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The Secret to the Perfect Dinner Party Menu

The Secret to the Perfect Dinner Party Menu


Autumn dinner party

Image source: Pinterest.



Do Not Prioritise Food Over Your Guests


Arriving for dinner to find the host knee deep in fanciful ingredients and sweating profusely is perhaps not the ideal way to begin an evening.


You were keen to talk about your new job/holiday/whatever but your host is too busy yabbering about how the city-wide trawl necessary to procure the ingredients has left him/her woefully short of time to prep the feast of obscure middle east origin.


Being asked to help yourself to the wonderful artisan gin and tonic may soften the blow, but not when you learn there hasn’t been time to make ice. And, oops, your host forgot to get lemons.


Still, there’s comfort at the bottom of your third glass. Mainly derived from the effects of the alcohol undermining the hunger.


Your host is now in an almighty froth and the yabbering has moved on to how ‘it looked so easy on the TV,’ and the prospect of ever reaching the eating and chatting part of the evening is distinctly remote.


Any of this sound familiar?


If you’ve ever been the host – or the guest – in a scenario like this, then you’ll be keen to avoid a sequel.


The Good Host


The key is blindingly simple. Preparation. Do not under any circumstances be tempted to make anything at all that puts you at the stove once your guests have arrived.


Many cookbooks are written by restaurant chefs, their recipes rely on last minute pan shaking action. And that’s fine because no one expects them to do anything else.


You as host are expected to take coats, pour drinks, entertain and eat with your guests.


Which brings us to the other key to the perfect dinner party menu. Your friends have come to see you – and each other.


The food is not the main event. Yep, you read right.


Don’t get me wrong. The food should be good. You can show off a little. The menu below has a little wow factor.


But it doesn’t matter how good the food is. If the host is in torment, or absent from the table for half the meal, then you have greatly reduced the chances of a good time being had by all.


Face it. Your guests will probably have forgotten exactly what they ate a short while after. However, they are likely to remember if they had a good time or not.


So, plan a menu you can prepare well in advance. Aim to impress your guests on the evening but don’t pitch it at ‘a meal to remember.’ We have Michelin Star restaurants for this.


And if you can’t think of a menu that fits the bill, then please, steal ours. Here’s one we made earlier…..



The Perfect Autumn Dinner Party Menu

Chestnut and Pancetta Salad

Stuffed Lamb with Lavender

Half-moon Roast Squash

Canterbury Apple Tart




Chestnut and Pancetta Salad


This is an oldie and a goldie. From Nigella’s first – and, best – book. How to Eat. I’ve adapted it a little to follow the prep in advance principle.


Chestnut and Pancetta Salad

Image source: Pinterest.



For 6-8:


400g mixed salad leaves

400g vacuum-packed chestnuts

225g slab pancetta (or lardons or cubetti di pancetta)

4tbsp olive oil

2tsp olive oil

1tsp Dijon mustard

1tsp sherry wine vinegar


Cover two large serving dishes with the salad. Put the 2 teaspoons of oil in a pan and put it on the heat. Cut the rind off the pancetta and add that to the pan to render the fat; give it about four minutes.


While that’s going on, chop the pancetta into cubes or squat strips and then toss in the pan as well. In about four minutes these, too, should have given off a lot of their fat and have become dark golden in bits and crisp. If you are using ready cubed lardons, then you will obviously be dispensing with the rind-rendering fandango.


Add the chestnuts and toss them in the hot fat with the pancetta. Don’t worry about these breaking, as they inevitably will. I actually prefer it if the chestnuts are slightly rubbly, in two or three bits each.


When these are warmed through, a matter of a minute or so, remove them and the pancetta with a spatula or slotted spoon and set aside in a bowl.


Off the heat, stir the mustard and the remaining olive oil into the bacony fat. Mix well and keep stirring and scraping as you add the sherry vinegar. Decant into a jug.


Just before your guests are ready to eat scatter the pancetta and chestnuts over the salad leaves. Pour over the dressing, toss deftly and serve.



Stuffed Lamb with Lavender


I’ve made this Sarah Raven recipe twice now and it’s the most delicious way I’ve ever cooked lamb.


