easy recipes

Overnight Oats – Peanut Butter and Banana

Ingredients

  • ½ cup rolled old fashioned oats
  • ½ cup milk of choice (cows, soy, nut milks)
  • ¼ cup yoghurt of choice (dairy or non dairy)
  • 1 tablespoon chia seeds
  • 1 tablespoon honey (optional)
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)

Method

  • Place all ingredients into a large glass container and mix until combined.
  • Cover the glass container with a lid or plastic wrap. Place in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours or overnight. Toppings can be added the night before or immediately before serving.
  • Uncover and enjoy from the glass container the next day. Thin with a little more milk or water, if desired.

Bar Snacks – Cheesy Zucchini Chips

Ingredients

  • 1 medium zucchini
  • 1 teasp garlic powder
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups Panko breadcrumbs
  • 1 cup grated cheese blend – Parmesan and mozzarella

Method

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celsius. Line a baking tray with baking paper

Slice the zucchini into thin rounds

In a medium shallow dish, whisk together the eggs with a pinch of salt and pepper

Process the breadcrumbs, cheeses and garlic powder lightly together

Dip each zucchini into the egg mix and then into the breadcrumb mix, pressing it on all sides of the zucchini

Arrange the zucchini on the prepared baking sheets in a single layer

Bake the zucchini chips for 20 to 30 minutes, turning them over halfway through, until they are golden brown and crispy.

Remove the zucchini chips from the oven and serve warm – tomato salsa would be a wonderful dip to accompany these!

Got your cooking L-plates? Now check out my top utensils for success in the kitchen

When moving out of home for the first time or even just working out whether to update you current kitchen kit, the assortment of gadgets and do dads on the market can leave you feeling overwhelmed and scared of the monetary commitment to cooking. Fear not though, cooking delicious and interesting food doesn’t require a commercial kitchen or the utensils found in one. With my list of top ten kitchen instruments most if not all recipes can be made from scratch. I will also list my top ten appliances that can make tasks easier and quicker which are great when you’ve learnt the basics. So where do you start?

1. A cook’s knife.

A good quality, sharp knife will make short work of any task in the kitchen. The key note here is sharp – there is no point in spending hundreds of dollars on a fancy knife if you don’t know how to keep it sharp. Check out my post here on what type of knife to buy when you’re just starting out. Not sure how to keep your knife sharp? Check out my hints in this video here. No knife is worth it’s salt if the blade is blunt. All you will do is bruise herbs, mangle produce and butcher meat in the most unfortunate way. Have a sharp knife if you hand? Cutting onions will be a breeze and you’ll be slicing your way to success in no time.

2. A chopping board.

A large, sturdy and high quality plastic cutting board will allow you to prep what you need safely, easily and hygienically. Wooden boards are beautiful but for items other than bread, fruit and vegetables I wouldn’t use anything other than plastic. Meats, chicken and fish all belong on a non porous board you can clean and scrub. Many hospitality stores supply to the public and you can pick up a commercial grade board from there or other quality department stores.

3. Measuring cups

Measuring cups are essential for accuracy when following a recipe. After many years cooking in a kitchen I do have a good eye to gauge approximates for items such as herbs, vegetables, and fruit but when cooking pastry items I always measure accurately to ensure success every time. You don’t need to spend a lot on these – if you like novelty styles by all means enjoy but your basic supermarket variety will do the job just fine

4. Measuring spoons

These are essential. The difference in too much and too little baking powder, salt and spices can make or break many a recipe. Have you ever seen a cake explode from too much baking powder? or been a little overwhelmed by the amount of spices in a curry? I have and all from misreading and mis-measuring the ingredients. Using the spoons even for the most seemingly insignificant detail will eliminate the chances of these sorts of disasters happening to you.

5. Digital scales

Again for accuracy’s sake digital scales can be a must – many scales these days also have a ml measurement which means you don’t need to change bowls or grab the cups or jug to measure out multiple ingredients – you can just tare to zero, change to ml and off you go. Time saving and accurate? Who doesn’t love that in the kitchen!

