Host a dinner party like a pro

Mindy KorbinDo you panic at the idea of hosting a sit-down dinner at home? You are not alone. That is why we asked life style expert Mindy Kobrin for her tips on how to entertain like a pro.
Mindy Kobrin is a cooking, lifestyle, and entertaining expert. As the Development Director of Fundraising for the Princess Grace Foundation and HSH Prince Albert of Monaco II and The Princely Family, she planned hundreds of events and galas for distinguished international guests. But at home, her philosophy is simple and delicious: “Don’t Worry, Eat Happy.”  
Here is Mindy’s interview, full of easy entertaining tips:
DD: Can anyone throw a good dinner party, or do you need to hire a chef or caterer and have big apartment?
Yes, anyone can host a good dinner party with the right guide, planning tools, and positive attitude. Beforeinvitations go out, determine what type of gathering you want – formal or more casual.  Once decided, I suggest sending invitations three or four weeks in advance.

DD: What is the secret to good dinner party seating? How do you plan the guest lists?
MK: The most successful dinner parties encourage guests to mix and mingle with people they don't know well.  If possible, split couples up; seat opposite sexes next to each other; and seat guests of similar interests together to cultivate conversations.  I also like to place travel books or trivia coasters on the tables to stimulate early conversation between guests.  Music also plays a big role in creating ambiance and mood.  Have fun creating a playlist that best fits your party and menu.
DD: What is the optimal length of time for drinks before dinner? And what do you serve?
MK: To maximize budget and whet the appetite, serve cocktails for 30 to 45minutes before the meal.  Keep it to one themed signature cocktail plus wine and non-alcoholic options.  Set up a separate bar station with plenty of ice, cocktail napkins, and appropriate stemware.
DD: How do you handle tipsy guests?
MK: Make sure to have a car service, taxi, or designated driver available, and always serve coffee, tea, or sparkling water toward the end of a dinner party.
DD: With so many different diet restrictions these days from vegans to allergies, do have any favourite go-to dinner party recipes that everyone can eat?
With gluten-sensitivities and food allergies so widespread nowadays, offer options, or simply ask guests to make you aware of allergies on their RSVP.  I always include a seasonal salad and often a protein side dish, just in case. Quinoa is a great ingredient for either of those courses.
DD: Do you always serve a first course when you entertain? If so, what is it?
Depending on the dinner party theme, a starter is not necessary.  For example, an informal party of winter stew with Mesclun greens on the side and warm, crusty bread is perfect just the way it is – with a nice bottle of wine!
DD: What are your favourite desserts for entertaining?
MK: I like chocolate fondue with fresh fruit skewers, sautéed strawberries with mint, cake, or seasonal pies.
DD: What do you do when guests bring food or wine and expect it to be served?
MK: After many thanks for bringing foodie gifts, I love to pay it forward and express to that guest we'll be sure to use it at the next gathering!

