Hindsight is a beautiful thing and, over the years, I’ve learnt that when you invite friends for supper they generally like to eat something before, say, 10 0’clock. Thing is, with your buddies around you and the vin flowing – who wants to actually cook?
If, like me, you have a habit of getting over-excited during a dinner party and loose sight of your goal: feeding people – by downing an extra glass of bubbly or smoking a bifta; then suddenly find yourself at 9 0’clock standing in the kitchen, trying to focus on the back of a packet of rice… something must surely change; particularly if you want to invite these people again. The only bonus to this method of entertaining is that by the time you actually feed your guests, they are so plastered, and so ravenous, they will stuff anything in, with no thought to its taste or texture – just grateful to be consuming something, solid – finally.
Entering my mid-thirties has, appeared to, mature me somewhat and experience has left me wiser to feeding troops – thus I impart my, expert entertaining, knowledge henceforth:
1) Spoil your guests – by giving them a 5* experience. Offer them a cocktail on arrival or a glass of something ice-cold and bubblie. A Rhubarb Bellini is the height of English cocktail sophistication: Cook some fresh English rhubarb with a smattering of sugar and a little water – when cooled, whizz it up. Put your bubbles in the freezer an hour before folks arrive, to ensure complete coldness. On arrival, carefully pour a little of this stunning pink rhubarb compote into each glass – top with bubbles – stir – and enjoy this delicate and beautiful, quintessentially English, cocktail.
2) Choose just one course to stun and delight your people. Then you can focus your time on that while the other two courses, having been made in advance, are taken care of. I like to fiddle with a starter, knowing my mains are chootling away with no help needed, perhaps pan-fried scallops or Thai fish-cakes whilst a tangine or a Thai or Indian curry is slowly simmering in the background. Or perhaps an easy salad with greenleaves and some delectable cheese while you focus on a last-minute arrangement of sauted salmon or caramelised chicken as a main-course.
3) Everyone loves a pud and soo many can be simply thrown together. Never underestimate the power of pudding as the ultimate crowd-pleaser, whatever may have gone wrong before – if your pudding has enough chocolate or cream in it – you will leave your guests thoroughly grateful. Make it in advance and wow them with a chocolate or lemon or apple or nut or, anything really, tart – made with home-made pastry and served with thick cream – you cannot fail to score. Strawberry fool, lemon posset, home-made coffee ice-cream, apple granita with home-made shortbread…the list is endless and will always win you points.
4) Your biggest advantage to a fabulous dinner party is, of course, time. Having the time to prepare your dishes in advance means on the evening you can concentrate on that fiddly number and getting everything else ready. Plan and shop at least two days beforehand. So you have two full days for cooking ahead of you. Prep all your extras so they are ready to go, leaving you little chance of forgetting that finishing touch.
5) Those little extras mean a lot and give your evening a luxurious edge. Light plenty of candles inside and out, make sure, if it is slightly cool, a fire is blazing, with plenty of logs nearby to keep it stoked. Choose some cool new tunes to play, flowers freshly picked; a bunch of rosemary or some blossoms make for a feminine touch. A table cloth always adds an elegant nod to proceedings and along with napkins and candles gives your space an atmospheric depth. Fresh mint leaves for mint-tea, post-feast and fresh coffee and some little chocolates make for a full and sumptious evening.
Above all enjoy all of this yourself, the planning, the preparation; the success!! Bask in the compliments, relish the sounds of laughter, the tinkling of glasses and the sounds of your food being enjoyed and devoured around your table.