6. Whisk, spoon and ladle

Now I know this is technically a threesome but when it comes to these sorts of utensils they tend to come as a group. Whisks are great for sorting out lumps, whipping cream and mixing cakes. The ladle will serve up soups, strain sauces and dish out casseroles. Spoons will stir, allow you to taste and even serve depending on the dish. High quality plastic ones will do a great job and if you feel like splashing out silicone versions are also melt proof and won’t scratch so are great to use on all your pots and pans.

7. Strainer/colander 

Now I know you’re wondering why this is on the top ten list – but let me tell you the humble colander can do a lot more than strain pasta and rice. Canned beans/legumes? Check. Storing fruits such as raspberries and strawberries in the fridge? Check. Strain yoghurt to make cheese? Check. (Just place a new kitchen wipe over a larger hole colander to strain). Keep flies away? Check. (Just turn it upside down over your food). Have one of those lovely enamel ones? They are great as a fruit bowl allowing air to circulate and keep your produce fresh. Convinced a colander is a good idea? Check.

8. Thick tea towels/oven mitts

Nothing is more frustrating than trying to take a hot tray out of the oven or take a pot off the stove and the thin tea towel allows the heat to come through creating a dangerous situation. Good quality thick tea towels can also do double duty ensuring your plates and cutlery are wiped dry not leaving half the water droplets behind. Stylish vintage tea towels also do double duty as a great prop for foodie photos celebrating you culinary masterpieces. You don’t need to spend a fortune on designer tea towels for quality – again most hospitality stores should stock the quality that chefs use – and we handle hot items all day.

9. Mixing bowls

Nothing is more frustrating than trying to make a recipe and running out of bowls. Nesting sets are usually easy to come by in most shops and even dollar shops can be a great place to find both metal and plastic bowls. Metal bowls are great for making sauces, melting chocolate or scrambling eggs over boiling water whilst plastic ones are great for everyday cooking. Glass bowls are stain proof and durable but avoid placing boiling water or soups etc in them in case they are not tempered and can crack. Glass bowls can also do double duty as for fruit, desserts and salads.

10. Mandolin/grater

A mandolin is one of the contraptions you see that can slice matchsticks, thicker batons, ribbons and scallops out of potato. Whilst a knife will do the trick when you are in a rush a mandolin can make short work of these tasks. Shredding cabbage for coleslaw is a breeze with a mandolin. A grate can also do the same making short work of carrots and cabbage. Pre-grated cheese can have anti-caking chemicals which can be avoided by grating your own. Make matchsticks out of raw beetroots for a nice change to a salad. Slicing your own vegetable chips or fruit to dry is also a snap with a mandolin.

We all scream for ice-cream

Summer days are meant for ice-cream. Cool taste sensations and flavours that delight the tongue, what could be more exciting?

Sometimes though, store bought ice-cream can reveal a whole lot of interesting additives, flavours, extenders (water, vegetable shortening, wheat starch) which I prefer to leave on the shelves, not in my stomach. So how you get your ice-cream fix without the stress? The joy that is no-churn ice-cream!

That’s right, no longer do you need to pull your mix out of the freezer and bend your beaters (a lesson I learnt all too well…use the heavy duty paddle next time Luisa…). With this recipe you just mix, whip, fold and freeze. Easy. I will include the traditional recipe as well if you do own a churner as these are also fabulous and a churner does make life a lot easier when creating fantastic ice-cream creations!

So why use sweetened condensed milk in these recipes? The ingredients of condensed milk are just milk, milk solids and sugar. When making traditional ice-cream you use milk, cream, sugar and eggs so this is great for those with egg allergies and there are no thickeners, additives, colours or preservatives. The condensed milk stabilises the ice-cream mix the way eggs do in the traditional recipes allowing you to have the same smooth texture without the fuss. The only difference for me was it is quite rich so a couple of spoons will do.

