Dinner Party Delimmas

Rare is the person that does not like an evening spent in good company and great food. Growing up in a gregarious family, every gathering revolved around food. While it was never a formal pot luck, guests thought nothing of rolling up their sleeves to help with the cooking. A lot of the food was cooked communal style. Marinated fish would be lugged across in city buses by loving aunts who then proceeded to fry and serve them piping hot at our home. A vat of chicken curry made the journey in the boot of a cousin’s car, to be served with my mother’s famous ghee rice. Paysam threatening to overflow from its container would arrive juddering gently along with a favourite uncle, on a shiny Vespa. These were long lunches, interrupted by steaming cups of tea and snacks that would eventually roll out into dinner. No one was allowed to leave before the end of the day, no one wanted to leave before then! And no one felt fatigued at the end of these gatherings. All the camaraderie, the chatter and gossip, the cooking and cleaning up done together by hosts and guests, profoundly increased the enjoyments of such gatherings. As kids we looked forward to these events, sometimes impromptu but always a great hit!

Entertaining Today

Today such soirees need to be penciled into calendars, e-invites need to be sent ahead for guests to save the date, and an elaborate menu needs to be planned keeping in mind the preference of each guest. More than one shopping trip, that involves trawling the gourmet aisles of supermarkets, going to great lengths to get the cuisine or flavours right. It all seems a bit much. Some of us (I know I do) may enjoy such exertions, but for most it is so much easier to order in a meal comprised of greasy food in plastic containers, and not much bother about the experience they are offering their guests. No judgement but there is something to be said for slaving over the stove once in a while to serve loved ones a feast.

I confess I have resorted to ordering the most common dish in vast quantities several years ago when a full time job and small kids combined with low kitchen skills compelled me into being an indifferent hostess. Of late, I enjoy the appreciation and praise my vain soul gets for my dinner party food. Yes, it needs some planning, some idea of what your guests like, what you can pull of and most important of all – how much time you can afford to spend on dinner party hosting. But the outcome is a delight, I promise you that.

Plan for success

Like any other aspect of life, success of a dinner party lies in planning. I have an armoury of make-ahead-dishes that only need the smallest of work on D-day. Marinating, baking of crusts, preparing herbed butters, almost all desserts – a lot of stuff can be made well ahead and when stored appropriately, can be transformed into wonderful dishes with very little effort. Try it and see, it will work well.

A good place to start is to zero in on a cuisine. Cook dishes you are familiar with. Never experiment when inviting a large party of guests. A great plan will have a list of dishes and their accompaniments as well as the condiments you want to serve alongside. It is wise to have light starters/hors d’oeuvres to serve with drinks. One of these can be elaborate and the ought to be a simpler, more popular dish. Always serve vegetable crudites with a dip or two. For the meal itself, do not plan to cook when guests are in your house. It somehow ends up becoming a bit of a mess with too many cooks. Have almost everything ready to serve except what needs heating, frying or baking. All other kinds of food can be made earlier and can be served reheated. I always make the dessert a day earlier, it has never failed me. And you are welcome.

Click here for some dinner party recipes and ideas.

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