Only two things stress me out when I’m entertaining: the bathroom and roast potatoes. I figure my house can be untidy but the WC needs to be spotless. And good roasties are far too high-maintenance to make for a crowd. Otherwise, having friends over for food and drink is my favourite hobby. And parties are about more than food — they’re about company and conversation. So my policies are lax: Dinner is casual and served family-style (I try to have lots done in advance). The house will not be ship-shape, but there will be lots of food, booze and good stories right up until I start falling asleep on the sofa.
But if you want to reinvent the wheel as you entertain this year — start with how you serve cake. Create a stunning edible centrepiece of stacked cheeses, adorned with just fresh fruit and herbs (as above). Go big with gourmet cheese or simplify with two or three selections from the grocery store. Either way, your guests will spin with delight.
My party secrets
1. Icebreaker: Serve mulled wine as guests arrive. It’s easier than cocktails and makes the house smell amazing. And everyone loves it.
2. Go paperless: Cloth napkins instantly say, “You’re important.”
3. Mood lighting: When all else fails, hit the dimmer and light lots of candles. (This hides all sorts of household shortcomings.)
4. Stock your pantry with easy snacks: A few open-and-serve snacks go a long way, especially when you get surprise guests.
Olives: Bonus points if you mix in the zest of one lemon, or some chopped rosemary or thyme.
Almonds: They’re even better if you dry-roast them at 400F for 7 min.
Crackers: Serve plain, or if you’ve got it, spread with soft cheese and a drizzle of honey.
Dates: Sauté them for 1 -2 min in extra-virgin olive oil, then sprinkle with flaky sea salt.
5. Buy in bulk: Select an affordable red and white wine to buy by the case this season.
If you buy in bulk, you save big — and don’t have to worry about running out to the store every time you invite guests over.
Cono Sur Bicicleta Viognier, Chile, from $10/bottle.
La Vielle Ferme Ventoux, France, from $12/bottle.