When creating your own mix, don’t be afraid to get creative with flavours for exciting combinations. Here are some of my favourites:

Hazlenut and chocolate – add a generous scoop of nutella to the mix. If making no churn stir into the condensed milk, if making custard add to the milk and cream mix

White chocolate and passionfruit – for no churn add 100g melted white chocolate and 100ml of passionfruit puree. For the churn, double the amount and add the chocolate to the milk when heating and passionfruit at end.

Strawberry – to make puree blend 150g strawberries with 2 tbsp of icing sugar and strain – add to mix

Malt – for the no churn dissolve 2 tbsp malt in 5tbsp of the pure cream warmed and add to the condensed milk. For the churned add the malt powder to the milk and cream mix when heating

Stay tuned for further recipes teaching you how to make praline mix in’s, fun serving ideas and home made toppings. Yum!

So without further ado, the no-churn ice-cream:

No Churn Vanilla Ice-Cream

Ingredients
  1. 1 can condensed milk (340g)
  2. 300ml pure cream
  3. Splash of vanilla essence
Instructions
  1. Combine vanilla and condensed milk
  2. Whip cream to soft peaks
  3. Fold through cream and milk mixture softly until well combined

And if you’d like to churn your own vanilla ice-cream?

Vanilla Ice-Cream

Ingredients
  1. 560ml cream
  2. 188ml milk
  3. 210g sugar
  4. 6 egg yolks
  5. 1 vanilla pod
Instructions
  1. Bring the cream, milk, vanilla and half of the sugar to a simmer
  2. Whisk the yolks with the remaining sugar until light and fluffy
  3. Mix through the cream and milk with the yolks
  4. Place back on stove in clean pot over low heat and stir until mixture thickens
  5. Strain and allow to cool and chill
  6. Place into churner and follow your machines instructions
Cooking out custard can be a bit tricky so here are some troubleshooting tips
  1. 1. It looks like scrambled eggs – your stove was too hot and the egg yolks cooked too quickly. Never fear, the solution is to allow the mix to cool a little, then add it to a blender and whiz until smooth and strain through a fine sieve. Make sure the mixture is cooled before blending otherwise it can overflow and cause burns
  2. 2. It looks watery and you’ve been stirring for quite a long time – you may need to increase the heat of your stove – a low to medium heat works well for induction and electric, gas should work quickly on low
  3. 3. I need to churn the ice-cream in a hurry – To cool the custard quickly, place the bowl of custard over another bowl filled with ice and water and stir the custard mix until cooled and churn

Keeping it cool and classy with Champagne Pops

Hello Sunshine! You could be forgiven for thinking it’s Summer all year round here in Queensland with the weather at the moment. So what adult treat can you whip up to keep it cool and classy? Champagne pops of course!

Now I am not suggesting you have to use Champagne for this recipe, good quality sparkling wine works great too. I say good quality as you will be able to taste the wine with the pops so any corked or old wines can ruin the light fruity taste of the pops. 

So what’s involved? It’s pretty simple really – all you need is some sparkling wine or champagne, fruit puree or juice and mint.

Now I know you’ll love these popsicles, it will be the most sophisticated version of a zooper dooper you’ve ever seen! ;D Enjoy!

 

[yumprint-recipe id=’4′]

Ask Luisa – have a cooking question? Just Ask!

Apologies for the bad ghost busters reference, it almost had to be done. The inspiration for this blog is thanks for a lovely friend asking about what to cook for dinner based on the ingredients she had. I realised that this is not uncommon for me as I have family often calling for a quick chef questions – i.e. How long should this take to cook? When would I know if this is ready? What cut of meat would suit this? And my favourite, It has turned a funny colour but smells ok, should I cook it?

I love these sorts of questions. It stimulates my cooking brain and allows me to delve into my knowledge to produce my version of what I would do in these circumstances. Just as I call my builder brother for advice on what to do when my shower screen comes off or a tap is leaking, so too do I give the cooking solutions.

