Great food in good company – it doesn’t get better than that if you’re a foodie. And that’s why we love to hold dinner parties for our friends. Which is great when it all goes smoothly – the food comes proudly out of the kitchen, the guests are all in great form and before you know it you have an evening to remember.
But like me, you’ve probably experienced the opposite as well. The food isn’t all quite ready on time. Certain things didn’t work as well as they were supposed to. The guests are already here, but you’ve still got five more jobs to do in the kitchen.
So how can you go about planning your dinner party to avoid the pitfalls and make it stress-free for you, and a great evening out for them?
Here are some of the things I’ve learned to do through experience.
1. The first and most important thing to check is your guests’ likes and dislikes and any food allergies they may have. Nothing worse than cooking a fantastic meal only to find that there is a previously unflagged issue. Don’t assume they will proactively tell you. Trust me, it isn’t always the case!
2. The biggest problem when deciding on your menu is making sure you are not in the kitchen for a long time when your guests arrive. Most of us have seen Channel 4’s ‘Come dine with me’ where guests sit there and stare at each other in awkward silence whilst the host struggles to get the next course finished. It’s funny to watch but very stressful to be in that position.
The key to overcoming this is in the planning, I always try to plan a starter which can be already prepared before the guests arrive. For example, a savoury baravois is brilliant for this. It’s easy to prepare ahead and looks stunning and will wow your guests.
3. Likewise, desserts are relatively easy to make ahead of time. Yes, you can go for the magic of a chocolate soufflé, but such dishes are really designed for the restaurant where chefs are busy working while you’re enjoying the previous course. If you actually want to share the evening with your friends, you need to select accordingly. There are some great, very impressive desserts made up of multiple components all of which can be prepared earlier in the day, or even the day before.
For example, any cakes, tarts, sweet sauces, home made ice creams, meringues – all of these can be components of a great dish.
Which then only leaves the main course to worry about.
4. While you often can’t get away from the fact that your main element may need some last minute attention, you can certainly minimise the need for this with other components.
Vegetables can be pre-cooked most of the way and then immediately plunged into cold water to stop them from cooking further. Then they will only need to be either heated in the microwave or sautéed in a little butter in the pan before serving.
5. And you do have the option to choose a meat dish that you can prepare ahead and put in an ovenproof dish ready to pop into the oven whilst you and your guests enjoy the starter. I usually find that 15 minutes feels right as a pause between starter and main course, so allow for that in your timings for when things go into the oven.
Once you have got used to using these techniques it should become second nature to build good planning into your dinner parties. Believe me, they will be less stressful as a result – and you should enjoy the evening as much as your guests.
Give this a try and let me know how you get on.
PS. If you live in Norwich and want a tried and tested three course dinner party menu that benefits from this sort of approach, you might be interested in the Summer Dinner Party Course I’m running on 19th July. You can see more information here.