By: Audrey Tanco-Uy
For me, food is at the heart of every celebration. Simply put, good food makes people happy! I work as a catering manager for our family’s business, Bizu. I handle Bizu Catering Studio. In my job, I love that I can be creative and that I get to interact with all sorts of people who have the same passion for good food and gracious entertaining.
Being a catering manager, I know that entertaining, even at home for a small group of people, can be daunting. So I have put together these simple tips to help you in throwing a simple yet classy intimate dinner at home.
1. Pick a theme that you are excited about.
It will help if it fits the mood or atmosphere of your home. Scour through magazines and the internet for inspiration and use colors that match your home’s furnishings and decor. For this article, the theme is “An Easy Evening: Light and Fresh”. I love giving titles to my dinner parties because it serves as a mantra for me while I prepare all the details and food to be served.
2. Plan the setting and the ambiance.
Floral set-ups need not be expensive or difficult. If you find a pretty ceramic pot that won’t break the bank, it is a perfect canvass for live plants. You can also use what you already have in your kitchen, or make your own. Here, I tied bamboo sticks together, spray-painted them black and glued on flowers to create a modern and edgy vibe. (Here’s a quick guide.) Bamboo sticks are available in Dangwa or you can also use cinnamon sticks. Don’t forget candles if you do not have mood lighting in your living room and aromatherapy scents. I chose a pomelo citrus candle to liven up the atmosphere and the conversation.
3. Know your guests.
Since this is just a small dinner party, it pays to know what they like and what they cannot eat. Do your research so that you do not waste time and effort preparing something that will not be eaten. For this dinner party, I am inviting my best friends over and they are not very heavy eaters. I know they eat light but tasteful food. The night will be filled with lots of laughter and will last till late in the evening.
4. Add quirky plates that match your theme.
It always pays to have a good set of dinnerware at home that you can show off and be proud of. These are good conversation pieces that add charm to the food you will lovingly prepare. For dinners at home, you do not have to be very strict with table setting. Do not worry too much about the glasses either. But as a rule, always have a designated juice glass, water glass, and wine glass (if there is wine). When it comes to stemware, have the proper red and white wine glass and pour the champagne into a flute glass. If you were to pick one wine glass, get a white wine glass, which is used more as an all-purpose wine glass. Have an ice bucket on standby. And don’t forget to buy or make ice!
“Since this is just a small dinner party, it pays to know what your guests like and what they cannot eat.”
5. Have a welcome drink and an appetizer on hand.
These will make your guests feel welcomed. For a small party, fry some crisps and make fresh dips. I would recommend store-bought crisp garlic papadums to fry or some tortilla chips. For my dinner party, I served some salmon rillette, guacamole, and a warm pot of melted cheeses ala fondue that you can also find in your grocery. Use emmental and gruyere cheese and mix with wine, add a little lemon zest, melt and voila! cucumbers and lemons adorn a flute glass of sparkling lemonade as my welcome drink.
6. Start with a Salad.
A salad is always a good starter and best paired with meats. Make a mini salad bar and separate the components so that your guests can pick and choose what they would like to have. I love the combination of mangoes, avocadoes, blanched shrimps, pomelos, apples, grapes and a nice mix of mesclun and vegetable sprouts. All of these are available at the grocery or the market near you. Sprouts are often found in organic markets. They add a zing to the lettuce mix. Examples are arugula sprouts, spinach sprouts, broccoli sprouts and alfalfa sprouts. The flavors are unique and make for a not-your-usual lettuce salad. For a simple fruit vinaigrette dressing, I would use some mangoes, and blend with olive oil, apple cider vinegar or balsamic vinaigrette, seasoned with salt and pepper. You can use your favorite store-bought salad dressings too! Put them in nice containers like pretty bowls for added charm.
7. Think of your Main Dish.
A good, well-cooked and seasoned meat is at the heart of a good dinner table. For my dinner party, I cooked fish as it is light and easy to have for dinner. My favorite thing to cook is a light Dover Sole Meuniere which is a light white fish that is delicate in flavor. If you cannot find Sole fillets, you can use dory fillets or tilapia fillets. Coat fish with flour and cook in a pan with butter until the butter turns brown. Add lemon, parsley and innovate by adding some capers and perhaps some shiitake mushrooms too. It is simple yet very delicious.
8. Pair with a Starch.
Include a light pasta dish to make the menu even more delectable. I love making my Prosciutto and Sundried Tomato Aglio Olio with Parmeggiano Cheese Spaghettini. In a pan, incorporate butter, garlic, olive oil and sundried tomatoes. Cook the pasta al dente. In a big bowl, toss the pasta and sauce and add sliced Prosciutto and Parmeggiano cheese. Easy!
9. Dessert and Tea.
Cakes are lovely paired with nice loose-leaf teas. Earl Grey is my favorite as it has a distinct flavor that is very aromatic and goes well with milk and sugar.
10. Make a Mocktail.
Sparkling water, squeezed lemon, simple syrup and some fresh cucumbers. Mix and add ice. Refreshing and perfect for a great evening.
11. Dress up and be pretty!
Download a playlist on Spotify and enjoy.
Photos: Audrey Tanco-Uy