About a month before Fergal was born we decided to have a few friends around for dinner. And even though it was a lovely evening I was kicking myself, metaphorically, for most of the night.
You see, I’d broken my own cardinal rule of entertaining. And boy did it come back to bite me!
I found myself 8-ish months pregnant, trying to rush to get everything prepared in time. And failing miserably. I’m afraid to admit I was stressed out and frazzled.
It was all my fault.
So what is this Number 1. rule of Stress-free entertaining?
KEEP. IT. SIMPLE.
Where did I go wrong?
I’m sharing this so you can learn from my mistakes AND as a reminder to myself not to fall into the same trap this silly season…
1. Serving a hot starter
(potato rosti) that had to be pan fried at the last minute. Especially problematic for 10 people.
2. Last minute changes.
Choosing a dish for our one vegetarian (spiced fried halloumi) that needed to be pan fried at the last minute.
3. Having two meat based main courses.
For some reason I got it in my head there wouldn’t be enough food so I decided to cook some chorizo at the last minute to go with the slow roast lamb.
4. Too many sides!
I couldn’t decide between a cauliflower and pomegranate salad, good old potato salad (to showcase our freshly picked home grown spuds), and some sort of leafy salad. So I decided to serve all three. Crazy.
5. Too many condiments.
Not only were there all those salads, I also went overboard with the condiments. Serving a red onion and coriander (cilantro) chutney as well as hummus.
Where did I go right?
It wasn’t all bad. And it’s a good reminder that you can still enjoy yourself even if you do get stressed along the way…
1. Enlisting help.
When the guests arrived, I admitted I was behind schedule and accepted all offers to help. Someone set the table. Someone squeezed lemons for the hummus.
2. Serving everything in the middle.
Much faster than plating up individual serves.
3. Relaxing as soon as all the food was on the table.
I had to remind myself that it was about the company and to forget about the food and focus on my guests.
4. Not pointing out the problems.
As a cook it’s easy to see every little mistake, but as I learned when I was designing chocolate biscuits (cookies) and running taste tests, if you tell someone about a flaw, they will notice it. But if ya don’t, they won’t.
5. Do-ahead dessert.
I’d made a lovely pear and chocolate tart that just needed to be sliced and served. Which I got one of our guests to do at the table so there was no need for me to disappear into the kitchen.
A stress-free entertaining menu
A big bowl of Roast Pistachios
Succulent Slow Roast Lamb with Spicy Beet Sauce
Moorish Baby Spinach & Pine Nut Salad
Fudgy Chocolate Cake recipe here
Succulent Slow Roast Lamb
Lamb shoulder is my favourite cut for this because it’s less expensive and tends to be fattier so it stays super moist. Don’t be put off by the long cooking time, as you really don’t need to actually do anything 95% of the time.
Enough for 3-4
1 lamb shoulder (also called forequarter) bone in
A few dried chilli flakes, optional
1. Turn your oven to 180C (350F).
2. Sprinkle lamb with chilli, if using, and a good few pinches of sea salt flakes. Wrap lamb in two layers foil, sealing well. Place on a roasting tray.
3. Pop lamb in the oven and set your timer for 1 hour.
4. After the first hour, reduce the heat to 150C (300F). Continue to cook for another 4 hours or longer until the lamb is so tender you can cut it with a spoon (literally). You can cool and refrigerate.
5. Remove foil from the lamb and cook at 180C (350F) to brown. Carve and serve warm.
short on time – fast roast at 180C for about 2 hours total.
vegetarian / vegan – slow roast some field mushrooms instead. About 1 hour at 150C / 350F.
extra flavours – 2 tablespoons ground coriander seed, or finely slice 2 lemons and pop in the foil or a big bunch of thyme or rosemary.
Spicy Beet Sauce
Roast beets are one of my all time favourite veg and so I just adore this sauce. If beets aren’t your thing serve the lamb with hummus instead.
This was inspired by the fabulous book ‘Jerusalem’ by Yotam Ottolenghi.
4 large beets, scrubbed
4-6 tablespoon creamy Greek style yoghurt
2 tablespoons za’atar
1 clove garlic
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1. Wrap beets in foil individually and bake for about 1 hour at 180C (350F). Or until tender.
2. Cool beets and purée in your food processor with the yoghurt, za’atar, garlic and olio. Taste and season with salt and pepper.
vegan / dairy-free – replace yoghurt with 3 tablespoons each tahini and extra virgin olive oil.
can’t find za’atar – use 1 tablespoon each ground cumin and sesame seeds.
different veg – lovely with roast carrots or sweet potato instead.
Moorish Baby Spinach & Pine Nut Salad
I love to serve a salad as a side because I can get it all ready in advance and just toss at the last minute. If you’d like to stretch your lamb further and keep costs down, serving with something carby like warm flat bread or roast potatoes is a good idea.
I don’t normally use a lot of dried fruit, but love the little bursts if sweetness from the currants here.
Enough for 4
2 tablespoons sherry or rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
small currants or raisins, optional
2 packets washed baby spinach leaves (about 200g / 7oz)
2 handfuls pine nuts
1. Combine vinegar, soy sauce, currants, if using, and 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil in a large salad bowl. Season.
2. Toss in leaves.
3. Serve with pine nuts sprinkled over.
different leaves – feel free to use any salad leaf here. Finely sliced kale is also good.
nut-free – skip the pinenuts or replace with toasted bread crumbs.
warm salad – warm the olive oil in a small saucepan before tossing in the dressing.
can’t find sherry vinegar? – use white wine vinegar or lemon juice instead.
ps. Do you have any tips for stress-free entertaining? I’d love to hear about them in the comments below…