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Entertaining - do you "tone it down" for non foodies? [moved from General Chowhounding Topics]

When entertaining do you make sure to have non chowish choices for your guests who are not necessarily foodies.

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  1. I wouldn't call it "toning it down", but I do make a range of foods to suit all tastes..

    Entertaining for Mr Goddess and I usually means 5 couples and their respective kids all down the beach house.

    I usually do something "different" for those people who want to try it, my classic 2 salads (There would be blood on the moon if I didn't) a variety of breads and dips, some generic sausages and burgers for the kids and a few desserts.

    Maybe a whole fish with a new rub, some mussels for thems that like them, a butterflied lamb for the traditionalists and a vegie dish, along with the above.

    In winter, we might do a lasagne with a twist, a moussaka, some asian fusion thing, a beef roast or pork belly caserole.Maybe even meatloaf with a twist (venison and thyme was my last twist and was a hit with foodies and non foodies alike).. A WOW factor new pudding for desert,

    If I am trying something new, I usually experiment on my ever-forgiving 15 y/o son, who is a total Hound.

    With our busy lives, "entertaining" is no longer intimate dinner parties for a select few, with amazing new "show-case" dinners.

    We'll have to wait until the kids leave home to get back to those!!!

    1. No. Eat what's on your plate or you get no dessert.

      1. If you use fine, simple ingredients, both foodies and non-foodies should appreciate them. As a foodie, I'm not looking for anything fancy as long as it has a wonderful taste. You can give me a plate of fresh sliced tomatoes with a little balsamic and I'm happy. Same with good bread and perfectly ripe fruit.

        Don't feel you have to jiump through hoops for food lovers, that's a misconception. And in fact, if someone did something too fancy, I might be scared to eat it and for sure your non-foodie guests will be.

        1 Reply
        1. I only cook full dinner for good friends, and never dumb it down even though a few aren't very adventurous. They often look at it warily, taste it tentatively, and after the meal ask for the recipes. When I'm having a larger gathering, I do a wide variety of finger foods for both foodie and non-foodie palates.

          1. Maybe we need to define "foodie" or "chowish". As one who might well be considered both foodie and chowish, I adore, simple, fine, fresh food. And most of my foodie friends do as well. It doesn't have to be complex, with rare and weird ingredients, taking hours to prepare.
            I see a party, a gathering of people as a good way to share things I enjoy and others might like. I figure most people want to taste/eat good food and if it is new to them, have a comfortable supportive place to try new things. I try to present in a non-intimidating manner and really don't make a big fuss over it, if they try it, or not, like it or not,
            I seldom do formal sitdown dinners with presented plates. Rather I like to offer various things and let people chose.

            1. The only considerations that I will entertain are:
              1) religious dietary restrictions
              2) health dietary restrictions
              3) vegetarians/vegans

              These still allow me to be creative.

              Know Your Audience - When people say things like "are you serving normal food" their invitation will be cancelled immediately. I had a guest once ask me to hold the poached egg on her salad lyonnaise. I served the same guest proscuitto e melone once. The proscuitto was quickly tossed with her fork to her husband's plate. I finally learned my lesson when this very same guest asked me what was in the caesar salad dressing that I had made. When I mentioned anchoive paste she blenched.
              At my brother in law's birthday party I made an appetizer topped with cavier. One of my brother in law's buddies while watching me asked "what's that black stuff". I told him that it was cavier. I then overheard him in the next room immediately "warning" the other guests that I was putting cavier on something. As I walked the appetizers around with everyone seated they all refused before they could even see what it was.
              One of the worst was a girlfriend who refused to eat a paste bolognaise which I'd made (which took me 5 hours) because the tomato and cream color of the sauce reminded her of vommit.

              2 Replies
              1. re: Chinon00

                wwweellll, I consider myself quite chowish, yet I've just never been able to take poached eggs. This weakness of mine makes me more sympathetic to people who have tried, yet just can't like some particular food. (Though I'd be most pleased to eat your proscuitto, caesar salad, and especially the caviar!) At brunch, "eggs florentine - hold the poached eggs" has become known among my friends and family as "eggs Kathleen".

