Cooking for Entertainment – The Table Cluster

Last week we briefly discussed a few ways we can entertain at home. This week, we’ll focus on the table cluster.

The table cluster is my personal favorite because of the intimacy and long hours of fun and chatter it affords us. It’s also high up in my list of formats, because I don’t miss out on conversation. Believe it or not, we once spent 8 hours sitting on the same table, only getting up briefly from time to time; definitely one of our more memorable get-togethers. If that sort of thing appeals to you, you must try the table cluster the next time guests are expected.

Remember to plan this around the size of your dining table. Having said that, a large 6 seater dining table is ideal for this sort of thing. Arrange all your drinks accessories on one side of the table; bottle openers, ice box, tongs, peg measures, concentrates & mixers, salt, cocktail shakers and whatever else you expect to use. Things that need to be cold can remain in the fridge or freezer, like soft drinks, soda and juices among others. Unless you’re using it to chill bottles, 2 – 3 kilos of ice will suffice for 5 – 7 people, depending on the ambient temperature in your house.

On to the food. The basic idea here is to present a tempting array of food that’ll keep all of you picking at it for hours and won’t fill you up fast. Once your guests are bloated, your party is as good as over. Most packaged fried foods like French fries or potato nuggets are therefore out. I find a cheeseboard to be quite ideal for this sort of gathering. Find a few nice cheeses, depending on your tastes and that of your guests. Think of including Brie, Roquefort or other bleu cheeses, strong Cheddar, Gouda and perhaps some Parmesan or Grana Padano. Add a few fruits like grapes, apples, pears & peaches, and it’s ready. Encourage your guests to experiment with different fruit and cheese combinations. I’m sure you’ll find your cheeseboard depleted quite fast. Vegetables work very well too. Sticks of cucumber and carrots, spring onion stalks, steamed florets of cauliflower & broccoli, steamed zucchini & mushrooms along with black and green olives will do quite nicely. Make things a little interesting with dips of different types – extra virgin olive oil, hung curd, mayonnaise, coriander & chili chutney and a processed cheese dip will add zest to the vegetables you’ve served. If you’re a non vegetarian there are many different types of cold cuts available, from which I suggest using different types of very thinly sliced salami. Bread is filling, so I’d avoid using any.

Try and use as large plates as possible, the 14 inch variety being the best. Place smaller plates, cutlery, toothpicks and napkins in little stacks along with small bowls of peanuts at convenient locations and you’re all set!

A table loaded with food like this is not only a delight to look at, but will keep your little gathering going for hours.

Next: The Do-It-Yourself Salad and Sandwich Bar

Sid Khullar

Sid Khullar is the founder of Chef at Large, a blog that began in 2007. He enjoys cooking, writing, travelling and technology in addition to being a practising Freemason. Health and wellness is a particularly passionate focus. Sid prefers the company of food and animals to most humans, and can be reached at sid.khullar@chefatlarge.in.