Inspire | 9 December 2021

An Entertainer’s Guide to a Fuss-Free Dinner Party

by Carlisle Homes

Lisa Holmen’s guide to planning the perfect dinner party.

Summer is a time ripe with festivities, which doesn’t come without its challenges. Guests require entertaining during the silly season and there is certainly an art to it. A central force here is food, and with so much to consider it can all be overwhelming.

Thankfully, we have Lisa Holmen, culinary guru and founder of food and travel blog, Lisa Eats World. For our new Summer Series, Lisa joins Carlisle Homes to deliver recipes and expert advice so you can hit the ground running with a delicious summer.  

This week, we learn how to leave our guests in awe by being the ultimate dinner party host.

For our Summer series, nutritious recipe guru Lisa Holmen, is here to help you navigate the festive season. Photography: Her Golden Point Photography.

Party Food - Planning the Perfect Dinner Party

Get the party started with this fuss free guide for dinner party planning. Whether you’re planning a large soiree or something more intimate in your home, here are some tips to entertain like a pro with sumptuous party food to take the stress out of entertaining.

Preparation is key

The last thing you want is to be exhausted and stressed when hosting a party. When it comes to party planning, lists are your best friend. It’s a good idea to plan your menu at least a week in advance, around food which is in season to make sure it’s as fresh as possible. Confirm how many guests will be in attendance and if there are any dietary requirements or allergies. Prep as much of the food as possible in advance before guests arrive so you will have time to relax and mingle. Cook the dishes the day before if possible so they can just be ‘finished off’ or reheated in the oven or stove top. Marinating a dish the night before is not only convenient but it brings out the flavours of the dish more and is likely to make the protein of choice more tender.

Plan the menu structure – shared family style or courses

Fortunately, hosting a dinner party these days tends to be a lot more casual than it used to be. A cocktail option for stand-up style parties tends to be focused on finger food or canape options, while a three to five course menu or shared plated options is more suitable for a seated dinner at home. If you’re looking for a more casual approach, shared family-style dishes are the way to go, rather than individually served courses. Just position the shared platters in the middle of the table where guests can help themselves or pass around. The dinner can still be served in courses starting with appetisers followed by entrees, main courses and sides and then dessert – they’re just not individually served and portioned.

 It’s a good idea to plan the main course first since it sets the tone for the rest of the dishes. For example, a roast leg of lamb may be complemented by a plant or seafood-based entrée and a side of crispy potatoes, while an oven-baked fish may be teamed with a simple salad of greens and a lemon and olive oil vinaigrette to bring out the flavour of the dish.

Don’t forget dessert: it’s always nice to end a party on a sweet note. These espresso brownies (insert link) are the perfect dessert to prepare in advance: Just reheat slightly and add cream and ice cream. Drinks can often be an afterthought, so it’s recommended to match each course if possible, with a wine and a non-alcoholic option for guests who have to drive.

Keep it simple

Don’t get too complicated or fussy, the notion of a home-cooked meal is exactly that. Choose dishes that can be prepped in advance for example a tray of roast vegetables that just need to be popped into the oven or a salad with the dressing prepared on the side. In general, a dinner party focused on shared plates needs a main centrepiece, usually a protein with a couple of sides like roasted vegetables, pan-fried greens, a simple salad and something a little more starchy like potatoes, pasta or whole grains.

Ensure you have a sustainable party and opt for ‘no waste’ party foods where possible, that can be stored in the fridge or freezer after the party.

Provide a grazing option to start

Start with finger food or a grazing platter before moving on to the main event. This will give guests a great opportunity to mingle before sitting down to the main affair. Think platters brimming with cheese and charcuterie, Spanish-inspired tapas, dips with freshly-sliced veggies or even some oysters or scallops if you’re looking for something more indulgent.

A dinner party is a perfect opportunity to celebrate your new home. Create a lovely ambience with low lighting, candlelight, fresh linens and flowers.

Read on for Lisa’s curated selection of recipes that are guaranteed to impress your guests this festive season.

The most important part of a successful party is the planning and preparation!

