Entertaining family and friends should be fun, if you get stressed out cooking for large crowds – then what’s the point? Don’t get me wrong, preparing meals for 10 – 15 people is no “day at the beach,” but the payoff -a relaxed atmosphere where people “feel at home” while enjoying good food – is just exhilarating to me.
When I entertain, it’s about the experience of being with lovely people – not necessarily the food. I gauge the success of my “get-togethers” by how my guests are feeling. For instance, if people talk about how delicious the food offerings are, all night long without much conversation about anything else, then my evening was NOT successful. Again, the point of these parties is not to stroke my ego – it’s to have a wonderful time with family and friends. If they mention that they like the food, here and there, then that’s okay, but it should NOT be the topic of the evening…know what I mean?
Here are some tips to ensure that you have a wonderful time at your next soiree with the focus on people rather than food.
1. Don’t ASK, Don’t Tell
People ask me for recipes all the time. I really don’t have ready-recipes for anything because I’m a self-taught home chef. I add this, a sprinkling of that, a dash here, a splash there, with no real measurements going on in my cooking. So, when someone asks me for a recipe, I really have to take the time to create one (which isn’t easy.) You just don’t know how irritating it is to take the time to create a recipe, only to find out that the person who has asked for it – NEVER made the dish. Do not ask for a recipe for something you may make one day or have no real intentions on making.
Also, do not ask your host/hostess for recipes during a party (ask them via email, phone call, or when it’s just you two.) Sure it’s okay to ask “What’s in this?” or “How’s this made?” but don’t expect a cooking class. If someone asks your for a recipe during your party, do not start looking for one or creating one at your party. Quick Story: I was at a cocktail party 3 summers ago and ate the most-scrumptious mini crab-cake, others felt that way about it too. This young married couple insisted on the recipe and the host sat at her kitchen desk and proceeded to type out (from memory) the recipe as we all waited and sat there and watched them for about 30 minutes. Now, that mini cc was delicious, but what do you think was more memorable, the crab cake or the half hour wait for the host?
2. You DON’T Have to Cook Everything.
One of my favorite starters is a buy-and-assemble easy hors d’oeuvre: buy dry pitted dates, herbed goat cheese, and Prosciutto or Serrano ham. Assemble: stuff the date with the herb goat cheese (just a little will do) and wrap with the cured ham then skewer with a pick. It is delicious!! A wedge of cheese or two, fresh fruit (I like figs), and some great-tasting crackers is another buy-and-assemble that you can try. I also like a cube of feta, slice of mini cucumber, and a pitted Kamalata olive for a Greek Skewer -or- a small halved mozzarella ball, halved cherry tomato, and basil leaf for an Italian Skewer (or a Caprese salad on a stick.) How about a buy-and-assemble dessert? My old stand by is a store-bought all-chocolate pound cake, fresh raspberries, and vanilla ice cream: place a scoop of vanilla icecream in a shallow dish, place a slice of that chocolate pound cake on top, then the fresh berries on top – delish!!
3. You Don’t Even Have to COOK!
Horrible mishaps can make for inventive no-cook solutions too! About 15 years ago, I was to have about 8 friends over for an early Sunday Supper. I was going to make a Cuban-style Roast Pork (pernil), my now-famous black-beans and bacon, fluffy white rice, and a bright fresh avocado salad. There was a knock at the door…
it was the upstairs neighbor telling me that the gas-line in our 4 apartment row-house was turned off for some maintenance repairs. WHAAAAAAAAAAT!???
I had about four hours before 8 hungry wolves were to arrive to an empty kitchen. Then I wasted an hour panicking about what to do. So instead of calling them all to cancel (why ruin everyone’s dinner?) I went to solution-mode. Inspiration was needed, and needed quick! I went to the .99cents store… I saw these large paper red Chinese lanterns in a corner – that was it! I scooped up 2 bamboo steamers (I had one, but 8 were coming) and I bought 4 bamboo placemats I planned to use as a runner down my table. I also bought an Asian-inspired tablecloth. A quick run to my local Chinese food take out place to place a large order for delivery and I was back home with 2 hours to spare. I placed the lanterns all over the house (on the ceiling, on the floor, and on the bookcases and placed the tablecloth on the table. I grabbed my bamboo steamers and used them as chargers by insertng a plate on each layer (9 total – perfect.) I placed my platters on the runner and took a shower. Right on schedule, my food came 30 minutes before my guests. I waited 10 minutes then I started plating the platters with the Chinese food. My guest arrived and were thrilled!! I told them about the gas-line/stove fiasco and they cheered me for not cancelling – in fact, the raised a White-Sangria glass and toasted me for not letting them down. We also taught three of them how to use chopsticks!!
So you see, you don’t even have to cook to have a great time with friends! Again, it’s about the experience!!