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Party planning: how to throw the perfect post-lockdown bash

With IRL socialising back on the not-too-distant agenda, it’s time to get back on the event-hosting horse and organise that bash of the decade you and your mates have all been dreaming about.

Garden party

Pre-pandemic, you were THE hostess with the mostess. Now, 12 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 – and throw a garden party like it’s 2019 again…

THE FOOD

Jamie Oliver recipe

The key to any good party is the grub, right? So, dish up big generous plates of sharing platters and recipes that are colourful, and just on the right side of exotic. We love Essex lad-done-good Jamie Oliver’s sizzling 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 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)

Ingredients

  • 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

Method

  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.

THE DRINKS

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.

THE DECOR

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 floral display (we love Buds The Flower Shop’s designs from Harwich) and a couple of hot new tableware buys to steal the show. Annabelle’s boutique in Crouch Street, Colchester, has a hand-block printed table cloth (£30) and scallop-detailed wine cooler (£36) perfect for sophisticated soiree’s, while Dantes Ceramics in Wivenhoe boasts a collection of beautifully crafted plates, bowls, tumblers and pitchers for a Scandi-style tablescape. Add Dantes’ contemporary black candle sticks (£26) to basket, too, so you can bask in the glow of your post-lockdown revelry.

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