Good morning, and welcome to my pastel and white celebrational tablescape! Come in, make yourself comfy, grab some cheese or a cocktail, we’re about to talk party hosting!
When Villeroy & Bochapproached me to style a space with their gorgeous new iIt’s my matchpieces for a housewarming party, complete with recipe ideas for my ideal soirée, I knew exactly which route I was going to take – the easiest possible! And not because I’m lazy, but because I have learnt over the years not to take on too much as a host. Nobody wants a flustered/stressed-out cook when they’ve come over to socialise. Believe me, I’ve been there, you decide on something fancy, you practice it, you know the timings and then on the night everything goes wrong, something’s burning, something else mysteriously just won’t cook, people are offering to help you, they’ve taken pity on the figure of domestic woe in the kitchen! No, no, no! Especially not when you’ve either just moved into a new home, or you’ve just decorated it to become your perfect space, both of these tasks are exhausting in themselves, and if friends help to make a house home (they do), relax the atmosphere as much as possible. We had a party for 30 friends this summer in our garden and planned a perfect balance of great food with minimal fuss. It works. Of course, you want to give your guests a spread that feels special, and I promise I have that in store, but minus the stressed out host!
Planning and styling a relaxed Party
I have chosen to make the cheese board the centrepiece of our party food, everybody loves cheese, right? And not only is it the simplest thing to assemble, but with a few styling touches it can look really inviting and special too. I chose crowd pleasing cheeses such as craft cheddar, bree, Stilton, wensleydale and a vintage Red Leicester (using my gorgeous new Villeroy &Boch cheese knives, which feel great to use and are a fab investment for all celebrational cheese board opportunities). Alongside my cheese board I chose a few of my favourite tried and tested accompaniments that add a punch of flavour and variety against these creamy cheese’s but which are really simple to put together (you can find all recipes at the end of piece). To accompany my cheese, I prepared a sticky Japanese cucumber salad, za’atar roasted cauliflower with dates, and a tomato carpaccio, alongside capers, olives, sun dried tomatoes and cheese biscuits. I have decorated the room with a selection of paper fan decorations and a few gold scalloped garlands, these simple touches are perfect for bringing a sociable vibe to our setting without feeling forced, just a simple celebratory flourish.
Working with premium porcelain brand Villeroy & Boch on this brief has been such a joy. I chose items from the new tailored collection called it’s my match. Designed by some of the younger members of their in-house design team, the range is a great, really versatile, collection that manages to stay true to the recognised Villeroy & Boch style sensibility whilst feeling truly modern. I chose items in powder pink as I felt they suited the soft tones of the decor in our party room – the dining room, allowing me to create a soft, relaxed, feel. The range, which is geared towards flexibility, also comes in a beautiful jewel-like dark green, and a creamy white. I love how modern this range feels, whilst retaining the incredible detail we have come to expect from this company founded more than 200 years ago. I also love the contrast between the smooth inside of these pieces and the unglazed outer edges which as you can see (below) afford a special opportunity for personalisation.
A lovely feature of this new premium porcelain range is the polished but unglazed ceramic on the outer edge of the pieces. They provide a really nice contrast to the touch, and also allow scope for personalisation. They but can be drawn or written on in pencil and simply washed off with a sponge after use. I love the level of personalisation this affords, and although I have very little artistic abilities myself, I love the idea of a couple, or a family, inscribing them with illustrations or memos to each other, and to friends, at meal times.
One of my favourite pieces from the range are the generous sized mugs. I love the feel of the undulating details on the outside as you hold them, which contrasts beautifully with the perfectly smooth pink inners. For my party setting I have chosen to use them as indulgently large vessels for my Kaffir Lime posets (warning the portion size may best be shared!). The petal like feel of this design is reminiscent of an abstract deconstruction of a flower, mirrored in the equally pretty powder plates the mugs sit on. The contrastingly simple Uni design with its plain pink glaze adds some relief to the table and helps to make the setting feel less formal. I love how flexible this range feels, and how you can change the aesthetic of your setting according to items used.
