• Susanna Fraser

How to Stay Sane During Lockdown: “Virtual Dinner Party"


You may be a really keen cook and love hosting dinner parties or perhaps eating out with friends is more your thing, either way it has probably been a while since you have enjoyed either! As eating out is not possible right now I thought I would share with you some ideas for a virtual dinner party at home. Firstly choose your preferred platform for meeting online, Zoom seems to be my regular go to but you will need the host to have subscribed to the paid version of Zoom otherwise you are limited to 40 minutes which would be a rather speedy party!

Guest List

Who to invite? I would suggest an absolute maximum of 6 guests to avoid talking over each other too much, also if you decide to cook together you probably want to keep the numbers of people cooking down to 3 or 4.

Theme or No Theme?

Why not add a bit of fun to the evening by suggesting a theme, keep it simple so it doesn’t become a chore to find something to wear! A great one that springs to mind is “Crazy Hair”, particularly as no one has been near a hairdresser for weeks so shouldn’t be too hard to achieve! If you want to dress up a bit more how about “Beach Party”, “1980’s" or "Pop Icons”?

If fancy dress is not your thing perhaps suggest a colour theme “Colours of the Rainbow” would be super appropriate right now or go the whole hog with black tie - I’m sure your guests would love an excuse to make a bit of an effort!

Dinner

So here we have two options depending on whether you / your guests feel like cooking or would prefer a night off?


Night Off

The hospitality industry has been hit really hard during this crisis, with no events happening many catering companies have had to diversify and start up a delivery service. One of my favourite suppliers, Sainlo Events has done just that and they, along with many other small local businesses, really need our support right now. If you decide to go for this option and your fellow guests live nearby why not choose a company who can deliver the same meal to all of you, the food is usually ready for collection / delivered earlier in the day ready to be re-heated so you can decide what time you want to eat.

I have listed below a few local businesses that I can recommend who will deliver (or have collection available) to the Berkhamsted area, if you live elsewhere why not check out your local catering companies / restaurants!


Sainlo Events - (you won’t see until you start to place your order but they have a choice of 3 seriously yummy puddings too; Brownies / Sticky Toffee Pudding / Mini Lemon Meringue Tartlets!)

Passion Fruit Catering

Lussmans

The Fat Buddha

Tabure

Cook at Home

If you decide you would prefer to cook yourself choose relatively simple recipes which contain ingredients that you / your guests are likely to have at home. Maybe just stick to 2 courses to make life easier! Once you have chosen your recipes, obviously taking into account any dietary requirements, send them to your guests ideally a week in advance so they can pick up any ingredients they need when they next get to the shops.


Here is the menu I have chosen for my Virtual Dinner Party;

Salmon & Spinach Curry with Caralemised Onions and Jeera Rice

Chewy Chocolate Brownies with Mixed Soft Fruit


The curry is from a lovely book I have called Made in India by Meera Sodha, a really simple recipe, I often prepare the base in advance and then reheat it before adding the salmon just 10 minutes before serving. The recipe serves 4 but you can always half it if you need to or just have the left overs another night. For pud; who doesn’t like Chocolate Brownies, easy to prepare in advance and with some strawberries, raspberries or blueberries (whatever you can get) they taste even better, a scoop of ice cream wouldn’t go amiss! If you have any left over I can assure you they won’t be around long!

Chewy Chocolate Brownies (my friend’s recipe)

100g unsalted butter

100g plain chocolate

Pinch of Salt

300g light muscovado sugar

2 tsp vanilla extract

2 large eggs

125g plain flour

2 tbs cocoa powder

  • Line a small square tin with parchment

  • Melt butter and chocolate in a bowl in the microwave

  • Stir in sugar, salt and vanilla extract

  • Add eggs, one at a time stirring well until blended

  • Add flour and cocoa and beat for 30 seconds – 1 minute until smooth

  • Spoon into tin

  • Bake at 180 C for around 25 minutes


Prepare your Table

Don’t forget to spend a bit of time making the table look pretty, my favourite part!! Lay the table in advance, light a few candles and pick a few flowers from the garden or go foraging in the hedgerows on your daily walk! There is loads of cow parsley around right now which looks lovely with a few bits of greenery – really simple but perfect to create a natural Spring look (please be responsible when foraging – only pick from areas that have a plentiful supply, leave enough for wildlife and avoid damaging habitats).



Dinner Party

If you have decided to cook at home you may want to get together online earlier in the day to cook with your guests, or perhaps just make the pudding together? If you prefer to cook alone that’s fine too! Whether you are cooking or heating up a food delivery arrange a time to meet up for a drink online and also a time for when you plan to sit down to eat so everyone can try to get their food ready at roughly the same time! This obviously won’t go exactly to plan, so be prepared to be laid back and go with the flow!

Drinks

If you want to go the whole hog, why no agree on a cocktail for pre-dinner drinks you could make this yourself or if you are in the Berkhamsted area why not get the guys at The Berkhamsted Bottling Company to deliver your chosen cocktail to your door!

For wine have a look at Tring Winery, an Urban Winery and Independent Wine Merchant recently opened in Tring, they have a fantastic selection of wines and offer free delivery within 10 miles of Tring.

Music

Every party needs music, possibly background at first but maybe ramped up a bit later! If you are using Zoom for your Virtual Dinner Party there is an option for you, the host, to share music from your computer so you can choose your favourite playlist or maybe if you are feeling generous ask you guests for their favourites too! Ideally set this up on Zoom before your guests join.;

How to Share Music using Zoom: Once you are in your meeting, at the bottom of the page you will see a “Share Screen” button, click on this and you will see a choice of tabs at the top of the page, click on the “Advanced” tab and then click on the middle box “Music or Computer Sound Only” finally click the blue “Share” button at the bottom of the screen. You will now see a message at the top of your screen saying “You are sharing computer sound” “Stop Sound”. You are now all set to play music from your computer from whichever app or website that you choose. Note you may need to adjust the sound on the music service you are using (not your computer sound) so your voice can be heard over the music.

So now you are all set for a really fun night in, have a go if nothing else it will be something to laugh about once this is all over! I would love to see photos of your Virtual Dinner Party so please share and tag me - ENJOY!




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