Dinner for four

Waking your way down an unplowed road in a snowstorm is difficult.


dinner for four - sauce

Even more so when you’re walking. The powder blows up into your eyes, the deceptively shallow pockets of snow are only a few unsuspecting steps ahead of you, and worst of all, the constant, bitter cold wraps around your entire body, leaving you with only the memory of warmth.

You pass a few houses along the way. The motion-sensor bulbs shine light upon the otherwise darkened windows. You see a glow in the distance. Several cars are parked outside the red-bricked house, still warm from the drive over. From the outside you see a dining room, lit by a chandelier and filled with people laughing, drinking. You step inside, and are immediately filled with warmth.

There is something indescribable about the way a home smells when you cook a delicious meal. You can feel how the heat from the oven has made its way around into every nook, and you can see a tangible result—people are happy when they eat together.

The dinner party is primal. It’s instinctive. And it’s a blast.

It’s a way to meet new people, to reconnect with old friends, and to satisfy your hunger—literally. Take the time to make it an unforgettable experience. We’ll show you how.


The Breakdown

dinner - cocktail


Nothing screams classy dinner party like some classy cocktails. Unfortunately, the art of making a good cocktail has been muddled (no pun intended) over the years. What passes for a cocktail today (fruity “martinis,” vodka-based juice mixes) are the exact opposite of what a cocktail was originally intended to be.

There are three main rules when designing a cocktail. First, it should whet the appetite. That means it should not be sweet or syrupy, and should not contain too much mixer. Second, cocktails should always be dry. That means you should be able to taste the alcohol in them, and it should be smooth to drink.

Lastly, cocktails must be well-iced. This doesn’t necessarily mean there has to be ice in the glass, but, as is the case with the Martini and Manhattan, they can be iced, then strained.



The introduction. This is the first impression you make on your guests, so don’t blow it by heating up some President’s Choice hors d’oeuvres. Make it fun and personal. Try playing with a common dish. Chicken noodle soup? Make a chicken consommé and add in some fresh pasta. Cheeseburgers? Make them mini. Use ground veal brisket and top with sautéed mushrooms and Stilton cheese.

Don’t want to go through the extra effort or expensive ingredients? Try serving smaller portions in novel ways. Serve your soup in shot glasses or Asian soup spoons—we made a simple butternut squash soup.



The intermediate. You totally impressed your guests with that first course, now you have to feed them something to tide them over to the main. Our advice: go for a salad. Something a bit savory works well, but again, try to keep the portions down.



This is it—what everyone’s been waiting for. Your chance to shine and impress that cute girl/guy you’ve had your eye on all night. We suggest making something foolproof. It should be delicious and look like you’ve spent all day preparing it, but we both know it was easy as pie. Don’t mess around, braise something.


dinner - espresso


You did it. You made it through the night and no one got violently ill as a result. Now it’s time to lay back and eat what other people brought. Yeah, that’s right. Traditionally, people bring the desserts to a dinner party— you can make something if you’d like, but it’s more fun to have everyone else bring some random sweets and mix it all up.

But be sure to provide the after dinner drinks. Espresso and tea, only. If anyone orders something else, tell them to take a hike, this is your classy dinner party.


How you do it



Technically known as an Old-Fashioned Whiskey Cocktail, the Old-Fashioned is the original cocktail. The simplicity and well-roundedness of its ingredients lead to a truly exceptional drink. Don Draper says so.

  • 2-3 ounces bourbon
  • 1 dash Angostura bitters
  • 1 cube sugar (or 1 dash simple syrup)
  • Twist of lemon/orange peel

In the bottom of an old-fashioned glass (tumbler), muddle the sugar with a few drops of water and a dash of Angostura bitters (or mix a dash of simple syrup and bitters). Add half of the bourbon and enough ice cubes to fill the glass halfway. Stir with the lemon/orange twist and leave in the drink. Pour in the rest of the bourbon and fill with ice.

TIP: For a nice take on it, try using rye whiskey for its complex flavour.


