Sunday, April 4, 2010

A Good Friday Darlington Dinner Party

On Friday the Investment Bank where I work was closed in observation of Good Friday, so Boy and I were able to come up to Darlington during the day instead of rushing up through heavy traffic after business hours.  We decided to take advantage of the holiday by throwing an impromptu dinner party that evening, and were delighted that we were able to assemble a table of six with only a day or two's notice.

The morning after . . .

It's really quite easy to throw a small dinner party.  Even when we have a large dinner with help, we keep the menu simple and straightforward.  Since we eat out frequently, we are not interested in eating "fancy" restaurant-type food when we have friends for dinner.  We prefer home cooking.  And that's exactly what Boy and I serve our guests at Darlington House, whether at an intimate kitchen dinner or a pull-out-the-stops dinner with staff.

Because our dinner was last-minute, I didn't bother to find someone to help with serving or doing dishes.  It was entirely up to Boy and me to do all the cooking, serving, and washing up.  We therefore chose a menu that required a minimum of attention while our guests would be with us, and that could largely be prepared ahead of their arrival.

Our menu closely followed what I believe is a foolproof menu for easy entertaining in what Julia Child famously termed the "servantless household":
  1. We had a substantial spread of cheeses, breadsticks, olives, and other assorted store-bought savories for our guests; we also had carrots and hummus, and several bunches of grapes.  There was a sufficient amount of food to tide everyone over until dinner, and enough that we needed only to provide a main course and dessert at table (i.e., no salad or soup);
  2. We offered a limited number of drinks during cocktails--no more than two spirits (one clear, one brown), white wine, and a non-alchoholic beverage;
  3. For dinner we served roast chicken accompanied by roasted potatoes and shallots, and room-temperature asparagus drizzled with vinaigrette. We served a good-quality Cotes du Rhone and water;
  4. Dessert was originally planned to be fresh raspberries with mascarpone and butter cookies.  One of our guests, a fabulous baker, arrived unexpectedly with her signature heavenly coconut cake (with a nest of candy eggs on top), so we served that instead, delightedly, with the raspberries.
The most challenging aspect of the dinner was doing the shopping for the food and drink, which required stopping at several purveyors.  Not exactly an unpleasant task!

As soon as we arrived at the house Boy and I divided responsibilities.  He took on the setting and decorating of the table and dining room, whereas I agreed to prepare the food.  We thought that it would be fun to set the table colorfully, keying off the spring palette.  Boy found a purple-and-white toile tablecloth in our stacks of linens that we had never used.  Perfect!  He then set the table with green and pink plates, and amethyst glass water goblets.  Cut-glass syllabubs and salts, and small silver bowls full of foil-wrapped milk-chocolate eggs decorated the table, topped with an orchid borrowed from our drawing room.  It was a pretty, colorful table, and more whimsical and fanciful than usual for us.  Our guests loved it.

Boy divided the eggs by color into separate vessels

Meanwhile, back in the kitchen, all I had to do to get the cheeses and savories ready was to unwrap them and put them on the appropriate plates.  The carrots required rinsing and cutting up, grapes rinsing only.  I steamed the asparagus before our guests arrived, and had the chickens and potatoes and shallots prepared and ready to put in the oven upon our guests' arrival.  Boy made the vinaigrette and the sauce for the chicken.

My point in relaying this in such detail is that I would like those of my readers who are overwhelmed by the prospect of entertaining to understand that they needn't be.  Yes, assembling and preparing the food required planning and execution, as did setting the table.  But, really, the effort of putting on this dinner was not taxing.  And it needn't be as much effort as we put into it, either.  If the prospect of cooking a dinner is daunting to you, then buy prepared food and serve it to your guests.  It doesn't have to come from a fancy purveyor that is going to bankrupt your budget.  Every supermarket I know of sells roast chickens, and many have prepared food sections where it is easy to assemble a dinner party's worth of courses.  All you have to do is serve it.

My point here is to encourage all of my readers to entertain.  It is easy, and it is fun!

Oh, and if you are lucky, you just might get a return invitation from one or more of your grateful guests . . .

Photos by Reggie Darling


  1. Sounds like a fun party. Entertaining is fun and doesn't have to be stressful -- you've just proved that. Lovely table and I love the eggs as part of the centerpiece. And a great menu.

  2. All of it divine!!! Would have been throughly delighted to sit at this table and partake in the wonderful meal!

  3. Oh the yellow walls and purple tablecloth...I'm swooning.

  4. Bravo, Boy-

    Love the foil-covered eggs in goblets for decor.

    How dramatic and pretty and lovely. Five minutes and you have decor worthy of Faberge.
    cheers, DIANE

  5. Planning is the key, as you note. And if my guests are anything like me, the joy is not so much wildly extravagant food or complicated recipes, (from from it), but intelligent thoughtfulness about it and good presentation. The convivial company and being made to feel welcome ensures a good time will be had by all. Which, by the sound and look of it, was what you achieved.

  6. Impromptu is always successful- Do send down the purple toile skirt for cleaning and press- will get it back asap. pgt

  7. Agree with the others, the purple and white tablecloth is the winner of this post, although the rest sounds good too. After pgt finishes pressing it, I'll be happy to store it for you, at no charge!

    In all seriousness now, with the great weather coming up, cooking and eating outside is even less of a production, more casual and even more fun for everybody, so there really is no excuse. (think of that purple tablecloth under the trees, a funky candelabra, a roasted butterflied leg of lamb on the grill, a nice wine, a full moon and thou!...mmmm..)

  8. Reggie --

    I was reading through the menu trying to sort out what the two of you might have given up for Lent. (Salad and soup seemed unlikely.)

    And then I remembered what, a century ago, certain prosperous Episcopal churchmen used to call "The Traveling Exemption." After all, one must accommodate oneself to ones environment, yes? One wouldn't want to make a fuss, or impose special demands on ones hosts, would one?

    (Now whether this also explains their habit of scheduling trips to Jekyll Island during Lent, I couldn't possibly know.)

    Best, etc.

  9. You didn't put all your eggs in one basket.
    Table setting is lovely indeed, the foil covered eggs make it joyful. Well, I too was roasting a chicken with garlic and lemon on Friday, baked sweet potatoes, carrots, peashoots, pickles,mushrooms. Lace chocolate cookies provided by the hostess and cheesecake brought by guest plus citrus for dessert.
    After reading your posts about entertaining I took the plunge. My dinner was well appreciated and I enjoyed the leftovers.
    When you do or prepare something with all the best intentions you have success -- as per guide Reggie Darling.
    Best wishes,

  10. How lovely! And coconut cake, divine! One super useful tip I learned from my mother, a seasoned thrower of dinner parties, was to plan out in advance when everything needs to happen and how long it will take, write it on a piece of paper, (ie: 6:00 roast in, 8:00 saute mushrooms, 8:15 roast out to rest, etc.) and post somewhere you will see it in the kitchen. When you pop in, you can quickly take a look and remind yourself what needs to be done next. It saves tons of worry/preoccupation so you can enjoy your guests. And, for those who are single, deputize a good (and reliable) friend to assist with drink orders. Some friends love helping and it also helps you!

  11. The beautiful table cloth really caught my eye, I totally missed this post from April, but the linkwithin got me from aubergine to toile....

    northern light


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