It takes a little prep early in the day to make the stuffing and squidge it into the lamb but it’s essentially a long, slow roast that leaves you free to get on with other things.


Stuffed Lamb with Lavender



For 6-8:


1 boned leg of lamb

Olive oil

Bunch lavender

2 garlic cloves, sliced

Good bunch hay, washed under cold running water

2 glasses white wine

Salt and black pepper


For the stuffing:


150g medium couscous

250ml good lamb or vegetable stock, boiling

2shallots, chopped

50g raisins, soaked for a few minutes in warm water

50g toasted pine nuts

5-6 lavender heads, finely chopped

Flat-leaf parsley, chopped

1 lemon, grated zest

salt and black pepper


Preheat the oven to 200°C.

To make the stuffing, put the couscous into a mixing bowl and pour over the boiling stock, whisking with a fork to break up any lumps. Cover with a tea towel and put to one side for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.


Sweat the shallots until soft and translucent. Once the couscous is ready, add the shallots and the remaining ingredients, mix well and season with salt and freshly ground pepper.


Stuff the cavity of the boned leg with the couscous mixture and tie it into a good shape.


Smear the surface of the lamb with olive oil, season really well and then make a dozen or so cuts in the skin of the lamb with a sharp knife and push into each incision a short lavender head and a sliver of garlic.


Make a nest of the washed hay in a casserole dish and put in the lamb.


Pour over the wine, cover and roast the lamb for 20–25 minutes per 450g plus 25 minutes, and remove the cover for the last 15 minutes to brown the joint.


Lift the lamb out of the casserole, cover with foil and then a tea towel, and allow to rest while you strain the juices into a small saucepan and boil to reduce a little.


You can do this well ahead. Then carve at the table. The meat doesn’t need to be piping hot. Just reheat the juices and pour a little over the meat.



Half Moon Roast Squash


This couldn’t be easier. You don’t even need to peel the squash.


Roast Squash

Image source: Pinterest.


For 6-8:


2 Uchi Kuri, or Butternut Squash, cut into half moons

Olive Oil

2tsp fennel seeds

Pinch of chilli flakes



Preheat the oven to 200°C.


Simply pour a glug of olive oil over the squash. Scatter the fennels seeds and chilli flakes over the squash. Season and roast for around 40 mins.


I tend to pop the squash in the oven 10 minutes or so before I serve the starter.



Canterbury Apple Tart


I like to think Mary Berry, whose recipe this is, has thrown a few successful dinner parties in her time. So it seems utterly appropriate to include her apple tart as the seasonal finale.


Canterbury apple tart

Image source: Pinterest.



For the pastry:

100g butter, cubed

200g plain flour

25g icing sugar, sifted

1 egg, beaten


For the filling:

4 eggs

200g caster sugar

2 lemons, rind and juice only, grated

100g butter, melted

2 large Bramley apples (about 350g), peeled

2 dessert apples, peeled and thinly sliced

25g demerara sugar



If making the pastry by hand, rub the butter into the flour and icing sugar until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.


Stir in the beaten egg and bring together to form a dough. This can also be done in a food processor.


Chill for about 30 minutes. Roll the dough out on a floured surface and line a round 28cm/11in (3.5cm/1½in deep) flan tin. Form a lip around the edge. Chill for a further 30 minutes while making the filling.


Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6.


To make the filling, beat the eggs, caster sugar, lemon rind and juice together in a large mixing bowl. Stir in the warm melted butter. Coarsely grate the Bramley apples directly into the mixture and mix well.


Remove the tart from the fridge and spread the runny lemon mixture over the base. Level the surface with the back of a spoon and arrange the dessert apple slices around the edge, overlapping. Sprinkle over the demerara sugar.


Put on a heavy baking tray and bake in the oven for about 40-50 minutes until the centre feels firm to the touch and the apples are tinged brown.


I make this earlier in the day before I put the lamb in the oven. It’s delicious cold. However if you want to serve it warm, you can pop it back in the oven to warm slightly before serving with Crème Fraiche or Ice cream.


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