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This is the only Christmas guide you need to home entertaining

Experts share pro tips on how to give your next social gathering that X-factor.

SOUL OF THE PARTY

There are parties, and then there are parties. You know, those that people talk about months after, those that make everyone else wish they were invited. A veteran at organising events for luxury lifestyle brands, Kitch Lum is well aware of that. The managing director of Directions Group Inc is not just a seasoned hand at putting together lifestyle events – the consummate hostess has also a decade of party planning experience, helping friends and private clients orchestrate fairy-tale weddings and lavish social functions. Here, she goes beyond the basic tenets of home entertaining to share how to give your house party that extra special touch.

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BREATHING SPACE

Know the capacity of your venue – it will determine the size of your guest list and the format of the event. You should look at your available space not just in terms of size, but also how moveable the existing furniture is. This will allow you to better demarcate different areas for different parts of the gathering, from a cocktail area for guests to mingle, and a dining area for the formal sit-down, to lounge areas for after-meal conversation.

A COMFORTABLE DISTANCE

If you are using a long table for your sit-down, avoid tables that are more than 0.9m wide. This is to allow guests to speak to those seated across the table. A good party engages guests, so the host should give guests maximum opportunity to get to know one another.


“If you live in a private estate with limited street-side parking, hire a valet. Guests won’t have to search for parking when they arrive.”

– Kitch Lum


WHEN MORE IS MORE

If you are offering main course options for a formal course-by-course meal, make provisions for extra portions. This way, you can offer guests an alternative if they get food envy when the dish is served. In any case, it is always better to have leftovers than insufficient food.

Apart from food, also make allowance for extra hands. If your domestic helper is going to be busy cooking, hire service staff to serve and perhaps prepare drinks. Be sure to delegate the tasks at hand so that you can enjoy yourself and actually be part of the party.

HOME IN ON HOME FLAVOURS

Cooking for huge parties can be challenging, but I always encourage good homecooks to prepare something – and have the caterer create a menu that complements what the host’s preparing. This way, it gives the meal a personal touch and reflects the taste of the host.

FLORAL MAGIC

Flowers are very important as they set the mood for the evening, and they should visually reflect the theme of the dinner. It is also a nice touch to design fl oral arrangements in a way such that they can be given to guests.

A SHOE IN

I do not like to inconvenience guests with a shoes-off policy. But if you must, provide them with new bedroom slippers so that they don’t have to walk around barefoot.

PARK THAT THOUGHT

If you live in a private estate with limited street-side parking, hire a valet. You do not want guests to arrive flustered from having to search for parking space and walking several lanes just to get to your house.

The Invisible Secret

It can create an inviting atmosphere, relax moods and awaken memories – for something that is invisible, scents sure play a critical part in making or breaking an event. Daphne Tan, the founder of Candles of Light – a local company that creates candles and scents – tells us the dos and don’ts.

FOOD FOCUS

We created customised day and night scents for Odette to be used in the reception area. The goal is to create a comfortable, scented environment to set the stage for guests to focus on what matters: the food.

This applies to home settings. Rather than scenting the dining room, perfume the cocktail area and where your guests will retreat to for digestifs and after-dinner conversation. If the latter happens to be the dining room itself, you may want to bring out a scented candle or two after the food is cleared.

If you wish to clear any musty smells and create an even-smelling environment during the meal, position a diff user on a sideboard or side table in the dining room area.

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If you are incorporating lit scented candles into your dinner-table arrangement, light the candles half an hour before the scheduled mealtime – or when your first guest arrives. This creates a lovely, eye-catching glow that draws attention to the centrepiece when your guests are entering the dining area.

Whisk those candles away when guests start taking their seats.

GO NATURAL

Try to stick with natural home fragrances where possible, or essential oils – as natural products, they tend to be easier on the nose. Stronger commercial fragrances can be quite overwhelming so don’t overdo them.

Whichever scent you choose to use, test it out a few days prior to the event so that you know its intensity – and if you like the smell of it.

REFRESHER COURSE

Perfumed linen and room sprays are perfect for an instant hit of scent, if you need to quickly refresh a bathroom.

You can also do a few quick spritzes in the dining area just before guests enter – it doesn’t hurt to mist some on your napkins and tablecloth either, if the product is safe for use on fabrics. Perfumed sprays tend to dissipate after a while, so the scent isn’t as even as that from a lit candle.

