Hosting a dinner party for your nearest and dearest should be a joyous occasion. Yet there's one word many of us associate with holding a get together in our own home: Stress.
But are plenty of ways to not only take the pressure down but make your night one to remember according to season two Masterchef Australia runner-up Callum Hann.
"It's a real shame that we get so stressed out because the whole point of having a dinner party is that it's supposed to be fun," Callum, an ambassador for Philips Kitchen Appliances, says. Here are his top tips for making your next bash both fabulous and fuss-free.
Take cues from your favourite restaurant
If you think about the way that restaurants work, they have their menus designed in such a way that only a few things need to be done at the last minute, and that's the way you need to work as a home cook too. Think about what you want to cook well in advance so you can write a shopping list and make sure you know you've got everything you need in hand.
Another thing restaurants do that home cooks don't is to ask in advance for any dietary requirements. There's nothing more stressful than inviting friends over and you didn't realise someone is a vegetarian or gluten-free and now they can't eat this beautiful meal you've prepared so you have to rush to make something else.
Then there's your prep. There are things you can do well ahead of time, particularly desserts that you can bake or set. And you can get your chopping and peeling done - anything that won't discolour or lose quality - and your dressings made. Try to get everything done ahead of time so you can spend as much time as possible enjoying yourself with your guests and you're only doing things at the last minute that absolutely have to be done then.
Follow the cold, hot, cold rule
My general rule with a dinner party is cold, hot, cold. So have a cold or room temperature snack, canape or entree at the start that you can do well in advance of your guests arriving. Choose a cold or pre-prepared dessert that's sitting in the fridge ready to go. Then the only hot thing you need to worry about is your main course.
And you can start that early too, especially coming into the colder months. Chuck something into a Philips Deluxe All-in-One Cooker where you can get it on in the morning and leave it ever so slowly ticking away so that when your guests arrive you can worry about having fun without having to stress about the cooking.
Braised dishes are all the rage at the moment, whether it's a slow cooked lamb shoulder or pulled pork. The one thing to think about though - and what you'll need to do last minute - is to serve it with something fresh. Whether that's a fresh salad or a little gremolata or fresh herbs over the top, just so it doesn't' look like the one colour when it's all put together.
Keep it simple
Don't just keep your dishes simple to make it easier on yourself, but also keep the number of dishes you plan to make simple too because most of us don't have enough equipment in our house to keep multiple things going on at once.
Another tip? Most houses have an oven, a stovetop, an all-in-one-cooker and a fridge. So split up the roles of your equipment in your home. Dessert could maybe be something that is set in the fridge, the entree something that might just need to sit in the oven for a second and then the main something that is in your all-in-one-cooker. That way, you're not using all your stove space trying to do everything at once.
Don't turn down help
Being self-deprecating about your food is a no-no and so too is refusing help. Don't ever give a guest a task they're going to find stressful, so steer clear of the cooking side of things, but in terms of getting them to top up people's drinks or set the table, most people are happy to pitch in. Remember, the whole reason you have a dinner party is to hang out and have a glass of wine with people you actually enjoy spending time with. It's a real faux pas to spend more time in the kitchen than with your guests.
Don't spend a fortune on your table (but make it stand out)
Obviously, you can go crazy on spending a lot of money on flowers but you can also forage some native Australian flowers yourself. Find some beautiful bluegum or something like that and put it on the table.
And if you look at a lot of cafes these days, they're steering away from boring white plates - and most of us at home have identical round, white ones. You don't have to spend mega-bucks, you can go to an affordable store and pick up some fun, interesting plates for a couple of bucks each. When you are serving on interesting plates and platters, it's a way of letting the food shine and being the main thing on table rather than decorations.
Serve up family style
Not only is serving everything up in the middle of the table a really beautiful way to eat, it's also less stressful. By popping everything into big serving dishes and putting it in the middle of the table, it's easy to keep it hot, much simpler than trying to plate up everyone's dishes and it also means the guests can choose their own adventure in terms of the dinner. I think people have a better experience that way.