Tamar’s birthday was a few weeks ago. Because his birthday is so close after the Christmas and New Year celebrations, we don’t always know if we feel like celebrating with even more food and drinks. So I waited ’til pretty much last minute until deciding I was up for organising a party… but in the end I did decide to invite some friends and family over. I didn’t bother to ask for a RSVP, so I ended up having no idea who exactly would come and who would stay for dinner. Our family all come from other parts of the country (if not from abroad), so if they come, they always stay for dinner. And then most often, our friends stick around as well. I must say I do love our house full of people and the crazy situation that exists when a lot of people have to be accommodated in our living space — finding places to seat everyone, finding plates, cutlery, napkins, glasses. In the end, we had 28 people stay for dinner that evening!
Finding the right menu, flexible enough to be shared with more or with less people, requires a bit of thought and planning beforehand. In summer, things are a easier — when we entertain for bigger groups (for birthdays or just because we feel like it), we just get a bunch of good sausages for on the barbecue, make some tasty salads and serve everything with yummy bread. The children find a place to have a picnic on the lawn while the adults hang out on the terrace. Easy.
Winter is a more tricky time of year for entertaining. You have to sit down properly when you’re eating! A favourite dish I make for these sort of occasions is (my version of) minestrone soup. It’s something I can prepare beforehand, is loved by children as well as adults, and a little can go a long way (adding a bit of water to the soup when more people tend to stay definitely does the trick). We also have served hot dogs on crispy buns before (we made home-made sauerkraut that year, which was a hit!) — an easy one, because it’s food you don’t necessarily have to sit down for.
This year, we tried something different, a more traditional style, wintery dinner. We made a big roasting dish of meat-loaf, an oven tray full of hasselback potatoes, green beans and a salad. It was easy to prepare beforehand, perfect to share with it-doesn’t-matter-how-many-people, and seriously delicious.
Here’s the how-to:
For the meat-loaf, we mixed:
We put the mix in a roasting tin in the oven (350°F/175°C) for about half an hour. Then, we let it cool down a bit and poured the cooking juices that had assembled inside the roasting tin into a saucepan, which we mixed to taste with some ketchup, worchestershiresauce and mustard. We set this aside.
For the hasselback potatoes, we used 25 nicely sized firm potatoes. We sliced them thinly but not entirely through, leaving them together at the bottom (we placed two thin pieces of wood on either side of the potato while slicing it to help — wooden spoons work well too). When done, we brushed a mixture of melted butter and olive oil (about 100 g butter and half a cup of olive oil) over the potatoes and into the slices, and sprinkled them with maldon salt. We also pre-baked these for about half an hour on 200°C.
Pim and Ava kindly cleaned the green beans for us — we washed them and set them aside, together with a large chopped onion in a bowl.
We prepared the vinaigrette for the salad (which I made with mâche salad, very thinly sliced red beets, slices of orange and some roasted pumpkin and sunflower seeds — I prepared this as well).
When our guests started to arrive, all of this was prepared, so we could focus on handing out tea and coffee and cake — we made carrot cake, pumpkin pie, brownies and sand cookies dipped in chocolate. When we were ready for wine, we served crunchy bread with smoked mackerel paté, homemade cheese biscuits and grissini with a horseradish dip. At the end of the afternoon, to prepare for the dinner, Tamar and I finished the meat loaf and potatoes by putting them back in a hot oven (200°C) for half an hour, finishing each of them under the grill for a few minutes. (Because I like the look of it, I put some bay leaves randomly between the slices of the potatoes, but this is not really necessary. Looks pretty though.)
I sautéed the diced onion in butter, added the green beans with some salt and pepper and a small glass of water and let them simmer for around 10 minutes until they started to soften. We prepared the salad by putting the ingredients together in a bowl.
Meanwhile, our guests set up the spare table and looked for chairs all over the house, and set the tables. We served the meatloaf in slices and with the gravy on the side. The potatoes were halved for the children and big dishes with the beans and the salad were going round the tables – it was delicious, and so fun to serve such a proper meal to such a big group! Quantities ended up being perfect — there were only a few slices of meatloaf and potatoes left.
What are your go-to recipes for entertaining? I would love to hear!