When it comes to planning a meal for company, there are only a few simple rules to follow.
It doesn’t really matter if you’re making a simple pot of spaghetti, firing up the grill or recreating the final meal on the Titanic, you’re going to have to do a little planning to pull it off.
The Guest List
Before you start looking through cookbooks, think about your guest list. Are there any dietary restrictions? How many people are coming? Depending on your budget, you might have to go with something less involved, like a casserole, for a dinner party of 10 as opposed to a small soiree of four.
Cook Within Your Skill Level
Cooking for guests is not the time to try something way out of your comfort zone, unless you like living dangerously. Cooking should be fun, so try to stick to something that you’ve either done before or know you have the moves to get it done right. Look over a recipe before you commit to it and make sure you can get all the ingredients together before you write up the menu. And yes, you do want to write up a menu since this will help you figure out what you need to buy and cook.
The Main Event
Start with the main course and determine the side dishes, appetizers and desserts around that. When you imagine a full presentation, think about the color and texture on the plate. If you are serving a piece of white fish, don’t surround it with white rice and cauliflower. Likewise, if you are doing something like a heavy beef Wellington with a cream sauce, don’t serve it with a creamy soup and mashed potato side—try lighter fare such as a simple salad and fill the plate out with steamed asparagus instead.
And, Of Course, Flavor
Along with considering color and texture, you want to consider the overall flavors of your meal. Don’t use garlicky appetizers when you know that garlic also features heavily in the main course. It’s also best to choose a primary cultural theme and stick with it. Sure, fusion is fun and a lot of those cooking contests rely on challenging the chefs to mix and match different ethnic blends, but this can fail miserably if you’re not completely sure of yourself.
Gathering your friends and family for a meal should be light-hearted and festive, not filled with stress and hassle. Plan a meal that fits the company you keep and remember that food shared is always food enjoyed.