Entertaining for friends and family is meant to be an enjoyable occasion but more than once I’ve found myself stuck in the kitchen, sweaty and exhausted. If you’re a keen foodie, you often want to produce something really spectacular to impress your guests without the stress and hassle so I’ve put together my top 10 tips and tricks to make sure you can enjoy yourself AND your food!
- Cook in bulk! If you are serving lots of people, you don’t want to plate up 10 plates of intricate food – that will drive you crazy! Plan a dish that you can prepare in advance, takes minimal faff, flipping and stirring once it is cooked and can be put in the centre of the table for everyone to tuck in. Mostly I find that everyone enjoys a big stew, pie or beef wellington much more than a small portion of something you’ve fiddled with! It’s a good idea serve a cake or tart for pudding – everyone will enjoy it and you can make it hours, if not days, in advance.
Here are some excellent one pot wonder suggestions:
2. Stick with what you know! Don’t try something too exotic or new at the last minute, you’ll be more stressed and all your concentration will be on the dinner and not having a good time with your guests. I’ve always struggled with this, I always want to over achieve and try something new for me; but remember, what you cook will either be new for your guests or they’ll just be grateful that they haven’t had to cook themselves. Cook a tried and tested staple dish that everyone will enjoy.
3. Keep your menu balanced. At cookery school, we were always taught to keep a menu as part of a whole family. The dishes should ideally work together as part of a specific cuisine (ie. French, Italian, Spanish) and the food should be well weighted – don’t serve three extremely heavy, cream based dishes or you’ll have some queasy guests. Matching up your menu will also help with wine choices. If the menu is well balanced, one or two wines will compliment the whole meal and you won’t have to blow the budget.
4. Make a time plan. This sounds rather dull but it will help so much in the heat of the moment. Even just a rough list of timings can set your mind as ease. I find generally that if I need to remember something and I’ve written it down somewhere, I never forget but if I don’t, it’s forgotten instantly. With a time plan, try and work backwards from when you’d like to serve – for example….
5.30pm Chicken into oven
6.00pm Roast potatoes in
6.30pm Make up stuffing and prep vegetables
7.00pm Bake stuffing
7.10pm Remove Chicken and rest
7.15pm Make gravy
7.20pm Steam vegetables and warm plates
5. Master Mise en Place or ‘set up’. This will save the day. It means basically prepping everything you can in advance. Chop the vegetables, stuff the chicken, peel the potatoes. Everything you can do in advance to ease your time in the kitchen later on. This is where a time plan can really help. Make a list of everything that needs doing and everything you can do at 2pm will take half the time it will at 8pm when you have a house full of guests. This will also help with the dreaded clean up situation – clean as you go and you’ll have far less stress at the end of the night.
6. Don’t do too much! This is another area I struggle with but you don’t need to make everything. Your guests won’t except homemade cheese crackers and chutneys with the cheeseboard or hand crafted dinner rolls with home churned butter. Cut corners where you can for ease and I promise, no-one will notice!
7. Adding finishing touches to your dishes can turn something simple, into something spectacular. A drizzle of balsamic, a sprinkle of micro herbs will make such a difference to presentation with minimal effort.
8. Take the help that’s offered. Guests will always offer to help and will be glad to. Get them to top up drinks or set the table, these simple things are a huge help. Your guests won’t want to see you struggling away doing everything and this way if everyone does a little, you don’t have to do a lot!
9. Drinks and Cocktails are a perfect way to start the evening – lay out all the options and get your guests to mix what they want. This is will create a far more relaxed vibe, they’re your friends, you’re not their staff.
10. Take it easy – although food is a major part of my life, it’s not the be all and all. If something goes wrong, most of your guests probably won’t even notice. Laugh it off! Your guest don’t want to feel stressed out. A stressed host is not what you want!