Entertaining at home is the new going out. Depending on which state you live in, you can host at least two adults in a socially-distant way.
This is business-as-usual for some of us, but for others, the idea of cooking for guests is daunting. Wherever you fall on the spectrum, I thought I’d share some of my tips and tricks.
I also invite you to read my earlier post on this topic, which proclaims things like ‘everything is better roasted’. I was ahead of my time on this whole ‘staying in’ thing.
So here are some tips, in no particular order, from a long-time tight-arse hostess-with-the-mostess.
Buy your cheese, crackers, dips (and maybe wine) from ALDI.
They are way cheaper and really tasty. I’m a big fan of their smooth blue (pictured), while the Spanish Manchego is a great hard cheese option that’s a bit more interesting than cheddar. The Smokey Taramosalata is my secret weapon for impressing people with a fancy dip, but the hommus, tzatziki and eggplant dips are also great and about $2 a pop. All the crackers are great, and the Cheese Board Selection looks a little bit luxe on a platter.
Also, if you have an ALDI with a bottle shop, their wines are really good! I like the Luis Felipe Carmenere for a full-bodied red, and the Precious Earth SSB is a crowd-pleasing white (don’t be put off the by the very frugal price tag – my friends all approve).
Soup is cheap, tasty and you can score leftovers.
One of my discoveries this week is tortellini in a soup.
There’s a soup that everyone raves about on the r/slowcooking subreddit, and I decided to give it a crack (although not in a slow cooker, just a Le Creuset). There are various versions kicking around, but I used this one, using chicken thigh instead of mince and adding some tomato paste for more depth. If I made it again I’d probably add chili as well.
But the general concept of adding a yummy pasta to a soup was great! You could do it with any creamy soup. I served it with those bake-at-home dinner rolls as a side. The ladies who came over to play bridge with my folks were big fans. (Wild times here in Leura).
A roast is the easiest thing you can make.
My grandma always said this, and now that we are all home a lot, it makes sense. Dad and I even cracked out a 5-hour lamb shoulder on a Tuesday night! There’s a highly entertaining recipe for this here.
I know lamb is not cheap (well, unless your dad pays). But a roast chicken is generally pretty good value. And don’t forget cheaper beef roasts, like a round or blade roast. A butcher is helpful in providing guidance here.
If I get a round or blade roast, I usually make a spice crust. Cumin and coriander seeds (dry roasted if you are feeling enthusiastic), chili flakes, salt flakes, maybe some smoked paprika. A teaspoon or so of each one, then crush it in a mortar and pestle. Spread the spice mix on a plate and roll the beef in it to form a crust. Let it come to room temperature while it makes friends with the spices. Drizzle with oil and roast however you like it (medium rare for me).
To elevate your roast, choose some different types of vegetables, like a bunch of Dutch carrots, brussels sprouts, beetroot or zucchini (cut lengthways). Sprinkle your pumpkin with spices like nutmeg, or pop some sumac on roast cauliflower.
My grandma’s roast was good, but I have modernised it over the years and I think she’d approve.
Don’t forget about the old ‘Bring a Plate’ option
No need to be a hero and do it all yourself.
My tip here is to be really specific. Like if you want them to bring a green salad, say so. If you want a more substantial one, ask for a potato or pasta salad. It means a) less mental load for the person bringing and b) you can balance out the dishes.
Nobody wants three green salads. I barely want one.
Also think about your friends’ own skills. I have friends who are happy whipping up a handmade caesar salad from scratch (thanks Ted), but others who would prefer to just pick up a roast chicken from Woolies. Play to their strengths!
And final note – yes, I have been baking my own bread. Of course! The feature pic above was my hot cross bun attempt. Looked wonky, tasted yummy. Also, how adorable am I here?