Ten ways to make the most of your dinner party talents and make entertaining easier...
Wouldn't it be wonderful to have friends over for dinner and be hailed the new Nigella or told you give Gordon a run for his money? Not many of us have the time or, let's face it, the skills to pull off a really flash dinner party...or do we?
You'd be surprised, that with a few tricks of the trade all manner of miracles can be performed with your err..manna.
Here are our top 10 ideas for making the most of your talents:
1. Resist the temptation...
...to cook some exotic Japanese dish that you're not even sure how to pronounce and had never laid eyes on until you opened Google five minutes ago. Cook something you're confident with. Don't try a recipe for the first time (unless you are, in fact, Nigella).
2. Keep your balance
When planning your menu, avoid too many heavy dishes and think about how they go together. Would you fancy eating quiche, followed by pie, followed by tart? Too much pastry, too much stodge! You might want to choose a theme too, like Italian or Spanish food.
3. Avoid nasty surprises
Not asking your guests if they have special dietary requirements doesn't make them go away. If only. Check with people upfront if there's anything they can't eat and make at least two of the courses suitable for everyone to save you work.
4. Plan your time
Do a timeplan and think about what oven/hob space you're going to need. If your starter, main course, side dishes and pud all need time in the oven it's going to be tricky.
Avoid anything that's going to keep you in the kitchen too long. You don't want to have massive gaps between courses and then emerge from the kitchen flustered, covered in food and having missed half the conversation.
6. Go seasonal
Try a simple dish that showcases seasonal ingredients like this Tomato & basil granita in summer. You get points for being in tune with the food seasons and you'll be using produce when its flavour is best. It'll be cheaper too.
7. Prepare ahead
Avoid a last minute flap by cooking at least one course, from start to finish, at leisure and ahead of time. If you want to do something complicated, that's definitely the one to choose. You'll be surprised at some of the dishes that can be made ahead. Consider each course and think about which bits you can do beforehand. If the answer's nothing, you might want to choose something else.
There are certain dishes that scream 'pro' that are not as difficult as you might think. A soufflé, for example, doesn't have to be a scary thing. Try these easy Make-ahead mushroom soufflés or think restaurant classics, like Beef Wellington, Pork belly, Crème brûlée and Panna cotta too.
9. Is it homemade?
Your guests won't expect you to have made the little extras. Cheese straws, spiced nuts, a quick, no-knead bread, ice cream, chutney or chocolate truffles are really easy to make and can be done in advance. We're not suggesting you make all of them but if you add just one of these to your spread you can guarantee people will be impressed.
10. Finishing touches
Great presentation can turn a relatively simple dish into something really special. This Pea, mint and spring onion soup can be made ahead and is served with homemade Parmesan biscuits (really easy!) and garnished with sliced spring onion and mint.
There are lots of simple finishing touches you can use to ensure your dishes wow the crowds. Here are a few of our favourite ideas:
To starters and mains, add:
- A drizzle of olive oil or balsamic glaze
- A generous sprinkling or sprig of fresh herbs
- A handful of rocket
- A grind of black pepper
- A dollop of crème fraîche or soured cream
- Melba toast, Parmesan crisps or cheese straws
To puddings, add:
- A dollop of mascarpone or extra thick double cream
- Fresh seasonal fruit eg berries, physalis, pear or apple crisps
- Use a tea strainer to sprinkle over icing sugar, cinnamon or cocoa powder
- A sprig of mint
For general presentation:
- Try to avoid food that is all the same colour, lift a lemon tart with a sprinkling of raspberries or a sprig of redcurrants.
- Go for unusual serving dishes, like these cute little jars for serving paté or potted crab.
- Serve the main focus of each course in individual portions. This chicken parfait looks great in little pots. Lasagne's nothing special in a big dish but plate it up for each guest with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and balsamic glaze, garnish with a big sprig of basil and it's magnifico!
These are a few of our ideas, tell us what you do to make your dinner parties something special.