(RELATED: Chef Emmanuel Stroobant’s Secrets to Home Entertaining.)

The Dazzlers

A florist with two decades’ experience, Christopher Teo of Floral Obsession has designed custom arrangements for high-end corporate lifestyle events and worked his magic for regular, well-heeled clientele. He is part of design studio Kinetic’s pop-up initiative K+, and is known for his dramatic style.

PRESERVATION TACTICS

Most floral arrangements can last a week. Changing the water in the vase and giving the stalks a fresh cut at the base every two days will help to prolong the lifespan.

If the arrangement is in a sponge, make sure that you pour enough water to fully soak it – once the sponge dries out, it will draw water from the flowers, causing them to wilt. If you are concerned about bacteria festering in the water, add a drop of bleach in five litres of water and use that to hydrate the flowers.

SCENT OF WOODS

Besides the usual poinsettia and holly, you can use noble fir and berries to create a festive atmosphere. Noble fir also has a lovely scent that reminds one of Christmas.

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MATCH ALLS

If you can only get flowers from a supermarket for an impromptu dinner, keep things simple.

Stick to one colour if you are unfamiliar with mixing colours. Whites and greens are neutral, chic and classic, and will go with just about everything.

SAFE BETS

Some people have violent allergic reactions to pollen, so know your guests. If in doubt, use flowers such as orchids and anthuriums that are less likely to trigger a pollen-allergy reaction.

OPENING BITES

A truly good canape should signal the promise of a memorable meal, just as a well-cut movie trailer should tease the film it heralds; both should be appetite-whetting portents of what is to come. Put a little thought into your hors d’oeuvres, and a pleasant evening may morph into an unforgettable one. Here are some ideas to spark your imagination.

FREEZE IT

Freshen up a sultry evening with frozen aperitif popsicles. Many fruit-accented cocktails are amenable to being frozen: Simply add a little more of the featured fruit, chopped or pureed, to prevent them from melting too fast, pour into popsicle moulds, insert sticks, and freeze. Keep them to 100ml size or under. Consider, for instance, a prosecco and fresh peach Bellini; a cachaca, lime and raw sugar caipirinha with added pomelo or grapefruit flesh; a Pimm’s Cup with pureed strawberries, orange and cucumber; a Kir with added blueberries or blackberries.

WHIP IT

A little of a rich, creamy-textured canape goes a long way, spread on crisp crackers or toasts, or served with crudites. A food processor makes short work of blending these combos into sumptuous purees: pumpkin hummus – roasted pumpkin flesh, chickpea, olive oil, lemon, tahini; crema di mortadella – diced mortadella sausage, ricotta, thick cream, a pinch of nutmeg; quick chicken liver pate – chicken liver and shallots sauteed in butter, cognac, whipping cream, herbs of your preference; soft grilled eggplant, avocado, Thai nam prik pao (roasted chilli-tamarind paste, sold ready-made in jars), fresh coriander and mint.

SHUCK IT

Source some spectacular fresh oysters, and most of your work is done for you – all you need are unusual toppings and garnishes which throw the molluscs’ briny succulence into sharp relief, such as shallot-infused white wine vinegar and sizzling coins of fried chorizo; slivers of roasted fennel bulb and champagne vinegar; chopped beansprouts quick-pickled with sesame oil, soya sauce and rice vinegar; a drop each of pomegranate molasses and basil-infused oil, plus flecks of crystal salt; daikon sprouts, Japanese aged premium mirin, and Japanese unpasteurised “nama” soya sauce.

ROAST IT

Crank up the oven, shove in your ingredients, forget about them until they are scrumptiously caramelised. Cauliflower: Toss a head’s worth of large bite-sized florets with a dash of oil and salt, spread them out on a parchment-lined baking tray, and roast at 190 deg C for 25 to 35 minutes, until tender and browned, even charred, in spots. Serve with Korean ssamjang (spicy bean paste sauce) for dipping. Chickpeas: Drain and pat dry a can’s worth, toss with a tablespoon of olive oil, spread them on a baking tray, and roast at 200 deg C for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until lightly crisp. Sprinkle with Japanese sesame salt or smoked paprika, serve warm in paper cones or spoons.

