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entertaining tips

Lifestyle

How to set an Insta-worthy Christmas table

19th December, 2020

If you’re going to pop your Christmas table on the ‘gram, you may as well go all out and make it look amazing. However it can be hard to know where to start when faced with a blank table to dress. Liz Elton and Lisa Featherby from food and entertaining website Eatable says it’s all about thinking outside the box (they also shared their tips for a great Christmas menu earlier in the week), and knowing the simple design tricks that can elevate a table from so-so to stunning. Here they share their tips for how to set a Christmas table without blowing the budget.

What are your tips for dressing a table without spending a fortune?

Lisa: If you focus on a a beautiful centrepiece you can bring in everyday crockery and glassware to keep costs down. Covering white plates with a little garland or napkin for each person, doesn’t require you to get that crafty. It could be a simple napkin with a cherry, or bonbon on top.

You can cover any table with a tablecloth – even a fold-out table can become beautiful if covered, just by shopping at a good fabric store. Buy a large piece of the best linen you can afford, and with some Velcro hemming tape, iron up the edges and you’ll spend a fraction of the price. I recently bought some beautiful Italian pink linen off the roll for $39 a metre, which would retail as a tablecloth for well over $300.  

I love to bring in tapered candles for later to add height on the table, plus a Christmas-y element like a wire fairy light mixed in is great, or even a bowl or feature plate of summer produce in the middle of the table adds interest. 

Another idea I love is to go mismatched, so when your plates don’t match, make it a thing—choose your colour palette (this year I’m loving reds, pinks and peachy tones), then ask your friends or family to loan you all the plates and glasses they have in that colour spectrum (reds can range from dark to light) and just go crazy with it.

You’d be surprised what you can find also at places like Target and Kmart, such as paper garlands for the table. They cost next-to-nothing, then spend what you have on a big floral centrepiece in your chosen colour palette and scatter around some self-made confetti from metallic paper for a bit of festive fun. It’s always helpful to create a mood board on Pinterest, too before sourcing things, to help you track down and cost everything beforehand.

What are some trends you’re seeing when it comes to Christmas entertaining this year?

Liz: Coloured glassware is huge at the moment—I love mixing shapes and colours for a really vibrant table setting. Sculptural candles are also a big trend at the moment—slightly quirky, they are a nice change from more traditional candles. Maison Balzac and Tony Assness are my go-to for fun candles.

What are some easy things people can do when it comes to the food/drinks that makes a big impact?

Lisa: I’d suggest investing in a big wine bucket that can hold a few bottles at a time, particularly bottles of Champagne. Have a tray of glasses to the side and let people help themselves. This makes drinks easy to pour, but also can become a bit of a feature in itself. A jug of iced water that has some fruit or mint leaves added with a stack of water glasses to the side can also be a nice touch.

What are some entertaining trends you feel are a little bit done, and what can people do instead?

Liz: Rosemary can be beautiful on a Christmas table setting, however I have seen it a lot. I prefer sprigs of an Australian native such as Eucalyptus to make the table look a little more modern.

There is a tendency to make everything very neutral and tonal, however colour is making a big comeback—pops of bright colour are so fun and impactful—and so fitting for our hot climate. Dinosaur Designs do colour so beautifully – and bright paper napkins are an easy and cost-effective way to add a pop of colour without investing in expensive new pieces.

Piles of Christmas baubles on a table are an easy solution to make a table look festive, however perhaps a little old-fashioned. Instead, try a mix of vases in different sizes filled with florals, greenery and natives – play with colour and scale for maximum impact.

Lifestyle

From snacks to sides: your stress-free Christmas entertaining guide

17th December, 2020
Image: Eatable

With Christmas just around the corner, our thoughts are quickly turning to the day itself and what we’ll be serving up to our nearest and dearest. While a feast is a delightful prospect, actually getting there is another story. For many of us, it can be a stressful experience trying to decide what to serve, with the daunting prospect of having to decide everything from nibblies to desserts and every morsel in between.

