Celebrity chef Mark McEwan is no stranger to dinner parties - both hosting and attending them. Here, he shares his secrets to serving in style.
1 Wine pairings
People get so intimidated when it comes to wine pairings. I'm more liberal. I like a bright white wine like Stoneleigh's Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Noir is my go-to red. It pairs well with anything: duck, beef, pork - even halibut! My friend put it best: "Do you like the wine? That's great! Drink it!"
2 Hors d'oeuvres
When it comes to hors d'oeuvres, plan for 10 pieces per person for a cocktail party. For a dinner, four will work - you want people to be hungry when they sit down to eat.
3 The main meal
Don't over-complicate the meal. Just pick your main protein - whether it's brined ham or a prime rib roast - and choose a few seasonal sides. Having four items on a plate is plenty.
4 Go stress-free
Don't try to achieve too much, make the menu too elaborate or cook too many dishes. It will get you flustered, and a stressed-out host is fun for no one.
5 Preparation is key
Prepare a menu that can have 90 percent done ahead of time with 10 percent to finish when guests arrive. I think of everything I need and lay it out - serving platters and utensils in the exact places I'll need them, condiments on the table - so I'm not hurriedly searching through drawers when company's over. I prep everything in advance but save one item to finish in front of people. It could be fresh gnocchi (from dough I've already prepared) or a beautiful layered salad.
MARK MCEWAN'S TRUSTY DINNER MENU
Salad: Layer your elements in advance and make a show of tossing them together at the dinner table.
Prime rib: Prep it and all its elements - the side vegetables, the au jus - ahead of time and leave the Yorkshire pudding for last.
Yorkshire pudding: It's a great last-minute dish to make in front of guests.
Purchase pre-made pizza dough to make this appetizer even easier!
Be the host with the most by making these delicious appetizers at your next party.
1 Preheat the oven to 425°F.
2 On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pizza dough into a thin 12" circle.
3 Transfer the dough to a rimmed baking sheet, pulling and stretching with your hands to maintain the circular shape.
4 Top the dough with the squash slices. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until the dough is crisp and lightly browned.
5 Meanwhile, heat the honey and chili slices in a small saucepan over medium heat until the honey is thickened and syrupy, about 2 minutes.
6 Slice the flatbread into squares. Drizzle each with a bit of the spiced honey; serve warm.
Prep & cook time: 45 minutes
Michael Buble's holiday home
Canadian icon Michael Bublé invites us into his Vancouver home as he gets ready to celebrate the season in style.
If it were up to Michael Buble’s mom, her son’s music – and only her son’s music – would accompany their family Christmases. But since the Juno and Grammy award-winning Canadian singer-songwriter does, indeed, get a say, Bing Crosby and Elvis Presley are afforded lots of airtime, too. “We listen to everything from Mariah Carey to Boney M,” says Michael, explaining the obvious: Music plays a huge part in his holidays.
Once a year, this fabulous foursome – Christmas, music, family and food – comes together in a Buble bash that lasts a couple of days and sees a flood of loved ones visiting from all over the world, including South Africa, Argentina, London and L.A. Upstairs, his music room plays host to a sweet piano-accompanied singalong. And downstairs? “Our basement turns into a sort of salsa club,” says Michael. They move aside the arcade basketball, dome hockey and foosball games (“It’s my 12-year-old-boy-style man cave,” he says with a laugh) to accommodate the DJ and dance floor. “We eat too much, we drink too much – it’s like an old-school Hollywood party.”
Although he admits it may sound cliche, Michael likes giving more than he does getting. “Whether it’s compliments or gifts, receiving them can make me feel a bit embarrassed and shy,” he says. So, in terms of showering his wife with presents, he’s a pro romantic. “But I have a poor sense of occasion. I don’t save gifts for Christmas or Valentine’s Day,” he explains. Case in point: When he’s going to be out of town for a while, Michael will hide little notes around the house, tucking them in shoes, toiletries, drawers, even the diaper bag – “I want to remind her that I’m thinking of her,” he says.
The house’s elegant black, white and gold palette has a sophisticated charm that suits this debonair songster’s vocal style. Above the tray table in the hallway is another piece from Michael’s collection of artwork – a beautiful collage of broken records created by his brother-in-law.
You’d be surprised to know that singer-songwriter Michael Buble has only one of his awards on display at his house – and even that’s a fluke. He brought it home from the office to show a friend and has yet to return it. What he takes more pride in is his meaningful collection of artwork, which includes a cartoon by Jann Arden and a painting by Tony Bennett. But one of his favourite pieces is a photograph of Chet Baker (hanging above the fireplace in his living room) by the great William Claxton, who shot the cover for one of Michael’s albums.
A voluminous cedar garland is filled out with eucalyptus leaves and geometric silver ornaments.
Layers of neutrals are grounded with graphic hits of black and punched up with fresh greenery in the living room.
A simple mirror stylishly frames a leafy green wreath.
Presents are personalized with a band of sheet music secured with a delicate satin bow. Then the presents are nestled in a bowl of ball ornaments for the perfect way to add some flair under the tree.
The couple, who has a two-year-old son named Noah, announced earlier this year that they’re expecting another child, and Michael can’t wait to share the holiday traditions that he enjoyed when he was young. “My dad and I would get the lights out of the attic and string them up outside, while my mom and sisters would decorate the inside. Then we’d gather around the Christmas tree and put the star topper on together: very Norman Rockwell,” he says. “Of course that’s the way I remember it – I’m sure I’ve forgotten the fighting and hair-pulling with my sisters.”
