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Dinner-party planning: how to throw the perfect Christmas do

With small (Covid-friendly) Christmas gatherings still on the agenda, it’s time to get back on the event-hosting horse and organise that festive dinner party you and your mates have all been dreaming about

When you think back to those pre-pandemic Christmas gatherings, you realise that you really were THE hostess with the mostess, right? Now, 22 months on, you’re worried you might be out of practice. Fear not: we’ve got the hot hacks and local low-down to help you master the art of entertaining like a pro again this festive season – and throw a (Covid-friendly) party like it’s 2019 again…


Jamie Oliver recipe

The key to any good party is the grub, right? So, dish up big generous plates of winter-warming sharing platters that are colourful, and just on the right side of festive. We love Essex lad-done-good Jamie Oliver’s bejewelled Moroccan prawns, served up with fluffy couscous and rainbow salsa: tasty, quick to make, and easy to bulk up depending on your numbers. Just add a stylish scattering of pomegranate seeds before serving for a pop of Christmas colour and you’ll impress even your fussiest foodie friends.

Sizzling Moroccan prawns

Serves 2 
Cooks in 20 minutes
(Recipe adapted from Jamie Oliver’s Everyday Super Food)


  • 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • olive oil
  • 1 level teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 good pinch of saffron
  • 6 large raw shell-on king prawns, from sustainable sources
  • 2 oranges
  • 150 g wholewheat couscous
  • 400 g colourful mixed seasonal veg, such as peas, asparagus, fennel, courgettes, celery, spring onions, red or yellow peppers
  • 1 fresh red chilli
  • ½ a bunch of fresh mint , (15g)
  • 1 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons natural yoghurt
  • 1 pomegranate


  1. Strip the rosemary leaves into a pestle and mortar, then peel and add the garlic and pound into a paste with a pinch of sea salt.
  2. Muddle in 1 tablespoon of oil, the paprika, saffron and a swig of boiling water to make a marinade.
  3. Use little scissors to cut down the back of each prawn shell and remove the vein. Cut 1 orange into wedges, toss with the prawns and the marinade and leave aside for 10 minutes.
  4. Put the couscous into a bowl and just cover with boiling water, then pop a plate on top and leave to fluff up.
  5. Take a bit of pride in finely chopping all your colourful seasonal veg and chilli, and put them into a nice serving bowl.
  6. Pick a few pretty mint leaves and put to one side, then pick and finely chop the rest and add to the bowl with the juice of the lemon and the remaining orange. Add the couscous, toss together and season to perfection.
  7. Put a large non-stick frying pan on a high heat. Add the prawns, marinade and orange wedges and cook for 4 to 5 minutes, or until the prawns are gnarly and crisp, then arrange on top of the couscous.
  8. Dollop with yoghurt, then halve the pomegranate and, holding it cut side down in your fingers, bash the back so the sweet jewels tumble over everything. Sprinkle with the reserved mint leaves and serve.


Dedham Vale Vineyards

Stock up on a selection of premium wines from Essex vineyards to support (and sip) local. We love Dedham Vale’s Romanus 2016, a medium dry white wine best sipped chilled; New Hall Vineyard’s Signature 2017 – a dry white wine produced from a blend of early-ripening varieties including Pinot Gris, Ortega and Chardonnay; Saffron Grange’s Sparkling Pinot Noir Rosé – a luxurious rose-gold brut made from 100 per cent pinot noir grapes; and West Street’s fruit-fuelled Sparkling White Wine for a smart hit of bubbles. Want the booze delivered direct to your door? Step forward, Estuary Wine Bar in Manningtree, Bella Bottle in west Essex and Tapp’d Cocktails in Leigh-on-Sea, who are all offering home delivery right now so you don’t even need to battle for booze in busy aisles this month. Win-win.


Dantes Ceramics candle

Part of the fun of preparing for a social do is getting the table and interiors looking spot on, so go all out with a fresh display (we love Buds The Flower Shop’s designs from Harwich for festive-floral spruce) and a couple of hot new tableware buys to steal the show. Annabelle’s boutique in Crouch Street, Colchester, has a classy selection of vintage-style Champagne glasses from just £7 that are perfect for sophisticated soirees, while Dantes Ceramics in Wivenhoe boasts a collection of beautifully crafted plates, bowls, tumblers and pitchers for a Scandi-style tablescape. Add Dantes’ Christmas-ready Sanne Hopp beeswax candle with ceramic base (£42) to basket, too, so you can bask in the glow of your dinner-party perfection.

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