Tips for Successful Entertaining - Recipe Ideas


This is part three of four part series with Julia Henderson, who shares with us tips of the trade from 28 years in the diplomatic service. 

Click Here to catch up - Part 1 How to create a sense of occasion with your Table Setting

OR: Here to catch up - Part 2 How best to Prepare and Welcome your Guests 

There are few things better in life than sharing a relaxed, delicious meal with friends, family and other special people in your life. This week I consider menus and food, including four recipes.

TIP 1:

If you want to try out new recipes, asking friends and family over is a great opportunity to get together and experiment. However, if you’re cooking to impress – perhaps your boss and her partner are coming to dinner – or just want to relax and enjoy your guests’ company, then it’s best to stick to tried and tested favourites. It’s less stress for the host and brilliantly cooked simple food can often be better than an untested dish that hasn’t worked out well. 

TIP 2:

Over recent years entertaining has become less formal but, if offering your guests a sit-down meal with three courses, serving a cold starter, a hot main course followed by a cold dessert can reduce anxiety around timings and ensure that the host spends more time at the table than in the kitchen.

TIP 3:

When devising the menu, think about colour. If the main food item of the course is pale or golden, make sure that there is something to lift the presentation. For example, something simple like roast chicken, potatoes and carrots should have a green veg as well to enliven the plate and avoid everything being white, golden and orange.  A slice of lemon tart looks more enticing with a few red berries and a swirl of whipped cream garnished with a mint leaf.

TIP 4:

Make sure that there is no repetition of ingredients. If you are having mozzarella or a goat’s cheese starter, it’s best to avoid cheese in the main course. If you are having apple crumble or a French apple tart for dessert, do not serve a Waldorf apple and walnut salad as part of the main course or buffet.

TIP 5:

Sometimes the most delicious meals are the simplest. In the summer, guests always seem delighted to sit down to a spread of a variety of good breads, a selection of cold meats and salamis, cheeses, pâtés, hummus, maybe a quiche, and a variety of fresh delicious salads – tomatoes sliced and sprinkled with chopped fresh basil, olive oil, pepper and salt; interleaved sliced papaya and avocado slices (recipe below); roast vegetable salad (recipe below); green salad and boiled small potatoes  – there’s something for everyone and the host can simply relax once everything is on the table. A dessert of summer fruits, perhaps with meringues and cream, or a passion fruit crème brulée, is light and a perfect finish.

TIP 6:

With coffee and tea at the end of the meal, it can be nice to serve a tiny shortbread biscuit, chocolate covered coffee beans or the tiny chocolates available now from Lindt.

Fillet Beef with Mushroom Sauce 

Serves 8 - 10

It was late on a Saturday afternoon in Washington DC and Andy and I were discussing the guests who would be joining us for dinner that evening. They included a newly married couple. We suddenly realised that the husband was Jewish, a fact that we had overlooked. I was preparing a pork dish. In those pre-mobile phone, internet and social media days, and without their home telephone number, we could not contact them. I decided to substitute beef and Andy headed off to the nearest supermarket for a joint. He returned with an eye-wateringly expensive piece of meat, the like of which I had never seen before. ‘It was all that they had left,’ he said. Recognising that this was a special cut, I searched out a recipe; this was my introduction to fillet. Since then we have had the great good fortune to have lived in many countries – Brazil, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and, of course, South Africa - where fillet, though a treat, has been available. It is a wonderful centrepiece to a meal, great for serving a crowd, delicious by itself or, if you wish, accompanied by a sauce. Here I have suggested the recipe for a mushroom sauce.

  •  1 fillet, 2 kg
  • Olive oil
  • Freshly milled pepper 
  • Preheat the oven to 230C/450F/Mark 8.

-     Cut away any sinews on the fillet. 
-     Drizzle olive oil over the fillet and season generously with freshly ground pepper.
-     Fold the thin end of the fillet under the meat and place into a roasting tin.
-     Put the fillet into the oven and immediately turn the oven down to 190C/375F/Mark 5.
-     Cook 25 minutes for rare meat or 30 minutes for medium rare.
-     Remove from the oven and leave to relax for 10 minutes before slicing to serve.