                1. re: Kathleen M

                  Me neither. ("Nor I", I guess that should be.) The only runny yolks I've ever eaten (and loved) were in my very young childhood when my daddy used to spread a soft-boiled egg over a piece of buttered toast and cut the egg-soaked toast into tiny squares for me. (Another CH and I talked about this and wondered if it was a GA thing since both our fathers were from rural GA.)

                  I don't tone anything down for anyone, really. When I'm taking a dish to church or a family gathering where children are involved, I used to tone down the heat in some things. But the grandkids are growing up to love heat and I have to do that less and less for the family. And I've discovered there are enough people in my church who like heat that I don't even need to tone that down.

                  Every one of my children (and all but one spouse) are fine cooks and love to cook (and the grandkids do too, as they get older). We are not haute cuisine; just great simple food done justice to, I guess. And that never has to be toned down (or up) for anyone.

              2. Yes. But we generally don't invite people who aren't in tune with our tastes, we'd rather eat in a restaurant with them. I don't think it's fair to put DH through a dull meal for the sake of guests - this is my decision, not his.

                OTOH we have family who are decidedly non-foodies and I always have to make generic dishes for them. We accept this just as we accept the bland food we're offered at family gatherings.

                3 Replies
                1. re: cheryl_h

                  Like cheryl h, I have an in law family who are decidedly non-foodies. My husbands parents are the worst, they don't want to try anything new at all. So whenever we have them over I know that I have to cook very plain meat and potatoes meals. I figure that if I invite them into my home for a meal I want them to be able to enjoy it, so I don't really mind. I feel that way about all my entertaining. I'd rather cook what "fits" the crowd then have uneaten food, what good is that? I would probably be aggitated after all my work that they didn't eat it, and my dinner guests wouldn't be happy either. However, I have started adding new dishes here and there into the mix with the in-laws, and low and behold - they are eating some of them. It's a good sign. I save my culinary creativity for my husband and myself and my friends who appreciate it. It works for me.

                  1. re: cheryl_h

                    You would rather not entertain than make a "dull" meal that your husband might be bored by? Really? I thought the whole purpose of having guests was to make them comfortable and give them something that they would enjoy.

                    I cook for my guests, which means that I make something odd or unusual that I have been dying to make if I am cooking for my best friend or my brother and his wife, but if I am cooking for my parents I make a fabulous lasagne or a pork roast or something else that suits their tastes.

                    1. re: lulubelle

                      My husband has higher priority in my kitchen than any guest. If friends have tastes in food that clash with ours, we would rather not have them as dinner guests. And I believe they would be more comfortable eating somewhere else as well. Your priorities may be different and I would respect any choice you make in invitations to your home.

                      As I say in my post above, I make compromises for family who have much more conventional food likes. I'm known in DH's family as an excellent cook and I can recall without effort all their fads, allergies and dislikes. They all show up whenever we issue an invitation and we practically have to throw them out so I guess they're comfortable and enjoy themselves.

                  2. lots of people who aren't foodie/chowish at all dig simple foods cooked well, which is an easy solution to certain family gatherings, nothing wrong with it & it's a walk i can walk-- you just need to know that the color of your favorite edamame dip won't fly with cousin bernice and that if you leave some cheese and crackers out it's all good until you specifically refer to it as a "cheese plate."

                    it's the damned processed foods people who really kill me, esp their kids-- dump 1/2 pint of real maple syrup on a scratch-made whole grain waffle, take one bite, turn up their nose because it's not mrs. butterworths on an eggo

                    then their mom gives me helpful hints like that you can buy chicken broth in a can nowadays--wow, really, here i've been wasting my WHOLE FREAKING LIFE!

                    **soupkitten pulling hair out and rampaging around the room screaming and kicking things**

                    9 Replies
                    1. re: soupkitten

                      It's funny how people get used to the fake stuff and won't eat the real food. I can't tell you how many times I've seen kids turned down home made mac and cheese because it's not Kraft.

