dinner parties- the food
keep it simple
Leave the complicated stuff to the professionals. However tempted you are to impress your guests, do not let the food become a showcase for your culinary talent. Save your desire to show off, unless you are a reliable cook. And if you are not the greatest chef, it’s better to serve a simple, delicious dish than a second rate attempt at something elaborate.
Here are my tips to a successful dinner party…
1. Unless you are an expert, never cook anything you haven’t tried before.
Chicken Provençal (see recipe)
3. People, in general are now more health and calories conscious. I usually only serve two courses, cheese and fruits, or desert. Sometimes I might offer more elaborate eats with the pre-dinner drinks and dispense with the first course altogether.
Large plates of Antipasti can be passed around, or substantial canapés. I often serve small cups or bowls of homemade soup, hot or cold, depending on the season.
If you are serving cured meats or charcuterie, I would recommend you ask your friendly butcher to slice them for you. It makes all the difference.
A large block of cheese is more impressive than assorted pieces, and it doesn’t cost more.
5. According to Debrett’s, take away food is now socially acceptable. The guide says there is no shame in ordering in a curry provided you serve it on china plates and don’t pass it off as your own cooking. I do agree, as long as you also serve an interesting salad, with your own slightly unusual dressing, and you show your guests you made an effort in preparing a delicious pudding.
2. Avoid dishes that have to be cooked or assembled at the last minute. Often, during pre-dinner drinks, the host or hostess do a disappearing act, followed by noisy kerfuffle in the kitchen. Remember, last minute preparations makes for anxious hosts and uncomfortable guests.
leg of lamb and flageolets – ever so French!
4. A myriad of dishes can be prepared in advance .and often their taste improves after resting a night in the refrigerator. Stews are the perfect example. Their flavours mature, as do soups. They only demand the addition of a spoonful of cream or chopped herbs before serving. Cold soups, one of my favourite starters in summer, should be made a day earlier and kept to chill in the refrigerator. Fish pies and shepherds pies can also be cooked the night before and just reheated, while pates and terrines can be made several days ahead. Vegetables can also be cooked in advance. You then need to plunge them in ice cold water to keep their colour, drain, and reheat them quickly before serving.
As for deserts, there are many you can prepare ahead of time– compotes, trifles, charlottes… Fruit tarts can be baked earlier and slowly warmed up in the oven covered with foil. And of course, ice creams and sorbets have to be made well ahead of time.
6. Above all, there is no point in devoting time to planning, shopping and cooking, unless it is going to be a pleasurable experience. So, make sure you leave some time to pamper yourself, have a relaxing bath, and perhaps a glass of “Dutch Courage” before the doorbell rings.