Hosting large dinner parties: what to cook
Roll up your sleeves
It is an oft overlooked but nonetheless inviolable fact that cooking for one requires panache, cunning and planning, but nothing spells largesse quite as effectively as being the host of a large dinner party. Whether you're intrepid (or foolish) enough to embark on such a grand endeavour, you can be assured that the magnitude of this gesture won't be lost on your family, colleagues or friends ("Did you attend Jill's pool party? The food was mind blowing and she made it all herself!"), and if executed competently, will earn you sufficient cachet to dine out on for many moons. That's not to mention the obvious fact that you'll be assured of invitations aplenty whilst also averting the tedium of hosting dinner parties for quite some time to come. Obviously.
Several fundamentals must be remembered before you roll up your sleeves to tackle this literally gargantuan task: your nearest and dearest may forgive the ham-fisted approach in your giant bouillabaisse, but it's a lot harder to ignore the indignant wails of 20 ravenous children—no matter how powerful the sangria—whose hunger is the direct byproduct of your irreparable scorching of their supper. Once you've agreed to cook for the community, you must be prepared to commit totally, like Rocky Balboa in the ring, or success won't be yours to savour. However tempting it may be, don't turn your back on the bubbling stockpot to make yourself a sneaky martini.
Like a woman, a happy stew can quickly turn bad when it feels itself neglected.
Leaving aside the barbecue option—because let's face it, anyone can slap pieces of meat on a smoking grill—there are several one dish meals that will suitably impress, if you are prepared to invest the time and money to do it properly. A homemade paella replete with porky bits and seafood serves the dual purpose of satiating young and old alike whilst going the distance because no one can eat too much of the stuff in one sitting. Pair that with a cauldron of sangria that allows you to guiltlessly get rid of all the old wine in your cupboard (whilst allowing you to fraternise with your guests rather than being stuck playing bartender), and your Euro-themed meal will be the chat of the coffee room till Christmas. The suckling pig/giant leg of lamb/roast boar on a spit over an open fire is best reserved for a men only event. Watching a little animal's skin spit and crackle over fire can be deleterious to fragile young minds, never mind the violence they experience daily on their game consoles. Alternately, if you can find a pot that's voluminous enough to fit your cocker spaniel, then timeless classics like bouillabaisse (impressive but expensive), osso bucco (easy but time consuming) and chilli (what's not to love?) will keep the troops happier than Hefner in a shag den filled with blonde bunnies. As with the food, keep drinks simple. A massive Esky filled with punch is easier to clean the morning after than a backyard littered with the debris of an open bar. Trust me on this one.
Aye Caramba, Give Me Paella!
To the Spanish, paella is the equivalent of the barbecue, and men are usually tasked with cooking this meal for the hordes of people who inevitably turn up to partake in it. The trick to making paella is to keep calm and not imbibe too much sangria before the paella is ready.
1 kg chicken pieces, cut into small bits
½ kg pork, cut into cubes
½ kg chorizo, sliced
½ kg squid, cleaned and cut into rings
½ cup olive oil
2 green or red peppers, deseeded and cut into small squares
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
¾ cup green peas
1 kg tiger prawns
18 mussels, scrubbed
6½ cups chicken broth
½ cup dry white wine
3 cups Spanish short-grained rice
½ tsp saffron threads, crushed
¾ tsp pimenton
6 drops yellow food colouring
2 bay leafs
1 canned red pimiento, drained and cut into strips
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
salt, to taste
1 medium lemon, for garnish
1. Cook the mussels in a covered pot and ½ cup water over a hot fire, shaking constantly until the shells open. Reserve the liquid and set the mussels aside
2. Peel the prawns and add the heads, bodies and mussel liquid to the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Strain (setting the prawns aside) and add the white wine, food colouring and saffron strands to the liquid
3. Starting first with the meat, then the seafood and vegetables, sauté the sofrito ingredients in a large paella pan until cooked, then stir in the rice, making sure it is thoroughly coated with the pan mixture, add the bay leaves and season
4. Bring the chicken broth to a boil and pour over the rice. Boil till the rice is no longer soupy but there is enough liquid to continue cooking the rice
5. Add the prawns and season if necessary. Arrange the pimiento strips and the mussels over the rice
6. Transfer to an oven and cook uncovered at 375˚F for ten minutes until the rice is almost done and most of the liquid is gone
7. Cover with foil and leave to rest for a bit before serving