Entertaining should be fun, relaxing and easy. It should be about spending time with friends and family, enjoying yourself and having a great time—not about running around flustered. That being said, with a little preparation, everything from the décor to the food can be beautiful, elegant and photo-worthy.
Our new series Dining Divine is an approach to entertaining that anyone can take, whether you live in a multi-million dollar home, or a 1 bedroom apartment. It is simple, easy entertaining that covers everything from décor to food… and with a little planning, makes it as easy as possible. In each installment we will follow a theme and give you the décor, the recipes and the photos so you can recreate elements of the dinners in your own home!
For this week’s Dining Divine: Country Chic Entertaining, we all got together at my friend Jenet’s house, as she has a beautiful garden that fit perfectly with our theme.
THE DÉCOR & AMBIANCE
With Country Chic entertaining, the more muted the colors, the better. Greys, creams, silvers, lilacs, are all perfect for this rustic, yet elegant, tablescape. Don’t be afraid to mix your settings – you can alternate everything from placemats to napkins as long as the colors all coordinate.
As with most country entertaining, simple is best– keep your palette neutral, and add bits of color with flowers and food! If you have any fun pieces with some rustic texture (iron lamps, wooden cheese boards, etc) use them!
The beauty of Country Chic entertaining is that the more rustic, simple and relaxed things look, the better. We kept the flowers very straightforward—they literally took 3 or 4 minutes to prepare. I opted for creams, lilacs and greens that reminded me of the French countryside. We used a lot of leaves (I love lemon leaves) as filler, to cultivate that garden feel.
One of the ways to create ambiance and interest with flowers is to aim for different heights. Try putting different colored flowers in different vases (we have our white hydrangeas in a tall vase in the middle of the table, with a smaller vase on each side sporting purple roses) – the variation makes the tablescape a little more interesting.
MUSIC & LIGHTING
To me, music is essential for any gathering. In light of our Country Chic theme, I chose a playlist that was relaxed, jazzy and set the scene. Try Woody Allen’s iTunes playlist for a fabulous mood-setter.
One of the easiest ways to set the scene is with candles. We used two or three types of candles, to keep it interesting. Try big lamps for height, and individual candles or tea-lights for effect.
THE DRINKS & APPETIZERS
Click the titles of the food or their photos for the recipes!
A QUICK COCKTAIL
I always like to have a cocktail waiting for people when they arrive, to get them imbibing quickly, and create excitement for the meal. As most of the people attending this dinner have a bit of a sweet-tooth, Jenet and I decided to do a simple Muddled Lemon & Raspberry Vodka Champagne Cocktail. It’s one of the easiest to make, and most of it can be made in advance. Lay out your martini glasses, fill with the muddled Raspberry & Lemon Vodka and then just top with Champagne when your guests arrive! Easy, peasy.
A LITTLE NIBBLE
It’s very easy to prepare an appetizer in advance and have them ready to go as your guests settle in. Nobody likes a host who is running around cooking instead of enjoying themselves so, in this instance, preparation is key. Two of my favorite, light appetizers can be made far in advance and just popped out of the oven/fridge when you are ready. For this meal, I wanted very light, refreshing appetizers, as I knew the meal itself would be pretty heavy.
The first, Jenet’s Crab Stuffed Mushrooms, are delicious, warm and crunchy. I would show you the finished product, but Jenet’s puppy Sasha decided that he would jump up on the table and eat them all before we could snap a photo! Note to self, make sure all puppies are not left alone near the food!
Secondly, I did a simple Sliced Cucumber with Smoked Salmon & Crème Fraîche. It’s too simple to even give you a recipe– just slice some cucumbers, top with a piece of smoked salmon, a dollop of Crème Fraîche, a few chives and some pepper! It’s clean, simple and incredibly tasty.
Depending on who you’re inviting for dinner, chances are a lot of wine will be consumed. Try and make sure your bottles are near the table, with wine key nearby, so you don’t have to keep getting up and down throughout dinner.
Our theme was Country Chic, so I decided to cook a meal that is traditional, rustic, heartwarming and delicious. Because I wanted to enjoy myself and spend time with my friends, I chose items that can be prepared in advance and taken out of the oven at the perfect time.
Roasted Chicken Stuffed with Thyme & Lemons and served with Stewed Tomatoes is extremely simple, and is perfect for entertaining. It’s simple to make and both the chicken and tomatoes can be prepared far in advance. Just pop the chicken out of the oven, carve tableside (guests love that!) and enjoy!
Accompanying the Roasted Chicken, I made a dish of Crunchy, Creamy Dauphinoise Potatoes. A French staple, these potatoes are browned and crunchy on the top, and cheesy and creamy in the middle. If you have two ovens, make this at the same time as the chicken… If not, make it beforehand and then reheat for 10 minutes after you take out the chicken!
I also love to add a large salad to my meals. This Roasted Vegetable Salad with Parmesan, Pine Nuts and Apple Cider Vinaigrette is one of my favorites. Roast all of the veggies in the morning so that you don’t have to worry about them, and then either add them cold to the salad, or pop them in the microwave before tossing them in. A no brainer side dish, this salad will fill people up and go with almost any main course.
Similarly, Gougères (Gruyère Popovers) are one of my favorite additions to any meal. They can be made far in advance and they’re easy. I think guests love the added attention to detail that homemade bread adds to a meal. Plus, they’re more interesting than a bread roll and tastier than almost anything store-bought, with their crunchy outside and cheesy, slightly undercooked middle. If you don’t have 2 ovens, throw them into the oven to reheat/crisp up once you take the chicken out.
I kept the food very rustic, cozy and traditional; all of the recipes are simple to master and easy to execute. You’re not sitting nibbling on foie gras and caviar; you’re mopping up the juices from roasted meats with a delicious cheesy popover. Your guests will love the flavors but be relaxed enough to have a great time and enjoy the conversation!
DESSERTS & AFTER DINNER
I always offer my guests a dessert, because I love how it rounds out the meal and makes for more conversation. However, I know cooking appetizers, dinner AND dessert can be daunting. This Pear & Blackberry Crumble is one of the simplest desserts you can make and it’s amazing. Just prepare the fruit and the topping separately before anyone arrives. Then, sprinkle the crumble on top of the fruit as you sit down to dinner, and pop in the oven. It takes about 45 minutes to cook, so just as you are finishing up dinner, it’ll be ready!
IF IN DOUBT, THROW TOGETHER A CHEESE PLATE
This is one of my staples, as it doesn’t require much thought and is essential if you haven’t prepared a dessert (or if you just have a bunch of hungry boys who want more food later at night.) Keep a few things in your pantry that last for a while (crostinis, crackers, pesto, jars of olives, etc) and stock up on 2 or 3 cheeses and some salami just in case. Throw it onto a tray for an instant late-night crowd pleaser! If you don’t need it, you’ve got lunch for tomorrow!
And with that, our first Dining Divine is complete! Leave your comments below and let us know what you think. And, if you decide to throw one yourself– tell us about it in the comments and send us the photos! We’d love to see! Email them to firstname.lastname@example.org !