Dress up your ready meals
Hosting the ultimate dinner party requires meticulous planning. You need to finalise the menu, stop by the supermarket, spend hours at the stove, and pull out your best crockery. But even when you’ve seemingly ticked all the boxes, life throws you a curve ball. Unexpected guests, a mistake with the oven temperature or just a missing ingredient can throw a spanner in the works. Do you panic as the doorbell pings to signal the arrival of your first guest? Absolutely not. Ready meals to the rescue.
Crafted carefully by teams of experts, pre-cooked meals have been hugely improved in recent years and save you both time and effort. Plus, with a few simple tweaks, they can be elevated into something spectacular. Here’s how you can turn regular meals into stuff worthy for a Pinterest board.
When it comes to side dishes, few, if any can match a pile of creamy, buttery mashed potato. This versatile, fluffy mound of mash can be enhanced with just about anything from your spice rack. Try stirring in dried parsley and oregano or for a sharper flavour, add garlic powder, mustard or some freshly cracked pepper. Adding olive oil to mashed potatoes is also recommended, especially if topped with a sprinkle of smoked paprika.
A few minutes is all it takes to turn a packet of mushroom risotto into a five-star meal. Follow the instructions on the label, spoon the risotto into a shallow pan or deep bowl (the latter will get you a nod of approval from the Italians) and garnish it with ingredients such as wild mushrooms, parmesan shavings or even a drizzle of fragrant truffle oil. Buon appetito!
New York cheesecake
Dressing up desserts not only makes them look pretty, but it also adds another layer of flavour. While nothing is more Instagrammable than a cheesecake dotted with fresh berries, a pack of dried rose petals adds some instant glamour. If decorating isn’t your forte, a store-bought coulis could come to your rescue. To plate it like a top chef, drop a spoonful of the fruity sauce on one side of your plate and use the back of the spoon to pull it across to the other before laying the cheesecake on top.
Smarten up your dinner by using pastry rings to plate curries. Fill the ring with rice to give it a dome shape and spread the curry around that. If you don’t have the luxury of time to create individual servings, you could fill one half of a casserole or large plate with rice and the other half with curry and garnish it with fresh herbs such as coriander. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with taking the traditional route and serving your piping hot curry in a simple bowl.
French lemon tart
A classic French lemon tart is delightful just as it is, but with a little attention to presentation, the citrus treat can be turned into an impressive dessert that will have your guests exclaiming, ‘Mon dieu.’ Made with a light and crispy shortcrust pastry, heat the tart according to the instructions on the label and place it on a cake stand. If you can maintain a steady hand while icing, pipe swirls of whipped cream around the outer rim of the tart. Alternatively, place slices of fresh lemon on one side of the tart, and dollops of cream in the middle or you could use a stencil to dust the tart with some powdered sugar.