                      1. re: chowser

                        I run into that a lot. They only eat frozen food at home, so my fresh beets taste "weird". Sometimes they have no idea what the real food is supposed to taste like. Like the time I cooked an heirloom turkey and they hated Thanksgiving dinner because the bird was "gamey" compared to Butterball! I guess it's all what you get used to.

                        1. re: RGC1982

                          <nodding> I also think that people who eat a lot of processed foods have very narrow palates and are quite convinced that anything you give that is not from a properly sealed package with a logo will be weird and gross.

                          I suspect that their few experiences with "real" (non-instant) food HAVE been weird, gross and otherwise badly prepared, so they generalize that to all food not made in a factory and conclude you must just like eating slop. And in case all that isn't annoyiong enough, often that whole thought process is unconscious (like with a very small child, only this happens with adults, too) and cannot be articulated by the instant food consumer.

                          1. re: Mawrter

                            The scariest thing about people not knowing what real food tastes like is what happens to children who've only eaten artificial fruit flavors. I was a child in the Midwest in the seventies, and in the winter I dreamed about eating summer melons, berries, and grapes. Some of my best memories involve visiting cousins on a farm and picking wild sun-warmed strawberries and blackberries which we would eat as we filled our little pails.We would come back with our lips stained purple and red and our hands sticky with juice. My SIL, who is most decidedly not a cook, is raising my nieces on canned things and artificial flavors. Once, I sliced up some fresh strawberries and peaches for my five-year-old niece with a little sugar and cream, and she said they were o.k., but they didn't taste like "real" fruit because they didn't taste like Jello. I died a little bit inside to hear the poor dear say that.

                            1. re: diva360

                              I took my son to a real bakery which like all of them had a strong yeasty smell, hoping that he would appreciate it or find it interesting. We walked in and the first thing he said was "it stinks in here".

                              1. re: Chinon00

                                OH WOW! This should be a thread all its own!

                                My in laws, though I love them, are the processed food types. It makes me very sad. And since my husband and I do most of the entertaining for the family, we often get interesting responses to our real and gourmet selections.

                                I get so upset to watch them all rave about the "food" they bought at costco. Giant flavorless peices of fruit that will get rave reviews while my farm bought heirloom strawberries are critisized for being too small. I also had my free range roasted cornish hens receive a questionable look and yet those supermarket rotisserie chickens are devoured. Please use your imaginatin when I presented a 35 lb fresh ham on easter that took 10 hours to cook. "It's not pink!!! That's not ham!!!"

                      2. re: soupkitten

                        Oh -- the in-law stories remind me of the old days. My MIL once told me that my prosciutto was "stinking meat"! There was a minor uproar over my salads because I don't usually serve Iceberg lettuce; and when I served cornish game hens instead of a bland turkey breast at a holiday meal (apparently they made turkey breast for ALL holiday meals), they picked at their dinners for the entire time, saying things like "this is not our kind of food." Let's face it, you can't change some people, so you learn to live with it. I decided not to fight. I just planned around it and it actually worked out well after I adjusted. They really liked my cooking in the end and looked forward to meals with us.

                        I try to cook mainstream entrees with a gourmet edge for most of my friends, and it usually works. You do have to know your audience. I learned the hard way.

                        1. re: RGC1982

                          LOL! I learned the hard way too. Resistance is futile.

                          1. re: RGC1982

                            Where do people learn their manners? When I was in high school, I went over to a friend's house for dinner and was surprised that nothing on the table was actually home made. It either came from a can or was take out deli.

                            I ate what was offered and didn't say, "Don't you people know how to cook?"

                            I'm appalled that people would go to other people's homes and behave so boorishly. Whatever happened to being gracious to one's host?

                        2. My big tone issue isn't the food being unusual so much as it being obvious that I spent a lot of time and effort making it. Somehow people are offended by this and almost insult me for doing it. I tell them I love to cook, enjoy spending all day preparing a meal but they seem to not believe me. It's as if they're uncomfortable knowing that the meal took some time and effort!

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: lupaglupa

                            Yeah, I don't think I downplay what I make but I'll definitely downplay the time and effort it took because I don't want them to 1) think I'm a freak, 2) feel beholden to like said food more than they do and to praise and thank me effusively, which is unnecessary because I most likely just made what I've been hankering to make and they simply fit into the equation.

