in settings and food to keep the mood of comfort.
Make the table look inviting for a dinner party and you immediately turn the occasion into something special. Guests notice attention to detail and can attractively arranged table will make them feel that you have taken care.
Start With China
Let your china dictate the style of the setting and you will find that the other tableware and decorations fall into line naturally. Be consistent don't mix earthy pottery with cut glass and lace napkins and choose a centerpiece that fits in with all the rest. Simple fruit or flowers, chosen t match china or cloth, are always effective or you could be more opulent and go for a cluster of candles or huge dish of candied fruit .
The sugar-encrusted limes, nectarines and apples make a true feast of subtle colour, heaped in their patterned bowl and gently echoing the shades of the oriental cloth. Frosting fruit is very easy just paint with beaten egg white, sprinkle on caster sugar and shake off excess.
The table setting shown opposite is a perfect example of an idea for cozy winter evenings, where the accessories take their lead from the exotic pattern and rich colours of the china. The cloth is deep shade of claret picked out from the china, and reds and purples feature again in the superb harvest of fruit spilling over the centre. Polished red apples, the darkest of grapes and, in bright contrast a pineapple are intertwined with greenery to make a scene that is strongly.
Lighting is important for atmosphere. The soft glow of oil lamps or the flicker of candles are more appropriate in settings such as these than harsher light would be. But don't be too discreet guests need to see each other as well as what they are eating.
Another setting that is invitingly warm and friendly is shown in picture. The wealth of lively colour and design comes from the clever use of inexpensive Indian cotton bedspreads made into curtains, pelmet and wall-hangings. The theme is taken up again on the table, which is completely covered with more Indian fabric, this time with a neater, smaller pattern. Yet another pattern appears on the napkins and the cinnamon china, and red wine glasses all contribute to the feeling of density and richness. It's a stunning effect that looks lavishly expensive but could in fact be achieved on a very slender budget.
Food-The Finer Points
Most of the lunchtime recipe suggestions . would be equally suitable for dinner. Some people prefer not to eat too heavy a meal late in the evening, so bear this in mind when planning the menu and deciding on the number of courses. You may want to include one or two more elaborate dishes if the party is to be fairly formal, but on the whole it's better and much easier on the nerves to stick to simple things you know you can do well.
Clever presentation makes all the difference between a dish that looks dull and one that looks interesting and appetizing. Simple garnishes and decorations don't take long to organize. Think beyond chopped parsley and strategically-placed swirls of cream how about buttered crumbs, crumbled chestnuts or chopped hard-boiled egg on green vegetables; a light dusting of paprika or Parmesan on cheesy dishes; prettily cut tomatoes or mushrooms in salads; single frosted grapes; or even frosted flowers on desserts pies richly glazed and intricately decorated with crescents of leftover pastry? None of them takes much effort or costs a fortune but they will give your food a professional look that is worth cultivating.
You can serve fruit and a cheeseboard instead of dessert before dessert or after dessert. The choice is yours and one of the nicest things about leisurely dinner parties is that your guests can chat idly into the night, nibbling on slivers of cheese for as long as they can stay awake.
Cheese needs to be served in the peak of condition, s bear this in mind if you shop well in advance of the party. Some soft cheeses like Brie are only at their best for a short time. Always take cheese out of the fringe and unwrap it an hour or more before serving. Chilled cheese loses much of its flavour and needs to be brought to room temperature to be fully appreciated.
A good cheeseboard will have a fair selection of different types of cheese. Choose a strong-flavoured Cheddar to contrast with a milder CAE Philly, add a blue cheese like Stilton, a softer variety such as Camembert and perhaps a cheese with herbs or one made from goat's milk. Serve bread and biscuits, butter, and as an optional extra, a jug of crisp, with its green frilly leaves.
ROGNONS SAUTÉS TURBIGO
15 lambs' kidneys
26 pickling onions
175 g (6 oz) butter
350g (12 oz) mini pork sausages
350g (12 oz) button mushrooms, halved
45 ml (3 level tbsp) flour
10-15ml (2-3 tsp) tomato paste
45ml (3 tbsp) sherry
600ml (1 pint) beef stock
2 bay leaves
salt and pepper
6 slices white bread
chopped fresh parsley to garnish
Skin the kidneys cut them in half lengthways and remove the cores. Pour boiling water over the onions, leave them 2-3 minutes then drain and skin them. Heat a large frying pan with 25g (1 oz) butter. Cook the sausages until they are brown on all sides and remove them from the pan. Wipe the pan clean, add 75g (3 oz) butter and cook the onions and mushrooms over a brisk heat for 3-4 minutes, shaking the pan. Add to the sausages. Add the remaining butter and when it is foaming put in the kidneys and sauté briskly for about 5 minutes until they are evenly coloured. Add them to the sausages. Strain the fat and return it to the pan. Stir the flour tomato paste, sherry and stock into the juices. Bring to the boil stirring all the time. Add the bay leaves seasoning and sausage and kidney mixture. Cover and simmer for 20-25 minutes.
Trim the bread into small triangles. Fry in oil until they are golden brown. rain well and serve around the kidneys. Garnish with parsley scattered on top.
ORANGE SYRUP SPONGE
60ml (4 tbsp) golden syrup
3 medium orange
125g (4 oz) butter or block margarine
125g (4 oz) caster sugar
2 eggs beaten
125g (4 oz) self-raising flour, sifted
Butter a 1.1 litre (2 pint) pudding basin. Spoon the golden syrup into the base.
Grate the rind from 1 orange squeeze and reserve the juice. Slice the remaining oranges thinly. Press the slices on to the base and sides of the basin.
Cream together the fat and sugar until light and creamy. Add the beaten eggs a little at a time with the rind and juice. Fold in the flour.
Spoon the sponge mixture into the basin. Cover with buttered greaseproof paper. Secure tightly. Steam for about 1 1/2 hours. Unmould and serve with more warm syrup in a sauceboat, if you wish .