Wednesday, April 30, 2008

On Entertaining with Ease

Life passes quickly. It's imperative to stop and smell the slow roasted tomatoes - and savor them with friends.

When entertaining I consistently have to remind myself of what’s important: friends first, food second, domestic order a distant third. Erma Bombeck said it best, “If I had my life to live over I would have invited friends over to dinner even if the carpet was stained and the sofa faded.”

My house is rarely as tidy as I’d like but I still align myself closer to Martha along the Stewart-Ray spectrum. Martha Stewart sets the bar at great food and sophisticated presentation while Rachael Ray eschews elegance all together and suggests the unthinkable: Mini Cheeseburger Salad.

When faced with finite time and infinite aspirations, entertaining comes down to choices. If you have all day you can entertain like Martha. I’ve done it – it’s gorgeous and exhausting and burns me out from hosting subsequent gatherings. If you’d like to entertain with more regularity, which I recommend since it really is fun, then something has got to give. But it doesn’t need to be the food. It’s more important to greet your guests with a welcome calm than an immaculate kitchen.

Other advice:
1. Rely on purveyors to help you out. I usually take a Yes, You Can! approach to cooking. This is the exception to that rule. When you have access to people and products that will be time and stress saving for you, use them. Sushi from your neighborhood counter is a great appetizer (your guests will love you for it) and store-bought sorbets and berries make great desserts.

2. Greeting guests with a drink is a welcome touch. My favorite pours right now are Blood Orange Cocktails (blood orange soda with vodka) and prosecco, though the gents prefer beer or wine.

Here’s a few themed three-course menus I regularly cook from when entertaining. Each one is sophisticated enough to separate you from Everyday mediocrity and simple enough to give you time to enjoy a glass of wine before the doorbell rings.

Asian
1. Sushi – allow 4-5 pieces per person
2. Asian Grilled Salmon Salad
3. Lemon and raspberry sorbet

Italian
1. Antipasti platter (roast vegetables: beets, red peppers, onions; fresh mozzarella; olives; charcuterie; crostini)
2. Family style pasta: Pesto or Pomodoro
3. Poached pears or simple almond cake or seasonal berries with mascarpone mousse

Mexican
1. Chips & Guacamole
2. Carnitas or tacos
3. Kahlua Truffles – Yes, you can!

Americana
1. Cheese/charcuterie/crackers or baguette
2. Caesar Salad with Grilled Chicken or Salmon
3. Brownie sundae – make or purchase good brownies and chocolate sauce. Serve on a plate with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and top with chocolate sauce.

One more thing:
“Housework, if you do it right, will kill you.” - Erma Bombeck

4 comments:

Jessica said...

I just can't believe you referenced Rachael Ray's cheeseburger salad. On par with the rest of the dumbing down of America, the cheeseburger salad episode forever rendered her cheesy (no pun intended), and in bad taste all around (another pun unintended). Whenever the masses sing her praises, I recall that inedible concoction, complete with yellow mustard vinaigrette - any further explanation necessary? - as my main beef. Oh my - the puns just keep coming. Sorry! But, I laughed out loud when I read this post and had had to comment since I agree with you entirely. Thanks for the great tips, too.

Katie Fairbank said...

I read RR's magazine recently and tho I do applaud her enthusiasm I wish she were encouraging better eating habits among her followers. if people are going to go thru the trouble of shopping and preparing something, it should be something great. All the claims for quick meals (30 min, 15 min, 10 minute dinners!) remind me of the whack-job from Something About Mary. Remember him? Seven minute abs! Thanks for commenting! :) K

kate j said...

WTF is mini cheeseburger salad?!?!? Actually, I don't want to know... it sounds beyond awful.

Katie Fairbank said...

You have to follow the link too see how absurd it looks. I can't decide whether it's more an affront to the salad or the cheeseburger.