The Holiday season is fast approaching and whilst that brings with it the excitement and fun of gatherings and parties, it also brings with it the inherent stress of… gatherings and parties!
It might seem a bit negative to approach the prospect of welcoming guests to your home for a party, or having a spread ready to go for unexpected seasonal visitors with a plan of attack, but it does make it so much simpler, enjoyable, and ultimately, more likely to happen more frequently.
So my tips when preparing to entertain are:
The freezer is your friend.
This works whether you are hosting or a guest at a last minute event. Batch cooking when you do have the time to spare, say on a Sunday afternoon, or if you’re super motivated, a Saturday morning, can be such a life saver when it comes to feeding a lot of people in a hurry. It also has the added bonus of allowing you to make something a little more extravagant (and by this I mean wowing your guests with your kitchen prowess), without missing out on the party itself.
Some dish ideas:
-Large pans of lasagne (extra points for using disposable pans, less washing up means more time for wine), and a couple of baguettes stuffed with garlic butter.
-A basic beef mince sauce which can be jazzed up with spices and beans to become a chili; enriched with wine and served over pasta or polenta; or mixed with carrots and peas then topped with mashed potato to become a quick cottage pie.
-Baked potatoes. Microwave your potatoes until soft, then rub with olive oil, salt and pepper, wrap them in cling film and throw them in the freezer. When you need them, pop them back in the microwave to defrost and heat through before finishing in a very hot oven for 10 minutes to crisp up the skins. Baked potatoes are a super easy dinner for an unexpected group as you can lay out a whole bunch of different toppings and leave the final flavour decisions up to the diner!
-Cookie dough, cinnamon buns and croissants.
Make ahead, freeze. At the sound of the doorbell throw them in the oven, brew up a pot of coffee, and seriously impress your guests.
When it comes to entertaining go large. Or very small.
It’s amazing how sizing can change up the ‘specialness’ of food.
The big time-
If you want to serve chicken, don’t do breast or thigh portions, do a whole chicken and spatchcock it. Roasted whole with golden skin, surrounded by flavourful roasted aromatics like halved whole lemons and garlic bulbs will always be a show stopper.
If you’ve got fish on your menu, cook it whole (or a whole side, like salmon). Dress it with generous bunches of dill and parsley (which are cheap) for a dramatic centerpiece.
Huge great big pizzas, like as big as you can fit in your oven, will make anyone hungry! Making your own pizza isn’t as tricky as it sounds (especially if you follow tip 1, make a bunch of dough and keep it in your freezer!). Don’t worry about making them perfectly round (i’m a fan of a wonky pizza!), just make them BIG. Get the biggest sheet pan your oven will take and go to town, it’ll look awesome.
Itsy bitsy teeny weeny-
Instead of making one tart, pie or quiche make 20, with exactly the same ingredients you would have used before.
Use a cupcake pan and a round cookie cutter to make your mini crusts, stuff them with your regular filling and say hello to cutlery- and crockery-free entertaining.
Stuff on toast suddenly becomes completely cocktail worthy if your toast is tiny. Either thinly slice a baguette to make bite size toast rounds, or get your cookie cutter out again and go mad on a regular loaf. Toppings such as avocado, smoked salmon, cream cheeses, pickles and cured meats look really fancy on tiny toast.
Spoil your guests with a selection of desserts… by cutting up a big one and offering them as dessert canapes. If you’re doing a plated dinner, choose three different desserts (a chocolate cake, a lemon tart and a cheesecake are a winning trifecta) and serve a trio… looks hella posh.
Keep it simple.
It’s easy to overthink entertaining, over cater and massively over stress yourself out. The simple fact is, your guests are here to see you and spend time with you so don’t miss out by being stuck in the kitchen.
A good rule of thumb is that the more people you are expecting, the fewer things you should plan to prepare. That’s not to say you should ignore your dietary specific friends or those with little ones just choose options that give the best choice with the least effort.
-Jacket potatoes with a range of toppings like cheese, bacon, sour cream, spring onions, garlic cream cheese, chili con carne if you have time to make it or baked beans if you’re reaching for something in a can!
-Self serve brunch bagel bar with a platter of smoked salmon, cream cheese and veggies; or a waffle bar with a batch of waffle batter ready to spoon into the iron and syrups, fruit, chocolate chips and whipped cream to top them with.
-Mac and cheese with topping options like ham, roasted veggies, and crunchy bread crumbs
-Soups, have two soup options warm on the stove or in a crock pot (simple crowd pleasers like tomato and chicken noodle) and a platter of simple sandwiches (roasted beef, chicken salad, ham, cheese, egg salad etc) using a range of breads (white, wholemeal, rye)
Everyone loves food.
When you’re the guest it’s always nice to bring something to thank your host, and something homemade always feels a bit more special.
Some simple homemade edible gifts, that you can actually make multiples of in one go so you’re ready for any last minute invite, are:
- Infused sugar, put a whole split vanilla pod, a cinnamon stick, star anise, orange or lemon peel into a jar with white sugar for a delicious baking ingredients or hot drink sweetener.
-Flavoured olive oil, place a sprig of rosemary, a handful of squashed garlic cloves, or a whole chilli split lengthways into a tall bottle and cover with olive oil for a tasty gift.
-Cookie baking kit, mix together all of the dry ingredients for a batch of cookie dough, include nuts, chocolate chips or flavourings if you like, pour them into a mason jar or baggie wrapped in a nice tea towel, tie a cookie cutter and tag with baking instructions to the package with a ribbon.