Food & Cocktails
Having decided on a cheeseboard as my centerpiece, I wanted a cocktail that felt similarly relaxed but also a little special and party like. The Gin & Elderflower blood orange cocktails (recipe below) are just the ticket, I like to use real blood oranges in Summer and cut garnishes from them but I think they work equally well into autumn and simply substitute with juice from a carton and standard oranges to garnish. So, that’s it, my take on a relaxed house warming party for friends with appetisers that tickle your tastebuds set out upon the most gorgeous Villeroy & Boch porcelain and glasswares. Please find all recipes and serving suggestions below, enjoy!
SWEET JAPANESE CUCUMBER SALAD
2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp sesame seeds
a pinch of dried chilli flakes
Slice the cucumber very thinly, preferably using a medium setting on a mandolin.
Put the dressing ingredients in a cup: rice wine vinegar, sesame oil, soy sauce and sugar. Whisk with a fork to combine.
Place the cucumber slices in a bowl, pour dressing over them and toss to coat. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and chilli pepper flakes.
ZA’ATAR ROASTED CAULIFLOWER WITH DATES, PINE NUTS
1head cauliflower, cut into florets
4Medjool dates, pitted and diced
Place Za’atar and olive oil in a roasting pan. Add cauliflower florets and toss until they are well coated.
Cook on 180 degrees centigrade for 20 minutes (or until roasted).
Whilst the cauliflower is cooking toast your pine nuts by dry frying in a pan until they start to pick up colour and release aroma (about 1 minute).
Arrange cauliflower on plate, then sprinkle over medjool date pieces and pine nuts.
TOMATO CARPACCIO WITH SPRING ONION & GINGER (FROM OTTOLENGHI’S SIMPLE)
3cm piece ginger, peeled and roughly chopped (10g net weight)
Flaky Sea Salt
3 Spring Onions, very finely sliced
40ml sunflower oil
2 tsp good-quality sherry vinegar
400g beef tomatoes
1½ tbsp finely shredded coriander leaves
1tsp dried chilli flakes
Put the ginger and a half-teaspoon of salt in a mortar, crush to a fine paste, transfer to a bowl and toss with the spring onions.
Heat the sunflower oil in a small pan on a low flame until just warm. Pour over the spring onion and ginger mix, stir in a teaspoon of vinegar.
Lay the tomato slices on a large platter, slightly overlapping them as you go, season with a quarter-teaspoon of salt, drizzle over the remaining vinegar. Spoon the salsa evenly over the top, scatter over the coriander and chili, finish with a drizzle of olive oil.
KAFFIR LIME POSSETS (FROM SWEET BY OTTOLENGHI)
600ml double cream
12 fresh kaffir lime leaves, bruised (gently bash with a rolling pin or with a mortar and pestle)
4 strips shaved lime zest, plus ¾ tsp finely grated zest, to serve
140g caster sugar
A pinch of salt
3 tbsp lime juice
Tip the cream into a medium saucepan and add the lime leaves and shaved lime skin. On a medium-high heat, bring to a very gentle simmer, then immediately take off the heat and set aside for 30 minutes to infuse.
Add the sugar and a tiny pinch of salt to the cream, return to a medium-high heat and bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Leave to cook, stirring, for one to two minutes, until the cream bubbles up almost to the rim of the pan, then strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a large measuring jug.
Stir in a tablespoon of lime juice – the cream will thicken quickly at this point – then pour into six 11cm-diameter ramekins. Refrigerate for at least four hours, to set.
To serve, sprinkle with lime zest and finish with a piece of fruit of your choice (I’ve used blackberries here) and a shortbread biscuit.
GIN COCKATIL WITH BLOOD ORANGE AND ELDERFLOWER
1ozgin (I use Portobello Gin for this)
3/4ozSt. Germain (you can substitute this elderflower liquor for elderflower cordial, the drink will be sweeter)
Blood orange juice
Slice of orange to decorate
In a serving glass, combine gin & St. Germain. Pour in blood orange juice til your glass is just over half way full, top with soda water. Garnish with blood orange slices (or standard oranges). Serve immediately.