Mushroom sauce

    •    50g (2 oz) butter
    •    1 onion, peeled and chopped
    •    1 carrot, sliced
    •    25g (1 oz) all-purpose/plain flour
    •    600ml (1 pint) brown meat stock
    •    225g (8 oz) mushrooms, sliced
    •    Salt and pepper
    •    1 tablespoon brandy or red wine (optional)

- Melt 25g (1 oz) of the butter in a large saucepan.
- Add the onion and carrot. Fry gently until softened and the onion is beginning to brown.
- Stir in the flour and cook. Continue stirring for a minute or two, until the flour/butter paste is light brown. It will stick to the onions and carrots
- Slowly add the stock, a little at a time, stirring constantly to beat out any lumps.
- Once all the liquid has been added, season with salt and pepper. 
- Reduce the heat and simmer the sauce gently for one hour.
- Strain the sauce through a sieve to remove the onion and carrots and return the sauce to a clean saucepan.
- Heat the remaining 25g (1 oz) butter in a frying pan.
- Fry the mushrooms in the butter until brown and golden.  
- Add the mushrooms (and brandy/wine if using) to the sauce.
- Add the sauce to the fillet juices in pan and reheat to serve.

The sauce can be made in advance up to the point where the mushrooms are added. Once prepared, place plastic wrap on top of the sauce to prevent a skin forming. Remove the plastic wrap before reheating the sauce with the fillet juices.

Lemon Rosemary Chicken Breasts 

Serves 4

A memory of my childhood in Cyprus are the wide-ranging lemon and orange groves, the hanging fruit glowing in the sunlight. I have always loved citrus fruits and we are fortunate enough to have a lemon tree in our garden in Johannesburg. The following recipe is quick and easy, can be prepared in advance and is ideal as part of a main course or a buffet. 

    •    4 chicken breasts, bone-in with skin, approx 150g each
    •    1 lemon, sliced
    •    1 lemon cut into 8 quarters
    •    Juice of 2 lemons
    •    10 rosemary stalks
    •    8 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
    •    3 tablespoons olive oil
    •    Salt and freshly milled pepper

In advance

 - Pat dry the chicken skin with kitchen towel.                                                                                      - Lift a little of the chicken skin from each chicken breast and place a slice of lemon and one piece of rosemary between the skin and the breast.
- Put 2 tablepoons of olive oil into the roasting tray.
- Arrange the chicken breasts in a roasting tin, skin side up.                                                               - Put a slice of lemon and a rosemary sprig under each chicken breast. Arrange the quarters of lemon, the garlic and remaining pieces of rosemary between the breasts. 
- Pour the lemon juice over the breasts. 
- Season with salt and pepper.
- Leave to marinate for at least an hour.

(The chicken breasts can be prepared up to this point 24 hours in advance.) 

To cook

- Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Mark 6.
- Drizzle the remaining tablespoon of olive oil over the chicken breasts. 
- Cook the chicken breasts for 15 minutes.
- Baste with the juice.
- Cook for a further 10-15 minutes until the chicken juice runs clear when a skewer is inserted into the breast.
- Leave to relax for 5 minutes before serving.


Serves 8

  • 1 ripe papaya, skin and pips removed, cut into slices            
  • 2 firm avocadoes, peeled and sliced
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • ½ teaspoon of mustard
  • 1 red chilli, seeds removed and chopped finely

- Whisk together the vinegar, oil, sugar, mustard and chilli (or put into a screw top jar and shake vigorously).

- On a platter arrange the avocado and papaya slices and drizzle dressing over.


Adapted from a Good Housekeeping recipe     

Serves 6

  • 2 red peppers, deseeded and cut into 2cm (¾ in) chunks
  • 4 courgettes (approx 450g) cut into 2cm (¾ in) chunks
  • 1 brinjal/aubergine, approx 350g (12oz) cut into 2cm (¾ in) chunks
  • 2 red onions, around 350g (12 oz), cut into 2 cm (¾ in) chunks
  • 6 whole garlic cloves, in their skins
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • ½ cucumber, 
  • 6 level tablespoons mint, roughly chopped
  • 6 level tablespoons flat-leafed parsley, roughly chopped
  • Dressing
  • Zest and juice of 2 lemons
  • 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon chilli sauce

- Preheat the oven to 200C/Mark 6/400F.
- Put the peppers, courgettes, brinjal/aubergine, onions and garlic in a roasting tin or onto a baking tray. (You may need to use 2 roasting tins or baking trays.)
- Add the oil. Toss well and season with salt and black pepper. 
- Roast for 45 minutes or until tender and the edges of the peppers are beginning to brown.
- While the vegetables are roasting, mix together the cucumber, mint and parsley.
- When the vegetables are roasted, remove the garlic. Allow the vegetables to cool.
- Make the dressing by squeezing the purée from the garlic cloves and combining thoroughly with the lemon zest, lemon juice, oil and chilli sauce. 
- Add the roast vegetables to the cucumber, mint and parsley and toss thoroughly in the dressing. 

What are your favourite recipes to use when entertaining - share them with us. Which of these tips will you be putting into practice next time you entertain? Do you have any other tips or things you remember when you entertain?

Share your thoughts and comments below.