Entertaining at home is a daunting task for many people. There is much to be planned and prepared, and sometimes just the thought of the shopping list can turn off even the most determined of us.
Hosting a dinner party is made instantaneously less stressful however when you embrace seasonal eating. Not only is it often much easier to source the food, but eating foods in season ensures freshness, quality and a taste profile that simply cannot be beaten. The flavours really speak for themselves, so simple preparation goes a long way when it comes to taste.
Here are some tips to help you host a successful seasonal dinner party.
1. Plan ahead
If you don't already know, do some research and check out what vegetables and fruits are currently in season. A quick walk around your farmers' market is the easiest way to do this. Take some snaps of the produce you would like to include on your menu.
Next, check out some recipes that include seasonal produce. Try to find ones that feature your produce as the main taste so you can plan your meal around that one flavour.
Determine what you will serve for nibbles, first and second course and dessert one week before the dinner party.
Once you have a date for your dinner party, and have planned the menu accordingly, determine where and when you can shop to ensure you get the best ingredients. For example, if your dinner party is on a Thursday, but your local farmers' market is only open on Wednesdays, get as much produce as you can on the Wednesday, then complete the shop on the Thursday with any leftover things you may need.
Remember, quality trumps quantity here, so buy the highest quality produce you can afford.
3. Read the recipes
Read your planned recipes from start to finish. If you are attempting a particularly tricky dish, it may pay to try it in advance of the dinner party, to see how it turns out.
With full knowledge of what you need to cook, you may be able to prepare many of the elements ahead of time, which will save you extra stress on the night. Things that can often be made in advance are sauces, dressings and some desserts. As you are cooking a seasonal meal, it is best to keep your menu light, so you should be able to put together the remainder of your menu relatively easily in the hours leading up to your guests' arrival.
4. Don't overcomplicate
As I said above, seasonal eating is about highlighting the natural flavours of food. This means that you don't need to cover food in heavy cream dressings, marinades or batter. Use the juiciness of tomatoes to your advantage, or the sweetness of strawberries to enhance a dessert, instead of sugar.
5. Choose your drinks
Seasonal entertaining doesn't stop at the food. When you know the dishes you are preparing, you can plan the drinks menu also.
If you're unsure about which wine goes with which dish, don't be shy to ask the salesperson at your wine shop. As a general rule, the lighter the meals, the lighter the drinks. For spring and summer, think light summary cocktails or aperitifs to begin, followed by white wine or rose. If you're entertaining in winter, try red wines and heavier dessert wines.
6. Think outside the food
Seasonality also extends to other areas of your dinner party. Think about the flowers for your table setting. In spring, peonies make the perfect bouquet, whereas carnations are a lovely choice for the colder months.
7. Remember to have fun
As much as hosting a dinner party is about the food, it is also about having fun! Spend time with your guests, engage in conversation and have a few glasses of wine. After all, what's the point in slaving away in the kitchen if you can't enjoy it?!