                            Sometimes people who don't cook will feel uncomfortable that you went to all that trouble for them because they can't imagine they would ever do that (for you) and think it's all a drag. On the other hand, I used to find it kind of annoying when people have no idea you went to four different stores to find something or that it's so hard to time everything just right. But now, I don't cook for anyone expecting anything back. I will only do it if I'm happy with feeding them because I love them.

                          2. Not to sound conceited, but word of mouth on how good something tastes has a lot of influence on those with less adventurous palates. Peer pressure has pretty much eliminated my need tone down my menu.

                            1. I'm not at all trying to be snarky...but I'm not clear what food is exactly "chowish" and what isn't. If its a question of super spicy or exceedingly exotic ingredients...well, there's no need for either if you've invited people you know don't tend to like those things.

                              If its a matter of things with refined sauces, elegant presentations, etc...then I don't know that anyone wouldn't like those things. True, some won't be quite so blown away and so perhaps you'd feel your efforts weren't fully appreciate or something like that, but again, if you've invited people and know their tastes, then its more or less a situation of your own creation.

                              So, my question then, is: "what constitutes a 'non-chowish' choice?"

                              11 Replies
                              1. re: ccbweb

                                To me "non-chowish" is the scalloped potatoes from a box that my in laws insist on eating. They'd never touch my homemade mac & cheese or scalloped potatoes in a hundred years. Mother in law says they're "too unhealthy", although the boxed ones probably have as much or more fat in them. lupaglupa, I know where you're coming from. I have a friend who shakes her head in disbelief whenever I tell her I enjoy cooking, like I must be crazy. She chides me for things like making homemade cakes and fresh cranberry sauce and Madeira gravy from scratch at Thanksgiving. But this is someone who cooks out of a box. I think that perhaps your friends are really more intimidated by your cooking skills then offended by them. And truth be told, I don't cook for anyone but me. True, I always hope that everyone enjoys the meal, but its the physical act of cooking that I really love.

                                1. re: Axalady

                                  Cranberry sauce. I don't think I've ever been more surprised than the Thanksgiving I took a bowl of homemade whole-berry cranberry sauce to a family gathering (sort of a family gathering; I was visiting my Texas daughter and we had T. dinner at her parents-in-law's home. Everyone present was related &/or dear friends from way back, and all quite good cooks--which is why it was such a shocker.)

                                  Would you believe that not one of the women there had ever MADE cranberry sauce--just opened cans of Ocean Spray? They were totally blown away by HOMEMADE CRANBERRY SAUCE!!!!

                                  When they asked me if it was hard to make I said, "Oh my, yes, it's a real booger: put the cranberries in a pan, add water and sugar, cook for ~10 minutes til they all pop."

                                  P.S. I've tried every gussied-up variation on cranberry sauce there is, and have decided that none of them can touch the unadulterated flavor of cranberries and white sugar. It is just....perfect. Has anyone else made this pilgrimage and ended up right where they started out ?

                                  1. re: PhoebeB

                                    My DH told me his family would not eat homemade cranberry sauce because it wasn't in a circle - seems their tradition was to plop it out of the can and slice perfect rounds, one apiece!

                                    1. re: lupaglupa

                                      That's what my family does, and it works pretty well for the next-day sandwiches. They don't like fresh cranberry sauce at all.

                                      1. re: lupaglupa

                                        My grandchildren still prefer it that way: the commercial jellied. It does make a neat little plate of overlapping concentric circles and it's certainly not bad. But too sweet, and that kills some of the lovely tartness. Maybe I'll experiment with making the strained/jellied kind some day, pour it in an OJ can.

                                        1. re: PhoebeB

                                          It's so funny that you would go through all that trouble to make your cranberry sauce look more like storebought. I mean, it used to be that companies pitched storebought products as "just like homemade" - now it's the other way around.

                                          1. re: piccola

                                            That "put it in an OJ can" was joking, though it might be fun to see if the kids notice any difference if mine looked exactly like Ocean Spray.
                                            I was serious about trying to make the strained kind, though; even several adults in the family like it better than the whole berry.

