HASN'T entertaining become tricky? For about the last two years the chances of having a few friends over where everyone is prepared to eat the same thing are long gone.
Preparing a meal which will suit a group consisting of omnivores, vegans, gluten-free and dairy-free brings challenges, so it’s inevitable that there has to be more than one main course.
Now factor in social distancing and it all seems like too much bother. Yet, we’re longing to have friends and family round, so let’s opt for simplicity with food as it’s summer when salads reign supreme, where we can add in some steaks or fish fillets for the omnivores and gluten-free, and falafels, hummus and stuffed sweet potatoes for the vegan and vegetarians, and everyone is satisfied.
After that focus on a lovely table presentation so the sense of occasion is provided by this rather than grand dining, and keep the fluids flowing.
It makes me think of Nigella Lawson and her book, where she writes: “A table is more than a piece of furniture, just as food is more than mere fuel. When I moved into my first home many years ago, before I did anything else I bought a table, and not just to eat at but to live around.”
For celebrations where you can’t go to a restaurant or the idea doesn’t make you comfortable enough to do so just yet, but you’d like a sense of occasion with a touch of formality, Viners the cutlery makers offer their ideas for perfect table laying without it looking like a state banquet.
Place a dinner plate in the centre of the setting and lay forks to the left of the plate and knives and spoons to the right. Place your cutlery in the order that it will be used starting from the outside.
Knife blades should be facing towards the plate and fork prongs facing upwards. Lay dessert fork and spoon above the place setting with the fork pointing to the right and the spoon above the fork pointing to the left. Place side plates to the left of the setting. If serving salad and soup, place the salad plate on top of the dinner plate and the soup bowl on top of the salad plate. If you are folding your napkin in a simple way then place it on the side plate. If you are folding it in a more complex way then put it in the centre of the setting or on the side plate. Place a water glass and wine glass to the right of the place setting just above the table knife. If serving both red and white wine include a glass for each.
If that all sounds a bit over the top with an exhausting amount of detail and maybe not enough room to accommodate it all, one of my three go-to missals for all things housekeeping is Mary Berry’swhere she simplifies everything.
“Having friends and family round to your house, whether it’s for a meal or to stay is a matter of being organized,” she says. “Choose a menu that you can cope with for the number of guests you’re having, and choose both hot and cold food to make preparation easier.”
Where perhaps not everyone can be accommodated around the table, she advises: “…they might sit on a sofa or stool, or stand. It makes sense to have more bowls than plates, because you eat out of a bowl more easily with a spoon and fork.”
To save time, rather than lay out the cutlery she recommends standing them in a nice jug so guests can help themselves. When it comes to the all-important glassware, she suggests one wine glass and a water glass rather than the traditional three glasses, and thoughtfully adds, “Anything to save on the washing up.”
For a labour-saving buffet she suggests: “The key is to place everything in the order in which people should take it: Plates or bowls at the beginning, the main dish next to them, where you may want to score out portion sizes lightly, and have utensils that are not too large as guests might take bigger portions and leave you short. Salad and side dishes are next with condiments and seasonings. It’s nice to have a basket of bread cut into small pieces too.”