The silly season is coming close, with the longer days and festive spirit dinner parties are the inevitable.
If you’re one of the many who’d love to play the perfect host if it wasn’t for all the stress, we’ve rounded up the answers to your problem. RESCU spoke to Naomi Crisante, esteemed food stylist for her expert tips and tricks.
RESCU: What’s the first step to take when planning a dinner party?
Naomi Crisante: The first step to planning a dinner party is to get inspired! Choose a theme, think about the setting and the mood you want to create and flick through magazines and do some online research of recipes and ideas to get the creative juices flowing.
RESCU: When it comes to the guest list, how many is too many and how many is not enough?
Naomi Crisante: For a sit-down dinner party, I find a minimum six works so that when you leave the dinner table to serve food, there is not such a gap. If you are cooking on your own, no more than 12 people to keep it manageable.
RESCU: And what about the seating plan — would you advice setting this out ahead of time or letting guests choose their own seats?
Naomi Crisante: For casual get togethers allow people to sit where they like but for more special events, like Christmas or birthday dinners, I like to set places. It doesn’t have to be on formal place cards though, you can do this in fun ways by laying out butcher’s paper and writing names near place settings in bold texta, or tying handwritten parcel tags around glasses or napkins. I have even been known to ask guests to close their eyes while I lead them to where I want them to sit!
RESCU: What should we consider when menu planning?
Naomi Crisante: Menu planning is an organised art!
– Choose the main course first and build the rest of the menu around it. – If you are having several courses, keep portions small so people enjoy the food but don’t overeat. – Break the ice with pass arounds and a drink at the beginning of the night. – Choose recipes that you can prepare ahead and can be finished off just before serving to take the pressure off. – Make sure you have enough fridge and oven space for what you plan to cook. – Check if any guests have dietary requirements. – Keep it simple and within your capabilities so that your entertaining runs as smoothly as possible and don’t ever plan to serve something you have never cooked before!
RESCU: What can we do with the menu to really surprise and delight?
– Match a different wine, beer or other drink with each course. – Carve or serve at the table for that sense of theatre. – Use pretty garnishes like micro herbs or edible flowers on plates. – The cheese platter is always a great show stopper – serve it on a big platter with delicious accompaniments and allow people to share. – Soft white cheeses like King Island Dairy Cape Wickham Double Brie is delicious served with frozen grapes, a sprinkling of fresh raspberries or dried apple slices dipped in toffee. – A crumbly, matured cheddar matches extremely well with a dollop of mango chutney or orange marmalade. I love serving these with King Island Dairy’s Surprise Bay Cheddar. – A rich, decadent wedge of blue is amazing drizzled with truffle honey. Serve it with plump Medjool dates, fresh figs and a glass of sticky for a fine finish to the meal.
RESCU: What are your top three tips to avoid having the host in the kitchen all night
– Be prepared – it really can’t be said enough, but if you are well-organised in advance then things just run smoothly. – Accept help – when one of your guests offers to help, take them up on it! – Keep it easy – it’s better to choose simple dishes that you are confident making than putting yourself under unnecessary pressure.
RESCU: Is there one thing everyone seems to forget when planning a dinner party? What is it?
Naomi Crisante: The one thing that everyone forgets is that the most important thing your guests are coming for is YOU! Not your dinner.
Make sure you coordinate it so that you have time to sit and engage with your guests, not be trying so hard to impress them that they don’t get the best of you. My favourite time to do this is when I bring out the cheese platter after main course. Not only does it usually have the WOW factor when I present it at the table but once main course is done and dusted, I can relax, sit and chat while sharing a bit of cheese and a glass of wine. That’s when the party really starts! (Oh, and everyone forgets the ICE…)
RESCU: When dinner party disaster strikes, how can we keep things in check and save the night?
Naomi Crisante: If a recipe fails or something else goes wrong the main thing is to not take it personally and to keep your sense of humour. Stuff happens!
The next step is to swing into management mode, put on a pot of pasta or ring your local Chinese restaurant and order a whole roast duck or two to feed your guests.
I usually open another bottle of wine, crank up the music and wheel out the cheese!
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