One of the most common complaints I receive from those who are hesitant to host a dinner party is that there’s too much time spent cooking and not enough time partying. My answer, always, is that it’s all in the preparation. No one wants to be frantically juggling pots in the kitchen while their guests sip on rosé in the next room. The best entertainers tend to keep things simple when cooking for many, and it’s often the little things that make the difference. It could be including a particular notable ingredient (saffron, truffle, asparagus or burrata) or using a superb serving platter. But often the dinner parties that are most fondly remembered are those where the food is kept humble.
This menu is just that. The main course is what I often refer to as a ‘throw it in the oven’ dish. The chicken and fennel are baked together with a little white wine and seasoning until the chicken skin is crisp and golden, and the fennel is soft and slightly caramelised. Pink peppercorns are a bit of a star ingredient here and bring a good pop of flavour as well as colour to the dish, and the flavourful cooking juices are tossed through rice to serve alongside.
I’ve got into the habit of serving cocktails when guests arrive. It elevates the evening and can be a good time filler – especially useful if things are running behind backstage in the kitchen. I’ve suggested a lemon tart for pudding, a wonderful thing to serve any time of year, but especially as we enter spring. I like to make the pastry, but if you are short on time you can use shop bought. No one would ever know.
A crisp citrusy white wine goes very well with this. I serve mine alongside a bottle of Beauvignac picpoul de pinet, which I ordered a while back from Williams House Wines – a great place to stock up on inexpensive, well-curated wines.
DISCOVER ALEXANDRA’S MENU…
Honey Whisky Old Fashioned
I’ve been re-watching Madmen. It follows the charismatic and often chaotic Donald Draper as he navigates life at a top New York advertising agency in the 1960s. In almost every scene he is drinking an old fashioned and it’s given me a newfound taste for this forever classic cocktail. Much like a martini, an old fashioned means business. Enjoy too many and you will pay for it. But I am fond of starting the evening with something enthusiastic, and the old fashioned is a wonderful choice (not least because it’s a good one to return to as a nightcap once supper is over). To make this version, I use the British honey-infused whisky Beeble. Made with barrel-matured scotch blended with honey from Wiltshire hives, it has a beautifully smooth and rich taste with a delicious layered sweetness.
Crispy Baked Chicken With Fennel, Pink Peppercorns & Lemony Rice
This is a simple one-tray dish that is perfect for a dinner party. You can prep everything ahead of time and throw it into the oven 40 minutes ahead of sitting down. The fennel bakes together with the chicken meaning you’ve cooked the vegetables at the same time. I love to stir the flavourful cooking juices into some rice (I like this one) with a little of the roasted sweet lemon. It is delicious as it is, but some buttered greens are a lovely addition.
A classic lemon tart is a delicious, palate-cleansing pudding. The creamy and zesty filling is carried in a sweet, crisp shortcrust pastry. Make the pastry a day ahead of time if you like – you could make it up to two days before and keep it in the fridge. I find this tart is delicious just as it is, but you could serve it with a little loosely whipped cream.