Hi—I’m Eden Passante and I started the entertaining site Sugar and Charm in 2010. Over the past decade I’ve planned countless social events, ranging from weddings and dinner parties to small gatherings at home. I’ve been happily educating readers on ways to make any kind of celebration charming, and how to be the best host you can be. My goal is to inspire others to make their hosted meals special with pretty details, creative table settings, unique cocktails, and decadent desserts—all while keeping the food effortless and simple.
With the unprecedented events of 2020, we’re all facing a new normal. Because most of us are sticking closer to home these days, I wanted to share five easy ways to elevate any self-quarantine dinner, stay-at-home date night, or small household gathering into something memorable. It’s my hope that these tips will bring some extra joy and happiness into your home right now.
1. Start Things Off Right with a Signature Cocktail
Any event or party I host always features a signature cocktail! Think of a seasonal or themed cocktail that will go with your self-quarantined dinner.
To make the cocktail special, break out the good liquor. There is no better time to enjoy a few of the finer things in life than now, at home. So go ahead and open the good wine and the quality spirits you’ve saved for special occasions. Now’s the time to indulge a bit in something special that will help bring a little normalcy into the mix.
One of my absolute favorite cocktails is the classic Bees Knees. Made with just three ingredients, this is something you’ll be able to whip up quickly. It’s also a great drink to sip year-round.
Another delicious cocktail to make is our Red Moon Over Manhattan. This wine cocktail is totally unique and is made with red wine and bourbon. And, if you’re feeling a little sluggish from long days at home, give yourself a boost with our Wild Berry Energy Cocktail. It’s a fruity, berry libation made with an energy drink.
2. Play Music
When you’re dining out, some restaurants choose to play music while others prefer to create a hushed environment. I personally like subtle instrumental music playing in the background while enjoying a meal out. For a special event at home, it’s key to have some music playing.
So pick your favorite artist or station and have music on while you prepare the meal, set the table, and enjoy the fruits of your labor. Remember that whatever music you play will set the tone, so choose something more relaxing so you can enjoy a long, beautiful at-home dinner.
3. Think Like a Restaurateur
Setting the mood with flowers and decor is one of the keys to making a dinner at home feel special. Create a cozy, comfortable setting using these easy tips:
Fresh Flowers—When you’re at the grocery store, pick up fresh flowers and use these tips from a professional florist to arrange them.
Candles—Light candles and place them on the table or arrange a few around the room in safe places. Tealights or tapered candles are inexpensive and a great option for creating a candlelit table setting.
Napkin folds—It’s the small things, like a fun napkin fold, that make a table setting charming. We’ve created napkin folds as roses, bunnies, and even trees. The options are endless and keeps things interesting.
Dinnerware—Use this guide for setting your table. Then, get out your best dishes and silverware to use. Like we mentioned before, there’s no better time to use your “good stuff” than now!
4. The Power of Plating
Food presentation is what makes whatever’s being served look extra appetizing. Plate the food in a clean and beautiful way. Use fresh herbs and edible flowers to garnish. Speaking of edible flowers, right now is a great time to do something new at home and create an edible flower garden! Do this on a windowsill if you don’t have an outdoor space.
Adding freshly cracked pepper and coarse salt, with a drizzle of olive oil, is great for making pastas look picture-perfect and extra delicious. Also, make sure to wipe away any wayward splatters on the plate before serving.
5. Don’t Forget Dessert!
To recreate the full restaurant feel, make something special to serve for the last course. It’s nice to have a little sweet treat after a savory meal. I also love dessert since it keeps the dinner and conversation going.
One of my favorite desserts to make when hosting a get-together is a plate of warm, homemade cookies served with coffee and tea. There is just something so comforting and satisfying about warm cookies. These butter-less chocolate chip cookies are one of the most popular and since there’s no butter there’s less guilt. A few other faves include classic snickerdoodles and chocolate cherry chunk cookies. You can’t go wrong with any of these treats.
Another dessert that’s always a hit: chocolate soufflé in pots. These are incredibly easy to make and super decadent. They feel very fancy without a lot of effort and you can make them in ramekins or mini-copper pots.
Another option I love is a cast iron Peach Cake. It’s baked in a cast-iron skillet and has the most delicious brown sugar/buttery/peach flavor. Serve it with a few scoops of vanilla ice cream for one incredible dessert that will leave a lasting impression.