Deciding on your menu in advance is the most important thing you can do, because cooking is always the most time-consuming part of the process. Start by checking with your guests for any allergies or dietary restrictions, then begin planning. Take three things into consideration: the kind of food you want to serve (cuisine, whether you want to concentrate on finger food or do a sit-down meal in courses, etc.), your skills as a cook, and your budget. Don’t aim for something overly ambitious, as you’ll just end up stressing yourself out. People will appreciate and prefer a simple, well-prepared dish to something fancy that could’ve been better. If you do decide to try something new, definitely schedule a trial run beforehand. Plan to use seasonal ingredients since these will be the tastiest, as well as the most economical option. Also, stay away from too many things that need to be made during the party, like soufflés, eggs-to-order, or a risotto. You want to spend time with your guests, not slave over a stove while they’re out there having fun (or awkwardly sitting around and wondering where you are).
Food writer Tarika Singh has a few suggestions: “Set the menu in such a way that you make certain things ahead of time. Use a good mix of cooking methods – perhaps a tiramisu or cheesecake that sets in the refrigerator, a dish made on the stove top, and veggies or chicken that gets roasted in the oven. This gives you hands-off time so that you don’t have to physically be in the kitchen for everything that is being made.”
An alternative to all this, of course, is (budget permitting) to hire a caterer. Shiraz Kotwal, event sales manager, and Stefan Boyer, marketing manager, at FarokhKhambatta’s Catering & Allied say: “Catering for house parties has become increasingly popular as we usually provide end-to-end solutions.” These include personalised menus, food and bar services, clean up, and even advice on how to best utilise your home and dining space. But for those who can’t (or don’t want to) rely on a caterer, there are plenty of ways to ensure you’ll enjoy your own party without having to run to the kitchen constantly.
Once your menu is set, it’s time to get prepping. If there are any dishes or desserts that you can prepare a few days in advance, do so. Get the big things out of the way first. In the few days leading up to the party, begin chopping vegetables, buying and prepping any garnishes like lime slices and fresh herbs (keep them in ice water so they stay fresh), and ordering all the drinks (alcoholic or otherwise) you’ll be needing.
If you want to make things even easier for yourself, consider a few DIY stations. This takes the pressure off you, while keeping guests fed and entertained. While you can distribute the usual suspects around the place (nuts, cheese and meat platters, chips and dip, nachos with salsa and guacamole, vegetables or lavash with hummus), try DIY canapés. You can have a make-your-own pita wrap station, or place a bread basket with an assortment of little buns or an assortment of loaves on chopping boards along with knives with a choice of spreads and toppings. Go creative and mix and match – bacon jam is the perfect sweet and savoury spread, but how about a berry preserve alongside garlic bread, a pate with onion marmalade, or olive butter paired with a sharp cheese? You can even add a chocolate spread for guests who like their dessert before and after the meal.
If your guests are largely meat eaters, make their day and prepare a special carnivore corner with platters of roast beef (sliced thin and served cold), glazed ham, smoked salmon, and shrimp cocktail, with different breads, cheeses, condiments and garnishes (including a fresh salad). Set out a few dishes of olives and gherkins as well, to add some tanginess to the whole spread. Do try and label each dish, so people know what they’re taking, and remember to stock plenty of napkins!
Then, there’s dessert. While one or two big desserts are great, there’s always the hassle of having to slice or dish them out, then hand around plates to your guests. Spare yourself the trouble by organising a DIY dessert bar with different flavours of ice cream and a range of fun toppings (from brownies, nuts, fruit, and chocolate chips to gummy bears, M&Ms, cereal, pralines and sauces). Alternatively, try finger desserts. Think mini cupcakes, cake pops, chocolate mousse in shot glasses, macaroons, cheesecake cups, or even popsicles. All these can be made or ordered in advance, so all you have to worry about on the day of is plating. If you have a guest that can’t have sugar, keep something for him/her to nibble on too. Nuts like almonds and cashews work well, along with a fruit and cheese platter, or even a dessert wine.
But of course, no matter how much you prepare in advance, there will always be something that needs doing while your party is in full swing, and that’s okay. What’s more, there’s no need to play the martyr. “If people offer to help, please let them!” advises Tarika Singh. “Say your friend makes the best Blood Marys and offers to help for the dinner party, would you really want your guests to miss out on an awesome cocktail? After all that hard work, you’ve earned it too!” Finally, remember to relax and have a good time (that’s why you’re throwing this shindig after all): “Always, ALWAYS, set some aside time for to get dressed for the party,” says Singh, “And while you’re at it, pour yourself a glass of wine. When your guests walk in, they will see you relaxed, and that will set the tone for the party.”
Hosting your friends at home isn’t just fun, it really doesn’t have to be all that complicated either. As you’ve just read, the trick is to plan in advance and keep things as simple as possible — your friends are there for two things: to see you and eat some good food, not gawk at a fussy centre piece and watch you struggle with molecular mixology. Now go forth and entertain!