From making the best-possible use of your freezer with get-ahead recipes to working out exactly how much food to prepare, these tips from Tesco will simplify the challenge of catering for a crowd.
1. Make space
Can your kitchen cope with the vast amounts of food and drink you'll shortly be heaving through the front door? If yours is jam-packed, start eating up anything in the fridge, freezer and cupboards that you won't need. Use the new-found freezer space for ice-packs, so that drinks can be chilled in cool bags on the big day (leaving extra fridge space), and refill your cupboards with handy, snacky stand-bys that you can whip out if your guests eat more than you thought they would.
2. Plan your menu
Whether you're cooking a big lunch, serving up a buffet, catering for a cocktail party or all of the above, it's worth writing out your menus well in advance to ensure you've got the right combination of foods and flavours to create a tasty-looking spread that will appeal to everyone – plus all the ingredients you need. Our stress-reducing advice? Include simple but scrummy recipes you've successfully cooked before and bear in mind that serving a buffet means you're (sort of) off-duty once the grub's on the table.
3. Write a schedule
Writing out time schedules a bit square for you? Take it from us, if you have a list of what needs to be ordered or bought when and if you book your grocery delivery slot in advance, you're far less likely to have to squeeze in a last-minute dash to the supermarket at 8pm.
Embraced the scheduling idea? Go one further by using a cooking timer then listing what goes in and comes out of the oven and when on the day: it will help you keep everything under control – even when you're under the influence of a celebratory glass of bubbly.
4. Get portion sizes right
Working out how much to cook for a sit-down lunch is just a matter of multiplying portions – but catering a party buffet is trickier. Too little and you might have to resort to store cupboard standbys early on; too much and you'll be eating stuffed olives for months. So, use this equation as a guide: large numbers of people + drinking + chatting + varied buffet menu = less food than you'd think. So, if you've got 20 coming, cater for 15 – but have extra portions of bread, crisps and cheese and biscuits to hand in case the local rugby team shows up.
5. Get ahead of the game
Make the most of any downtime to cook and freeze ahead – even the odd dish or two will lighten the load. You can use the freezer-to-oven trick with everything from pies, lasagne, roasties and root veg to bread sauce, stuffing, gravy and dessert, leaving you a little more relaxed and a tiny bit less frazzled on the day.
Listen, you don't have to make everything yourself – packet-to-plate and easy-to-assemble dishes are perfectly acceptable. Think cakes, antipasti platters, dips, crudités, pies, sausage rolls... Lay them out decoratively, sprinkle with a herb garnish and your guests probably won't even notice. And we won't tell.
7. Count your crockery
Have you got enough of everything from plates and cutlery to glassware and serving dishes for both sit down meals and drinks parties? Borrow or buy extras now – or go for disposable plates, glasses and napkins if you can't face the washing-up. Don't forget to draft in more seating, too (if you can't, buy foldable chairs you can stick in the loft or shed when they're not needed).
8. Set up a bar area...
... just make sure it's well away from where you'll be cooking – and designate the job of serving the drinks to someone other than yours truly.