Lets face it, entertaining can be labour intensive. It can cause an enormous amount of stress which can often result in a failed attempt and give a real knock to our cooking confidence. It’s not unusual to bite off more than we can chew, spend the whole day in the kitchen, or even worse a whole evening so that at the end of it we are left spent and sweaty and wondering why we bothered at all?
I have not always been an expert in the kitchen, though I have always had a passion for cooking (which certainly helps)… and so have made many attempts at entertaining for small groups of friends, or for larger parties and gatherings on special occasions. I will admit, not all has gone swimmingly.
There have been occasions (not too many) when the meat has been overdone, the pasta overcooked and the cake an unrecognisable, miserable, pathetic excuse on a plate. I have worked my backside off all day, screamed at my husband and kids to “get out of the kitchen” and overfed the dog with the discarded remnants of my failings.
Keep it Simple
It is because of these failures that I am now the Party Kitchen Whizz! I have learnt from my mistakes of the past and have seen these as a way to better myself, and I’m a lot more selective in what I choose to feed people.
I now know that if you want a successful party, you do not cook Fillet Mignon, medium rare for twenty people or have soufflés as a starter. That is utter madness and you are setting yourself up for a dinner party that will not be remembered for the great food and wonderful hospitality that was your ambition. You will be remembered as the host/hostess drowning your sorrows in your chardonnay… and there’s nothing worse than clearing the table to discover the plates are still half full of the slop you served. It can be extremely awkward not only for you but for your guests.
Having a successful party is actually a really rewarding experience. The key to this style of entertaining is keep it simple, plan ahead and have all the preparation done so that when your guests arrive you can actually spend time with them.
Here are some tips:
For a crowd of 8-12, I love to do curry nights. They’re suitable for vegetarians and the gluten intolerant. You can make them ahead, keep them really simple and then wow your guests with accompaniments, store bought chutneys, salad and flatbreads etc. Or a large Lasagne, Spinach & Ricotta Cannelloni, a simple salad and crusty bread will appeal to the masses and all you have to do is throw them in the oven when your guests arrive.
For a larger crowd I like to do Burgers, Hotdogs or any kind of Mexican. Again, all the preparation is done ahead. Platters of salads, bowls of salsa and slow cooked meats or burger patties make life much easier for you and people love tucking in and helping themselves.
For a more intimate crowd of 6-8 you can probably stretch yourself a little more. A cold entree or soup is always a winner for a starter. Lamb shanks and other slow cooked cuts of meat are not only budget friendly but can also be cooked through the day so that all you need to do is mash spuds and steam a few veggies.
I also like to do racks of lamb as they are impressive to look at, but only need to browned then baked in the oven for 15-20 minutes. Desserts are easy if you pick ones that can be made ahead or reheated.
Any type of Panna Cotta or Brûlée are simple to make and are also nice and light at the end of a big meal. A simple cheese platter is also a show stopping dinner party finale. Pick one or two cheeses, some good quality dried fruits and a handful of nuts.
You do not need to be Jamie Oliver or even a genius to be a great host. All you need is prior planning and a little time set aside to create a memorable meal that can be enjoyed by your family and friends.
Most of all, enjoy the experience and if all else fails…..Pizza anyone?
Cheers and Happy Party Planning