Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Elegant Entertaining on a Budget

by Vicky Saunderson
table setting Elegant Entertaining on a Budget
Tweets, texts and hurried telephone calls have become the hallmarks of our time-starved lives. Given all the pressure, it’s no wonder that there’s been a return to spending downtime at home, cocooning with friends and family. It’s a sad fact, though, that for many people, one of best ways to do that — home entertaining — is fraught with worry. They’ll fuss over not knowing what to cook, or how to dress the table, or get in a tizzy if they don’t have time to clean the house from tip to top before the first guest arrives.
If that sounds like you, there are a few simple tips you can follow to take the horror out of home entertaining. First of all, take it easy. Pals are coming to see you, not to find out if you swept under the couch this week or whether you can make a killer Banana FlambĂ©. And if they are, maybe it’s time to trade them in for more laid-back buddies.
One of the biggest concerns of wannabe hosts is that they’ll end up spending too much time in the kitchen, sweating over the meal, while guests are left alone to amuse themselves in the living room (possibly by checking for dust bunnies under the couch). The “smart” features that are a part of so many of today’s appliances can help there. For example, Hamilton Beach has a new 20-cup rice cooker with pre-programmed and timed settings for rice, soups and hot cereals. That means you can set it up in the morning, and program it to be ready for whenever you plan to sit down to the table. It’s terrific for a large crowd, and sells for about $70. For more information, go to
If it’s cooking for a crowd that stops you from having the gang over, get some help from a good grocer. Some, such as Longo’s (, have a range of very good salads, entrees and desserts, or offer full catering options. Longo’s also has a spectacular selection of house brands, including cheeses, dips and compotes, as well as a bakery that offers artisanal bread that’s to die for. Grab a great loaf, flavoured oil for dipping, and some mixed nuts, and your pre-dinner nibbles are taken care of.
Achieving a well-dressed table needn’t be a huge chore, either. The easiest, no-fuss idea I’ve seen this season comes from Home Hardware’s Home at Home magazine. The editors took a simple paint drop cloth, (about $20) and used it on the table. The coarse, heavy cotton looks like a fabulous rustic linen and is very durable (so who cares if Aunt Edna spills the Beaujolais on it!).
You can also add sizzle to a plain white table cloth by running a length of leftover wallpaper or wrapping paper along the table length. I recently used a gorgeous gold and green wallpaper to create a rich backdrop for my gold-rimmed, green floral china. It would work equally well, though, with a bold black and white graphic paper, using white tableware on a shiny red chargers.
The best tip for successful entertaining? Relax, and remember that it’s supposed to be fun. Because in this high-pressure world, what the best hosts offer friends and family is a few hours of undivided attention in a calm, unhurried atmosphere. That’s sweeter than any fancy dessert, and richer than a double-creme Camembert.
Vicky Sanderson is a columnists who reports on home products, gadgets and trends and recently appeared as a guest presenter at the Fall Home Show

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