Cooking For A Crowd
Cooking for Dull Guests
Recipes for Quantity Cooking

Cooking for Dull Guests

Food that's fun or a bit tricky to eat, or that involves your guests in the preparation, is the culinary equivalent of a game of Twister. It's also ideal for livening up soporific guests. Lay out all the ingredients, give clear instructions to your guests, and invite them to do all the work. That way, everyone has something to do, shy people get involved, and the food becomes a natural focus of conversation.

It's a good idea to serve interesting punch or cocktails when people arrive (essential if members of your family are coming). Prepare everything in advance - you may long to escape and hide in the kitchen but your guests will be left stranded and feeling awkward. Then vary the rhythm of the meal, so you're not sitting staring at your plate and the same bit of the wall for hours.

Five-point anti-dull party plan:

1. Break the ice with a heady strawberry punch: mix 1 bottle of white wine with a handful of strawberries, roughly chopped, 10 mint leaves, removed from the stalks and chopped, and 3 tbsp of vodka. Leave for a couple of hours to chill and add a handful of ice cubes before drinking.

2. Lay the first course out on a side table and have it as a buffet, for example, or insist that people switch places between each course, to see if they find more in common with their new neighbor.

3. Lighten the atmosphere by eating with your fingers. For a starter, try artichokes, boiled in water until the leaves pull away easily, or asparagus, lightly steamed then dipped in butter and salt. Or brush fresh sweet corn with olive oil, roast in a hot oven until soft and serve wrapped in a napkin.

4. Serve coffee and possibly pudding in a different room, to encourage everyone to stand up and move around. And keep an open mind - they might turn out to be slightly less dull than you feared.

5. Set the evening alight with a burning cocktail. Place a sugar lump on a spoon, soak it with cognac, and hold it over a glass of hot coffee to warm up. Then set fire to the alcohol and slide it into the glass. Or put an inch of Baileys into a glass then pour a thin layer of cognac over the top. Hold the glass over a candle to warm up, set fire to the top and drink carefully, while still lit, through a straw.

Olivia Lacey

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