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Sep 4, 2006 10:52 PM

Anybody Almost Always Overdo & Drive Self Insane Cooking For Dinner Party?

I just cooked for guests last night and, once again, overdid it. I seem to have a mania that consists of convincing myself that I have planned correctly, have plenty of time, and chosen a menu that won't drive me nuts. This RARELY works out.

Last night was a not-exactly typical type of example, but these dinner guests are invited quite often - one meat and nothing much else eater and one non-meat eater (the rest are all omnivores). I actually posted about it and then decided to ignore all the advice and once again delude myself into a corner.

It ended up working out pretty much okay, but it did seriously wear me down.

I made 3 types of fritters - onion and yam pakoras, eggplant fritters and potato fritters (the basic recipes all came from Bittman - either How to Cook Ev or Best Recipes in the World). They were all very good, but of course needed to be cooked at the last possible minute. I also made a sort of raita/chutney of yoghurt, mint, garlic, green onions and jalapenos.

Then, convincing myself that the fritters were not enough... I made three salads - one was various types of cukes and sweet peppers marinated in vinegar and salt; the 2nd was lots of tomatoes chopped up with onions and marinated in oil and vin. The third was just a plain green salad with arugula.

I also made a large vat of sort of tajinesque North African chicken. I thought the fritters could be the starch for the chicken dish and so did not serve bread or rice or couscous. A mistake. The sauce was the best part and the fritters got soggy on the same plate.

A smart, non-raging maniac would have served ice cream or sorbet and fruit salad for dessert. But, as Steve Martin so eloquently put it years ago ... Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo. I decided to make a complicated plum tart with a home made cake-like crust and a streusl topping.

So there you have it. How do I stop myself from do this over and over again? Will I ever learn my lesson? Doesn't look promising.

I'm sure there are others like me out there or else there wouldn't be so many articles about how not to drive yourself nuts when entertaining.

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    1. re: Bostonbob3

      Ah yes, I'll have my sous chef take care of that.

      1. re: oakjoan

        Exactly! I know mis en place makes sense in a restaurant, and I like the idea conceptually, but I'm always wanting to get one dish started, then move on to the next one. If I did mis en place, I'd run out of dishes and room to put them, have more to wash up, and get confused about what ingredients were for what dishes. Sometimes, if I'm cooking Spanish food, for example, I'll chop up a slew of garlic, knowing that it will get used up, but that's about as far as I get with mis en place.

        1. re: MMRuth

          I still usually end up being a really unpleaseant person in the 20 minutes before dinner parties, but one thing that has helped in my small kitchen is liberal use of paper cups for mis en place. I can even write on them what it is, or an indication of which dish it's for. Then I use it, toss the cup -- no clutter or cleanup. I wouldn't want to use up the paper for everyday, but for dinner parties it's been great.

          1. re: mary shaposhnik

            What a great idea! I have to have my mise en place or I get flustered and unbearable to be near... but I'm going right to the store and get some paper cups for mise en place!

              1. re: Foodrat

                I learned on this board to use coffee filters too, very inexpensive. After I chop vegis I stack one filter onto of the others for more room.

      2. I believe we are twins that were separated at birth. I know exactly how you feel. It's not a dinner party unless I've spent 3 days shopping/prepping, and I can't walk by the end of the meal. And the older I get, the more complicated and exhausting it becomes.

        I wish I had discussed this with my analyst. Oh wait, I did. I just didn't like his answer. Sorry I couldn't be more helpful. Let me know if you figure it out.

        1. I throw two 50-plus-person blowout birthday parties every year for my son and daughter. I get 90-percent of the menu done 2-3 days before. The day of the party, I just get everything out to room temperature, torque up the Kamado grill in the backyard, and start throwing appetizers down as guests arrive: margherita pizzas for the kids, bbq chicken wings, mini burgers, hotdogs. The most labor intensive effort was the crab stuffed prawns wrapped in bacon and soaked in bourbon, but that took about an hour, and they were ready long beforehand. Main course is usually some low-and-slow meal I get done the morning of the party and put in a cooler: Texas brisket, smoked beef ribs, pulled pork shoulder, St. Louis pork ribs, stuffed pork loin. Or something simple like a crab or shrimp or crawfish boil: just throw everthing into a pot. Sides are usually something I just need to heat up in the oven and do buffet style: jambalaya, red beans and rice, bbq beans. Prep it before, throw in the oven, let them have what they want when they want.

          I used to fret a lot about cooking for friends, but I came to appreciate that it's far more important spending quality time with them and not slaving away on some maniac meal during the party.

          It also helps that the wife is responsible for dessert.

          1. Print out the original post above. Laminate it and affix it to your refrigerator so you will remember it next time.

            My problem is that my husband, the wonderful jackp, is a very good cook and he always wants to make more stuff. His menu additions are almost invariably last-minute stuff, too. I've learned my lesson over the years and can plan a pretty good do-ahead menu, but it's very hard to stop my husband without a tranquilizer gun.

            1. I USED to do this, drive myself nuts, end up exhausted. Then I remembered KISS! Keep It Simple, Stupid! Now I grill a steak, a butterflied leg of lamb, some kebobs, etc, make a rice & veg and/or salad side which I can do ahead. Serve with LOTS of wine (that's the key, to tell you the truth) and a purchased dessert. Now my guests & I all have a great time!

              After all, who was I trying to impress? I'm inviting friends, not chichi "gourmets" & even they, I've noticed, appreciate a decent, simple home cooked meal. Don't forget: all anyone really wants is a good time ...

              1 Reply
              1. re: fauchon

                Steaks, etc. won't satisfy the veggie guy and only one person drinks wine. I can only have about a half-glass a week due to evil meds. We did end up having a good time, and I am not TOTALLY wiped out by these experiences. This time it wasn't too bad.