Entertaining is not my natural forte – but it is something that, actually, I’d like to do more of. It’s a way to give back, basically through free food, and chance to bring people together for warm and fuzzies and all that jazz.
But entertaining can also conjure the fear of plate spinning (sometimes literally) the art of cooking edible food, timing it well and also being an unflappable social butterfly.
Okay, so this is probably impossible – things will burn, something will get dropped, and you’ll probably get custard in your hair. But if there is something I have learnt of late, it is that it’s better to do things imperfectly than it is to be scared to do them at all 🙂
That said, in true susty hack fashion, we want to make things as impressive yet painless as possible! Here are three things that might give you an air of domestic goddess (yet are easy-peasy to do):
- Make your own elderflower cordial
This first one might make you run for the hills… how do you make your own? It must be hard, right?? Not so, my future elderflower-picking amigo. Your first ingredient is a nice sunny day and a trip to nature where elderflower is (still) growing.
Then, all you have do is throw it in some hot water, sugar and lemons. Okay, slight simplification, but near enough. Once the sugar is dissolved and you’ve added your other bits and pieces, simply cover and leave for 24 hours for it to develop into some sweet, sweet syrup. 😎 Strain through a tea towel into a lovely glass bottle and voila. [NB: ours is brown because we had brown sugar in the cupboard].
The best part is that it keeps for 6 weeks, so you can make it way in advance of your garden party, and since it’s a syrup and therefore diluted when served, it’ll likely sort you out for a whole summer of BBQs/lunches/impromtu get togethers. Imagine, someone new pops over for a cup of tea. “Do you fancy some homemade elderflower cordial?” you ask. They’ll think you’re some wonderful, fairy-like, domestically unchallenged, weirdo.
- Serve zombie brains
The apocalypse is coming, therefore we should be resourceful and harvest the brains of those over-friendly creeps before they harvest ours. Or… you can cook a whole celeriac. This is a great go-to if you are cooking for a number of dietary requirements without the hassle of creating several dishes – in this instance, we were cooking for meat eaters, a vegetarian, a vegan and a gluten allergy. Celeriac is quite a misunderstood vegetable, so we found two reduced: I’m sure that’s not unusual.
The name is quite a conversation starter, and people often say ‘ahh, I’ve had this vegetable before – but didn’t know what it was called until now!’ It’s quite a good alternative for a Sunday roast as you can ‘carve’ it into slices in the same way as a meat joint. Simply get your celeriac head, throw all manner of herbs on it (thyme and bay leaves are ideal), add some garlic and oil, wrap it up in some foil then chuck it in the oven for 2 hours. Job done.
This is a Jamie recipe, and you can turn the mushroom sauce he makes with it vegan simply by trading the single cream for soy cream. In this instance, we cheated and bought a ready made, ‘posh’ stroganoff sauce you can throw in the oven. Man, we lazy.
- Superfast, dinky desserts
Unfortunately, I’m pretty crap at making gluten-free, vegan desserts, ESPECIALLY when there’s any sort of improvising required, particularly with trading wheat flour for all manner of glu-free alternatives. I once made a glu-free millionaire shortbread that tasted like ash – go figure.
A good half way point for making some effort whilst keeping your dessert anxieties on a tight leash is to compile, rather than make from scratch – such as these little yoghurt pots.
I happened to acquire some cute little plastic dessert containers last week, and all you need is some fruit (we picked some blackberries from our garden), natural yoghurt (easy to trade for vegan alternative) and compote for the bottom (this Yeo Valley one is organic and yummy). Voila. It doesn’t even matter too much if you make a mess with the compote down the inside so it mixes in with the yoghurt. It still looks nice. You can make them in the morning and keep them in the fridge so when lunch is over, you can say “Here’s something I made earlier”.
All the above also happen to be good for your wallet – for example, picking your own elderflower makes it cheaper than buying it, you can often buy celeriac reduced, there are a few early blackberries sprouting to add (for free) to your yoghurt, and baking can generally be expensive – especially if using alternative flour, etc.