Tips for a Sophisticated Garden Party

Barbecue parties are fun, but if you crave a more elegant type of summer gathering try cooling off with a sophisticated garden party. We love any excuse to dress up, nibble finger sandwiches, and maybe even wear a hat. Even if your garden get together is casual these tips and tasty recipes from Neilson-Massey will help to make it special.
Tips for hosting an elegant summer garden soirée:
Create a summer cocktail favorite with a unique garden twist like Nielsen-Massey’s Rose Sangria.
Use freshly cut flowers or bunches of herbs tied with a simple ribbon for centerpieces with natural garden fragrance.
Enhance ripe tomato flavors in a savory appetizer like Nielsen-Massey’s Lemon-Bleu Stuffed Tomatoes with Pure Lemon Extract.
Float votive candles in water to add light. Add flower petals to the water for an authentic garden aroma.
Intensify summer flavors by mixing Nielsen-Massey Orange Blossom Water with fruit-flavored yogurt as a light citrus topping for a dessert of freshly picked fruit.
As guests arrive, start the party off with a summer cocktail favorite, Rose Sangria. The Nielsen-Massey Tahitian Vanilla extract and Rose Water lighten the drink – allowing the freshness of the lemons and limes to pop. Add sprigs of fresh mint as a garnish for a bright garden taste.
Nielsen-Massey’s Rose Sangria 
Serves 4-6
1 apple, peeled and quartered
10 whole cloves
1 lemon, thinly sliced rounds
1 lime, thinly sliced rounds
1 orange, thinly sliced rounds
½ cup brandy, chilled
1 (750 milliliter) bottle dry red wine, chilled
1 ½ cups pulp free orange juice, chilled
¼ teaspoon Nielsen-Massey Rose Water
1 teaspoon Nielsen-Massey Tahitian Pure Vanilla Extract
Fresh mint sprigs for garnish
Stud apple by pushing the clove stems into the prepared apple quarters. In a large glass pitcher, place the clove-studded apple quarters with the citrus fruit slices. Sprinkle Nielsen-Massey Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Sugar over the fruit, pour brandy over the sugared fruit and toss to coat. Place in the refrigerator for 4 to 6 hours to infuse the flavors. Before serving, remove the clove-studded apple and discard, crush the infused citrus fruits slightly with a wooden spoon. Stir in the wine, orange juice, Nielsen-Massey Rose Water and Nielsen-Massey Tahitian Pure Vanilla Extract. Garnish each glass with a sprig of fresh mint.
Lemon-Bleu Stuffed Tomatoes
2 tablespoons dry white wine
2 teaspoons finely minced shallots
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 teaspoon finely minced garlic
½ teaspoon Nielsen-Massey Pure Lemon Extract
⅛ Teaspoon white pepper
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
5 ounces blue cheese crumbles
2 pints cherry tomatoes (approximately 48)
Combine the wine and shallots in a small bowl. Let stand. Combine the cream cheese, garlic, lemon extract, white pepper, cayenne pepper and shallot mixture in a mixing bowl. Beat until well blended using an electric mixer. Fold in the bleu cheese with a wooden spoon. Chill, covered, in the refrigerator.
Rinse the cherry tomatoes. Remove the tops by slicing a small amount off each tomato. Scoop out the seeds with a small measuring spoon. Cut a small slice off the bottom of each tomato so it will stand upright when plated. Fill each tomato with ½ tablespoon of the chilled Lemon-Bleu Stuffing using a pastry bag or spoon.
Note: Use the Lemon-Bleu stuffing as a gourmet appetizer. Spread it on toasted slices of a French baguette then top with small cooked shrimp.
Makes 24 Tablespoons of Stuffing for 48 Tomatoes
Additional DolceDolce tips:
Focus on cool, easy to eat bite-sized finger sandwiches and stuffed mini vegetables. Favorite filling included, smoked salmon, chopped egg, shrimp, lobster salad, and cucumber-cream cheese.
Always serve plenty of non-alcoholic beverages. Try our refreshing Lavender Lemonade.
This is pretty and sweet, and goes great with iced tea. Be sure to use organic lavender!
2 cups of fresh lemon juice. Squeeze it. This will take about 5-6 lemons, but get at least 12 for a tea party.
2 cups of sugar or just use 1½ cups if you like it tart – and I do!
Heat the lemon juice and the sugar together with 1 quart or liter of water until the sugar dissolves. If you want lavender lemonade, steep a small bunch of lavender in a teabag, ball, or cheese cloth in the warm syrup for 5 minutes. Remove. Split your syrup into two pitchers, add about 1½ liters/ quarts of water to each and chill. Garnish with lemon slices / lavender sprigs and serve in tall glasses over ice.









