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Tips and Tricks for Entertaining over the Festive Season

I love throwing a good dinner party and I have thrown a fair few in my time. From full blown 20 people sit down dinners, to casual nights at home with good friends. And I must say, I have developed a bit of a reputation for throwing awesome dinner parties. My friends always  seem to look forward to them and never go home without a full belly, lots of laughs and feeling slightly boozed.

Which is why I thought, what a better time to share with you all my tips and tricks for entertaining at home, than during everyone's favourite time of year!

Entertaining tips

1. Choose dishes that you can prepare and cook before your guests arrive. 
When your guests arrive, you don't want to still be slaving away in the kitchen. You should be mingling and chatting and welcoming your guests. By this time, all you should really need to do is take the dishes out of the oven, dress the salads and do the finishing touches. Below I have some of my favourite dishes to make at dinner parties that I can prepare ahead of time.

2. If there aren't left overs, you haven't made enough food. 
You don't want your guests to go home hungry. You may think that everyone has eaten enough and is full, but how do you know if your guests have finished eating because they were full and not because of a lack of food? A nice idea is to buy some take away containers and send your guests home with left overs, kind of like a party bag! 

3. Know if there are any dietary requirements. 
Vegetarian, vegan, gluten free, nut allergies. It doesn't mean the whole menu needs to be catered around the dietary requirements, but make sure there are enough options for everyone.

4. Always have something ready for guests to graze on as soon as they arrive
Cheese boards and grazing plates are perfect for this. Below you will find my favourite grazing platters to make. 

5. Ask your friends to bring drinks and set up a drinks station
Throwing a dinner party can be expensive. Most guests will ask or offer to bring something.  Ask them to bring whatever they would like to drink. You can set up a drinks station with glasses, ice and ice buckets for them to put their drink in and share with everyone. A drinks station is a nice way to encourage people to get up, walk around and mingle so everyone doesn't just get stuck sitting in the same place all night. Make sure you don't forget bottle openers at your drinks station either!

6. Prepare water jugs
Make sure you have water jugs jotted around the place, at the dinner table and at the drinks station. A nice touch is to add some fresh mint leaves and slices of lemon into the water jugs. 

7. A little decoration and styling goes a long way
You don't need to go too over the top, but a few nice touches can go a long way.  Pick up some fresh flowers or greenery and dot a few small jars or vases of them around the place. I usually like to put a small flower or rosemary twig on each place setting too. Candles are also a great addition, just make sure they aren't scented, as this can ruin the taste of the food. I usually place a few tea candles in jars. 

8. Have an activity
I think its always nice to have a little activity planned for the night to make sure everyone is getting involved in the evening and having a good time. One of my favourite things to do at this time of the year is to place a piece of paper at each place setting that says "in 2016 I am grateful for.... and in 2017 I hope to achieve...." pass pens around throughout the night and ask your guests to fill this out.  After dinner and before dessert get everyone to take it in turns to read theirs out to the table. Other fun activities are secret Santa or a piñata.

My favourite dinner party dishes

Like I mentioned above, you don't want to be slaving away in the kitchen when your guests arrive. Here are some of my favourite dishes to make ahead of time. I can normally prep them all and have them in the oven cooking away, while I get myself ready. Then all I need to do when guests arrive, is dress the salads and add finishing touches. I also like to lay all the food out in the centre of the table and let everyone pass the dishes and plates around to serve themselves.

I know it's a Christmas tradition, but I don't like to make turkey. A good turkey is actually pretty hard to make and to keep moist. They dry out super easily, so there is a big chance you will over cook it or it will dry out before your guests get a chance to eat it. 

Crispy Pork Belly - This is a super easy pork belly recipe, I usually just make the pork and ditch the pears and sauce.

Fennel & Apple Slaw - I dress liberally with olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Perfect side for the Pork Belly.

Roast Veggies - You can really add any veggies you like. 

Salmon Tarator - Isn't served hot, perfect for summer nights.

Pilaf Rice - Easy way to bulk up the amount of food and make sure no one goes hungry.

Dessert - Fruit and cheese boards

Grazing boards

Cheese platters, fruit platters and grazing boards are a super quick and easy way to seriously impress! They can be served before a meal as everyone arrives and at the end for dessert.  For all you local Canberra peeps, you can get everything you need for the perfect cheese board over at Ainslie IGA - best cheese selection and deli in town! 

Top tips for a killer board. 

1. Fill the board, stack and layer it up! 

2. Don't be too pretty, throw it all on the board

3.  Make sure the cheese is accessible. Put the cheese towards the edges of the platter with nothing blocking it so its easy to cut without making a mess.

Pre-dinner 

I will usually put out an antipasto platter pre dinner and also dips with veggie sticks. On this platter you will find; firm cheeses (i.e cheddar, pecorino, manchego), salami, rockmelon wrapped in prosciutto, olives, pate, labnah cheese, blue cheese and macadamia dip, carrots, celery, beans and cherry tomatoes. 

Pre or post dinner
This dinner board can be served pre or post dinner. Sometimes I will serve it pre dinner without the chocolate, figs and muscatel grapes. Then I will just tszuj it up again with these extras and bring it out again after dinner.  The creamy cheeses, fresh and dried fruit and dark chocolate is a lovely way to round off a meal.  On this board you will find; Soft cheeses, sliced apple, dried muscatel grapes, dried figs, fig and fennel paste, strawberries and dark chocolate

Fruit board
Perfect to serve up for dessert. I know it sounds boring, but with just a few little tweeks it can be a huge hit! Make sure you get a nice colourful variety of fruit. I like to tear up mint leaves and dot over the platter and for something a little bit more special, melt up some dark chocolate and drizzle over the whole platter.  I also dip a few extra strawberries and berries in dark chocolate to place in the centre. Note* place the watermelon rinds on the outside so they are easy for your guests to grab with their hands.

And most importantly HAVE FUN! 

Images: Alicia Xyrakis, Words: Alicia Xyrakis, Yadira Galarza Cauchi

Tell us, what are your favourite tips and tricks for hosting a dinner party?

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