Menu planning, drinks & glassware, tables & seating, decorations, timings… heaven. I am in my element when planning for and hosting long-lunches or dinner parties.
As an event manager & foodie (although I’m not a fan of the wanky term) and with a former Chef as a husband – party-planning is a no-brainer for me.
I’ve come to realise, though, that not everyone shares my passion – even some of the calmest people I know fly into a panic when faced with the prospect of hosting a gathering of people, especially when a guest really knows their food.
What most people don’t know is that just about everyone, whether a highly trained Chef or a mum that has been cooking for years (or even a serious foodie-wanker for that matter) is extremely happy to have any meal cooked for them. For being the operative word.
Despite what you may have seen on Masterchef however, now is not the time to ‘take a risk’. Keep the Beef Wellington for another time and choose a simple yet tasty menu, using quality ingredients that do the heavy-lifting for you.
Below, you will find a menu using some of my favourite local suppliers and businesses. I promise you it will impress your guests and more importantly, allow you as the host to relax & enjoy yourself.
You can’t go past a beautiful cheese platter to kickstart your menu. When done well, it can serve as the first course and any foodie will recognise the effort you’ve gone to. Buying three or four decent sized, delicious wedges of cheese, accompanied by some dried fruit & nuts, will be a simple yet decadent starter platter. Ditch your standard bag of supermarket crackers and opt for plating up some fresh sourdough or a baguette, spread with beautiful local butter.
Pro-tip #1: If you have those pesky guests that always arrive early and get in your way asking “how can I help?” – put them to work! If you don’t prepare the platter in advance, put aside the items and task your early-bird friends with arranging the platter for you.
The Grate Cheese Co, Gymea offer a great selection of fine quality cheeses.
Pepe Saya makes butter like you’ve never tried it before. You can order online and have it delivered or collect your order from them in Caringbah.
The Source Bulk Foods at South Village, Kirrawee have a huge selection of dried fruits and nuts for you to choose from.
Bourke Street Bakery, Kirrawee supply sought-after semi-sourdough baguettes made fresh daily. Get in early if you don’t want to miss out on those!
The main meal
A go-to ‘simple’ staple for small gatherings is always a large piece of red meat that you can slow-roast. Whilst it may seem intimidating, a large piece of meat is a lot more forgiving than a steak. This article has good tips on choosing and cooking the best large cuts of meat.
Add some pimped-up sides and you have a lush main course. Easy sides include roasted potatoes, greens & a salad. The difference is all in the preparation and trimmings.
Roast potatoes: Cut these small, parboil them first and then oven bake them in a dish that has a shallow layer of hot oil (or duck fat if you really want to impress), whole garlic cloves, salt & rosemary. Bake till golden brown and serve spread out on a large platter so they don’t pile up & steam (which would cause them to lose their crunchiness).
Greens: Choose the best greens for the season (beans, broccolini, brussel sprouts) and steam them till they’re just cooked. Toss them in a bowl with a knob of butter, toasted pine nuts & fried, crispy diced bacon.
Salad: The key to a great salad is layering and providing a variety of complementary textures and tastes. Ditch the deep bowl and construct the salad in layers on a big platter, so even the smallest serving will get a taste of everything. Crumble in some hard goats cheese, add a handful of toasted nuts and scatter some fresh or dried fruit over some mixed lettuce leaves and sweet heirloom tomatoes.
Rudi’s, Kirrawee and Steak Out Butchery, Jannali offer a great range of gourmet meats. Peruse what’s on offer and ask the butcher for their recommendations. It can help to save whether you plan to oven-bake, use a slow-cooker or a BBQ rotisserie to cook your meat. If you’re looking for a butcher who’ll deliver, you can find more recommendations on local butchers here.
Kareela Grocer or Cronulla Gourmet Grocer are great local places to source your fresh fruit and vegetables. Here you’ll find even more recommendations for fresh produce in the Sutherland Shire.
Pro-tip #2: If you prefer chicken – ask Rudi’s for a special order of rolled chicken thighs. They are phenomenal! All you need to do is bake them in the oven till they are golden & crunchy. Plan for 2 per person because everyone will take 1 then go back for another!
Pro-tip #3: Don’t go lean with the meat (fat is flavour) and choose bone-in! If you’re nervous about carving or slicing the meat – ask one of your guests to help.
This is one of the easier courses to organise, as there are so many great, locally owned cake shops & bakeries in the Shire to choose from. If you’re inclined to buy rather than make, think about getting a number of small items which everyone can share at the table.
If you want to have a go at making something for dessert that is simple – You can’t go past Eton Mess. This is such a favourite for me and was even the dessert at my wedding (alongside the cheese tower in lieu of a cake). There are three ingredients, you can spend as little or as much time as you want serving it up and it’s a scrumptious way to end the meal.
All you’ll need is whipped cream, store-bought meringue and your favourite seasonal fruit (berries are best). To really jazz it up you can add edible flowers, a home-made coulis or mini-meringues.
Bec Bakes makes life easy (and delicious) by providing scrumptious cakes, biscuits, slices, donuts and cupcakes you can purchase for your dessert course.
Ibrahim’s at Rockdale sell some of the best Lebanese sweets around.
Cake Decorating Solutions in Caringbah supply all the extra bits you can add to your own Eton Mess.
Having a few chilled drinks that you can offer on arrival, even if you’ve asked guests to BYO, is always a nice touch.
We’re lucky enough to have a few craft breweries in the Shire where you can pick up some delicious local beer. A favourite of mine is award-winning Sunday Road in Kirrawee, where you can pick up a six-pack or case. Shark Island Brewing is also in Kirrawee or you can find Hairyman brewery in Taren Point.
For a bottle of bubbles or wine, you can also support a local, independent cellar in the Shire, such as Loftus Liquor– who have a magnificent range of craft beer too.
Pro-Tip #4: If you’re after a non-alcoholic drink that isn’t a soft drink, do yourself a favour and grab a bottle of Maggie Beer’s Non-Alcoholic Sparkling Ruby Cabernet. Served with crushed raspberries, ice and some sparkling water – it’s a very refreshing drink that isn’t overly sweet.
One of the best things about this menu is that it can be scaled up or down, easily and without great expense. Whether you’re hosting 4 or 24 guests, the menu portions can just increase without too many added logistics (like a pasta or seafood course would bring).
And since you went to all this trouble for your guests, make sure you’re not also on the washing up!