All Wined Up

Entertain in Style: Wine & Dine in No Time


Guest post by Alison Santighian. Image Courtesy of

We’ll just pretend I have time to entertain as much as I’d love to. My husband and I have grand plans for all sorts of cocktail and dinner parties, never mind the epic costume bashes we’d love to throw (like we did when we were 25).

Truth be told, we can barely feed ourselves from somewhere other than our favorite Indian delivery joint. But what we do manage once in a while - and have to talk ourselves off of the over-the-top entertaining planning edge (no, not every teeny dinner party needs its own highly personalized playlist) - are a couple of occasions: friends over for brunch, a weeknight “dinner party” with tops 3 friends, and gasp! a family dinner.

We happen to be wine lovers, too, so here’s what we would serve on plates and in glasses that won’t give you an entertaining heart attack. I’d like to think they’re at least reasonably manageable, even with little ones in tow.

Brunch with Friends. Last minute or on-the-schedule-for-months-because-everyone’s-calendars-are-so-packed, we’ll have dear friends (and sometimes an offspring or two) over for an easy mid-morning weekend meal. It’s easy, no one has to dress up (but they can), and the morning timeframe is eternally kid-friendly.

Frittata. The easiest brunch dish in the world, adaptable to pretty much everyone’s dietary restrictions (no meat, no dairy, for example, still yields a fantastic, tasty version). My base recipe is Kim O’Donnel’s out of her Meatless for Meatlovers, but this one from Bon Appetit will do, too. Play with whatever veggies are in season, sauteeing them up ahead of time, even. (Totally a make-ahead)

Salad. Whatever version you like and/or are comfortable tossing together. I buy the bag or box o’ greens, and make a version of my mother-in-law’s go-to dressing: as much or as little finely chopped garlic as you like, freshly chopped dill, dash of sugar, balsamic vinegar. Whisk it all together with the best olive oil you have in your house.

Bread. Duh. We’re lucky enough to have a Marvelous Market up the street from us. You probably have a neighborhood favorite. Make the bread run a morning kids’ activity with whichever parent isn’t putting out the spread.

Coffee. Duh. We’re partial to pretty much any of the darkest Mayorga Coffee beans (locally owned, and also from Marvelous Market).

Cava. The Spanish version of bubbly, we found versions of cava we liked better than the ubiquitous prosecco or cheaper champagne were available more readily. For an upgrade, ask your neighborhood wine guy for a “single grower” champagne recommendation. Seriously. It’s pricier, but oh, so worth it. You might hate me for that advice.

Weeknight Dinner Party. Weekends are so packed that, if we want to have friends or colleagues over for dinner, we have to sneak it in on a weeknight. Which, with two kids, is a challenge. So if we’re not planning ahead and cooking for days (which I also do), we’re pretty straightforward in our easy-peasy menu.

“Homemade” guacamole and chips and veggies. 1 Avocado, couple of scoops of your favorite fresh salsa (fresh is key), good salt (coarse sea salt or even fancier are good). Mash with a fork. And don’t tell anyone, like I just did.

Pan-seared Fish with Sauteed Spinach. I used to be afraid of fish, but no longer, thank goodness. The easiest to do, I’ve found, is salmon. Looks fancy, too. Salt & pepper it liberally while your pan’s heating (to no more than medium). Put it in the pan (go non-stick for super-easy-no-worries) skin side down. Cover. Don’t touch it. Look at it after a bit (3-5 minutes), and see if it looks like it’s a softer pink. If it is, you’re getting there. Squeeze 2-3 (yes, that many) lemons over top of the fish, let that “sauce” bubble. Remove the fish to a plate, and cover. Add butter and wine (more on that in a minute), let simmer a bit, but not too long, or you’ll end up with a bitter sauce.

For the spinach, olive oil in a medium-hot pan, then add finely chopped garlic. Add the fresh spinach (a box or several bags - it cooks down a LOT) a handful at a time, and just cook til wilted or soft enough to your liking. Toss it with salt, and put it on the plates first, then add the fish filets, a pretty lemon slice, and you’ll look like a rock star.

Dessert. Sorbet or gelato (Dolci Gelati pumpkin pie is my new favorite) with Anna’s ginger thins.

Wine. Having spent time in Austria, I’m partial to a crisp Gruener Veltliner, but that’s sometimes too dry for some folks’ taste, so don’t get complicated, and go for a pinot gris (gio) or a lighter chardonnay. Those two are popular for a reason.

Family Dinner. Though the other two occasions really take so little time to prep those meals (if I go the fancy routes on each, complete with vegetable shopping and pauses for kids, it might take 30-40 minutes for each meal), family dinners are (when they’re not one of the above, frankly) sometimes, well, takeout. Our kids love, love, love any kind of rotisserie chicken, but our neighborhood joint happens to be a Peruvian one. A chicken, with or without the sides (which are rarely veggies), will not only feed us that night, but keeps on giving into not only leftovers but other dishes later in the week, a la those freaky meal planners in women’s mags. But they’re right. It does work that way. And then mama gets her Big Red Zin (or, if she can find it, an Austrian Blauer Zweigelt) alongside.

With almost seven years under her blogging belt and one of the pioneers of the DC fashion blogging scene (read her blog DC Celine), Alison Santighian is a mistress at balancing work and play. By day she's a federal contractor, using her super powers to serve our country, but by night (after bedtime for her “Beans” aged 5 and 2.5), she pines after the “it” factor and how to infuse it into her daytime looks. She and her husband, “H,” don’t believe badass has an expiration date and hit concerts, shows, restaurants, and openings across the DMV. You can follow Alison on twitter at @DCCeline.