Entertaining with style
Hosting a sit-down dinner
1 Having the table set ahead of the guests' arrival makes them feel expected and welcome; it also saves you last-minute stress and scrambling.
2 If you can't set the table ahead, assemble the items you'll need in a large plastic storage bin. Include ironed linens and place cards so that, if need be, someone else can set up for you without much direction.
3 Place flowers on the table (and in every nook If you can) to help create a fresh, colourful ambiance for your gatherings, but avoid bouquets of fragrant blooms that will overwhelm the delicious smell of the food you're serving.
4 If you don't have a floral centrepiece, choose something thematically linked to the occasion or to your guest's interests. A cluster of interesting collectibles, pretty non-scented candles, or even a cluster of wild mushrooms can be eye-catching.
5 Another striking idea for the centre of the table is to display the dessert, a selection of cheeses to be served after dinner, or even a cascade of fabulous chocolates.
6 No one wants to sit at a table that looks like a dinosaur dig, so as you set the table think about the mealtime fall-out. If there will be bones, pits or shells to discard, place receptacles on the table to collect them.
7 Passing warm towels before dinner is served is a lovely touch. To prepare towels, moisten as many matching facecloths as you have guests with a mild solution of water combined with either lemon juice or rosewater. Wring out the cloths until just damp. Fold in half, roll into cylinders and arrange in a single layer in a shallow casserole dish; cover tightly. Microwave for 40 or 50 seconds and pass one to each person using tongs. Gather the used towels on a tray before dinner is served.Hosting a buffet
1 A buffet is the easiest way to serve a meal to a crowd. One way to make your buffet attractive is to drape lovely linens over risers of various heights set on the table so that the food is dramatically presented at different levels.
2 Also key to hosting an elegant buffet party is to make sure that the food is replenished often so that it remains fresh and attractive looking.
3 The easiest way to set up a buffet is on a freestanding, long table so that two lines of guests can be serving themselves at once. Alternatively, a round table arranged with starters and subsequent courses set out in a clockwise pattern will work well for smaller groups.
4 For easy service on a buffet, ladle cold soup into juice glasses and present them in a bowl of crushed ice.
5 Plates should be set at the beginning of the line but incidentals such as cutlery and napkins should be the last items on the table. Glasses for wine and other beverages should be placed either on the serving tables or passed around filled with drinks once people are seated and eating.
Dana McCauley is author of Pantry Raid: Out of the Cupboard Cooking (Whitecap 2002).