The famous scouts’ motto is also just the ticket for the perfect host or hostess. Bonnie May shares her innovative ideas for staying calm when those unexpected visitors drop in…
’So, we thought we’d drop by and see you as we were in the area!’ Well, that’s great but how do you ensure you are the perfect host with the shortest lead time ever?
First and foremost you need to remind yourself that these happy-go-lucky friends are absolutely here to see you. Whilst your mind may go into a spin in terms of what the house looks like, what food is in the fridge, do we have milk for tea and how do I look like? – take a deep breath and breathe! With all the will in the world there is only so much that can be achieved in a short amount of time.
To start with a warm welcome is what is needed, that ‘How great it is to see you’ with the most sincere of voices should echo up the hallway upon arrival. Next, offer a drink, and then…well in my world…you can take me as you find me, which is usually in the garden, elbow deep in pots and pans cooking or in most cases a combination of both!
On the whole, and jesting aside, we are pretty good at entertaining last minute. Many an evening we can go from 2 to 10 for dinner once the kids have got wind that I might be cooking! My mid-week ‘fruits of the fridge’ buffet can consist of anything and everything! And this is where I think we all put ourselves under pressure, meals don’t always have to come in a restaurant menu style format. We literally empty the fridge and it is a sort of ‘ready steady cook’ with some of the content. Then, if we are running short, a quick pasta dish, risotto, or (using my favourite shortcrust pastry sheets) a quiche can find its way to the table pretty quickly.
I am lucky in having the freezer space – and I do use it all pretty wisely. And here I mean having it neatly stacked and labelled…simple, I know, but trying to find things at speed can be tricky. When cooking, I always make more than I need so I have a constant supply – even if this might be for loading up our daughter’s freezer at Uni!
Box up those sauces, soups, stocks and gravy – and eventually you will never have to start completely from scratch for anything at all. Then there is my next trick to fool them all, and somewhat back to front you may think, but lay the table first. This somehow gives you a superpower to think that all is in control, and even if it is all running overtime in the oven the first impression to your hungry crew is that all is gigging along just fine! In fact, if we are entertaining during the week, I always lay the table before I go to work in the morning, and it is one big tick of my list. A mid-week supper entertaining friends, juggled with a working week, also means whole heartedly that you can cheat (if that’s what you want to call it)! Don’t break your neck making it all, go and buy some sneaky additions that make you feel a little like Nigella as you calmly dish up the goods!
And there is not just the cooking and serving aspect, the clearing up also features as a rather large task at the end of the evening. For those that are thinking of having a new kitchen in the not too distant future please take this tip as one of the best you will ever hear…if you do have space get TWO dishwashers! This for us has been the best piece of advice that we have had. No more loading one up and leaving a heap of stuff on the side and then having to start again in the morning. Not a good start to the day, but now all can fit in leaving squeaky clean work surfaces and a happy Bonnie! Other little tips are to line as much of your cooking dishes with greaseproof or foil to save on scrubbing. Also save any foil cooking trays so that at busy times like this you can even use those and then just throw them away afterwards!
For those friends who ‘just pop in’ we have also mastered the standing supper…not making them too comfortable that they end up staying all evening, but enough to be hospitable! We have a fab wooden board that I line with parchment paper and then load up with all sorts of bits and pieces – little sticks of cherry tomatoes, basil and mozzarella, chunks of cheese and I have even been known to jazz up pineapple and cheese on a stick! Salami slices, devilled eggs, olives and frittata – this style of serving is even easier when you stand in the deli isle at the supermarket, these shelves are bursting with the most delicious finger licking snacks. Yes, the recycling bin will be a bit fuller but as a last minute need-to-make-it-simple-and-fast attempt, this really does fit the bill.
Keeping a drinks offering to suit all is nearly impossible. With so many choices I’d say I don’t even think about trying to be all things to all people, it will never happen. Having a house signature drink is good fun and, like with your best dish on the menu, it is great to be famous for it. Don’t think you have to reinvent yourself time after time. If you come to ours you will be offered a gin and tonic, a beer or a glass of vino and it is that simple (soft drinks are available too of course).
I feel it is long overdue, but relaxed dining is really the way forward. Our world outside of the dining room is pressured enough and to add to that, particularly if this is all out of your comfort zone, is really not necessary at all. So, embrace the fridge buffet, have a few tricks up your freezer sleeve, smile and serve!
See you next time…