So what was the prompt for the initial cooking question? Well J and I have been taking turns making dinner for each other each Monday and I had whipped up the fresh pasta with tomatoes and olives and other goodies as found in my cooking for a crowd blog. J wanted to replicate a similar dinner with a slight variation on ingredients that she either had on hand or had picked up from the supermarket.

My Advice?

1. Don’t bother with the bottled tomato sauce – if you have delicious fresh tomatoes on hand, don’t bother with bottled sauces – whilst they can seem like an easy and simple option they totally kill the freshness of the other ingredients

2. Forget the carrot – I only use carrot and celery when making bolognaise – i saute this off before adding the mince and allow it to cook out. If you’re not using mince, don’t bother with carrot – it won’t add anything

3. Grill the eggplant and zucchini – pan fried eggplant can be a bit, well blah. To me the smokiness of a bbq or even a grill caramelising it brings out the sweetness and subtlety of it. Same with the zucchini. Technically they are fruits so applying that sort of heat allows for a lovely golden caramel which creates gorgeous flavours. I would do the same when making a vegetable lasagna instead of just layering the raw vegetables.

4.  Use the oil from the semi dried tomatoes to coat the vegetables before grilling if you’d like some extra herby punch. I always keep those sorts of oils at they have infused with the tomato and generally have a herb mix in them so creates all sorts of delicious.

5. Saute the onion and add the tomato – by caramelising the onion and adding the tomato you get that brilliant sweetness and tartness together. Good balance means you don’t need to add sugar as some sauce recipes do. Allow the tomato to saute a little and bring out it’s own juices. Help it along a little with some water and you have a fresh yummy sauce.

6. To finish, add the grill vegetables to the tomato mix, stir in the olives and semi-dried tomatoes, top with torn up bocconcini and fresh basil if on hand. Buon appetito!

So who do you call when you don’t have a chef as your sister/friend/partner? Well, me. I am more than happy to answer any and all cooking queries be it simple or complex. If I don’t know the answer then I will try and find out for you. After all I have many chef friends on call too so if I can’t help, I’ll test their skills to see if they can.

So how can you enlist my help? Just ask: on my facebook page or email me at [email protected]

What sort of questions can I answer? Hopefully anything. If you have baked a cake that hasn’t quite worked let me know what ingredients you used, the pan size and oven temp and we can nut it out. Something too salty, sweet or spicy? Check the forum for reference material.

Not sure what to do for dinner with what you bought? Either check my recipes page for inspiration or upload a pic of the ingredients to the facebook page or email me, I’ll give you a recipe if you’ll let me share the yummy finished product. How easy right?

So what’s the catch? I hear you say. None at all. I love to share my foodie knowledge and stretch my chef brain. If you’d like me to come to you and hash out a variety of recipes or recreate some of your more epic disasters to see where you went wrong then we can arrange for a lesson at cost. But the simple questions and advice? Happy to help.

Love to enlist my help with some cooking lessons? Check out my services page to see if we can find a match to fit.

Happy cooking!

Cooking for a fussy crowd – dinner made easy

Cooking for a crowd can be a little overwhelming when you need to consider different dietary needs, possible allergies and personal preferences. It’s enough to make anyone just order takeaway and not bother!

Seriously though. how do you cook for friends, your family and everyone in between and ensure that all tastes can be met?

1. Ask some questions – if it is a dinner party and there are guests coming you don’t know very well (extended family perhaps or new partners, friends of friends) don’t be afraid to ask if there are any intolerance or allergies. Sometimes people don’t eat seafood but aren’t necessarily allergic so a little investigation can ensure a lot less embarrassment when the meal is served.

2. Do some research – with the rise in preferences for low sugar and gluten free intolerance’s there are many meals and combinations that can cater to these needs without excluding these guests from the main meal everyone else is having. Gluten free pastas, breads and dessert ingredients are now readily available, the nutritional content of many recipes are also easy to find and even vegan recipes can be a great change from the meat eating norm for a dinner party. Have a browse through recipe books in a library, check out dishes online or ask friends their favourite techniques for inspiration.

