How To: Plan A Menu For Your Next Long Lunch and Dinner Party At Home

A couple of weeks ago my friends and I got together to celebrate the new season and enjoy a long Winter Lunch under a canopy of evergreen trees rustling ever so gently in the breeze. Coming together each season at a beautiful location, enjoying the delights of a cosy winter menu at a stunning table setting, and indulging in a few glasses of wine while catching up on all the latest, is my version of heaven. Luckily it doesn't get too cold here in Queensland during the cooler months, so unless it's raining, dining outdoors is always possible.

Celebrating a new season is always fun, and I was tasked of putting the winter themed menu together. This is my favourite part! I absolutely LOVE creating a menu. Our theme is always seasonal, and seeing as it's winter, I wanted to create a menu that was warm, cosy and comforting. Here are my tips for planning a menu.

 

How To Plan A Menu For Your Next Long Lunch And Dinner Party

 

Find out dietary requirements

It is always prudent to find out if any of your friends have dietary requirements, such as allergies and preferences. There is nothing worse than having a meaty BBQ when one of your friends is a vegetarian or a pescatarian - no one wants that to happen. If you there are any non-dairy and non-gluten guests, I absolutely make sure this is taken into account across the whole menu so no one feels left out. It's best to find out as early as possible because you'll be busy planning a beautiful menu and you don't want to have to change it a week out from the event...if you can help it.

 

Select the theme

Having a theme is really important as it guides the cuisine and menu. Our long lunches are seasonal, so the theme this season is winter - rustic, minimalist, cosy. But for you it could be Christmas, an Italian summer, an Indian birthday, or a backyard BBQ. Once you   have your theme, it's time to choose the cuisine. 

 

Choose the cuisine

Now that you have chosen the theme, it's time to hone in on the cuisine you want to cook. Will you be cooking Italian, Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, French, Scandinavian or modern Australian? You can choose one or many, but I find it keeps things simple for you if you choose one (maybe two). Remember to check in wiht your friends; if you plan on creating an Italian feast but one of your friends doesn't enjoy pasta or pizza, you may need to think about switching the cuisine. For our Winter Lunch I chose to cook modern Australian using native ingredients, but there is definitely an Italian and French influence as well. 

 

Planning the menu

A couple of weeks before your long lunch or dinner party, start planning your menu. Look at your favourite cookbooks for inspiration and food magazines to get a feel for the cuisine you have chosen. From my experience, choosing simple recipes that have minimal preparation time but are also packed with flavour is absolutely essential. I always try to create recipes that can be made in advance so I'm not having to cook everything on the day. You do want to be able to enjoy yourself too, you know.

Depending on how many people are attending, I always make sure I have at least a meat dish and/or a fish dish, a salad, a vegetable dish and a carbohydrate dish. And lets not forget dessert! I always like to make something fresh and fruity ahead of time, so if it's winter you'll often see me baking something in the oven, but when it's summer I'll be making something cool that can be kept in the fridge, like this Lemon & Native Lime Macadamia Tart.

 

Track your spending

When I plan each dish, note down the cost of ingredients and avoid overspending where possible. I like to think about the cost of the big ticket items like meat and fish. Feeding a group of people can get expensive, so think about the cut of meat or if it's more cost effective to cook a whole fish as opposed to individual fillets. For our Winter Lunch, I could have chosen to cook beautiful fillets of steak, but as I was feeding 7 friends and would have to be managing individual cooking times per person, I decided to cook lamb shanks (which is a very reasonable cut of meat) and cook them over 4 hours in the slow cooker. All I had to do was season and sear the meat, and let it cook slowly in softened garlic and onion, red wine, vegetable stock and fresh herbs.  

 

Don't spend too much time in the kitchen

When you plan your menu, also take into consideration how long it will take to prepare each dish and how much of the preparation and cooking you can do beforehand. Your goal is to (obviously) cook really delicious food, but you want to also avoid spending to much time in the kitchen otherwise you'll miss out on all the conversation and banter with your friends. 

 

How To Plan A Menu For Your Next Long Lunch And Dinner Party How To Plan A Menu For Your Next Long Lunch And Dinner Party

How To Plan A Menu For Your Next Long Lunch And Dinner Party How To Plan A Menu For Your Next Long Lunch And Dinner Party

 

As a sample, this is how I usually plan and create a menu:

Starters:

  • For a traditional sit down Starter, there are a huge range of options. Sometimes you'll find me making Homemade Focaccia with various dips, infused oils, dried herbs and salty butter. For inspiration, take a look at this delicious Potato, Rosemary & Garlic Oil Focaccia I made a little while ago. 
  • In summer, I love to serve something light like this fresh Citrus Cured Smoked Salmon. I love serving raw fish because you can prep this the day before and garnish it just before serving. 
  • In winter, I love to serve a comforting soup like this rustic French Onion Soup I made recently - it's like a big hug in a deep bowl. I also made a cosy Thai Curry Coconut & Pumpkin Soup last week, and I will be sharing this recipe very soon! 

