Come dine at mine

With staying in the new going out in these tough economic times, look no further than your dining room table for an entertaining night of great company and home-made food

1. Company
The most important thing. Today’s dinner parties aren’t about formalities, they’re for friends and family to come together, enjoy good food and catch up. If it is your first dinner party four people will be plenty to cope with. You could think about starting a dinner party “club” where you meet once a month and cook for each other, à la Come Dine With Me.

2. Food
Our guest editors have provided plenty of dinner party menu ideas, but if the idea of cooking everything yourself is overwhelming, mix and match with shop-bought items. You could visit a farmer’s market on the day, visit to find your nearest, then simply invite your friends round that night to enjoy the spoils.

3. Tipples
There’s no shame in asking your guests to bring a bottle, but make sure you have plenty in reserve. Summer cocktails are a great idea, there’s nothing better than a Pimms in the sunshine. Mix one part Pimms to one part lemonade with slices of fruit, a few sticks of cucumber and a sprig or two of mint – serve in a big jug or bowl so guests can help themselves.

4. Simplicity
Often the most straightforward ideas are the best – TV cook Nigella Lawson says, “Entertaining doesn’t have to be fussy at all. People love the opportunity to come over so they don’t have to cook themselves. If you are excited about chicken, mushroom and bacon pie or cheddar cheese risotto, your guests will love it too! Choose one dish you are great at and do it well.”

5.  Distinctive
There are many ways to make your party memorable, if there are a group of you who live close together you could go on a “round robin” where you stop at each house for a course before moving on to the next one. Or buy a huge slab of cheese and offer bits of bread or meat to fondue. If you are serving Anjum’s menu, think Bollywood. Decorate the room with luxurious colourful fabrics, light some incense and play bhangra music, serve Tiger beer and encourage your guests to dress in saris.

6. Presentation
Eating is a multi-sensory event and for a successful dinner you need to excite them all. Create a perfect setting with flowers and tealights for the table and pretty candles to surround. If you are serving Ching’s menu consider making origami shapes with the napkins, hook up some Chinese lanterns and don’t forget the chopsticks. The delicious smells coming from the oven will excite your sense of smell; all that’s left is to select soft music that won’t interfere with the main event.

7. Icebreakers
Serve the starter as a buffet to encourage your guests to talk to each other. And provide coffee and dessert in a different room so your guests move around and talk to new people.

8. Embellishment
If you’re no Angela Hartnett, garnishing should be your best friend. A sprig of fresh herbs, some sliced fruit or even a sprinkle of pepper can turn each plate, or drink, into a work of art.

9. Assistance
Accept guests’ offers of help to cook or clean. Chef Gordon Ramsay hates seeing the host slaving away over a hot stove, he says in Cooking with Friends, ‘Entertaining is meant to be fun. Guests should be in the kitchen helping, so delegate, lighten up and have a glass of wine.’

10. Remember
Your dinner guests aren’t coming for the culinary experience of a lifetime, they’re coming for a sociable evening with friends. There’s no need for lobster, caviar or a week in the kitchen; just relax and enjoy yourself!

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