Dinner parties don’t have to be stressful. With just a little bit of planning you can ensure your dinner party is a success! It’s nice to put on an impressive show and wow your guests with your culinary talents but it’s more important that your guests feel welcome and relaxed, and of course you have to enjoy the night too!
The OurKitchen Team have come up with a list of tips and tricks to make your dinner party triumphant and memorable.
- Before you decide on your menu, make sure your guests don’t have any special dietary requirements.
- Don’t be too ambitious; for smaller groups you can choose food where timing is crucial (e.g. cheese soufflé, eye fillet steaks) but for larger groups you may want to have the food on the table for your guests to help themselves – or at least serve the sides/salads on platters.
- Try to select recipes which use seasonal foods; seasonal produce will be fresher, tastier and cheaper.
- Slow cooking meat will make preparation on the day much less stressful. Meats that work the best for slow-cooking are red meat cuts, pork and pork belly, lamb or venison shanks and shoulders. You can prepare the meat in the morning and let it cook all day.
- Speak to a knowledgeable wine retailer about what wines will suit the food you’re cooking; you don’t have to spend a lot of money to have good wine which matches your food.
The shopping trip:
- Write a list before you go but if you can’t find something on your list, try not to panic. You could write alternatives on your shopping list to avoid getting frazzled e.g.
Sugar snaps (alternative: green beans)
Mung beans (alternative: snow pea shoots)
Pecans (alternative: hazelnuts or walnuts)
Venison shanks (alternative: lamb shanks)
- You may need to do two trips; one a few days before (it’s a good idea to prepare foods in advance where possible) and one on the day (for fresh produce, bread etc). If buying produce earlier, make sure you choose fresh produce and store correctly (i.e. store produce in its appropriate packaging in the Fruit and Vegetable bins of your refrigerator).
- Make sure you buy non-alcoholic drinks for guests who don’t drink or who are driving.
What can you do leading up to the dinner party:
- You can choose a dessert recipe which can be made (or predominately made) the day before. Sponge cake for example can be stored over night at room temperature in an airtight container.
- If you’re pushed for time, work out if buying components is easier or more economical; for example instead of making crostini breads and char grilled peppers yourself, buying them works out just as well.
Food prep on the day:
- Individual components for salads can be prepared in advance – simply toss together and dress immediately before serving.
- It can be tricky timing the different courses so everything is ready at the same time. Pre-cook vegetables by blanching them in a pot of salted, boiling water until only just tender. Then strain and plunge the vegetables into ice water. To reheat, pour hot water over the vegetables, season and serve.
- To improve the tenderness of roast meats, take the meat out of the fridge before cooking and let stand for two hours so it adjusts to room temperature. Sear the meat before baking or roasting as this will make it more flavoursome, as well as sealing in the juices to make it tender and moist.
- If you don’t have the rotisserie function on your oven, you can use bake or fan grill. Additionally use the fan grill function for crispy roast vegetables.
Creating the ambiance:
- Buy fresh flowers on the day of the party and arrange them in a vase on the table. Remember to remove the flowers when your guests sit down as they may get in the way.
- Use candles to create a warming ambiance. Use vintage saucers and jars as holders and place inside little tea lights.
- Have music playing for when your guests arrive.
- Write name tags if you would like people to sit in particular places (and place yourself nearest the kitchen).
- Give guests edible favours to take home (or for the drive home).
Storing food prior to or post dinner party:
- If the food is going in the centre of the table, try to have it covered and refrigerated after 2 hours of serving. Store left-over, cooked meat on a different refrigerator shelf to any raw meat or ready-to-eat foods to avoid cross-contamination.
- Cooling hot foods should be done quickly. It can be aided by placing the storage container of food in a bowl of ice and water; renew the ice as necessary.
- Store cheeses in the refrigerator either in the original packaging, wrap in plastic or wax paper, or place in a sealed container. Store the wrapped cheese in the top covered door shelf as this will protect it from picking up taints of other strong foods.
- Buffalo mozzarella should always be immersed in solution and refrigerated until ready to eat. If it doesn’t come packaged in a solution, make up your own (water with a good pinch of salt) and change the water daily. Buffalo Mozzarella should be used within 2-3 days.
- If you have opened wine left-over at the end of the evening, use a wine pump/wine saver to suck the air out of the bottle preventing oxidation. If you don’t have a pump/saver, seal the bottle with the original screw cap or cork and store upright in your refrigerator.
All this aside, like Arry said in our introduction – the perfect dinner party requires three ingredients: the location, the food but of course the people.