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Life Hacks: 

“Cheat” at dinner parties

dinner party cheat

Tom Parker Bowles offer his dinner party “cheats”

Dinner parties can be among the most stressful experiences in life. Not only are you suddenly expected to show off a clean, livable home, and seat several people dangerously close to one another – you have to cook, too. For many of us, this is the final straw.

The good news is that a truly successful dinner party doesn’t need to be a virtuoso display of cookery – and there are several routes to take if you’re the sort of cook who has trouble boiling an egg.

Simplicity is the key

Tom Parker Bowles, son of Camilla, and writer of such cookery books as Let’s Eat and Full English, advises “’Keep it simple. You’re breaking bread with friends, not cooking on bloody Masterchef,” he says. “You should stick with things you know, and do it the day before. Don’t try to channel Heston or Ferran and get silly with dry ice and various wacky concoctions. Simplicity is the key, and do as much as you can in advance.”

Bowles says that buying supermarket meals for the main, and serving on your best plates carries a high risk of being “rumbled” – especially if you lie and say you made it yourself.

By the time dessert rolls around, though, just about anything goes, “When it comes to pudding, people almost expect you to buy in ready-made. In fact, just about anything goes. Some decent ice cream and a fistful of Dairy Milks/Double Deckers/Wispas always works for me.”

 Bad cooks owe it to their guests to buy in everything – even the main course 
Even at the poshest gatherings, it’s perfectly acceptable to buy in food – and bad cooks owe it to their guests to buy in everything – even the main course., says Thomas Blaikey, Modern Manners Editor of The Lady, a British magazine, which has catered to the upper classes for 100 years.

The key is distraction, says Blaikey. “Your guests mustn’t be bored. That’s all that matters,” he says. Staging interesting conversations – the cook can perhaps prepare by having a ready-made and controversial opinion up their sleeve.

If you can’t cook – distract

“Arguments are good,” says Blaikey. “If you can’t cook, make up in other ways, with fabulous outfits, decor or conversation.”

Hence domestic cookery shows often feature fancy dress, awful music – or worse ‘entertainers’ such as mimes. This tactic of distraction has a long and distinguished history – the Victorians ended their dinners with card games and magic tricks. Only those too drunk to move remained at table.

Blaikey says that bad cooks, in fact, have a duty to buy in – even the main course. “It’s perfectly alright to buy in the main – or anything, such as desserts or starters. Posh superarkets these days are really rather good.”

“I’ve long fought against fancyfication at dinners. Non-cooks shouldn’t hesitate to invite but for God’s sake buy in – we don’t want your curdled mayo and stringy beef with burnt toast.”

Brave the chiller cabinet

The other (cheaper) option is to pad out your work with a few cheaper concoctions knocked up from kitchen ingredients – some, daringly from the chiller cabinet.

This was a fad in the Eighties, and books such as Darling You Shouldn’t Have Gone to So Much Trouble offered fast, low-effort ways to fool guests. Liquidising frozen peas along with chicken stock, mint and sour cream – assembly time, five minutes, including the dash to the supermarket and the hurried bubble on the stove – is actually pretty nice, even now. A blob of cream on top, and a sprig of mint, and people will think they’re on a TV cooking show.

Photo: Mail on Sunday/

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