The keys to a stress-free gathering are keeping things simple and planning in advance.
It sounds simple enough, but there are quite a few tricks, tips and short cuts that you can use to make your party stress-free and fun for everyone, including you. These are our 5 big tips:
1. Clean out your fridge
Before you do anything else remove every unnecessary, out of date or just plain furry (yuck!) item out of your fridge and ditch it. You may also want to consider rearranging your shelves if you will have large bowls and platters that will need to fit.
2. Choose your menu carefully
Whether it be a dinner party, a cocktail party or a casual barbeque there are oodles of great food ideas out there. But if you are the one doing the cooking and you are expecting many hungry mouths then the number one thing you need to think about is: "what can I make that enables me to prepare it in advance?" Which brings us to our next tip ...
3. Prepare as much as you can in advance
There is nothing wrong with cooking a few days before and then reheating or choosing something you can serve cold, like a baked salmon side. If you are having a dinner party pop veg and/or salad on the table with a big impressive main that you prepared hours (or even days) earlier. If you are having a barbeque the same rule applies. Have all of your meat spiced, marinated and ready to go in your fridge and know what order they need to be cooked in so that things don’t get cold. If you are running out of room keep cooked meat and seafood warm in the oven. If you are doing finger food consider a mix of warm and cold as well as home-cooked and bought options, if you choose carefully your guests won’t know it came from the supermarket.
4. Clean as you go
If you have a dishwasher make sure you have it unpacked, then add any dishes you empty as you go, even if you take a minute or two longer between courses, no one will notice. If you don’t have a dishwasher consider investing in a medium-sized plastic tub that fits on the bench, fill with hot water and detergent and dump dishes into it as the night goes on. They will be a thousand times easier to wash when the time comes and it will look a lot neater than dishes all over the kitchen. Don’t stress about the mess though, your guests will feel guilty if you are an anxious jack-in-the-box who won’t sit down to chat and enjoy themselves.
5. Recruit some help
Wrangle at least one person who is more than just a guest (partner, mum, bestie), someone who has been pre-warned that they are on serving and cleaning duty and will not be annoyed at the idea. Ask them to come early and stay back to help out and reward them with a box of chocolates or bottle of wine at the end of the night. Alternatively, you can delegate the food prep and ask your most foodie inclined friends to bring something.
And remember, if something goes wrong try not to worry, your friends are not expecting perfection, just keep the wine flowing and have some nibbles at hand so no one grumbles about hunger and all will be well.
This article was first published on Eat Well and is republished here with permission.