The Fall Sommalier – entertaining like a seasoned pro
Entertaining in the great indoors
Fall is probably my favourite season so when the leaves start dropping with the temperature, I reluctantly pack away the outdoor stuff and start planning to entertain indoors. However when the temperatures cool to a chill, everyone tends to go into hibernation mode. For me the best way to stay in touch with friends is to lure them over for a delicious, home-cooked meal. Here are some ideas to shine as a host when entertaining this season.
Create a theme
To me, a theme is more like a roadmap to keep me focused and organized. I tend
to start a million things at once leaving me feeling chaotic and somewhat grumpy. This is why my husband dreads dinner parties. However, I’ve discovered that having a theme helps and will impact all my decisions on everything from my décor to my menu and help me keep my sanity and my marriage.
Show off your style
I’m not the most savvy when it comes to décor so Fall is the perfect season to entertain since I can use nature’s own offerings for decorative ideas. For example, I cut the stems out of small pumpkins and place tea lights on top. I prefer these to tapers because it allows me to see my guests and really gauge what they think of my cooking! No one can hide at my table!
Since wine is one of the most important staples to the evening, try cleaning out a large pumpkin and filling it with ice for a festive ice bucket. You can also gather some oak leaves to spread across the table and under candles and trays. Just be careful – nothing dampens a dinner party quicker than a small-scale forest fire!
Choose your menu
This is the time of year for the more warming and jewel coloured autumn harvest foods like beets, carrots, pumpkins, potatoes and squash. Our local market is full of gnarly looking veggies that are going to be on the menu. When it comes to organic produce, ugly equals tasty.
Cube up these veggies and throw in some spices and garlic. Toss in a pan and roast in the oven. The veggies are so fresh that they don’t need much spice. Their own, natural flavour does all the heavy lifting in this dish.
Serve veggies with a mouth-watering dish of local lamb that is both simple and impressive. Rosemary and thyme and a balsamic reduction make for a perfectly balanced taste.
I love creating a relaxed atmosphere for my guests which means candles and a dimly lit room. It also hides any imperfections like all the spots I forgot to dust. And most importantly, don’t forget the music. Music should be background noise only. I prefer jazz or vintage inspired tunes. With regular guests, I suggest everyone take a turn bringing their favourite dinner playlist.
And the most important step – vino!
The rule of thumb used to be that certain wines went with certain dishes. To me, wine pairs with any dish as long as it hits all the notes you like. So how do you choose your wine list?
Some people turn their noses up at certain vineyards so why not let your guests be the sommelier? A blind wine tasting is an entertaining and enlightening way to experience some new wines. They’ll often be surprised by their choices. I never worry about the left overs as wine never goes to waste in my home. In fact, it barely has time to breathe!
Blind taste test
- Pick your theme (Ontario, Reds, Whites, etc.).
- Put 4-5 glasses in front of each place setting depending how many you’re going to try.
- Disguise your wines – wrap them in burlap bags to make them feel seasonal.
- Have something to cleanse your palette in between tastings.
Take notes as you taste and ask your guests to choose their favourite. Unveil each wine at the end. These blind tastings usually reveal some shocking discoveries for my guests.
- Cave Springs 2013 Pinot Noir
- Tawse – 2011 Laundry Cabernet Franc
- 2013 Inniskillen Niagara Estate Series Cabernet-Merlot
- Huff Estates – 2013 Gamay
By the end of the evening your guests will be left with a lasting impression of your impressive culinary and sommelier skills and you will be left with the smug satisfaction of pulling off the perfect dinner party.