It is safe to say that one of the worst parts of cooking is the sweaty, sweltering stress that comes with it. It doesn’t matter if you are Michel Roux or cooking a simple supper for your family, being in the kitchen is enough to give you palpitations. Cooking a dinner party is like spinning plates… on a unicycle… on the edge of a volcano… with everyone you ever cared about laughing from a safe distance.
We totally feel you, but the key to keeping your cool (excluding the use of Valium, of course), can be broken down in to ten simple steps:
- Don’t try anything new
We know that you want to show off and impress your guests, but it is better to deliver a top-notch chocolate cake than a soufflé disaster. However, if you do have something that you really want to try, practice it. Try it out once or twice before the main event, just make sure you get yourself someone to chow-down on the rejects until you get it perfect.
- Don’t over complicate your menu
Leading on from the above, don’t have a menu that is too complicated. Sure, go for one showstopper course, but place something simple and classic on either side. Not only does this make things much easier for you, it is easier on your guests; too much rich food can be overbearing.
- Write lists
Once you’ve worked out your menu, write a long list of ingredients, the wine or drinks you need and all the other little bits on a piece of paper. Do not leave out things you think you have already. Go through your kitchen and tick off the things you already own to avoid serious faux pas when you swore you had plenty of cinnamon.
- Plan your day
On another sheet of paper, write down what you need to do and how long it will take. Plan each step at a time, up until serving. For example: 6pm: Preheat oven, 6:20pm put the meat in and put potatoes on to boil, 6:25pm prep vegetables, 6:45pm make dessert. This method works great for Christmas dinner too.
- Prep as much as possible
Throughout the day if you find yourself with very little to do you can take this time to prep. Make stock and leave it in the fridge, chop vegetables and leave them in cold water to keep fresh, and set the table as early as possible. You will be your busiest when the guests arrive so it is best to get the little things out of the way while you can.
- Give yourself enough time
Don’y be afraid to use the whole day. Do not just leave it all to the last minute, as the stress of cooking up a couple of courses in a few hours will make your head explode. Obviously, due to work and family commitments, this might not always be possible, but just be aware how complicated your menu might be, and be sure to give yourself enough time.
- Take frequent breaks
Not only does cooking take a great deal of concentration, on a basic level you are stood up for long period of time. Make sure you take lots of little breaks, have a sit down and have a cup of tea (or a gin).
- Be choosy about who you invite
You may have an extensive group of friends, but if you want to avoid anxiety, reduce your number of covers. The ideal number is probably 6 or 8 at a push, and if you would like more, be sure to rope in a little help from the guests themselves.
- Leave time for a little bit of pampering
When you cook all day, you will be tired, a little stressed and you will almost certainly have the smell of the food infused into your hair and oozing from your skin. Give yourself enough time to go and have a hot bubbly bath, wash your hair and get ready. Your looks need to match how amazing your meal is, so give yourself the time to beautify.
- Enjoy yourself
What’s the point of it all if you can’t have a little fun? Invite people who will have an amazing time whatever the food is like, and be sure to remember that its only one meal. Have a couple drinks, socialise and enjoy your evening. You’re worth it.
Take a deep breath, plan properly, and if all else fails order a take away to the back door.
See you on Thursday,