Whether you have the whole family over or are hosting a dinner party for friends, cooking for a crowd may seem daunting—here is our list of simple pointers for an excellent and stress-free meal.
Entertaining a group of friends at home is as satisfying as it is taxing. On some level, we would all like to give Nigella Lawson a run for her money…so what are the top tips and tricks for organising a successful and—above all—tasty meal every time?
Stick to what you know
The temptation to step out of your comfort zone in an attempt to impress others is a common mistake many of us make in the kitchen. The simple truth is that most home cooks just don’t possess the space, utensils or manpower to prepare the kind of elaborate dishes we’re all used to seeing on television. When hosting a dinner party, a good rule of thumb is to never try a recipe for the very first time. Cook something you are confident with.
When planning your meal, think about ingredients that complement each other. Avoid heavy dishes and strive for a healthy diversity. After all, you wouldn’t fancy eating a quiche starter followed by a pie main then followed by a sweet tart for dessert.
Think about space
Will you need the oven to prepare all of your dishes? If so, you may be setting yourself up for failure. Think carefully about what hob and oven space you’re going to need. Remember, preparing well ahead of time isn’t cheating!
Make sure to check with your guests if they have any dietary requirements and preferences. It’s a good idea to make at least two of the courses you’re serving suitable for everyone sitting around the dinner table.
Wow your guests by making simple—yet impressive—homemade touches to your meal. Bake some no-knead bread for sharing or whip up some ice cream, spiced nuts, chutney or chocolate truffles. These are all easy to make and can be prepared well in advance. We give you permission to brag.
Hosting a dinner party isn’t really worth it unless you’re having a little bit of fun as well, right? To avoid stress—or at least a great deal of it—vow not to prepare anything that’s going to keep you in the kitchen and away from your guests for too long. You don’t want to have to disappear for considerable amounts of time in between each dish, emerging from your kitchen flustered and covered in food.
The dos and don’ts of presentation
No plate is fully complete without some sort of decoration, so what are the main factors to keep in mind? A simple pointer is to try and avoid a garnish that is the same colour as your dish. For example, decorate a plain vanilla cheesecake with some raspberries or currants. Serve your dishes in unconventional and unusual ways—try mason jars, rustic chopping boards or steel ramekins. Finally, have a go at preparing the main entrée in individual portions. A simple lasagna—although delicious—is nothing much to look at. Instead, cook it in mini baking trays, add a splash of olive oil, a leaf or two of basil and voilà.
5 Simple Steps to an Epic Dinner Party
Meljo Cheriyan, restaurant manager at Hyde Park’s Island Grill, offers his professional advice with a selection of tips and tricks.
1. Planning is key. Create a timeframe for your meal—and stick to it. Think about your oven and hob space and what you’re going to need to be able to serve all of your courses without a hitch.
2. Ambience. Recreate your favourite restaurant’s atmosphere at home. Turn down the lights, light some scented candles and play quiet background music for a sophisticated mood.
3. Appetisers. Hors d’oeuvres are a perfect way to open the evening and entertain your guests while they wait for the main attraction. Visit your local shop and purchase simple ingredients. Need ideas? Island Grill’s Green Olive Ciabatta with olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar is an example of an excellent sharer.
4. Stick with the seasons. Seasonal ingredients will shine on their own so there’s no need for complex recipes. This produce will also be cheaper—your wallet will thank you.
5. A perfect finish. Presentation can turn even the simplest dish into something special. For starters and mains, add a drizzle of olive oil or balsamic glaze, a grind of black pepper or a garnish of herbs. For desserts, use a tea strainer to sprinkle a powdering of icing sugar or cocoa powder.