Stress Free In-laws Dinner Party
Family in the Garden c. 1937. Photo by Richard Courtney (1904-1990) via State Library Victoria

I have to start by saying you can’t have a stress free event when your guests stress you out. That makes today’s Stress Free In-laws Dinner Party a somewhat questionable proposition. If your in-laws stress you out, book a table at a restaurant and focus on deep breathing to help you get through the event.

If, on the other hand, your in-laws are charming, witty and easy-going, then a Stress Free In-laws Dinner Party is definitely a possibility. In which case you’ll want to focus on a simple but stunning meal so that you can fully enjoy their company.

Food

This is not the kind of meal that I would prepare for my in-laws who are tortured by food allergies and chronic medical conditions. I’m going to pretend Toseland’s parents are my in-laws and prepare the kind of meal that they would enjoy. Do make sure that you know what your in-laws can eat and you prepare a meal suitable for them.

Drinks

Just those that match the dishes. Plenty of sparkling water; they like the low-fizz kind.

Ambience • Dress Code

Just a casual meal. Clothes a little smarter than casual; jeans with woven or button-down shirts instead of knitted t-shirts.

Dinner Planning

As always, six guests invited to arrive 6.30 for 7.00 pm.

6:30 Apéritif: Pâté on toast with dry Champagne

Combine 250 g (½ lb) trimmed chicken livers with ½ a thinly sliced onion, one small crushed garlic clove, ¼ teaspoon thyme leaves, a bay leaf, ½ teaspoon of salt and ½ cup of water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer, cover and reduce to low. Cook for three minutes, until the livers are just pink inside. Remove from the heat, and leave to stand covered for five minutes.

Put the livers, onion and garlic in a food processor and blitz until coarse. While it’s running, add 165 g (6 oz) room temperature butter a bit at a time, then two teaspoons of cognac, a little salt and pepper and process until smooth. Decant into a container, press cling wrap onto the surface and refrigerate until smooth.

You could also make this with Scotch whisky. Or buy ready-made…

Serve with hot crispy toast triangles.

7.00 Entrée: Caprese Salad with more dry Champagne

Caprese is essentially fresh tomatoes, basil and mozzarella or bocconcini topped with a sprinkling of salt and pepper and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Some like a little balsamic, and others a tiny bit of chilli – you can customise to your taste.

You can chop the ingredients into bite-size chunks and mix in bowls, or slice and arrange on a plate, but it’s important to leave the salad for a few minutes before serving so the cheese can take up some of the flavours.

8.00 Main: Beef Stroganoff with Merlot

I love a good stroganoff – it’s so simple and delicious, and yet everyone thinks it’s complicated and is impressed when you serve it. You can customise it by swapping some stock for a brown liquor (e.g., cognac or whisky), add garlic, chilli or other spices with the onions or liquid ingredients.

Thinly slice 750 g (1½ lb) fillet steak. This meat is very soft so it’s easier to cut when it’s partially frozen. Peel and finely slice an onion and 500 g (1 lb) mushrooms.

Heat 60 g (2 oz) of butter in a hot frying pan and cook the meat in batches, setting it aside when it’s cooked. Add another 60 g (2 oz) of butter to the pan and fry the onion and mushrooms until tender. Put the meat and juices back in the pan with 2/3 cup of beef stock and two tablespoons of tomato paste. Bring to the boil then reduce heat, cover and simmer for five minutes.

Mix a teaspoon of cornflour with 300 ml (10 oz, ½ pint) of sour cream and add to the meat, stirring until the sauce thickens. Simmer uncovered for five minutes.

Serve with rice or pasta.

9.00 Dessert: Eton Mess with Moscato

This is another quick and delicious dish that’s always appreciated. And you can customise it with more or less sugar, or different fresh or cooked fruit according to your taste.

Toast a handful of flaked almonds in a hot dry pan until they smell warm and toasty, then set aside.

Beat 600 ml (4 oz, 1 pint) of cream with three tablespoons of caster sugar and a teaspoon of vanilla essence until thick.

Wash and core a punnet of strawberries and cut into bite-sized pieces, and clean a punnet of raspberries. Break a few meringues into bite-sized chunks. Gently mix through the cream and put into individual dishes or glasses and top with the almonds.

10.00 Cheese with Port and Coffee

The usual cheese board of young and soft (e.g., brie), old and hard (e.g., aged cheddar) and blue (e.g., Roquefort) with crackers, a fresh crispy apple, dried sultanas and fig paste.

Schedule

The pâté is ideally prepared the day before, but the rest is best prepared as close to cooking and eating as possible. Having said, that it’s easiest for you if you can get as much done before your guests arrive as possible.

5.45 prepare all your ingredients and make the salad

6.30 guests arrive!

7.00 serve the salad

7.45 cook the stroganoff, prepare the side and serve

8.45 fold the dessert ingredients together and serve

10.00 serve coffee and cheese


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