With bold black and white striped gift wrap, sometimes a touch of cedar is all you need as a topper.
The party is set to sound even better this holiday, thanks to last year’s gift from Michael’s wife, actor Luisana Lopilato: “When it was time to open my present, I could hear her telling me that she loved me very much, adored having a child with me and was thrilled to be spending another Christmas with me...but I didn’t understand why her voice was audible throughout the whole house,” he says. “She’d had a Sonos sound system installed – and I had no idea. It was really special.”
And then there’s the food. Michael has an Italian extended family and an Argentinian wife, so the smorgasbord often stretches from the traditional turkey and mashed potatoes to risotto and empanadas. “The whole house smells amazing,” says Michael, who’s always thrilled to host his family and friends under his Vancouver roof.
Delicate white peonies arranged in a dome shape look like a bowl of little white snowballs.
Black table linens paired with gold-toned flatware and subtly gold-edged dishware, topped with a simple handwritten place card and sprig of eucalyptus.
Black and white sugar cookies echo the graphic palette throughout the house, becoming the most stylish (and delicious) desserts around.
Bow-tied gingerbread Bubles by Butter Baked Goods are a classy take on the traditional cookies
Icing sugar-dusted chocolate cookies served up on a white star plate are festive yet understated, while underscoring the black and white scheme.
Instead of some classic jingle bells on display, you’ll find pieces like this harmonica from Michael’s music room, where he spends lots of time jamming with friends and writing songs.
While on set, Michael was singing classic Christmas carols and keeping spirits bright for our team. And what winter wonderland Christmas shoot would be complete without his signature bowties?
Is there anything better than sliding into a bed laden with good quality sheets? At the end of the day, I can't wait to stretch out under my fresh, soft covers and nestle my face into a good cotton-covered pillow. We spend a third of our lives in bed so quality sheets are key, but how do you get quality for your money? There's no doubt that most consumers believe the higher the thread count, the better the quality, but this isn't entirely true. With the help and expertise of Joanna Goodman, owner of Au Lit Fine Linens, we expose the truth about thread count and what it takes to find quality bed sheets.
Simply put, thread count is the number of threads woven into one square inch of fabric. This number is based on the threads woven horizontally ("weft") and vertically ("warp"). Extra threads can also be woven into the weft threads to increase the thread count. These added threads are called "picks" and are added in the overall count, which is how some sheets end up having thread counts in the thousands. This is why the idea that high counts equal better quality isn't really accurate. Consider this: Joanna says most weavers will say the maximum number of threads that can be woven into one square inch of fabric is 500 to 600. Though the number is arguable and, according to Joanna, "depends on the mill you deal with," it gives you an idea of where the line is between single-ply, unpicked weaves and ones that add threads here and there to bump up the count.
Joanna lists three things to look for on the label: if it's Egyptian cotton, where it's woven and, lastly, the thread count. While thread count is a bit misunderstood, the buzz around Egyptian cotton is true. "The very best cotton in the world is grown in Egypt. So Egyptian cotton will be of a better quality," Joanna says. She also recommends pima cotton, which is grown in America, "though not quite as exceptional as Egyptian." When it comes to weaving, however, she swears by the Italians as being the "master weavers of the world" due to their "long tradition of weaving" and use of the best Egyptian cotton. Be sure the label says 100% or pure Egyptian cotton though, otherwise it may only contain a small percentage of the good stuff. As for the thread count, look for a minimum of 200. From there, it's all about preference!
Joanna's one key piece of advice is to watch out for extremely low priced, high thread count sheet sets. A complete sheet set with a high thread count for $100 or less is probably not the dream bargain you think it is. As Joanna believes, "you always get what you pay for." The price tag for bed linens will vary depending on the sheet size and what items you're buying, such as a duvet cover, sheet sets, or pillowcases. "A superior quality 200 thread count queen set (including flat, fitted, two pillowcases), made of Egyptian cotton and woven in Europe, could retail reasonably for about $150-$250," says Joanna.
After going through the quality checklist, go with what feels best for you. If you're looking for a durable linen, Joanna recommends any percale from thread count 200 to 800. Percale is any cotton woven with a 200 thread count or higher and will be more durable than a cotton satin of the same thread count. It's also less likely to pill than cotton satin because it has a denser weave. Love the feel of a cotton button down shirt? Joanna advises a crisp, dense 200 thread count percale. Prefer a silkier sheet? Go for a 300 to 600 cotton satin. If you want lighter sheets, Joanna says, a 400 thread count sheet can be soft and light, while an 800 percale would be soft and dense. The higher the thread count, the more likely multiple-ply thread is used or picks are added, making the fabric denser and heavier.
Now you know that quality is not just about the number, so don't let numbers rule your bed! Remember what to look for on the label and be wary of too-low prices for supposedly high quality items. Beyond that, go with what you prefer. Get a good feel of the sheets before buying. Whether you're unzipping the packaging or lying down on a display bed, make sure the fabric feels good against your skin and soon you'll be having sweet dreams!
Find out how to keep your new linens crisp and clean with our tips to whiter-than-white sheets.