3. Have fun making variations – what if you didn’t need to make a whole new meal, what if you just changed one thing for one person? Now I know not everyone is keen on catering to meal time whimsy’s and who won’t eat what and how but you can allow personal choices with minimal effort with a little planning. How on earth I hear you say? Well here’s the clincher of this blog – how to cook pasta for two who love fettucine cabonara and two that really don’t like cream pasta. Read on and learn.

Cooking for one of my couple friends each week (we take turns doing dinner or dessert – kinda neat) has brought about some great creativity – they have different tastes, dishes, personal favourites to me and my partner. So what do you do when one of the asks for fettucine cabonara which my partner loves and myself and her partner really don’t like? You diversify – I like pasta and so does he – so solution? Just different sauces. Dinner is at their place to allow their child to have his usual bedtime which means I have the opportunity to explore my planning skills.

Cabonara in advance? Pasta in advance? How? I hear you ask. Well you can cut the onion, bacon and in our case mushroom (they like it that way) and have it ready to pan fry and add the cream too, almost like a cooking show where the bowls are convinelty at arms reach! Even better, if you want to do dinner in a hurry, you can panfry the ingredients and have them ready along with the pasta pre-cooked and cooled so if it is for a dinner party you just need to warm the mix in a pan, add the cream, dunk the pasta in boiling water and they will all come together ready in 2-3 minutes. Easy! So what are myself and her partner having? Fettucine as well but our sauce is just a simple combination of the same onion base with the addition of cherry tomatoes, spinach and olives. Cutting the tomatoes and squishing them a little in the pan with some olive oil creates a light sauce together with the salty yum of the olives and spinach creates a simple and tasty dish without a lot of effort so everyone can eat well but eat what they want.

Of course, this sort of effort is completely up to you. For me I was chopping up the onion, bacon and mushrooms anyway so a little slice of tomatoes and shred of spinach wasn’t anymore effort really. When the pasta is cooked I just divided it in two and one went in with the cream, the other the tomato and dinner was served. Easy peasy 🙂

So what other variations can you make:

1. No seafood –  divide sauces (pasta or curry) in two and one half can have prawns for seafood lovers and the other chicken. Same sauce, different protein. Same with salads or sides. Same same but different protein.

2. Crumbles/tarts/pies – make individual ones so gf can have their variation without fuss

3. Vegetarian/vegan – have a meat protein on the side to add to the dishes for the hardcore meat eaters i.e grilled chicken, fish or a steak can be added to a salad, pasta or casserole

4. Sugar free or low sugar – check what they can have and create accordingly either for them or for all i.e sweet potato mash instead of plain potato, wholemeal flour for pasta etc etc

It does take a little planning but that planning means a lot less frustration and effort later and then you will create you own repertoire to have on hand when the moment arises if you least expect it. Let me know what variations you have discovered and how you cater for different tastes or food requirements in you household. Happy cooking!

[yumprint-recipe id=’3′]

8 Easy hints and tips for dinner party success – the food!

Following up from my last blog of tips and tricks for dinner party success comes the most important part. The food!

More often than not this is the part that brings the most stress to the host’s planning. What to cook. How will it look. Will there be enough. Will everyone like it. Or will I have blue soup a la Bridget Jones?

Fear not though, I have compiled a simple list of eight tricks and tips that will have you trotting out the good china and stemware in no time!

1. Cook what you know

Now this may seem like it defeats the purpose of a dinner party when you bring out a new recipe and claim ‘ oh this? it’s just something I whipped up’. Yes we may all long for those moments but if you are a newbie to the dinner party scene, it’s best to start simple and build your way up. A chef doesn’t suddenly know how to make a twice cooked cheese souffle. They learn how to make a roux, a bechamel, how eggs work and then, then they learn the souffle.

In the world of “here’s one I prepared earlier’ it is easy to become disillusioned with cooking at home and making food you love. The best tip I learnt from my first head chef was to ‘cook what you know’. I used to do a lot of cooking competitions as an apprentice and they were about as stressful as a dinner party can get.