But as with most things, it always helps to have a little expertise on hand to help make it a little easier (and decidedly less scary). Which is where Liz Elton and Lisa Featherby, co-founders of food and entertaining site, Eatable come to the rescue. Both are alumni from Australia’s leading food, wine and travel bible, Gourmet Traveller (creative director and food director, respectively) so it’s no understatement to say they live and breathe all that goes into throwing a successful soiree.

Here, Liz and Lisa share their tips for everything from their go-to Christmas dessert to what drinks you need to have on hand and the must-haves on every table. (And stayed tuned later this week for their top tips on how to dress a festive table that will seriously impress.)

What are the must-haves for a successful Christmas spread?

Lisa: Condiments! We’ll be talking about the best condiments right up to the last minute on Eatable before Christmas. As long as you’ve ordered your protein—ham, turkey, seafood or whatever you’ve chosen, you can jazz it up with lots of side condiments for people to pick and choose their own adventure. 

Liz: I can’t go past a charcuterie platter. If lunch or dinner is delayed for whatever reason, it will tide everyone over until the main meal is ready. If everything else goes wrong, you can’t lose by keeping everyone’s glasses topped up with a chilled sparkling or Champagne.

What are some easy things people can do when it comes to the food/drinks that makes a big impact?

Lisa: I’d suggest investing in a big wine bucket that can hold a few bottles at a time, particularly bottles of Champagne. Have a tray of glasses to the side and let people help themselves. This makes drinks easy to pour, but also can become a bit of a feature in itself. A jug of iced water that has some fruit or mint leaves aded with a stack of water glasses to the side can also be a nice touch.

What are your favourite go-to dishes at Christmas?

Lisa: Trifle always features in some form for me, as I’m a big fan of summer fruit. Make a jelly, top with a flavoured cream or custard and lots of fruit. Buy a pannetore or pandoro and rip that into pieces into a bowl before scooping in the trifle. The yeasty flavour and spice of pannetore is one of my favourite Christmas flavours.

I love seafood, too. I’m usually keen to see some kind of seafood element over Christmas, and often served cured trout and oysters.

Classic roast pork and crackling is great and I love that with a light shaved fennel salad, or duck fat roasted potatoes if we want to be indulgent. 

What are your recommendations for great drinks to serve on Christmas Day?

Lisa: Bubbles are obviously key to get started, and Alexander Kirkwood, who is the head sommelier at Aria, has given Eatable his top picks for sparkling wines that he’s tasted this year.

I’d choose a brut (dry) style to start, or even a good pét-nat (short for pétillant naturel), as these can be quite interesting. Have a good mix of interesting and classic wines ready to go with the main feast, too. Make sure you know the wine weight so you can stagger them out correctly, starting with aromatic whites, then moving into a more textural white like a chardonnay or Chablis, and then if you choose to serve red, try chilling it first if it’s a hot day. 

With dessert, Moscato di Asti is always a winner – or you can come back to the sparkling, which is perfect with pavlova or trifle to finish – a demi-sec for a little more sweetness, or a saignée or rosé for something pretty. A new trend we’re seeing is low-alcohol wines, so if you want to include some of these, the alcohol volume doesn’t have to be high. 

Apart from that, there are a huge amount of great vermouths out there, so a Christmas Spritz could be a nice celebratory drink to start with – you can make these non-alcoholic, too – I love a classic Americano with Campari, Maidenii sweet vermouth and soda, but you could serve vermouth and soda and include some festive aromatics, like a fresh bay leaf or a slice of orange peel. Make sure you have plenty of ice, too, stock up well beforehand so you don’t run out halfway through the day.

Liz: My family doesn’t drink alcohol, so I always make a big jug of non-alcoholic punch. I add fresh wedges of stone-fruit such as peach and basil or mint to a fresh juice and soda water, mixed with a non-alcoholic spirit and lots of ice. Seedlip do some refreshing, non-alcoholic spirits that you can make great non-alcoholic cocktails with as well. I have just discovered NON – a gorgeous non-alcoholic drink that is perfect for summer and special occasions. P&V in [Sydney’s] Newtown have a great selection of non-alcoholic spirits and shrubs.

