Last week we had friends over for dinner – and I realised that a Stress-Free Dinner Party is the latest in the long line of things I appear to have conquered without being aware I’d done so. Our Friday night entertaining was nothing big, nothing fancy; just having some friends over for a few hours, and feeding them. Calling it a ‘dinner party’ would be seriously stretching it – and yet in years past this would definitely have fallen into ‘dinner party’ territory, and come with days of fuss and work and effort and so much self-inflicted stress.
“…in years past this would definitely have fallen into ‘dinner party’ territory, and come with days of fuss and work and effort and SO much self-inflicted stress.“
This is a paid collaboration with Tesco, who have compensated me for sharing with you the new Fox & Ivy range. All product choices, opinions, reviews and photography are my own. Also contains affiliate links.
The stress-free dinner party is definitely something that just happens as you get a little older – you hit that age where you suddenly care a lot less about what other people think. And you realise at the same time that no one is actually noticing all the stuff you once thought was so important (not the worthwhile ones, anyway).
When your friends leave your house, what do you think they comment on? Was it the snowy whiteness of your tablecloth? The cutting-edge style of your floral centrepiece? Maybe how dated and rather simple your main course recipe was?
Or do you perhaps think the lovely people who you’ve shared your home with will remember how much they laughed, how good the food tasted, and how fast the evening vanished?
I know which I’d prefer – mostly because that’s what I’m remarking on whenever I personally leave a friend’s home after a great night.
So – here’s the Simple Steps for a Stress-Free Dinner Party.
Get these right, and you’re on to a winner, with so little worry you’ll just start calling it ‘having friends over for dinner’ instead.
Tidy up, mute the lighting, a quiet playlist and a happy host. You’re well on your way.
The House Basics
As soon as you’re at the stage of life where you own a table, you’ll start to want to have people over to feed them round it. It’s a basic human instinct, I think. We show affection by looking after others.
So it’s a great idea to also Be That Person – if you have a few reliable items stashed away at the back of a cupboard, a Stress-Free Dinner Party is always just a rummage away. You’ll always be ready to whip them out, and every time you do so you’ll feel proudly smug at your planning skills. A well-dressed table always makes the night feel like more of an occasion but you don’t have to have fancy tableware, or spend hours or £££’s on table centre pieces. Simply put out wine glasses, lay some nice napkins and light a couple of candles!
So raid charity shops, eBay, your Grandmother’s linens… wherever you can, snap up some old napkins. They don’t need to match – and if you can get linen ones, they won’t even need ironing.
And tealights – you don’t need to have beautiful candlesticks with elegant white tapers. Simple cheap IKEA tealights in mismatched votives look just fine.
I’m going to presume you have some wine glasses, but if not the ones in the picture are my absolute favourites now. They’re the Fox & Ivy Jardin wine crystal glasses, and they look spectacular (£15 for 4).
Oh, and on the day? Tidy up. Dust, polish, hoover and plump your cushions. A tidy home just feels welcoming; and no, it really doesn’t matter that your sofa has seen better days or you have a kitsch orange cat on your shelf. No matter WHAT the latest (truly awful) IKEA ad tells you.
Fresh flowers always lift a room – you don’t need to splash out hugely, though a trip to your local florist the day before will probably show you something more inventive than white chrysanths (not that there is anything wrong with chrysanthemums, I love them).
Table centrepieces really set a table off – but don’t bother to add them if you plan to have dishes down the centre and you’ll be squeezed for space (unless you have the time and talent for tall floral displays in narrow vases, obviously).
Do It When & If You Want
The tip top biggest No.1 surefire way to make sure your guests have a good time, is to be gebnuinely pelased to see them when they arrive. Don’t ever have a dinner party because you should, or feel you have to, or have that friend that somehow manages to volunteer you into hosting.
The tip top biggest No.1 surefire way to make sure your guests have a good time? Be genuinely pleased to see them when they arrive.
Your house, your rules. Have people over when you want to, at a time and day that is convenient to you. No one wants a resentful host, but a beaming hug and kiss when they open the door makes you feel warm and glowing in pleasure. You know even as you step through the door the evening is going to be a good one.
Have Your Guests To Confirm Food Requirements When RSVP-ing
You don’t want to find out two days before that someone’s now a vegan/gluten-free/allergic to shellfish (I once had a guest who enjoyed two courses, and then asked when offered dessert whether it had almonds in as he had an allergy. Good grief, man, tell me that BEFORE I feed you, will you?). When you know before you plan your menu, it’s pretty easy to work around any dietary requirements.
Don’t ask preferences though – that way lies madness, not a Stress-Free Dinner Party. They gets what they gets, even if they’re not too fond of salmon/green beans/coffee on ice cream.
Plan a menu
Don’t wing it.
Sit down and think about it as a whole, not three separate dishes. Don’t serve quiches as a starter, a beef wellington as mains and then a French Apple Tart for dessert.
Any one of those is wonderful – but three pastry courses? No thanks. Equally don’t do paté, followed by a rich stew, finished with chocolate cake. You’ll be rolling your groaning guests out the door.
