This is a MUST and so few books tell you about this simple tip! Most of us don’t have 36 dinner plates, so if you’re entertaining 12 friends you can’t produce a three course meal which requires the same serving dishes!
Whenever I sit down to plan a meal I always think about serving plates. The dinner plates are immediately in use for the main course, which leaves bowls and side plates. So… if I decide to use the side plates for the first course, that means dessert must need bowls. If I decide to use soup as a first course, then the dessert must be able to be served on side plates.
Another quick and easy tip is to buy 12 glass tumblers to supplement your crockery. This gives you one extra option for serving courses – as you can do prawn cocktail in glass tumblers just as easily as individual trifles.
You can’t serve a meal that needs the oven at different temperatures, or will use the entire hob for all three courses. It just isn’t practical! So plan a meal which makes the most of your catering facilities. As a golden rule I always try to make at least one course COLD. This means at least one course will be in the fridge, freeing up the hob and oven for the other two. (Yes – I have done all three courses hot – but this means careful timing with the oven as the dessert goes in as the main course comes out.)
You want to enjoy your party – so don’t cook things which will be a nightmare to dish up quickly. Aim for simplicity or individual portions when you can. This makes it far easier to serve. E.g. individual chicken breasts rather then a whole chicken which you have to carve, individual trifles rather than a whole one which needs to be served (and however good you are ends up looking like a sloppy mess in the bottom of people’s bowls).
NEVER ever try something for the first time at a dinner party unless you are supremely confident you can pull it off.
I’m a really confident and experienced cook but I will NEVER do something I haven’t tried before when I’m catering for 12!
(If you’ve tasted my hideous offerings before then you’ll know I’ll occasionally try something new when I’m only entertaining another couple – gooseberry delight springs to mind… why I ever thought sickly sweet syrupy gooseberries would go with cold semolina I don’t know… but in my defense it looked good in the book!).
It’s really hard to cater to time exactly. So make sure you have options in place so that your broccoli doesn’t turn to a limp green mush and your chips don’t char!
This might be turning everything down, or keeping things warm in the oven, or indeed – starting later then you think. I rarely turn on the hob to steam the veg until everyone has arrived.
No one will mind waiting an extra 15 minutes – especially if you have wine to hand. But folk really don’t like gnawing on burnt parsnips (my last failing).