1. Do not try and be healthy
“This food is both low calorie and delicious” has said no-one ever. It is fine to be on a diet, eat healthily; in fact generally these things are to be encouraged. If you feel the need to subject yourself to a strict regime of lean meats, steamed vegetables and tasteless cuisine that is your choice, but please do not feel the need to convert your guests to whatever current diet you are on. No one will thank you. Embrace sauces, welcome fats and invest in a good chisel of oil. Dinner parties are meant to be fun and no one has ever really rejoiced in merriment over steamed broccoli and roasted chicken followed by strawberries with a touch of sweetener.
2. Do not try and be Heston Blumenthal
Assumedly you have neither studied cookery at a culinary school nor have you entered a reality TV show that sees you progress weekly under the guidance of professional cooks. Recipes that call for an excess of ten ingredients, that use technical terms that you need to look up in the dictionary or that mention utensils you have never heard of are not advisable. Put down the ridiculous cookbook with pretensions of sophistication and grandeur. Its enticing cover and loopy fonts will, like the baddie in the movie who appears suave and sophisticated at the beginning, have you in tears by the end. Focus on simple, easy recipes; do not be afraid to use ketchup, chicken soup mix and quick cheats to make your food yummy. I advise blogs written by mums with lots of children and recipes stolen from friends and family. These are people we can trust. People who make mushie pie ice cream we cannot.
3. Make Food you would enjoy
There is little I will not eat, but I draw a line at mushrooms. A thick, deep, impenetrable black line that James Bond himself cannot cross. They are slimy, chewy and not a consistency or taste I ever want in my mouth. So I do not cook them. There is no recipe containing this devil vegetable that has ever appealed to me and there is no way I could ever taste test anything containing this horrific ingredient. Whatever your own personal no go food is do not serve it. You will not enjoy making it, you will not be able to taste it before you serve it and thus it will not taste good. Furthermore, if, like me, the sight of them makes you sad you should not have to deal with that when hosting. Do not try and be brave.
4. Be wary of overseasoning
As I am constantly learning a little bit of salt goes an extremely long way so do not oversalt (as I have done on many an occasion), a pinch should suffice, you can always add more, but like a bad haircut there’s no turning back once it’s done.
To be honest that isn’t strictly true, if you do ever oversalt, freezing the over seasoned produce should reduce the effects massively.
FYI : I once read a recipe wrong and put a tablespoon of salt in cookies instead of the teaspoon they required. I called them ‘salty cookies’ and attributed them to the noeveau cuisine style of cooking. I suppose there are some things to be grateful to Heston for because they all went, as did the water on the table.
Everybody. Loves. Chocolate.
Acceptable desserts include, but aren’t limited to: chocolate cake, chocolate cookies, chocolate crumble and chocolate mousse.
Literally no one cares that you spent umpteen hours perfecting your apple tarte tatin or crisping your apple strudel. Stay simple and give the people what they want.
6. Be Prepared
I am not a super organised person: I do not possess a plethora of highlighters, a collection of post-its or even a diary. However, when it comes to hosting – baby it’s all in the detail. Before you get busy cooking make sure you are well organised: write a list of what you are making and the ingredients you will need. When you are shopping, do not get distracted by offers or by enticing seasonal vegetables .This is a ploy by the supermarkets; stay strong and stay focused. Furthermore, do not ever buy exactly the right number of eggs (extremely fragile) or a teeny-tiny bag of something that can be bought in bulk (just not cost effective). Give yourself plenty of time to cook and think rationally about your order of cooking.
Only having water is in no way acceptable. We are not in prison. If you are on a budget buy the non-branded coke and put it into a jug. Also do not stint on drinks. If you have 10 people coming and only one bottle of coke you will probably see a scene somewhat akin to animals at a shallow pool of water- fighting could possibly ensue. Or some buffoon will hide the coke next to them ensuring they are satiated whilst the rest of the room seethe angrily. (I should at this point admit that I have an addiction to Pepsi Max so this feeling may not be shared by everyone on the universe, though I see it as gospel.)
8. Invite your friends
If you are a first time host, things may well go wrong. This is not a big deal unless you have invited someone whom you dislike immensely. Invite people you love and with whom you can laugh about disasters.
Also, I assure you once you’re hosting you will become insanely protective over your kitchen, like a bird over its baby eggs. There will be people whom you quite frankly do not want in that space, and if you’re not comfortable enough to tell them to get lost do not invite them in the first place. I, personally have ground rules over whom is allowed in my kitchen. I have, and will continue, to throw people out who feel an incessant and irritating need to help.
9. Stay Calm
The first few times I hosted the cooking process nearly undid me, I was so stressed that the whole process was quite frankly an ordeal (especially for those poor souls who were forced to witness my emotional crisis.) Thankfully, I learnt that stressing does not make your food taste any better; your tears do not add to the aroma and your anguish does not provide nuances of flavour. Turn on some music, change into your comfiest clothes and enjoy the cooking process. Unless you are Bridget Jones tying blue string around your leeks it will all be alright on the night.
Things burn extremely quickly and they dry out even faster. If a recipe says something should cook for a certain amount of time at a low heat do not try and speed up the process by wacking the heat up to high and praying to the cooking gods. Your meat will be dry. Similarly if using the hob- putting your pan on the highest heat is an easy way to ensure your food is burnt to a lovely crisp. Things take time to cook, so be patient.