Cooking for Dinner Parties
Don’t try out a new recipe when guests are coming, because you have no idea if it well be wonderful or just so-so, stick to dishes you know taste good and you’ve prepared in the past.
Planning a Successful Dinner PartyTo begin, plan out the evening. If your guests have been invited for 19:00, and you get home at 17:00 schedule time for you to have a shower, do your hair, start the food, check the table etc, so that everything you need to do before the first guest arrives has been done by 18:45
To avoid stress, choose dishes that can either be cooked before the day, cooked by guests themselves or require a diversity of cooking methods. As an example, if you make crème caramel (recipe below) the day before, you are freed of the worry of cooking a pudding. Give your guests fondue (recipe below) and they can cook the main course themselves, to their own preferences and specifications and it’s a great ice-breaker and conversation promoter. Then you can have a baked starter (using the oven) with a crisp salad from the fridge and you’re not trying to get two dishes into the same space or onto the same hob and getting involved in split second timing which can so easily go wrong.
If you’re having a sit-down dinner, lay the table in the morning. This sets you up for the day and gives you the psychological motivation to prepare for the dinner. It also means that if you go and check it again just before you start cooking, you will see anything that you forgot to lay out for your guests, or anything that’s dirty, smeared or less than perfect.
Cooking Ahead for Dinner PartiesYou can prepare so many dishes in advance, especially in spring and summer, that it’s crazy to add pressure to yourself by cooking on the evening. Prepare a gorgeous salad and dessert, both of which can be chilled: you can have berries and whipped cream for pudding, or ice-cream with home-made biscuits. Set up your coffee maker so all you have to do is press a button to get the final course of the evening ready.
To give your guests something to do when they arrive, and to give yourself a little extra time in case something goes wrong, have small dishes of cheese, crudites, and tiny biscuits out in your living room, with a bottle of wine already opened. This allows them to relax into your home while you do any last minute tidying up and getting ready without feeling pressured to entertain.
Foolproof Dinner Party RecipesHere are two recipes that guarantee success.
Fondue (Serves 4)
- 1 baguette or other crusty bread
- 1 peeled garlic clove
- 250ml white wine (any crisp white will serve, but avoid sweet wines)
- 300g Gruyère cheese - grated
- 300g Emmenthal cheese – grated
- 2 teaspoons cornflour or cornstarch
- Optional kirsch or vodka – two tablespoons
- Optional extras – cherry tomatoes, mandarin segments
Cut the bread into bite-sized pieces and put in a napkin covered basket to stay moist – put basket on dinner table. Rub the bottom and sides of a fondue pan with the garlic clove. Now pour in the wine and heat gently. Add cheese to wine and stir thoroughly with a small wooden spoon as it melts, before mixing cornflour with the spirits or a spoonful of water and stirring into the cheese mixture – this stops the mixture going lumpy as it thickens. Move the pan to the dinner table and set it over the fondue warmer.
To eat – stab some bread, tomato or citrus with a fork and stir it around in the cheese. Tradition says that if you drop your bread from your fork, you should either kiss the person next to you or sing a verse of song!
Crème Caramel (Serves 4)
- 4 eggs plus 1 egg yolk
- 120g caster sugar
- 500ml Milk
- A few drops of vanilla essence
- 150g caster sugar
- 50ml water
To make this the day before, preheat the oven to 140°C while you whisk the eggs and yolk and sugar together until they are light and smooth. Then add the milk and in a bowl, then mix in the milk and vanilla essence – vanilla extract has alcohol which can stop the mixture setting.
Now allow the whole mixture to pass through a fine sieve into a fresh bowl. Set aside.
For the caramel - boil the sugar and water in a small heavy-bottomed pan without stirring until it becomes a thickened, golden brown syrup. Pour this into four dariole moulds or specialist crème caramel dishes. Top with the egg mixture. Put the moulds in a roasting tray or deep ceramic dish and add hot water to the tray until it is half-way up the side of the moulds. Bake for forty minutes, set aside to cool, then refrigerate. On the day of the party, take out of the fridge an hour before serving, turn out of the moulds onto pretty serving plates and decorate with mint leaves or a couple of coffee beans.