Actually – you can entertain! Five tips for throwing a stress-free casual gathering – Dani Valent

Life is busy and schedules are jammed. You’re tired and the kids seem genetically unable to tidy up (or is that just mine?). It’s all too easy to decide you can’t possibly have people over for a meal. But think a moment. Happy memories and strong relationships are forged when you gather with friends and loved ones and allow time to enjoy one another’s company. It’s important to carve out time for these occasions.

I truly believe that eating at home is due for a resurgence. It’s more relaxed and less expensive than eating out. Plus, kids can roam around and shake their sillies out so you won’t have to keep shushing them or passing them an iPad as you might do in a restaurant.

Outdoor eating is easiest of all, if weather permits, so my mind often turns to barbecues. But even when life shifts indoors, it’s possible to keep things casual and easygoing. Read on for my top tips for great casual gatherings.



Will you be catering the whole shebang? If so, you’ll want to make some dishes ahead of the day. Devise a menu, shop well ahead for non-perishables and work out what can be prepared ahead of time.

Guests may offer to bring something and there’s no shame in letting them! If I’m doing a barbecue, for example, I might ask people to bring their own meat or veg for the grill and I handle dips, salads and bread. I’ll also make a cake or pavlova but I’ve got no problem asking people to bring dessert or simply some fruit or cheese.


Dips are easy to make a couple of days in advance (my current favourite is a Romesco dip with roasted capsicum and smoked almonds) or make one of the dip versions of my Everything Salsa (subscribers only).

A grain salad is another easy winner; I cook the grains the day before and toss them with fresh ingredients just before serving.

Another favourite is my Inside-out Chicken Parmigiana. If you’re a subscriber, watch it here. If you haven’t subscribed yet, watch it here.


Home-made condiments bring meals to life and are a real talking point.

If it’s a barbecue, make your own tomato sauce, chutney, mayonnaise or salad dressing – people will really appreciate it. Of course, subscribers have access to great condiments right here! Consider Everything SalsaChilli Lime Crumb, Zhoug, Joseph Vargetto’s Magic Dust, George Calombaris’s Virtual Bacon Dust and Jesse McTavish’s crazy good Salsa Verde and Lovage Oil for lamb.


Make sure there’s room in the refrigerator for all your shopping and for anything people are likely to bring.

If you’re having a barbecue, try to keep drinks out of the fridge and relive those share-house party days by filling the bathtub with ice or filling a big trough or bucket with ice and keeping it on hand outdoors.


You can’t throw a great party without some catchy tunes – it’s perfect for keeping things upbeat, happy and humming.

Get started with the Spotify playlist I’ve created for a barbecue.

Some other things to keep in mind are having extra plates, cutlery and glassware on hand – you don’t want to be scrambling for these while you’re mid-chat.

Speaking of chatting, if someone starts doing dishes, let them. Some of life’s best conversations happen at the sink!

Plan for those moments when ‘life happens’: someone drops a glass, a kid skins a knee, she didn’t tell you her husband was vegan. No problem: you already have a dustpan and brush, band aids and mushrooms on hand.

Lastly and most importantly, enjoy yourself. There’s nothing so relaxing as seeing your host have fun. It gives everyone permission to let loose.

Wondering what to cook? I’ve got heaps of recipes right here at and in my cookbooks. My Entertaining cookbook even has an accompanying quiz to discover which chapter is right for your next party – I’ve got it all planned out for you, from the perfect recipes to the right music.

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