Entertaining Journal Post


November 2018

Entertaining – Lunches, Suppers or indeed Dinner Parties!

One question I am repeatedly asked is how to entertain with ease and if I am really honest I don’t think there is a quick-fix solution to this. It does require effort but planning ahead and getting organised makes it easier. And like everything in life the more you do it the better you get at it! The very fact that you have invited people into your home means you want to see them and spend time with them and a bit of preplanning and thought will make this possible, rather than leaving you stressed and tied to the oven.

Top tips in a nut shell:

  1. Get organised!
  2. Plan your menu in advance thinking about all timings including cleaning, shopping, prepping and cooking.
  3. Keep it as simple as you can.
  4. Think about the oven and hob space available to you.
  5. Ensure some elements can be prepared in advance and reheated if necessary.
  6. Make sure some elements are best served cold.
  7. Shop ahead.
  8. Prep ahead.
  9. Work out your timings for the actual supper or lunch or dinner so you know when to start.
  10. Mainly cook dishes you know and love.
  11. If you are trying something new or aren’t that familiar with, then make that first so if it takes longer than expected you don’t run out of time.
  12. Warm your plates.

First impressions set the scene and for me a good welcome is a clean welcome! Whatever the occasion I always dust the furniture, hoover and wash the floor. I always make sure the table is laid so that people know they are expected! There will be napkins (paper or otherwise), salt and pepper mills, water glasses and a jug or two on the table too.  And if there are quite a few of us in the winter then the fire will be lit in the drawing room.

The first thing I offer people is a drink so I try to put some cans and wine in the fridge to get them cold and make sure there’s some ice for the freezer.  Allow time to make the drinks for your friends and for people to enjoy them!

The menu I choose depends on who I’ve got coming, how many there are and whether it’s casual or a more formal affair. It also depends on if we have guests who can’t eat certain things. If I know for sure that there are no special considerations then I keep it really simple but over time I have realised that it is often best to create a few separate dishes and serve them as a buffet so people can help themselves to what they like.  This saves everyone from embarrassment!  For example if in the summer I want to make a tomato tart then I will make sure there is also something without gluten or dairy such as chicken kebabs, a big salad and some baked potatoes. Similarly If I am serving roast chicken or a beef bourguignon in the winter then there will be at least three vegetable dishes for those who need to avoid meat.  And I always think about the ages of our guests. Children have more vibrant taste buds than adults so I keep dressings, salsas and sauces separate.

Having friends for dinner takes the most time and effort. For one thing I like to change for dinner – call me old fashioned! – and I need a little bit of time to do this!  And secondly I want to give my friends something a bit special. But the first crucial stage is to plan the menu and work out timings. When planning I consider the oven space and hob space available to me. I make sure that lots of things can be pre-prepared and that some elements can be served cold.  Being prepared is what keeps you calm AND gives you time to enjoy the company of your friends. I normally think along the lines of a canapé or two, a main course which I will plate and a pudding with cheese, coffee and chocolates to follow.

If the dinner is on a Friday night, I like to get ahead and decide what to eat on Monday, that way I can order any hard-to-find ingredients or fresh ingredients for delivery later in the week such as micro herbs or fresh seafood or shellfish or wagyu beef. If I am going to use any expensive ingredients I usually make sure they appear as a canapé – you can get away with using the tiniest of amounts this way!   Make sure you know how long any shipments will take and when you need to put in your order.

I will shop for everything else on the Wednesday or Thursday, prep what I can on Thursday and again on Friday. I am assuming that you won’t be spending all day at the stove as I think life is rather full of other things but do allow yourself time for the prep. Anyhow, whatever your timings are just try and do that shop the day before the dinner if you can, that way if the supermarket doesn’t have something you want you have time to think again.  If I want something super fresh then I will pick that up on the day but I make sure I know it will be available from the nearest shop or one that’s on my route to or from school or work. 

I often start by making the pudding. I like to prepare things in advance that take very little work to serve. I am usually tired (read a little tipsy) by the time we get to this point so simplicity is best. There are menu plans on the menu page of my website for ideas, but I often make a fruit tart. If there are a few elements to the pudding then they will all have been prepared in advance and I will just have to plate them up.

The main course should be a mix of flavours, textures and colours. I will make a vegetable purée (in advance), a sauce (in advance) and possibly char, crisp or roast another veg (earlier in the day). Protein tends to be the main focus so perhaps some chicken breast or a roast cut of meat or when in season I do like to use game. This should be allowed to rest.  There will more often than not be a last minute steamed green veg and some fresh herbs or leaves to “garnish” – a word I really don’t like!

I don’t tend to serve a starter as I find that guests turn up when they can so serving canapés can help keep the wolf from the door (and soak up some of the booze) for those who arrive on time or they can be a quick bite before the main event for those having to arrive late.  Suggestions can be found in the menu section but one is usually hot but pre-prepared and the other cold.

However if you wanted to skip the canapés and do a starter I would suggest that it is something that is either best served cold or if there is a warm element it can be quickly brought together – i.e. do the chopping and cooking of most of it ahead of time. Have everything ready in bowls or Tupperwares. Or perhaps serve a soup which is easy to heat up. Anyhow, I would suggest that you plate it up and put it on the table and then get everyone to sit down.

And finally after all this hard work PLEASE WARM UP YOUR PLATES BEFORE YOU SERVE! Use a microwave, a sink of hot water, a warming drawer or just the oven – whatever it takes – just make sure they’re hot!  Meat is happy to sit and rest, in fact it’s better if it does. Vegetables can be taken out of the oven and kept warm. Sauces should be reheated and hot where appropriate. But all of this effort will not be worth it if you try and serve your delicious food on cold plates. You will end up with cold food on warmish plates.

If dinner is not your thing then perhaps try a casual supper.  For me this means we’ll be in the kitchen and there will be great company (!), alcohol for those who’d like it and good food. All the usual jobs need to be done first to make people feel welcome but the food will be simpler. Maybe a dip and one course followed by cheese if you’re lucky and some chocolate buttons with coffee – but definitely no frills. The dip will be made in advance and the cheese and chocolates bought off the shelf. I will make the main course thinking about any food intolerances, so perhaps some grilled seabass, steamed rice and stir-fried vegetables. Or I’ll make a quick pasta sauce, sometimes even two, if the main one contains meat and offer courgetti if pasta is a no-no.

For some the mere thought of having people over at night is tiring and if so then try lunch!  This is a favourite with my husband. And it means I get the family to help out where I can.  I’d like to say they jump to it with joy but that’s not always the case! As for food, there will be a canapé (that sounds posh but it’s usually just mini sausages or hummus or similar) or simply a bowl of crisps or cheese straws and I will create a buffet. There will be lots of a meat – having four sons who play endless sport makes for big appetites – possibly some fish, a steamed green vegetable and another vegetable maybe roasted with spices. There will also be potatoes or pasta or rice and sometimes bread or a tart. I make a sauce and/or salsa to keep things interesting. Puddings are a rarity in our house but if I have time I might make a pavlova or brownies or just serve ice creams in the summer.

Happy entertaining! If you need more help there are menu plans on the website and some recipes too.  

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