Named after the area of New York it was invented in, the Manhattan is also known as the “King of Cocktails.” This was the Rat Pack’s drink of choice.

  • 2 ounces rye whiskey
  • 1/2 ounce sweet vermouth
  • 1 dash Angostura Bitters

Stir the ingredients with ice and strain into a cocktail glass.


Winston Churchill once quipped that the way to make a perfect Martini is by pouring gin into a glass, then looking at a bottle of vermouth. How awesome is that?

  • 1 1/2 ounces gin
  • 1/2 ounce dry vermouth
  • 1 dash bitters

Stir with ice. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with either an olive or a twist of lemon (“with a twist”).

TIP: The cocktail glass is commonly mistakenly referred to as the “martini glass,” due to the popularity of the drink.



Classic Butternut Squash Soup

  • 2 butternut squash, halved lengthwise, seeded
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 bunch fresh sage
  • 1 onion, sliced thin
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • Pinch of grated nutmeg

[6 servings]

  1. Cut squash lengthwise and remove seeds. Drizzle with olive oil and roast, cut side up, in 375F preheated oven. Remove when tender. Scoop squash into bowl when cooled.
  2. Heat olive oil in large pot. Add in sage. Remove sage when crisp and set aside. Sauté onion in pot until it starts to brown. Add in squash, nutmeg, and half of chicken stock. Blend (easiest with an immersion blender). Continue adding stock until desired consistency is reached. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish with fresh chives, reserved sage, and a drizzle of olive oil.


dinner - spinach


Easy Warm Spinach Salad

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar (can substitute with red wine vinegar)
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 6 loosely packed cups baby spinach and/or baby arugula

[4 Servings]

  1. Toast pine nuts. Mix into greens.
  2. Melt butter in pan. Add shallots and cook until starting to brown. Add olive oil, vinegar, honey, and mustard. Mix well. Pour overtop greens.

TIP: The classic warm spinach salad has hard-boiled eggs and bacon as well. Try adding those, or substitute the pine nuts with pieces of bacon, and the butter with the rendered bacon fat.


dinner - main


Port-braised lamb shanks with toasted orzo and seasonal vegetables

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 lamb shanks
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cups Port wine
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 4 cloves garlic

[4 Sevings]

  1. Season lamb with salt and pepper and let rest for a few hours.
  2. Heat olive oil in dutch oven and brown lamb on all sides. Remove lamb from pot and add in carrots, celery, and onion. Stir until vegetables are browned and add in port and red wine. Reduce liquid by half. Add chicken stock, garlic, and lamb shanks to pot. Bring to boil. Turn off stove and cover pot.
  3. Move pot into 350F preheated oven. Let cook for around 2 hours.
  • 500g orzo
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
  • 1 cup braising liquid from lamb shanks
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley leaves
  • 8 cups of combination chicken stock and water at a boil
  1. Begin this recipe after you remove the shanks from the oven. Be sure to keep the lid on though.
  2. Take half of orzo and put in large pan at medium heat. Toast until brown. Reserve pasta.
  3. Heat butter and olive oil in large pan. Add in onions, cook until tender. Reintroduce toasted and non-toasted orzo. Mix well. Add boiling water/stock in increments until pasta is almost cooked through. Add in braising liquid (from lamb shanks) and mix. Top with cold butter and chopped parsley. Mix and plate.

Find the freshest vegetables you can, season with salt, pepper and olive oil, and roast or cook in pan. We went for asparagus (as they were in season), seared in a pan.


The combination of celery, carrots, and onions is known in French cooking as a mirepoix—a common flavour base for many dishes.

Though this is adapted from a Bobby Flay recipe, it is essentially a simple braise. You can choose to use whatever ingredients you want (any cheap, tough meat will turn out beautifully—ask your local butcher which fresh meats he recommends), and any flavours you want. Try making a whiskey braise by substituting whiskey for the port. You don’t need as much, but increase the volumes of the other liquids to make
up for it.