My head chef was adamant though that I chose menu items I knew from the restaurant or family favourites and he would help me take them to the competition level with either a bit more sophisticated plating (more time in a competition vs restaurant service) or more sophisticated ingredients if it was a family recipe. This meant going into the competition I knew what I was doing, how long it would take and having practiced, what may go wrong and how to fix it. Now you are not going for medal with a dinner party but you still don’t want to spend time making food for it to be a bit average because it took a wrong turn.

imok_confused.jpg

2. Keep it simple but take it up a notch

Simple doesn’t have to be boring. Sometimes the most complicated looking foods are actually a series of quite simple steps put together elegantly. Many a time I  have looked at a recipe book and thought, ‘how on earth do you make that?’ to be pleasantly surprised when I have read the methods and thought “I can do that, and that and that’, it’s just a case of doing many small steps for an elegant meal.

My advice? Hunt down recipes that are foods you make yourself but done a little differently. Sometimes there will be a garnish or method that changes one aspect to go from eh, to wow!

Consider using egg rings to plate risottos and create a neat circle on the plate, experiment with cutting ingredients a little differently to look a little special, instead of mince for a Shepard’s pie consider diced lamb for a little something something. It doesn’t have to be a big effort to make an impression.

Even something as simple as making your own ice cream to go with an apple pie will elevate it up a notch. Also consider making individual portions of an item for more elegant plating. There are so many lovely ramekins, pots and cups just waiting to hold casseroles, puddings and pies for a dinner party twist.

IMOK_panna cotta finished

3. Plan ahead

Planning ahead is a chef must do. Every day there is a list with a rewrite and scribbles and plans. A function on Saturday? On Monday we will chat about what needs to be ordered, what needs to be done a few days before, the day before and on the day. Think we do it all in the hours beforehand? Think again! There are many items that can be prepared in advance without compromising flavours. Curries, casseroles and stews are sometimes better the day before, vegetables can be topped and tailed, meat can be cut, potatoes peeled, pastry made ready to roll, ice-cream churned all in the days before the guests even arrive.

imok_signature-dish.jpg

4. Check portion sizes

Serves Four. Serves Two. Serves Six. All a good guide but who are these serving sizes for? Children, people on a diet, hungry guests? There is nothing worse that thinking you have enough food for everyone and realising that plates are a little sparse. Weighing your protein and sides and allocating a decent amount per person can go a long way to esnuring each guest have a decent amount of food on their plate. I have gone into detail with this Undercover Chef Tip Post about Weighing the Sides

IMOK_weigh the sides

5. Keep it easy on the day

I am aware the reason most people don’t like to host is the feeling you will be in the kitchen more than out with the guests. So how to tackle this problem? Choose dishes that can either be

– plated in advance i.e antipasto platters, salads without dressings

– kept warm in the oven i.e roasts, pies, lasagnas, some puddings

– don’t take long to assemble i.e bruschetta mix can be made ready to spoon onto crusty bread when guests arrive, fish can be pan fried whilst it’s vegetable casserole accompaniment is warming in the oven, a steak bbq whilst the plates of salad are ready in the fridge

The idea is to have as much ready as possible before your guests arrive to ensure you get to enjoy the night as much as they do

If you are wanting to use something like a pork or eye fillet consider pre sealing it so all it needs is a flash in the oven to be plate ready in no time.

Have water already boiling but sitting at a simmer so if you need to cook pasta it is ready to go. –

The more you can have planned ahead the more confident you will feel on the day

IMOK_me and finished lamb

6. How do it look when plated?

I am horribly guilty of this one. I have made a meal, had the idea in my head then gone…hmm…that looks really sad. Nothing is worse than this feeling especially when you have hungry guests waiting.

Again, chefs don’t always go with the first version in their head. Sometimes a colour is off, it needs a different shape, a different burst of flavour or something to make it pop.