Make the most of Australia’s beautiful summer fruits when it comes to dessert
Image: Eatable
What are some great entrees/mains/desserts to serve that are easy but delicious?

Lisa: I just love a glazed ham. There’s nothing to it as the work has already been done for you—all you have to do is find the right glaze to finish it. I’m a big fan of pineapple, brown sugar, golden rum and spices. We love curing a side of trout as it’s very easy to do and can be prepped a few days in advance and served cold, which is great for a hot Christmas day. A simple sauce like a classic mignonette for a platter of oysters over lots of ice is so easy to do. And if you want something that requires no time at all, a store-bought pannetore or pandoro can be turned into a stunning dessert just by adding a dollop of ice cream and some peaches roasted with some brown sugar and red wine.

What are your suggestions for guests to snack on when they arrive?

Lisa: A bowl of spiced nuts is always nice. You can buy raw nuts and roast them with some spices and salt. I love to make a pate around Christmas, and this can be done a couple of days ahead and served straight from the terrine mould. Or for something quite easy, you can make a smoked trout pate—simply buy some smoked trout and flake it, then whip it up with some creme fraiche as a quick and easy dip served with crackers. 

Lifestyle

How to be a great hostess

18th October, 2016

Myerkate-69

A unique table setting such as this gorgeous one from a Myer event I attended can really set the scene for your next get together

 

I love entertaining and enjoy having people over for a casual weekend BBQ to an intimate dinner party. I’ve also hosted a number of different events for various brands like this one and love playing hostess. Over the years of attending and hosting events, here’s what I’ve learnt about ensuring that any soiree is a success…

Make sure your guests are comfortable

You have to ensure that you gauge what the crowd is going to be like and make it a really comfortable experience from there. I find the more relaxed your guests are the better time they will have. When we have people over at home for example they can have their shoes off so they feel more at home.

Don’t over commit yourself

There’s nothing more stressful than hosting an event only to find that you’re spending all your time in the kitchen trying to prep food. If you’re going to feel stressed preparing an elaborate meal than just don’t do it. For me, I can only cook for a small number of people so if I find it’s a big group I would get it catered or just buy something that can easily be prepared because it’s too overwhelming for me. I’d rather keep the meal relatively simple and enjoy my guests’ company.

You also don’t want to spend your whole time in the kitchen, not only because I’m sure you don’t particularly want to miss the fun by doing that but I always feel when I go to someone’s place and they’re slaving away in the kitchen I feel I have to go help. By doing this you’ll end up having a dinner party where everyone is just working away. It’s not exactly the kind of relaxing and enjoyable evening I’m sure you wanted your guests to have!

Always have food ready to go

As soon as people arrive I always have food available. Even a simple cheese platter for example can help get an event off to a great start as your guests aren’t waiting around (possibly starving!) as they wait for you to finish prepping food. I always like it when I go to an event and you can sit down straight away and eat.

Be attentive

Maintain an eagle like watch over your guests to ensure that no one’s glass is ever empty or no one’s missing out on a particular dish. It’s your job to ensure that everyone is fed and well hydrated.

Prep things in advance

If I’m having people over I make sure I don’t leave everything to the last minute. I’ll try and do prep bit by bit so on the day I feel organised and I’m just pulling together the finishing touches. If there’s anything you can do in advance such as preparing salads for a BBQ the day before or whipping up dessert for a dinner party a few days earlier and popping it in the freezer until the event then do it. I find the less I actually have to do on the day the better.

Pay attention to detail

I always have candles burning in my home when I’m hosting an event as I find it helps to build a really cosy atmosphere. Also, I’ll pop a vase of flowers on the table to give the room a little ambience.

Before people arrive I’ll also make sure that I’ve got all the cutlery and crockery in its place so I’m not rushing around trying to set the table. Being a calm hostess is all in the prep!

Think outside the box

I always try to think of different ways to give an event a unique spin. For example if I were to have a dinner party I’d often consider doing a theme. I may do an Italian feast where each course is an Italian dish paired with Italian wines to really amp up the festive atmosphere. It’s just about elevating the event into something different to make your guests feel special.

What are some of your favourite entertaining tips?