Skilful hosts will choose a menu which has been tried out before, successfully. For preference, choose a main course which can be prepared in advance.
Balance flavours, colours and textures, using fresh fruit and vegetables in season. Where possible, offer a choice of dishes. A simple. Cold starter is best served before an elaborate casserole; a warming soup before a grill. Follow a rich main dish with a cheeseboard or fruit.
Choose dishes which can be eaten comfortably with a fork. Slices of quiche, curries or a goulash are excellent. Serve with a variety of salads and a bowl of savoury rice or garlic bread, hot from the oven.
For the dessert, choose a fresh fruit salad, trifle, cheese cake or caramelized oranges. Prepare a cheese-board, bunches of watercress, sticks of celery and chicory leaves.
CHILDREN’S PARTIES Savoury foods are popular with children. Try sandwiches cut in fancy shapes, homemade cheese straws and biscuits, crisps, sausages on sticks and individual quiches. Jellies, blancmanges and ice cream are still a must; so is cake or gateau specially decorated, or shaped like a train, car, drum, animal, clown face or reading book.
Older children are more sophisticated: they may enjoy a lunchtime buffet served with apple juice or a non-alcoholic fruit cup.
TEENAGE PARTIES Sometimes planning a party based on a theme which includes food, décor and dress is fun. You may try a Greek party, with kebabs and pitta bread; an Indian party with curries and rice; or a South American party, with chilli con came. Prepare the food in advance, and serve as a buffet.
Fruit punches, based on ginger beer, cider or lemonade are good drinks, served hot or cold.
If you use meat, choose lean cuts of beef, lamb or pork. Marinate cubed meat overnight in wine or lemon juice, oil, herbs and seasoning. Thread on to skewers with slices of onion, sweet pepper and tomatoes for kebabs. Use chops, parcelled in aluminium foil, for grilling.
Poultry is often sold in portions. Drumsticks, thighs and wings of chicken or turkey may be devilled.
Vegetables, such as tomatoes, mushrooms, sliced onions, peppers, sweetcorn and aubergines can be threaded onto kebab skewers, or wrapped in foil with a knob of butter and seasoning. You may put potatoes straight onto the embers. Choose medium, floury ones, scrubbed, which will cook in their jackets more quickly. Serve the potatoes with butter flavoured with herbs or garlic and top with grated cheddar cheese.
French bread, sliced lengthwise, spread with herb or garlic butter and warmed in the oven, is a good accompaniment, as are savoury sauces,
The food must be as attractive to eat as it was when prepared. Pies, flans, pasties and scotch eggs have a coating which helps protect the filling: they can be eaten with the fingers or with a knife and fork. Grilled chicken joints, chops or sausages travel well if wrapped in foil.
Prepare sandwiches to include sliced tomato, cucumber or pickle to keep the main ingredient moist, whether they be cheese, egg or meat.
Carry boiling water in a vacuum flask and milk in a separate container so that either coffee or tea bags may be used to make a fresh beverage.