How to fix this? Do a test run of sorts. Take your raw ingredients as best you can and try assembling them on the plate to see how it will work. Are the colours exciting or will you need a green herb garnish or some well placed salad leaves? Does the dessert need a puddle of sauce or would a spoon of whipped cream be better? Do the berries need to be cut smaller or are larger pieces ok?

Again, it all comes down to planning and what works for you. Sometimes you will find the dishes you thought would work to serve with don’t really. So you can either borrow new ones, buy some or change up how you present the meal. If you can tackle these questions in advance it can save a lot of heart ache later.

pinacolada icecream

7. Decide if each course will be plated or shared

Share style meals have become more and more popular as hosts have realised that it can take a lot of the stress out of a first time dinner party by creating share style meals that can be put down along a beautifully set table and the guests help themselves.

Of course, plated dining can be an experience in itself but if you are not confident just yet plating up individual meals for 4 or more people start simple and work your way towards this if you choose.

There are so many lovely serving platters and bowls on the market that can be served at the table without detracting from the dinner party vibe. Don’t be afraid to mix and match serving platters for a quirky feel. Match everything if you love it but don’t do a dinner party style for the sake of it, go with what works for you when you have the time to do it and it will feel joyous and fun for everyone.

antipasto

8. Have fun

Having a dinner party is about sharing meals and sharing a space around a table with friends and family. Host a dinner party and have fun and enjoy yourself. It’s not a reality tv competition, everyone is there to enjoy your food and company and enjoy themselves so join in the vibe.

family cooking collage

Love these tips and want to put them into action with a little more help? Send me your ideas and feedback to [email protected] and we can create a fun and easy packages to have you hosting dinner parties in no time.

 

 

 

Hints and tips for dinner party success

Have you ever read a lovely cookbook or foodie magazine and thought, “If Only”. If only I could make that food for friends, if only I could create a lovely table setting, if only if only. Well, what if having a dinner party is easier than you think?

About three weeks ago it was my 30th birthday. A couple factors weighed into deciding what exactly to do for my birthday

1) I am a chef

2) I love to entertain at home

3) I am half Italian

4) I have a courtyard and a brother who also loves to entertain thus access to tables, chairs and a gazebo

I think we all know where this is heading! The decision to entertain at home was a pretty sure thing especially as the guest list was numbering around 25. Now I know some of you reading this would be going into cardiac arrest at the thought of entertaining 25 people…at home! But it can be easy. Well sort of.

Dinner parties do strike the fear of failure into people’s hearts but it doesn’t need to be so. With planning and attention you can make having a large dinner party a breeze. It will be work in regards to planning aspects but at the end you get to kick back and enjoy yourself without having to be kicked out at a certain time. Plus your bed is just a few footsteps away. Magic.

Now to make sure you have a successful party there are some things to consider:

1) Do you have enough room?

There was for me – if not consider renting a hall or other space in your area

2) Is it all weather appropriate? Being a winter party warmth was a priority. K-mart was having a sale on small fleece blankets so I scooped up about 10 for $3 each to keep legs and shoulders warm as gazebos don’t really have the space to have a gas heater under and we weren’t going to eat around a fire so this was a second best thing idea and it actually worked – everyone was cozy. What I didn’t anticipate was the chance of rain. It did spit during set up which created a crazy scramble for shifting the covers and it did eventually rain hard which saw everyone run onto my balcony which was accommodating for sitting and chatting but not eating. Next time I would need to consider splashing out for a marquee just in case or finding an actual venue. So consider the following weather solutions – hand held fans for a summers day (make it a kitsch Spanish theme and it won’t seem out of place!) or pedestal fans placed inconspicuously around, an open fire (there are many great fire pits available from bunnings for a decent price) or gas heaters for winter or just blankets if need be. If it rains will your guests still be dry and comfortable? If there is a lot of sunshine will they get burnt easily or be shaded?

3) Do you need to rent/buy your set-up?