SPRING IT

Don’t look down on spring rolls as ’80s buff et staples. These near-perfect fi nger foods can be endlessly varied with imaginative (homemade or purchased) fillings. For example: chicken tikka masala; seasoned crabmeat and glass noodles; salmon or pork rillettes; Spanish croqueta mixture – essentially a thick white sauce – flavoured with diced jamon, or mushrooms, or seafood. Wrap your chosen filling in large spring roll skins, sealing the edges with egg white. Deep-fry until crisp shortly before serving.

HAVE DESSERT FIRST

Combine high-contrast sweet and savoury elements in nibbles for an unexpected and palate-stimulating start to the evening. For example, make brioche loaf sandwiches of thinly spread pate de foie gras and fig jam. Generously butter the outsides, toast them in a sandwich maker until golden and crisp, and serve hot. Or, serve large table grapes and medjool dates with peppery olive oil and dukkah (an Egyptian herb, nut and spice condiment) for dipping.

MILK IT

Tips and tactics to maximise your canape-making effort.

01: A canape has to hit hard within the space of one or two bites, so always use premium produce with vivid and concentrated flavours.

02: Unless the cocktail phase of a party is meant to last more than half an hour, three to five different kinds of canapes are plenty.

03: Textural contrast is crucial to a good canape. Pairing opposites – crunchy and creamy, dense and light, and so on – is a sure way to stimulate the palate.

04: Unique serving vessels delight guests (and may spare their manicures). Pose canapes in spoons, on skewers, in small glasses, or in edible holders – single Brussels sprout or endive leaves can serve as miniature bowls, for example.

05: If you’re really pressed for time, hit up a gourmet grocer or traiteur for top-notch charcuterie, baby vegetables, dried fruit and properly aged cheeses, and collate them attractively.

(RELATED: The 5 Tenets to Home Entertaining – From Melina Yong, the Prolific Hostess.)

DIG INTO THE BIG, BOLD AND BEAUTIFUL

Salted & Hung’s executive chef, Drew Nocente, shares his interpretation of his family’s Christmas table staple: the delicious show-stopper of a dish that is the porchetta. “It’s the perfect show-stopper dish for any festival table as it’s a whole pork belly that’s stuffed with pork and has extra crispy skin. What’s not to like? I believe the flavours are comforting and the textures – between the crispy skin and moist centre – are heavenly. It is a simple dish to make, but looks impressive on anyone’s table.”

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INGREDIENTS

2kg pork belly, skin on
700g minced pork
14g salt, with extra to lightly rub into skin
50g crushed black pepper
10g Quatre epices (French spice mix consisting of pepper, clove, nutmeg and ginger)
10ml lemon juice

Olive oil, for brushing skin

  • Lay the belly skin side up and pound with spiked meat mallet. Allow pork belly to rest at room temperature for two hours, uncovered, for skin to dry.
  • Season minced pork with salt, pepper and quatre epices.
  • Lay the pork belly skin side down.
  • Place the spiced minced pork in the middle of the belly.
  • Roll the belly with the mince and tie with butcher’s string.
  • Rub the skin of the pork belly with lemon juice and salt.
  • Place the tied pork belly on a cooking rack and slow cook at 90 deg C for three hours.
  • Remove the pork roll from the oven, then lightly brush with olive oil to cover the meat. Return pork roll to the oven cook at 250 deg C for another 6 – 10 minutes to crisp the skin.
  • Let the porchetta rest for 5 minutes before carving.

SOUNDS GOOD

Music director Vinnie Quek is behind the cool vibes at members-only Kee Club Hong Kong and Shanghai, and, more recently, Ku De Ta Singapore and Avalon. A seasoned DJ, he also gets flown into Hong Kong by VIPs for their private parties. Here, his input for a dynamic do.

KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE

Look at the age group and demographics of your guests and pick music that will resonate with them. If you are hosting friends from the United Kingdom, throwing in a few tracks by English bands will make them feel at home. But remember that the music should reflect the taste of the host, so the playlist should consist of music you enjoy listening to.

