With a bit of planning, barbecues don’t have to consist solely of undercooked sausages and tough chicken drumsticks. Instead, throw succulent prawns in their shells onto the barbecue along with ribs marinated in honey.
Fire-roasted cherry tomatoes (cherry tomatoes barbecued on a skewer for five to eight minutes) are delicious alongside any type of fresh grilled fish garnished with chives, lemon and watercress butter. Serve with a large tossed salad and plenty of fresh bread.
Finish off with ripe cheese and baskets of plump, ripe summer fruits, as well as mini tubs of ice cream.
When it comes to drinks, serve large jugs of colourful fruit punches (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic).
Afternoon tea is a wonderfully indulgent party meal. It provides the perfect excuse to eat sinful cakes and pastries and is the ideal way to celebrate a christening.
As well as serving traditional pots of tea, whizz up fresh fruit smoothies in a blender and serve in tall glasses. Banana and strawberries make a great combination and kids love them. Remember that tea should be an elegant meal too, so make sure the portions you serve are small and can be eaten with one hand. Cut sandwiches into small triangles or slices and don’t over-fill.
Offer lots of different combinations of breads and fillings – smoked salmon and cream cheese on brown bread, ham and grainy mustard on white. For a bit of fun, cut cucumber slices into heart shapes and top with fresh prawns and mayonnaise. Make sure you serve a selection of fresh cakes cut into dainty manageable slices – there’s nothing more off-putting than a huge wedge of cake sitting on your plate. Remember to label any cakes containing nuts.
Large birthday party meals
If you’re doing the catering for a sit-down meal for 20 or more guests, you really must know your limits in the kitchen! Now is not the time to be over-ambitious and cook a difficult dish you have never attempted before. Stick to old favourites you know you can perfect.
With this number of guests it’s a good idea to begin with a cold starter, such as a tasty goat’s cheese salad or smoked salmon. The main course could be a simple lasagne, served with a brightly-coloured salad and homemade garlic bread. Choose dishes which require little last-minute preparation.
A tower of profiteroles is a stunning, dramatic pudding and always a popular choice. During the summer, a large bowl of strawberries with plenty of cream and a selection of ice cream is another fantastic pudding. Serve tiny, delicious Belgian chocolates with the coffee.
Balance the simplicity of the meal by going all out on the decoration of the room and table. Choose a theme, such as silver, and go wild. Sprinkle silver stars on the table, place shiny silver candles in glass holders. Write names in silver pen on smooth pebbles and use as place settings. Tie napkins with flowering herbs and thick silver ribbon. The food will taste doubly good for its surroundings!
It’s a good idea to begin with smaller canapés like red onion and goat’s cheese pastries, and move on to more filling food like tomato and basil bruschetta. ‘Miniature’ dishes such as mini fish and chips, mini hamburgers and mini roast beef and Yorkshire puddings are always fun and popular. If you’re cooking everything yourself, it’s also a good idea to have a wide selection of cold canapés that can be made in advance and won’t take up space in your oven.
Avoid mixing different canapés on one serving plate, as you will dilute the impact. It’s important to serve a good selection of vegetarian canapés, and to make sure that they’re not all too heavy or pastry-based.
Organic canapés are very in vogue at the moment, as well as being an eminently healthy option. They don’t have to cost the earth – serve organic crudités, for instance, and healthy organic bread topped with rare beef or salmon.
Round off with sweet items such as individual strawberries dipped in chocolate or tiny summer fruit tartlets. You could even decide to have something dramatic such as a chocolate fountain which not only tastes heavenly, but also acts as a fantastic focal point in a room.
Be creative when serving canapés. Look out for large glass plates which you can decorate with leaves or rose petals.
The great advantage of buffets is that they allow you more space than a sit-down meal and create a relaxed atmosphere where everyone can circulate freely and mingle.
If you’re doing it yourself, unless you’re a very experienced cook, it’s wise to stick to simple ideas, such as platters of delicious hams and salamis. Always buy top-quality meat and remember to cater for your vegetarian guests. Roast brightly-coloured vegetables, such as peppers, parsnips and red onions, in the oven and drizzle olive oil over the top. Fill salad bowls with fresh rocket and Parmesan shavings or red onion, cherry tomatoes and feta cheese.
Be brave and choose highly-flavoured, ripe, unusual cheeses served on enormous glass plates. Top bagels with red pepper and olive relish or smoked salmon and cream cheese and serve plenty of fresh bread.
Baked potatoes are great fillers and provide instant hot food. Spice up the meal with home-made garlic and chilli dips. Make sure you have plenty of tasty olives and spicy relishes on hand.
Be sure to provide plenty of plates and napkins in your chosen colour (perhaps white if your food is very colourful), and scatter your tablecloth with rose petals.
There is lots more Party advice available on Confetti!