My philosophy has always been that leading a good life is about friendships, community and time around the table. That’s why I love this time of year. After the busy-ness of Christmas this is a great time to relax, re-energise and reflect – and get all my friends over for a meal. Friendships are such an important part of life – I don’t know where I’d be without my dear friends.
The key to stress-free entertaining is to choose a menu that will allow you to do most of the preparation in advance, leaving plenty of time to have fun with your friends. Don’t choose any recipes that are too demanding – keep it simple! If you need to, make lists so you know what needs to be done.
There are a couple of key things I do when I’m entertaining friends. Catering for different tastes can be tricky so I like to find out beforehand whether my guests have any allergies or things that they can’t – or won’t – eat. Because I like to use fresh, seasonal ingredients, I always make plenty of time for shopping so I can get my hands on whatever is in peak quality and condition. Laying the table with fresh flowers, candles and napkins sets the scene for people to relax and enjoy each other’s company.
Recently I organised a get together for a bunch of girlfriends – you might have read about it in the New Zealand Woman’s Weekly. We had a delicious meal of Crab Shooters, White Bean and Rocket Bruschetta, Duck and Mango Salad and Strawberry Custard Tarts from my new book Annabel Langbein Free Range in the City. I prepared it all in advance and assembled it at the last minute – it was so easy and made for a wonderful way to while away an afternoon.
I chose wine to suit each individual course. There can be a lot of snobbery and jargon about matching wines and food, but I'm a great believer in finding taste combinations you enjoy rather than playing by a lot of old rules. I just choose combinations that I like and that suit each other in terms of flavour and texture, so the wine enhances the meal. So a light salad meal, for example, should be matched with a ‘light’ wine like a pinot gris or a riesling. Here are the wines I chose to match the menu at my girlie lunch:
- White Bean and Rocket Bruschetta with Seppelt Salinger Pinot Noir Chardonnay Vintage Release 2006
- Crab Shooters with 900 Grapes Chardonnay Marlborough 2011
- Duck and Mango Salad with 900 Grapes Pinot Noir Marlborough 2010
- Strawberry Custard Tarts with Everwild Reserve Sparkling Cuvée Riche NV
Remember, whites are always nicer chilled – but not so icy cold that you can’t taste the flavours. Make sure you also have plenty of chilled water for the table as well – you want to be a responsible host! At the end of the day, people always love it when you cook for them, no matter what you make. It’s about getting everyone together and having some fun. Keep it simple and enjoy yourself – if you're relaxed your guests will be too!