Entertaining in the wine country means being flexible. Whether it’s a small group of friends, large chaotic kids party, or small intimate formal dinner, it’s all about combining fabulous friends and flavors.
Of course throwing parties with kids is an entirely different animal as the entertainment options can range from as simple as coloring sheets and play dough to extravagant hired entertainers and traveling petting zoos.
Recently while enjoying a quiet laid back casual dinner of homemade pizzas and local wine, the conversation turned to our favorite TV show, Downton Abbey. The four of us decided to throw a small intimate black tie dinner party for fellow Downton fans. We decided to do something revolutionary: have a party without kids. Us parents don’t get out much, so the thought of adult time made it more fun.
The beginning planning stages involved conversations about whether it would be white or black tie, when to send invitations and what to serve.
From the invite to the place settings, every detail was thoughtfully planned. I used Paperless Post for the invitations. I chose a formal design with a picture of a chandelier similar to the one that would decorate the party.
Having sent the invitations, it was time to plan the other details such as decorations, place settings, music and menu. Planning ahead made it such a success. For the cooking portion, I have to thank Ina Garten for her tips published in one of her fabulous cookbooks. For example, she suggested a cooking timetable. Well, when coordinating seven courses, the timetable was key. In the days before, the schedule made the little tedious tasks like unpacking crystal and silver more manageable. For the day of the party, having a written schedule took the stress out of things. Another key factor was hiring an assistant to help serve the meal and help with washing the legions of dishes left in the wake of a 7 course formal meal. (Emily – you rock!)
So, for the menu, I had a 24 pound turkey that I built the menu around.
Passed Appetizers, Bubbles & Lady Mary Cocktail
Endive with roasted garlic cream cheese and shrimp
Dates wrapped with prosciutto
Lady Mary Cocktail (bubbly, Lillet Blanc, lemon & basil) or (sprite, lemon & basil)
Mushroom sherry soup (mushrooms + sherry + shallots) with a heavy cream drizzle
herb roasted turkey, roasted garlic mashed potatoes, English peas & cherry port gravy
mixed greens with raspberry vinaigrette
cherries jubilee over ice cream (this is fun as you light it on fire)
cheese course (cheeses, dried fruit, crackers)
homemade fudge & port
As far as set-up, Emily Post was helpful in setting the scene. The detailed diagrams helped guide the European table setting required for a formal Downton evening. Admittedly though, I didn’t follow it exactly as to make things easier I put the dessert utensils on the table. (Gasp!) A sin for which I likely would have been fired or put on probation had I been working at Downton Abbey.
With most of the food ready to go, greeting guests was a pleasure! We enjoyed the flavors and libations. And, afterwards silly fun with fake mustaches (really worth a laugh). In Downton Style the men departed for cigars & scotch and a chat about all things manly. Us ladies did the same (cigars, scotch and a chat about all things girly).
Now it’s on to planning our next one. Perhaps it will be Mad Men cocktail party or a Gone with the Wind garden party.. Any ideas??