I love to entertain, there is no time better spent than having friends in your home, convivially sitting around the table and shoot the breeze. But I am also a bit of a perfectionist. Perfectionism and entertaining at home can create sleepless nights and unnecessary work. If you, like me, work full-time, the thought of people trundling through your house on week-ends, needing to be fed, can be exhausting. But I will not forgo having friends or acquaintances around just because I cannot hope to compete with Martha.
Take last week. I had invited ten neighbours over for drinks and tapas. It was a long-standing invitation that, when issued, didn’t factor in having to work six days straight, leaving me no time to prepare. But, by applying some simple rules of any catering kitchen, I pulled it off easily. A cocktail party for 10 is less taxing than a seated dinner when it comes to food, even if it means preparing quite a few different items.
- Figure out a menu well in advance. Write it down, together with an accompanying shopping list. Then break it down into dishes you can make ahead of time. My menu featured: Bruschetta with Marinated Eggplant; Assorted Cheeses with Kumquat Chutney; Salmon Mousse on Crostini; Charcuterie with Home Made Sesame Flatbread; Home Made Pickles and Marcona Almonds; Butterscotch Pot de Creme (in individual ramekins) and Carrot Cake Bites.
- Cheese and charcuterie are always appreciated and they only need a few minutes at the market. It’s a good idea to dress them up with home-made unexpected items, like the chutney or your own bread. The chutney took the whole of 15 minutes to make, the salmon mousse 20, with the desserts being the two more time-consuming items. All in all, no more than 2 hours of active cooking time.
- My rule of thumb is no paper anything unless I am having 20 people or more. As not everyone is equipped with sets of dishware and flatware for 12 or more, I think it’s perfectly fine, charming even, to mix and match, especially any assorted dishes from a flea market or anything lovely bought over the years. It beats holding a paper plate. Same thing for napkins – all it takes is a washing machine afterwards.
- Try and pick food items that can all be prepared ahead. Aside from the flatbread I made on the morning of the party, everything else was made starting on Thursday night and then refrigerated.
- If you are not a cocktail maven, stick to wine. Buy a prosecco, a few bottles of good white and red, some sparkling water and call it a day. Although a Campari Spritz (Campari and Prosecco) is pretty impossible to screw up and almost everyone will love it.
- Again, mixing and matching glasses always trumps a plastic cup, so reminiscent of college parties.
- A couple of hours before the guests arrive, set one or two tables with pretty tablecloths (or not) and start laying out the plates/glasses and the food, decant the red wine, toast the bread and check the bathroom is clean enough for your guests.
- I never ask people I don’t know very well to bring anything but you know they will – whether they are drinks that can be consumed immediately, flowers to prettify your tables or extra munchies to add to your spread.
- If you made food that can all be laid out by the time your guests arrive, you won’t have to shuttle back and forth from the kitchen but will instead be able to sit back, relax and enjoy the company. And that Campari Spritz.