I love cooking and having people over is a great way to push yourself and try new things and do something a bit fancier than your every day dinner. Cooking for others need not be stressful and you really don’t need to be sweating away in a kitchen all day ‘come dine with me’ style. Last night I had my parents over for dinner, here’s what I cooked and a couple of tips to make your cooking adventures a bit easier:
I knew I wanted to make a tiramisu, it’s one of my favourite desserts and I’ve only attempted it once since helping my mom out as a child. I had half a bottle of Baileys (irish cream) begging to be used, and luckily found Nigella’s recipe which turned out perfect! Instead of instant coffee, I just made an espresso with a Ristretto Nespresso capsule. I made this the night before, not only does this free up time on the day of your dinner party, but gives the biscuits a chance to absorb the coffee and soften.
A great way to elevate your dinner party if you want to impress (or if you’re just fancy and like wine) is to match your courses to a bottle. I went to Loki Wine in Birmingham who have a great selection and brilliant staff who always recommend great wine pairings.
Once I had decided on the dessert, it seemed like a good idea to run with the Italian theme, a popular cuisine for most people and I knew I wanted to cook some seafood for my parents as they love it. I decided on a crab linguine, not something I have made before, but I love creating pasta dishes so this seemed like a good one to try. We went to our local market and found a huge dressed crab, which had the meat all prepared and ready to use, put back in the shell. I didn’t fancy taking a live one home to have a crack at… one step at a time!
The pasta was a very easy dish and I made it on the spot without much prep. All I did was cook some linguine and then in a frying pan, with a light olive oil, fry up some spring onion, garlic, chilli and lemon juice with a ton of salt and pepper. When this had browned a little I added a splash of white wine (whatever was in my glass) and then 2 tablespoons of the brown meat, stirring and simmering until it becomes a thick paste (think pesto texture). I then added the linguine directly to the frying pan with this crab mix in without draining, just using some tongs, allowing some of the pasta water to come along with it. One of my best cooking tips ever is to use pasta water in the sauce. The starch helps it all bond together, helping it all come together as one dish. There is nothing worse than a plate of dry pasta with a dollop of sauce on the top, school dinner style!
After allowing the pasta to be mixed in with the crab mix, I mixed through the white crab meat and served up with a sprinkle of parmesan and drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. We ate this with a bottle of Bogle, a lovely white wine from California.
I had picked up some nice bread and some olives to snack on before the pasta, but whilst at the fish market we spotted some squid and felt compelled to pick them up and make one of my dad’s favourites.
I hadn’t done this before and didn’t really look at a recipe since I have seen Jamie Oliver do this about a 100 times on the food network. This was so simple, and easy to do and again, required pretty much no prep work. The fishmonger cleaned and prepped these (removed the nasties and skinned), so all I did was score and cut into chunks. I then tossed in a flour, paprika and dried herb mix with plenty of salt and pepper, I then splashed in a bit of sparkling water to create more of a crispy batter (although doing this with just the dry mix works too). I then deep fried just until the batter had gone golden (no more than 1 minute) as squid needs very little cooking time to ensure it doesn’t go rubbery.
Here are my tips for hosting a stress-free dinner party:
- Plan your menu. Having a theme helps you to whittle down your options and maybe help you try something different. It’s a good opportunity to test out new recipes, but don’t be too risky, you still want to be relaxed and enjoy your evening and know you’ll have something yummy to serve at the end!
- Think about the details. My mom doesn’t drink a lot, so I made sure I had a nice alcohol free presse drink for her while we were drinking wine. My dad doesn’t like dessert so I got some cheese so that he could have cheese and crackers instead. These little touches make a difference – not that my mom or dad would have minded either way (but I’m just nice like that).
- Prepare! Do everything you can before any guests arrive, lay the table and have drinks ready to serve, put your snacks out so that you can just concentrate on spending time with people when they arrive. When planning your menu make sure it’s something you can whip up quickly in real time (like my pasta dish) or something you can do ahead of time (like a pie). It helps to chop everything up and put in tupperware in the fridge before hand (I did this with my squid and any garnishes like lemon and chilli) and most desserts can be made the night before!
What was the best dinner party meal you’ve been served or you’ve made? Let me know in the comments!