Tip of the Week-How to plan a dinner party menu

The Numbers Game
Planning a dinner for some is easy, but if this is your first you probably in need of a little help.   Modern houses often place restrictions on the size of your dining table and chairs, so don’t feel tempted to invite more people that you have chairs for, unless you’re having a buffet. Equally, if your kitchen is quite small you need to keep that in mind when writing the menu.

Shopping
Whenever I am having a dinner party at home I don’t go to the shop with one “set in stone” menu.
I will try to write down 3-4 ideas ahead of time and take that piece of paper with me to the market. I do this to see what looks good and build my menu this way.

Seasons
Paying more attention to the seasons when choosing ingredients will also help improve the end result.

Of course I cook for a living, therefore, I’m experienced enough to change my menu at short notice, never the less if you doggedly stick to your original menu when the ingredients are second-rate you can only expect second-rate results.

Cooking like any other skill only improves through practice…so do practice
Unless you are a very experienced cook stick to a dish you have already tried and are happy with, particularly when you have important guests coming. Practise new dishes on family or your close friends.

Remember to enjoy yourself…When I was living in Bermuda I used to stress myself out about the menu, believing that the food had to be exceptional because I’m a chef and people would expect it!   Thus, my menus were too ambitious, too costly for what I could afford, hence the stress and my lack of enjoyment.

Be honest with yourself about the results. Though we all like praise, we can often learn more from a mistake, but only if we are honest with ourselves. Write yourself a few notes afterwards if that helps, such as….Did the courses go together well?

Vegetarians
If your dinner party is for 10 or more people then expect at least one vegetarian in the group since 10% of the adult population is now vegetarian. If you don’t own a vegetarian cookbook consider buying one.  Because cooking for vegetarians can be a little more of a challenge at least to begin with. I like to look for an interesting dish that can act as both a main course for vegetarians and at the same time a dish you offer to others as an accompaniment, which can enhance the dinner for all of your guests.  For example, I might make a risotto with a vegetable stock and lots of interesting ingredients (wild mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, sugar snap peas, fresh herbs) and separately saute chicken to add once the vegetarians have been served.

Not Too Complex
If you have a complex main course then make the other courses simpler to help the flow of the evening go smoothly. Perhaps choose a starter that you make earlier in the day and is simple to serve.  If you don’t have a spouse or partner to share the workload of a dinner party then try to write a menu that keeps you in the dining room as much as possible. Often a casserole type main course can help you achieve this because you can cook it in advance but also the guests can help themselves. If your guests are close friends or family, that’s another good reason for a menu that keeps you in the dining room.

Guests with Allergies
Be sure to check in advance with your guests to find out if there are any allergy problems or food intolerances. A good rule of thumb when some of your guests have  intolerances is to avoid nuts, and where ever possible make the item yourself so you know what is in it.  If you do buy ready made products make sure you read the labels.

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