Wednesday, 19 May 2010
The invitations have gone out, the menu has been planned, the shopping has been done and everything is in place for a dinner party bar the actual cooking. Dinner parties always seem like a good idea at the time. You get to thinking, 'gosh I haven't seen so and so for ages, lets' invite them over for a meal...' or you exchange invites one drunken night after a session in the pub and only remember the promise of a meal when they turn up on your doorstep expecting to be fed a week later. Or your husband hands out invites to dinner to all and sundry like smarties and every weekend you feel as if you're running a five star restaurant but with no tidy profit at the end to make it feel worthwhile. Things that are a good idea at the time are only ever good at the time, the brilliance of it fades with every passing second. The closest I want to get to a dinner party these days is watching 'Come Dine With Me'.
But sometimes there is no avoiding it: you either 'owe' a dinner to someone who fed you 6 months ago and has been hinting ever since that they "haven't seen you for ages not since you came over to ours for a meal" or circumstances mean you can't ditch the kids and take some worthy friends out to share an Indian and are force to cook instead. I use to make a right meal of a dinner party (ha ha) and by the time I dished up I would be completely exhausted and unable to enjoy the food and unwilling to engaged in dinner party chat. These day I am very laid back and these are my handy tips to put the fun and conviviality back into providing food for friends.
1. Are your friends coming to inspect your house or have a meal? Don't give yourself more to do or put pressure on your hubby to re-wire the house. There is really no need to repaper the downstairs loos or sparkle clean inside the under-stair cupboard. As long as your house is reasonably clean and hasn't been condemned by Health and Safety, all is well.
2.Keep it simple. Don't start planning an elaborate menu with a 6 bird roast or a Heston Blumenthal feast, don't even think about cooking something you've never cooked before. This is when you revisit your own perfected repertoire of dishes that you have mastered and made your own. I always make a Lemon Meringue Pie as pud because I can make it with my eyes close and one hand tied behind my back. Yes..it is boring to keep churning out the same dishes, but if you have perfected more than a dozen recipes you can mix and match for ages before anyone notices.
3. Get someone else to do the cooking: the other guests for example. It is quite charming for guests to be asked to be responsible for preparing one of the courses; clearly not the main course; but the starter or dessert can be palmed off on others. This gives you more time to focus on making the main course fantastic. You do have to share the glory but you are sharing the work, so its all good.
4. Don't reward the cook with a glass or two of wine whilst preparing the food. You'll end up a very sweaty drunken mess with a potentially uneatable meal on the table. Take it easy. Wait until the dishes are prepared and you've got a relaxing half an hour before your guests arrive: pour a drink then, you will have earned it.
5. Reward your kids with treats if they agree to set the table, walk the dog or keep their toys off the stairs. Every one in the household should be drawn into helping. There is always something you've forgotten to buy or do.
Follow these tips and dinner parties may end up being fun. Or like me you can simply get a family size bag of crisps and a bottle or two of pinot and amuse yourself watching other people sweat on Come Dine With Me.