Campari Spritz and MV’s Best Virginia Cocktail Peanuts

Sparkling and tart, the perfect summer cocktail

Summer entertaining should be light and easy. Recently, we visited friends in Montreal who have the knack. We had a wonderful evening together and enjoyed a delicious dinner. Our friend, Susan, is a fabulous cook. Her husband, Markus, served a lovely aperitif called a Campari Spritz, made with the Italian bitter and the sparkling wine, Prosecco. It’s perfect on a summer evening. Susan served bowls of cashews and crisp chips. Next time, I will have to bring her some MV’s Best Virginia Cocktail Peanuts. I am sure she will like them as much as we do.


MV’s Best Cocktail Peanuts are specially-prepared gourmet peanuts form Virginia. The big super crunchy peanuts come in seven flavours, some sweet and others salty and spicy. They are simple to serve with cocktails, and are an excellent accent to drinks on a hot summer evening. Perfect for impromptu entertaining!


MV’s Best Cocktail Peanuts are one of my favourite new entertaining staples they are fun, elegant, and easy. They also come elegantly-packaged for gift-giving, making them an ideal hostess gift.


Campari Spritz


Fill champagne flutes, wine glasses, or other pretty glasses with 1/3 Campari, and then top it up with well-chilled Prosecco.



Campari is an Italian aperitif that is flavoured with an infusion of herbs and fruits. It has a pretty dark orange-red colour. It is slightly bitter and something of an acquired taste. But, try it a few times and you’ll get hooked. Campari mixes well with citrus and sparkly water and wines. The classic way to serve Campari is with soda and a slice of orange. Old Italian men finish the day drinking Campari and soda at their favourite spot on their local piazza, watching the girls go by.



Centerpiece savvy

This colourful centerpiece is perfect for a casual fall celebration!DolceDolce’s Amber Burns shares entertaining tips from the experts at Country Living magazine, just in time for the holidays. Here’s Amber’s report: 

With the right tools and a few insider tips, anyone can create a stunning centerpiece for a holiday soiree, to brighten a home – or both! Enjoy the elegance floral centerpieces exude. 
Recently, Country Living held its second annual fair at Stone MountainPark outside Atlanta. Home and food stylist Annette Joseph shared her floral expertise with me.
First, gather your “flower tool kit,” which should include: Clippers, scissors, wire, tape, ribbon, and Annette’s secret weapon, rubber bands. Rubber bands are essential in creating a massed-out, flush look. Annette suggested playing with the juxtaposition of the flowers and the vessel. For instance, peach roses look chic in a rugged, funky bucket on crisp, white linen. Go for the unexpected.

To create a uniform, professional look, separate bundles of flowers individually and remove the leaves. Annette encourages you to regroup your flowers into multiple small bouquets, but to “always cut the flowers shorter than you think.”  The shorter stems create a fuller-looking bouquet, and keep the flowers from drooping over the edges of the vessel. 

DolceDolce's Amber Burns and Ed. Sarah Gray Miller from Country Living Country Living editor Sarah Gray Miller likes "hydrangeas and peonies… they’re classic." 

Creating a floral centerpiece is a fabulous way to personalize any event.  Your party should always reflect your style.
Here are more tips from the experts at Country Living to jazz up your gatherings:

·        Themes are always fun; be consistent throughout different realms of planning;
·        Themes are always fun, but keep your chosen theme consistent throughout the planning process;
·        Incorporate your theme from invitations to favors;
·        Welcome your guests with a great appetizer;
·        Play up your theme or holiday party with a seasonal beverage, such as cider or egg nog;
·        Favors should be high in sentiment, but not in price. Use mason jars, cocoa, and marshmallows to create an inexpensive party favor.  Add some ribbon and a name tag to double your gift as a seating arrangement.

A festive air

Sensual, exotic and inviting --Smoky AmberNothing complements a lovely room like a sophisticated and inviting scent. A fragrance with warm notes of spice and fruit will welcome guests as they cross your threshold and hint at the delights to come. 

