Tonight in the name of Friendship, Love, Career Prospects, and all good things, I am throwing a dinner party for the boyfriend, myself and two very good friends with Rather Good Jobs which I hope will rub off on me. The food has been calculated to delight the eyes (male friend) the palate (female friend) the stomach (boyfriend) and the nerves (me). Calculated is the right word; like the Bistromatics in Hitchhikers' Guide, dinner parties have their own ratios, sums and correlations which must be measured before you can start. Once you have your totals, you can throw a dinner party like a Lithuanian shotputter, which is to say well.
step One: Calculate the relationships between all the people you wish to invite, and subtract or add until everybody has at least one person to talk to. When introducing a new person to a group, calculate the contents of the group so as to include your most welcoming and outgoing friends, so as to involve the new person automatically.
step Two: Work out what you want to make. This involves several variables:
-Dietary requirements, including allergies and so-and-so who say they hate cream and are therefore not a human being
-Time to prepare. Starters where possible should be cold and made the night before, or easily reheated before guests sit down (e.g. soup). I have made things difficult for myself by making a cook-on-the-day starter, but it looks posh and comes with a preparable-ahead and impressive sauce.
Main courses should be started before guests arrive and ready by the time you've finished starters. Time the arrival of guests and amount of booze available accordingly. Once again I have broken my own rule by making something which will need to be prepared while starters are still happening for everyone else.
Puddings should always be reheatable at a moment's notice, to go in when the main course comes out, or cold and prepared the night before. This time I have managed to obey; the pudding is already only awaiting presentation.
-Faff. The Faff Index is personal and varies greatly. A general rule of thumb is that you should never expend more Faff on a dinner party than 7:5, where 7 is party and 5 is your usual tolerance when cooking for yourself.
-Cuisine. It's often nice to have all your dishes from the same area, like Spain or Italy, as it creates a Theme (i.e. Posh) and means you can use all the same cookbook.
step Three: Calculate the amount of food needed. This is not the same as the number of people; some (like me) can only manage halves of everything (but being hostess I will tolerate leftovers.) Boyfriends on the other hand usually go back for seconds. Most people will eat more main course than everything else, and more pudding than they say they will. The sums are something like this:
Size of portions of courses is inversely proportional to the number of courses
Size of portions of courses is inversely proportional to number of eggs/floz cream used in meal total
Size of portions of courses is inversely proportional to the poshness of each course
Let Starter= s. If S=1, Main Course =2 and Pudding (P) = 1.7 (Oh, Go On Then, Just A Slither).
step Four: Shopping For Posh
Regarding the Faff Index mentioned earlier, you can reduce the Index whilst increasing the poshness of your meal by adding what is known in my family as 'Garnish, that's what that is.' For example:
-slices of citrus fruit, thin, cut along a radius and twisted to stand on things
-corainder, parsley or mint sprigs, or chopped and sprinkled chives
-grated chocolate off an ordinary large-hole cheese grater
-cream, oil, condiment or balsamic drizzled in an artistic drizzle
-chillies cut on the diagonal to reveal the seeds
And, my personal favourite and trick for this evening:
-Colourful, foreign and where possible tiny vegetables, and a variety of them.
step Five: Schedule, Schedule, Schedule!
You don't have to be all 'T-minus etc. eighteen hundred hours' about this, but do work out before you start what needs doing in what order. Then when you're turning back to the cooking after five minutes talking and drinking gin, you won't have really forgotten where you are or what you're supposed to be doing.
Let's see how it goes...