Roasted Duck with Sour Cherries


  • 6 duck breasts, skin on
  • Sea salt and pepper
  • 4 tbsp Vino Cotto or balsamic vinegar
  • 2 cups sour cherries, drained
  • 1 cup of chicken stock
  • A few sprigs of rosemary, chopped
    4 tbsp unsalted butter, chilled and cubed
  • 1 – 2 tsp cornflour
  • Rosemary leaves to garnish


  1. Preheat the oven to 190C.
  2. Score the skin of the duck breasts and season with salt and pepper.
  3. Heat a large frying pan on medium – high heat. Sear the duck breasts skin side down and cook for 4 - 5 minutes until the skin is browned then flip and seal the other sides then set aside on a large baking tray.
  4. Reduce the heat and add the vinocotto to the pan then add the cherries, rosemary and stock and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and let simmer until the mixture is reduced.
  5. While the sauce is reducing, place the duck in the oven for 8 – 10 minutes until cooked. Set aside to rest for five minutes.
  6. Add the butter to the pan and allow to melt and thicken then gradually add the cornflour until it reaches the desired consistency.
  7. Place duck on a serving plate then slice on an angle into thick pieces then pour over the sauce. Garnish with extra rosemary if desired. 

Rockmelon, Mozzarella and Prosciutto Salad


  • 1 rockmelon, deseeded
  • 200g container of fresh mozzarella, drained or 1 ball of burrata cheese
  • 8 slices of prosciutto
  • Bunch of asparagus
  • 1/3 cup basil leaves
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 ½ tbsp honey
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • Salt and pepper to season


  1. Trim and blanch the asparagus in a saucepan of boiling water on medium heat.
  2. While the asparagus is cooking, thinly slice or shave the rockmelon and place on a large serving platter. Tear the mozzarella into small balls and place on top followed by the prosciutto and the basil leaves.
  3. Allow the asparagus to cool then add to the salad and toss gently.
  4. To make the vinaigrette, whisk the honey, balsamic vinegar and olive oil in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper and adjust to taste.
  5. Drizzle the salad with the vinaigrette and serve immediately.

Consider food presentation during the planning process. Dress it up or keep it simple and fuss-free!

Espresso Brownies


  • 225g unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 240g white sugar
  • 210g brown sugar
  • 30g strong espresso
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • 4 eggs
  • Pinch of salt
  • 125g plain flour, sifted
  • 100g cocoa powder, sifted
  • 200g choc bits


  1. Preheat oven to 180C (less for fan forced). Grease and line a 20cm x 30cm baking tin with baking paper.
  2. Whisk the butter, oil, sugars, vanilla and espresso in a large mixing bowl. Add the eggs and beat for a minute or two until the mixture is lighter in colour.
  3. Fold in the salt, flour and cocoa until just combined ensuring not to over mix. Stir in most of the choc bits and pour the batter into the prepared tin. Top with remaining choc bits. 
  4. Bake for 25 - 30 minutes for gooey fudge consistency. Add another five minutes for less gooey brownies.
  5. Allow to cool for 10 minutes before removing from pan.
  6. Allow to cool for another 15 minutes before slicing into pieces. Serve immediately with ice cream or save for later!

Simple home-cooked food that can be prepped in advance is perfect and lets you unwind and mingle during the party.

Creamy Potato Gratin

  • Ingredients
  • 1 cup cream
  • 1 garlic clove, finely diced
  • 25g unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 kg Potatoes thinly sliced
  • Salt and pepper to season
  • 1 1/2 cups mozzarella cheese, grated
  • Fresh rosemary and thyme leaves to finish (optional)


  1. Preheat oven to 180 C. Lightly grease a 8 cup capacity baking dish.
  2. Combine butter, cream and garlic in a bowl and stir to combine.
  3. Arrange a layer of potato slices over the base of the dish then drizzle over a third of the cream mixture then season and sprinkle with a third of the cheese. Repeat to make three layers. Top with rosemary and thyme. 
  4. Cover and bake covered with foil for one hour. Then cook for another 20 minutes uncovered until cooked through and golden on top.

Stay tuned for more of this three-part series and follow us as we cover healthy eating for the New Year, plus a guide to delicious, and equally nutritious, breakfast options for 2022. Want more from the Home Files? Explore the Inspire section of our blog here.

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