If you have to rent/buy all your tables, chairs, crockery, glasses and cutlery etc are you wanting to spend the $$$ on this? If so, no drama but it is something to consider in your budget. There are many great hire places that can do package deals and even deliver for a small percentage on top.

As aforementioned I could use my brothers tables, chairs and gazebo. The plates, cutlery and glasses I actually owned. Yes…a table setting for 25 people..how? I collect mismatched plates for blog props (check) and cool water glasses on sale (check) and have inherited a couple of cutlery setting between my own, my partners and my families (check check) so that just left table cloths, napkins and decorations to purchase. Easy

4) Are you comfortable cooking?

If you are not a confident cook consider a caterer to help with more complicated aspects or wrangling someone who knows someone who can help.You can make the nibbles or dessert whilst they take care of the main part leaving you to sit and enjoy yourself. Catering may seem like an indulgent choice but if you just need some aspects taken care of, not the whole meal, it can be money well spent. Or if you know someone like me who has an undercover chef package, I can be there on the day helping you along making you feel more confident in your kitchen 🙂 This has been the creation point for this service as I know what it is like to want to have a celebration but not just leave the work to someone else all the time. By having a cehf in your kitchen you can have some tips and assistance without the stress of going alone. Even I had my head chef from work (connections I know!) on hand on her weekend off to help me and join in the celebration at the same time. Otherwise, if you’re really unsure,  share style take-away such as your favourite Indian, Chinese or Thai can be a simple solution for share meals and you just focus on creating a lovely table setting and drinks.

5) Do you have a dishwasher?

I don’t. I did cook a lot of the food the day before but still, 25 people have a lot of plates, platters and some saucepans. I was lucky that a few friends pitched in and got the washing up down between us for a bit before dessert, but had they not the mountain would have been a bit ordinary. Something to consider with larger dinner parties. Hiring glasses and plates or using quality disposable options (there are many nice eco-friendly options available) can take care of the clean up mountain if you choose

6) Do you know how you would like to set the table?

A great party of having a dinner party at home is being able to theme the party and match your table accordingly. My birthday was an Italian feast so I googled, and searched Pinterest for ideas and inspiration. I was going to go the full blown cheesy Italian red checked tablecloths etc etc but I decided to tone it down a touch but still bring a sense of trattoria and tradition to the table setting. Never underestimate your ability to get creative with inexpensive items. My tablecloth? $10 from k-mart but I covered it with a roll of brown paper down the middle as a runner giving it a rustic feel but also toning down the white non-linen table cloth feel. Placemats? I didn’t really want to buy 25 red placemats for this dinner party so solution? Red wrapping paper cut into  placemat sized squares to sit under the plates. I had used tinned tomatoes and white beans in some of the menu so I bought Italian branded ones and kept the tins to hold my grissini sticks on the table. A little rustic touch that recycled my packaging from my ingredients. It doesn’t take a lot of effort to make a big impact. A little creativity can go a long way especially if you have magazines and pinterest at your fingertips. Just don’t get lost for hours like I do! 😉

The real secret to dinner party success? The age old adage of K.I.S.S – keep it simply simple (I know it’s keep it simple stupid but I think that’s a bit mean!) Start off with some basic ideas and menu items and build your way to a party for 25 in no time!

Love some more ideas or someone to lend a hand? Drop me a line at [email protected] to have a chat. Feel free to share some of your dinner party success stories here. Happy dining!

Undercover Chef Tip – You say potato, i say keep it fresh

Do you ever wonder how restaurants have the time to make mashed potatoes, fries, wedges, frittata’s and all forms of potatoey goodness in one day? Well here’s a little secret. We get the potatoes ready ahead of time. Peeling and cutting them and storing them in water allows potatoes to retain their clean white colour. This time saving tip means you can have your potatoes peeled and cut in the quiet times so all you need do is grab them from the bucket and them chop or slice them for a recipe in the busy times. The same idea can be applied to a dinner party. Guests coming over on Sunday? Peel and cut up your potatoes on Friday or Saturday so come Sunday all you need do is drain them, cut them how you like and cook away. Simple!