THE HOLY TRINITY

Playlist selection, volume and tempo make the holy trinity of music selection. Volume: You want your guests to be able to chat. It should also be adjusted according to the mood of the party. You can play two hours of easy-listening lounge music or jazz softly in the background during dinner, and bring up the volume as the alcohol kicks in and the party gets livelier. Up the beat slowly as the night progresses. Throw in a fire-starter track – perhaps a song from the 80s or 90s, which evokes memories for your guests – and soon you will have people playing air guitar, singing along and even diving into the pool. The right playlist can really get people to come out of their shell.

FUNCTION RULES

Music can also help to set the scene. If you are having chic afternoon tea and serving macarons and French pastries, you can play French lounge music and stick in a Bridget Bardot here and there. If it is going to be full-on Christmas gathering complete with eggnog and figgy pudding, throw some familiar holiday jingles into the mix. Because music plays such a critical role, make sure it is played where the action is going to be – don’t have it playing in the living room when everyone is gathered by the pool all night long.

MIXING MAGIC

If you want guaranteed good vibes – hire a DJ. He does a lot more than spin tunes that evoke a certain mood. A good DJ will know how to react to the atmosphere so the music progresses with the party. If somebody starts dancing, I will try a few tunes – anything from disco to Latin salsa – just to see the crowd’s reaction and determine what to play next.

SOUND ADVICE

If you don’t have excellent built-in sound systems, full systems can be rented. You don’t want a great playlist to come out of tiny computer speakers that will crackle and pop when the volume is cranked up. Another thing: Never let your guests plug in their iPod to play their own songs.

ALL STIRRED UP

“There is no such thing as a bad drink,” says Cedric Mendoza, the senior bartender at Manhattan Bar in Regent Singapore. “It’s all about good vibrations and positive energy.” That said, Mendoza shares that it is important to make sure that your cocktail has the right flavour balance – and always taste before you serve.

MANHATTAN COCKTAIL

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45ml rye whiskey
15ml sweet vermouth
10ml cherry brandy
1pc housemade brandy-infused
cherries (see below)
1 dash angostura bitters
1pc lemon peel

BRANDIED CHERRIES (MAKES 500G)

500g pitted cherries
300ml sweet vermouth
300ml bourbon
1pc cinnamon
4pcs star anise
4pcs cardamom
4pcs clove
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 pod vanilla bean

  • To make brandied cherries, combine sweet vermouth and bourbon with sugar, and stir until sugar dissolves.
  • Add spices and mix well.
  • Add cherries and ensure they are fully submerged. Let rest for at least one week in room temperature. (For more intense cherry flavours, add 1 cup of cherry brandy to the mixture.)
  • To make Manhattan cocktail, add rye whiskey, sweet vermouth and cherry brandy in a mixing glass.
  • Add ice and angostura bitters.
  • Stir well (about 30 seconds).
  • Express lemon oil on the rim of the glass (for aroma) and add cherry as garnish in the cocktail.
  • Serve in chilled martini glass.

THE TIPPLES

As every savvy host knows, drinks fuel the life of the party. Here are the top picks from our Gourmet & Travel Wine Awards.

CHAMPAGNE
  • G.H.MUMM, CORDON ROUGE 2006

    Luminous gold, this wine is ideal for drinking now. It has aromas of toast, orange peel and biscuit, and flavours of lemon and tropical fruit. Lingering notes of pear, pastry and dried fruit, together with a long finish – all delivered at an excellent price.

    Available from Pernod Ricard Singapore. Tel: 6831-8727.
THE REDS
  • RUDOLF FURST, CENTGRAFENBERG PINOT NOIR 2013

    Origin: Franconia, Germany
    Garnet; teeming with ripe cherry but not lacking in terroir nuances. Flavours of redcurrant and strawberry in the forefront. Juicy, layered, balanced and delicate, with a long finish. Worthy of its Grosses Gewachs (great growth) classification.

    Available from Wein & Vin. Tel: 8828-3113

THE WHITES
  • DOPFF AU MOULIN, PINOT GRIS RESERVE 2014

    Origin: Alsace, France
    Baked pear and apple preserves, honey and spices on the nose and palate. It has secondary notes of lime and lemon rind. With a medium dry long finish, this wine is delectable and suited to seafood paired with sauces, and certain sweetmeats.

    Available from Aether Wines & Spirits. Tel: 6694-2337.

For the full list of award winners, check out our G Wine Awards 2016 page.

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