Also – don’t go mad with the cookery books. We already decided this wasn’t a competition with judges. Cook what’s familiar, what’s easy and what tastes good. This is not the time to experiement with 6 new recipes requiring thirty ingredients and four new techniques. We’re going for a Stress-Free Dinner Party, remember?
Don’t Forget the Drinks!
I’m always guilty of this, realising 30mins before the guests arrive that the only non-alcoholic offering I have is Tesco’s orange & mango squash (the king of squash, by the way). You’ll want wine with the meal, but a pre-dinner aperitif is a good way to start the evening. Don’t try and offer a big choice – either keep it simple with a classic Martini, or make up a pitcher (our make-ahead raspberry daiquiri pitcher is a perennial winner). And don’t forget something smarter than squash for the non-drinkers!
Once again – remember no one is judging you. Plan and make your first course as far ahead as possible, so all you have to do is remove it from the oven/take it from the fridge and serve. And remember that if you have plates of finger nibbles as an appetiser, there’s no need for a starter course as well, pick either/or.
(and yes, I know, my jalapaeno poppers up there were fried after my guests arrived; but it was a simple job, and it was old friends who I was very relaxed with. All was good, don’t fret!)
One of the most popular starters is a baked cheese on a platter with a selection of chopped veg and bread for dipping. There’s no bad way to eat cheese, of course, but a baked brie with a drizzle of honey might just be the very BEST way. You can even bake it inside the bread…
OR *shocking idea* just hit the supermarket deli counter and make up a sharing platter. Seriously – there’s a huge choice, and it’s as stressless as it gets.
Once again; remember the only person judging you is you.
Prep prep prep.
One of the key steps to a Stress-Free Dinner Party. Anything that can be done ahead, do it. Chop it, plate it, oven it, pour it, whip it. The less you have to do when the guests are in the house, the calmer you will feel.
The Main Event
When you’re planning your main course, for the love of all things calm KEEP IT SIMPLE. Don’t even consider perfectly sizzling 8 individual steaks and serving them all at the perfect moment. No. Bad idea.
What you’re ideally looking for is something that can be served straight to the table; one pot meals can generally be made ahead and left in a warm oven until you’re ready for them. And having a central dish from which everyone serves themselves feels relaxed and friendly, forcing conversations and interaction amongst new acquaintances too.
Also – no plating up means you’re not lost in the kitchen for an age, and you can enjoy a simple ‘Ta-Da!’ moment when you bring in the dish.
There’s always plenty of sides that can make the most ordinary of dishes feel special – and really, what guest doesn’t love to know they can eat as much or as little as they choose?
When you’re keeping the menu simple, then put your budget into the ingredients and buy the very best you can. If you opt for a variation of a simple one pot chicken bake, then use the best organic free range chicken your budget allows, it will really show through in the flavour, and lift the dish. A basic sausage casserole becomes special when made from great sausages from the butcher’s counter.
You never want to make the dessert on the day if you can help it. On the night, you want to either remove it from the oven and serve (with a luscious amount of cream, ice cream or custard), or from the fridge or freezer (with lashings of the same). Dessert shouldn’t even both your brain on Dinner Party Day.
Or… cheat. Just hit the freezer section of the supermarket, or your local bakery. No one’ll care. No one’s judging you, remember?
Make a list – you always feel more in control, when you’re ticking things off. It’s true, you know it is. And you’ll likely be able to offer non-drinkers something more than squash…
Oh, and don’t forget to add ‘wash hair’ and ‘do make up’ (both things I’ve forgotten to do).
Stress-Free Dinner Party music
Do always have some on in the background, but don’t spend hours on music people barely notice. Spotify is your friend here; there’s even a specific playlist for Dinner with Friends.
Set the Stress-Free Relaxed Tone
One final tip which I read years ago and have never forgotten – open the door either in slippers or barefoot. No one really notices – but subliminally it completely sets the tone;
“welcome, come in to my home, all is relaxed and cheerful here”.
Fox & Ivy items featured:
- Arno Dinner set: Guests always comment on how lovely it is, it feels as durable and classic as a set of Denby, and yet the 12pce basic set is just £45.
- Arno Roaster: Used every week, such a versatile dish, and just £18
- Jardin Wine Glasses: so elegant, crystal glass with big wide bowls and slender stems. Look spectacular with wine in! There’s also a smoked ‘lustre’ version which I am lusting over. Buy them online or in store, £15 for 4!
- Go Cook Cast Iron Casserole Dish: Just spectacular. Needs no selling from me. £45.
- Go Cook Stainless Steel Silicone Tipped Tongs: £5. Just a kitchen essential. Buy them here
- Go Cook Oven Tray: Nothing sticks. Best oven tray ever. £8! Buy it here – every kitchen needs one.
FIND IT AT TESCO…
To find out where you can purchase any of the Autumn/Winter 2019 products featured in these pages, check Tesco here
Some of the smaller products are available online with your grocery shopping, and the rest can be found in selected Superstores and Extras, subject to availability.
PIN IT FOR LATER!