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lucy waverman

Start small with four or six people at the table, and learn how to outsource.knape/iStockPhoto / Getty Images

With COVID restrictions easing, many of us are considering dinner parties, but with so little socializing over past 18 months, how do we ease back in to hosting friends and family around the table?

People are so pleased to be together that conversation will not lag, so there’s no need to worry about that. And there’s no need for an elaborate meal either. It is the human contact that is most important, so set aside complicated recipes and pick favourites.

Start small with four or six people at the table, and learn how to outsource. After years of thinking that I had to make everything myself, I am appreciating the quality ready-made food available at grocers. Buy dips and garnish them to make them your own. Smoked salmon pâté spooned on a good potato chip? Fish and chips! Buy ready-made tart shells, add buffalo mozzarella or ricotta, top with cut up cherry tomatoes and a dollop of pesto, then bake. Frozen puff pastry is another time saver. Make little turnovers with cheese and chutney inside, or wrap the pastry around a wheel of brie, rind and all, and bake. Nothing is simpler and more appreciated.

Buy a high-quality soup and make it your own by garnishing with something as easy as chopped green onions and a sprig of cilantro. Drizzle store-bought pesto across a mushroom or tomato soup. I love the crisp onions you can buy in packages at Asian stores – they make the best garnish on everything.

Keep the main course straightforward. Sheet-pan dinners are great. Make braises ahead of time and serve with mashed potatoes (buy them from a grocer and jazz them up with a sprinkling of cheese or roasted garlic). Grilled rapini is another good buy, as is cooked spinach spruced up with a little whipping cream and Aleppo or other mildly spicy pepper. Fish is another easy solution. Take thick fish like salmon, lake trout or halibut, season and brush with oil. Bake at 450 F for 10 minutes then coat with a sauce, such as crushed anchovy and garlic mixed with a little cream, or one of the Chinese chili crisps. Harissa mixed with mayonnaise is another impressive accompaniment. If you don’t want to barbecue, sear hamburgers or steaks in a heavy skillet then bake at 450 F until desired doneness – an old chef trick.

Unless baking is your forte, buy dessert. We have incredible bakeries across Canada. Alternatively, make a dessert charcuterie board with nuts, dried and fresh fruit, and a small pot of hot melted chocolate for dipping, or try small pastries, macarons and chocolate truffles on the board. No effort, but it looks impressive.

There is no need to serve tea or coffee. Put a load in the dishwasher and if you can, finish cleaning up the next day. Easy entertaining is a step to much needed normalcy.

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