 

Mains:

  • I always like to serve at least a meat dish and/or a fish dish, depending on how many people are attending and also taking into consideration everyone's dietary requirements and preferences. If there are a few people (more than 6) I will always serve both.
  • I love getting creative with vegetables, so I always serve one to two vegetable dishes (either hot or cold depending on the time of the year). I recently had friends over for a Middle Eastern feast and made a gorgeous Dutch Carrots with Yoghurt, Coriander Oil, Hazelnuts & Jewelled Pomegranate. For our Winter Lunch, I made a similar dish but switched up a few things. Stay tuned for the recipe!
  • I always make a simple green salad for freshness no matter the time of the year, and I love to make a simple pasta salad or a rice based dish for that comforting carbohydrate hit, like this gorgeous Jewelled Persian Rice Pilaf I recently made.
  • I always like to make a salad recipe no matter the time of the year. I love the freshness a salad adds to a menu, and for our Winter Lunch, I grilled cos lettuce and garnished it with olive oil, slivered almonds and finely grated parmesan. Stay tuned for the recipe!

 

Dessert: 

  • For dessert, I always make something the day or two before. When the meal is coming to an end, the last thing you want to be doing is baking and spending more in the kitchen when you're (probably) a few drinks deep and your friends are laughing and enjoying themselves around the table. 
  • I like to make something simple that I can make the day before like this silky smoothTiramisu, or something I can throw together in a few minutes like an Eton mess, or a dessert I can pop in the oven when we're enjoying our mains like this comforting Bread & Butter Pudding I made over Easter and you can easily replace the hot cross buns with thick slices of bread. For our Winter Lunch, I made a Berry & Native Mutries Bake the day before and warmed it up in the oven on low while we were having lunch. Stay tuned for the recipe! 
  • Making a cake the day before your long lunch or dinner party is also a clever no-fuss dessert, and this gluten free Fudgy Flourless Chocolate Cake was a big hit with you guys earlier this year! 

 

How To Plan A Menu For Your Next Long Lunch And Dinner Party How To Plan A Menu For Your Next Long Lunch And Dinner Party

How To Plan A Menu For Your Next Long Lunch And Dinner Party How To Plan A Menu For Your Next Long Lunch And Dinner Party

How To Plan A Menu For Your Next Long Lunch And Dinner Party How To Plan A Menu For Your Next Long Lunch And Dinner Party

 

Think about the menu presentation

I love nothing more than a table setting with a printed menu. It just adds that extra touch and not only does it look beautiful on a styled table at each setting,  but it allows the guests to find out what they'll be eating and talk about the menu and ingredients with each other. I ran out of time to do this for our Winter Lunch, but you can bet I'll be doing it for our Spring Lunch! 

 

Winter Lunch

Now I am sure you are all wanting to know:

  • What did I cook at our Winter Lunch?
  • What is the name of the beautiful property we had lunch at?
  • Where is all that gorgeous furniture from?
  • Where do all those beautiful flowers and greenery come from?
  • Who took these stunning photos?

I'll tell you. 

 

Winter Lunch: Menu 

For our Winter Lunch, I opted out of a Starter and we went straight for the mains. I served:

  • Slow Cooked Lamb Shanks in Red Wine, Bush Tomato, Thyme, Rosemary & Garlic
  • Creamy Thyme & Parmesan Polenta
  • Grilled Cos Lettuce with Almonds & Parmesan 
  • Honey Buttered Carrots with Yoghurt, Walnuts & Microherbs
  • Very Berry Muntries Dessert Bake

 

Winter Lunch: The Details

  • The location of our Winter Lunch was Montville Estate, which is a 1.5 acre property located just a stone's throw (literally a 2 minute walk) from the charming town of Montville in Queensland. Belonging to our friend Nichola and her partner Jordan, it boasts an original Montville Queenslander, Eastnor House, which was built in 1895. The property acted as the first Receiving Office for mail from the UK and abroad. And nestled within Montville Estate's The Postman's Cottage is a cosy, refined and romantic abode for 2, which you can book through Airbnb. Read up on my cosy three day stay in The Postman's Cottage hereMake sure you're following along over on Instagram here and to book your stay,visit here.
  • The bouquets of beautiful greenery and native flowers for the tables capes were created by our friend Ashlee from The Occasion Co. She is one of those insanely talented women who can take a bunch of branches and style them beautifully, all while making it look utterly effortless. 
  • The photos were taken by our friend Aimee Dodge. She has that uncanny ability to make her photos look effortlessly beautiful and otherworldly. She takes so much care with every photo and edit, and her attention to detail plus her use of depth of field, creates a feeling that is cosy, warm and inviting in every single image.
  • The table setting was created by myself and Abbey, and our friend Samantha who is a Stylist, also assisted. Samantha also helped style the food on the table, which is really important to me because when I am busy in the kitchen, I tend to forget about everything else!

 

How To Plan A Menu For Your Next Long Lunch And Dinner Party How To Plan A Menu For Your Next Long Lunch And Dinner Party

How To Plan A Menu For Your Next Long Lunch And Dinner Party How To Plan A Menu For Your Next Long Lunch And Dinner Party

How To Plan A Menu For Your Next Long Lunch And Dinner Party How To Plan A Menu For Your Next Long Lunch And Dinner Party

How To Plan A Menu For Your Next Long Lunch And Dinner Party How To Plan A Menu For Your Next Long Lunch And Dinner Party

How To Plan A Menu For Your Next Long Lunch And Dinner Party How To Plan A Menu For Your Next Long Lunch And Dinner Party

How To Plan A Menu For Your Next Long Lunch And Dinner Party How To Plan A Menu For Your Next Long Lunch And Dinner Party

How To Plan A Menu For Your Next Long Lunch And Dinner Party How To Plan A Menu For Your Next Long Lunch And Dinner Party

 

 


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