Entertaining at home with Rachel Allen

Katie Byrne

"A lot of people, when contemplating entertaining, are immediately terrified.

They think they don't have the time or they can't cook restaurant-worthy meals. But remember that people just love being invited over, whether it's for a simple casserole or something more formal. Entertaining does not have to be all about the pomp.

"Think to yourself, 'what would I love to eat?' Think about how it is going to look and taste. Don't have repetition of ingredients. You wouldn't have a tomato soup followed by a tomato-based sauce dish. Things should balance. Look for contrast in colours and textures.

"Make it easy on yourself: many dishes can be prepared in advance. Write out a list of what you want to serve and an order-of-work, as school-like as it might sound. If you're not confident in your cooking, get the recipe and write out how you are going to approach it. For instance, Friday: marinade meat; Saturday: start the chocolate tart...

"Avoid cooking steak for more than five people, unless you are very used to cooking it. Also, watch out for things like pan-fried fish if you're a novice in the kitchen. These dishes need to be cooked at the last minute, so they can be quite time-consuming.

"A welcome cocktail is always good for breaking the ice -- although, the cook shouldn't start too early!"

Entertaining at Home by Rachel Allen is available from good bookshops