We’ve all seen shows like “Come Dine with Me”, and we all like the idea of holding court in our own homes and entertaining all our guests. But it’s one thing to cook a meal for yourself or your family, and another to cook for a room full of people.
Once you up the numbers there are a lot of new issues you need to consider. Fortunately, with these simple tips you make the whole evening run much more smoothly.
The last thing you want to happen on the night is for your guests to turn up, expecting to be fed and entertained, just as you’re beginning to chop the vegetables. Work out in advance what you’re going to cook, and which ingredients you can prepare the previous day. On the day of the dinner, prepare a salad in the morning and have it waiting, ready, in the fridge. Ideally when it comes to the actual cooking you should have all your ingredients ready to be thrown together and stuck in the oven.
Make Your Meals Scalable
Often you don’t know who’s actually going to turn up to dinner until the last minute, you never know who’s going to drop out and who’s going to turn up at the last minute. For this reason it’s a good idea to make meals that can be easily adjusted just by adding more or less ingredients. Chillies curries, pasta dishes, there are all sorts of dishes that can be scaled up or down as you need them. And making a pasta dish for 10 people is about the same amount of work as making the same dish for four people.
Write Your Plan Down
Having things written down helps. When you’re preparing a dinner party for a lot of people the fact is that often you’ll have six things happening at the same time and you’re in charge of sorting all of them. It’s easy to get lost. It’s a good idea to have everything that needs doing, and when it needs doing, written down before you start. Yes, life is what happens while you’re making other plans and not everything is going to happen exactly how you envision it, but having everything written down will at least give you an idea of what should be happening.
Booze and Nibbles: A Host’s Best Friend
A soon as your guests arrive start plying them with wine and easy to prepare starters such as carrot sticks, nachos and dips or crackers and cheese. This is a great way to stop everyone from getting too hungry before the main course is served, or bored while they wait for it, and having a bit of booze flowing is a great way to break the ice.
Don’t Do It Alone
I know, I’m the same as well. When it comes to cooking my inner dictator comes out and everyone has to do exactly what I say or get out of the way, and when people do exactly what I say they’re probably doing it wrong.
But the fact is when you’re preparing a large meal, as much as you might want to, you can’t do everything yourself. Get flatmates or family members to help preparing ingredients or side dishes, or simply keeping the guests occupied and the booze flowing.
If you live alone, then go to stage two and start exploiting your friends. If they’re here they’ll probably be happy to muck in with some of the small jobs like setting (or possibly clearing) the table. You can always reward them with more of that booze.
This is Not the Time to Experiment
Yes, we all like trying new things out in the kitchen. But the time to do this is for a flatmate or loved one who knows your cooking well and isn’t afraid to tell you when your food looks and tastes, well, horrible.
If you’re cooking for a large group of people, you want to bring your tried and tested favourite healthy recipes. Something where you know exactly how the dish is going to turn out, how long it will take you, and what unwelcome surprises can happen during cooking. Experiment at your peril.
Chris Farnell is a freelance writer who also puts on a great spread when required.