Weekend Herald - Canvas


Be prepared and take the stress out of meal prep


When you invite people over for dinner, it’s easy to get caught up in the idea that you have to go all-out. Possibly it’s a hangover from former generation­s, who obsessed about keeping up appearance­s and wouldn’t let anyone over their doorstep unless the silver was freshly polished, the windows sparkling clean and a Herculean effort had been spent (usually over multiple days) in the kitchen.

Or perhaps we’ve been influenced by the plethora of reality television cooking shows, which create a premise whereby contestant­s “fail” or “win”. Watching people perform complex culinary tasks against a pressure-cooker deadline is actually anxiety-inducing.

Since when was cooking competitiv­e? This glorious thing called food, which brings us together and connects us to nature, the world around us, our own culture, other cultures, our friends and our families, as well as values of kindness, care and sociabilit­y, has somehow become not just competitiv­e, but fraught. Instead of being pleasurabl­e, fun and delicious, food has become loaded with risk. Apart from the fear that your culinary efforts may not be good enough (recently, I met a woman who had never once invited anyone to her house for a meal, as she considered the prospect of cooking and having them at her table so terrifying), in the face of so much choice there is the sheer uncertaint­y of what, when and how much we should eat.

So my advice is to throw caution to the wind and invite people over for dinner and some fun. Avoid the urge to impress them. Make something really simple that you like to eat, that won’t break the bank and won’t have you exhausted and strung out with effort. Set the table, light the candles and put on some nice music.

Most importantl­y, make dessert ahead of time so there’s no last-minute stress. It can be as simple as making ganache – which is just equal amounts of cream and dark chocolate (for example, 300ml cream and 300g chocolate containing at least 70 per cent cocoa solids), gently heated and stirred until silky smooth. Ganache transforms quality vanilla icecream and is incredibly good slathered over a brownie or a tender baked pear (add icecream or cream if you like). Or if even that sounds like too much bother, simply top a favourite cake (which could be store-bought) with creme fraiche, sliced fruit and toasted slithered almonds.

Whichever way you choose to make and serve it, dessert is the simplest way I know to make people feel treated. Best of all, it comes with a permission slip to relax and enjoy a little indulgence.

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