Crabtree & Evelyn’s new holiday candles offer subtle sophisticated scents that help create a festive atmosphere.
The candles are elegantly presented in decorative jewel-toned glass containers. The Smoky Ambercandles flicker in ornate amethyst and gold-trimmed glasses. The Golden Topaz candles glow in pretty orange floral overlay containers.
Smoky Amber will add an exotic and festive aura to your home for the season. The delicious scent is a blend of crystallized ginger, golden amber, and cardamom with accents of mandarin and sandalwood.
Golden Topaz will perfume a room with a seasonal blend of Clementine, frankincense, and myrrh. There are also hints of cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove.
The candles come in a large size that burns for 50 hours for $30, or a package of three votives that burn approximately 25 hours each for $32. These elegant candles are fabulous value as compare to candles that are much more costly.

Simply the best

Fragrant tea eco-packed in linen sacks with self-pack teabagsI adore a good cup of jasmine tea so much I have spent a small fortune on it over the years. Recently, I tried fabulous Smooth Jasmine Green Tea from Village Tea. Really darlings, this smooth, floral and fresh brew is the best I have had in quite a while — all you could want in jasmine tea and more. The green packaging keeps the tea fresh while being totally recyclable and reusable. The brilliant concept consists of three neat little linen bags; you serve the tea from them into teabags Village Tea gives you to make single non-messy servings. A large canister costs $11.95, which is not pricey for this type and quality of tea.

If you are not mad for jasmine green tea, they have many of other varieties such as Rooibos, Earl Grey, White Tea, and a tea sampler. Village Tea is all about good things to drink. That is why they are the hot celebrity tea at the Sundance Film Festival and other events. Remember, this makes a great gift for friends on March 8th, International Women’s Day!

Create a festive ambience

Casa di Francesca

Never forget that the scent of your home is the one of the first ways you welcome your guests. When you open your door you want an elegant scent to greet them.
Casa di Francesca is a fragrance collection inspired by a real renaissance woman. Francesca of Casa Francesca was one of the few women of her time to make “the grand tour of Europe” in the late 1600s. Inspired by Francesca and her own Italian lineage, Katie Borghese created Casa di Francesca.
The scents in the collection are sophisticated. Imagine delightful combinations such as pineapple and wild jasmine, lemon tree, or cederwood vanilla scenting your home. The reed diffusers are made of hand-blown Murano glass. Some diffusers are vases of elegantly-simple clear glass; others are more ornate, such as the classic Millefiori vases. They all make lovely home décor accents. Diffusers make scenting your home easy. The scent is always subtly in the background, without the danger of fire.
I accent the diffuser scents with candles when I entertain, but I adore having ever-present layers of elegant scent.

Be a bar maven

The Cocktail Primer Gracey Hitchcock

As the holiday entertaining season approaches, spare a little thought to stocking the bar. If you usually grab a few bottles out from under the kitchen sink and make do with stale ice from the fridge — trust me darlings –you can do better.
Neither of these books will suggest you try to stock a home bar to rival the Ritz or even the local joint. Banish the thought. No one should expect a private home to be a hotel bar. If anyone does, by all means direct them to the nearest hotel. 
The Cocktail Primer: All you need to know to make the perfect drink by Eben Klemm, lives up to its name. Klemm covers stocking the bar from equipment to liquor.  He offers the basics and then brings it up by levels. I like that approach. He also allows for working in small urban apartments; smart. He offers recipes for the classics well as more-exotic drinks. You can’t miss with this book if you are beginner, and you will also enjoy it even if you’ve shaken and stirred a few drinks in your day.
How to Drink Victoria Moore’s How to Drink is not a beginner’s bar book. She is a Brit with a continental flair for libation lore. She offers little treatises on Pimms’ Cups, fresh juice, and a how-to on tea, coffee, and cocktails. I enjoyed it immensely. Ms. Moore also offers recipes for snacks and dishes to accompanies her favourite beverages. This is a great book for bon vivants!