Tasting Table's Dinner Parties

For this easygoing get-together, we invited a few close friends to join us at the kitchen counter for a meal that's big on simple, soulful food: mulled wine, slow-simmered lamb stew and chocolate mousse.

Winter has never tasted so good.

  • A casual meal at the kitchen counter is the antidote to holiday excesses.
  • Glogg, a Scandinavian mulled wine, is laced with spices.
  • A view into the kitchen, where dinner is served.
  • Herb-laden feta dip accompanies glasses of glogg.
  • Lamb daube, a rich Provencal stew, is served at the table.
  • Hot daube is ladled out.
  • The stew is brightened with orange peel.
  • Tasting Table Editor-in-Chief Scott Hocker goes in for seconds.
  • Chocolate mousse. Resistance is futile.
  • Elderflower liqueur sweetens the whipped cream.
  • Dinner winds down as it gets dark out.
  • With guests gone, it's time to clean up.

Click the links below to explore the recipes in this menu:


Lamb Daube

Chocolate Mousse with
Elderflower Whipped Cream

Plus, enjoy a bonus recipe, Feta Spread with Herbs, available on our Facebook page.

There's no right answer as to what to drink when a dinner party is as easygoing as this one is. Still, since the meal started with spiced red wine, we think it's smart to carry the red-wine theme through the rest of the meal. You want a quaffable red with body--but not too much. The Lamb Daube is full of rich, intense flavors that are tempered by a touch of sweetness from the orange peel.

So we turned to a smooth-drinking red from Spain, a sturdy Rhône blend and a rustic Syrah from France, and--for the heavy-red fans--a Cabernet Sauvignon from Washington State. These are simple wines with good character, ideal for a low-key night at home.

2007 Campo Viejo Crianza Rioja Tempranillo ($11 for 750 ml)
2009 Château de Montfaucon Côtes du Rhône ($11 for 750 ml)
2010 Barou Cuvee des Vernes Vin de Pays Syrah  ($13 for 750 ml)
2009 Chateau Ste. Michelle Cabernet Sauvignon
($15 for 750 ml)


We kept décor low-key this time around to foster a comfortable, come-as-you-are vibe. Strike a similar note at your next dinner party with these entertaining tips:

Counter Argument:
The first rule of entertaining is that everyone ends up in the kitchen. So why not start there, by inviting your guests to get up close and personal at the kitchen counter or island as you put the finishing touches on dinner? We set the counter with flame-red striped place mats (four for $140) from Commune in L.A., which add pop to the meal and hide the inevitable stew stain or two. Plus, there's a primal pleasure to sticking close to the stove on a cold night.

Help Yourself:
Stack dishes and glasses buffet-style, and let guests help themselves to flatware collected in a Mason jar or large tumbler. We chose simple Bistroware serving bowls ($25) from Canvas--a favorite source for no-frills tableware--and hefty stemless wineglasses ($15 each) from Canvas' sister store, Ochre. The bowls' substantial size feels generous and encourages guests to eat up. And don't worry about cloth napkins; paper will do just fine.

Double Duty:
The tools you cook with can easily double as serving pieces. Arrange appetizers on cutting boards--we used these handsome slabs (from $48) from Canvas--and plunk that pot down in the center of the counter. An Ethiopian cotton napkin ($21) spread across a baking sheet acts as a tray for serving dessert.

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