                                            1. re: PhoebeB

                                              I'd be curious to see if they notice, too. :-)

                                              There's nothing wrong with preferring the strained kind. But if people preferred storebought just because it's storebought, I'd find that a little weird.

                                              1. re: piccola

                                                Oh there's a long rich history in this melting-pot nation of "preferring things just because they're storebought". Soft white bread instead of homemade dark bread showed that you now could afford the "luxuries".

                                                If the storebought item is all someone has ever tasted--and they liked it, any deviation can taste alien to them.

                                        2. re: lupaglupa

                                          My wife insists on having the ocean spray cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving every year. She also loves and, in fact, makes fresh cranberry sauce. For her its got nothing to do with not being chowish (she'll eat pretty much anything except the things we know make her literally ill) its just a happy memory from childhood. And, the canned stuff is perfect for sandwiches!

                                          1. re: ccbweb

                                            If you want to try THE BEST SANDWICH IN HUMAN HISTORY (or maybe it just tastes that way because I so seldom get to eat one), take a great big buttery croissant, split and lightly butter or mayo each side. On one slice layer the following: thick layer of sliced home-baked turkey, only slightly less- thick layer of cornbread/sage dressing, topped generously w/cranberry sauce. Replace top of croissant. Good cold or warm.

                                            Re: the canned: Ocean Spray is the only one I'd buy. I've really been disappointed with a couple of store brands, even the ones that are usually very good. (I often suspect a store brand is the name brand product with a different label. I will eat my hat if Shaw's--our biggest Maine chain--chocolate sandwich cookies are not Oreos.)

                                  2. I've found that some things are just not that well-recieved even though I'm pretty sure I'm cooking them well. At a recent barbecue, the fairly normal potato salad went like gangbusters while the Tuscan panzanella salad had plenty of leftovers. My guests don't particularly seem to enjoy the things I prefer, like grilled fish, lentil or rice salad and exotic desserts like lavender creme brulee. Over time, I realize it's better to stick to more classic "American" dishes (or Mexican always goes over well) than to try to get too fancy.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: Chowpatty

                                      Ditto. Here is an example for those who seem confused by the question:

                                      Gazpacho. I discovered that my extended family would not eat (nor try) gazpacho (sp?). Apparently soup that is cold did not compute. Although not jet setters, these are perfectly normal people, college grads, middle class teachers and entreprenures, ranging in age from 30-70. I was surprised.

                                      Then a few weeks ago I was serving Bellinis and a 30 year old PHD candidate who has lived in various places around the country asked me what that was. I said "like a Mimosa except peach" She didn't know what a Mimosa was either.

                                      What I'm trying to express is, when you're a 'hound, you tend to think that everybody has had similar experiences w/ food and in restaurants, but it must be wrong. *WE* must be the weird ones.

                                    2. I've had the same problem that others have had. I had once cooked with a few people and noticed that no one started the potatoes, so I started peeling and put a pot of water to boil. Everyone, except for my significant other and I, were surprised that I was making mashed potatoes from scratch. His mom asked, "Don't you have the ones in a box? They're great!"

                                      I do tone it down... people just don't expect you to go to that much effort, nor are they comfortable with it when you do. I really have to emphasize to them that its not a big deal.

                                      1. Reading this thread makes me realize how lucky I am. My friends and family are adventurous eaters, but even with that when they are guests in someone's home they accept what is offered fairly graciously. In my circles, it's likely the processed foods that will get the raised eyebrows.

                                        1. No. I try to take people's food preferences into account though. My 83 year old grandmother doesn't like sour vinegary things (which I love) and foods that are too "ethnic" don't appeal to her. I know that when I invite her over for lunch, and I'll try to make things that will appeal to her or be familiar to her -- homemade popovers, Chinese chicken salad (hardly an ethnic dish if you grew up in L.A., etc.) I've never had a guest turn up their nose at something I've offered, but as I said, I do try to take food preferences into some account.

                                          1. I find that if I keep things simple, and use good ingredients, there's no need to tone things down.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: foodstorm

                                              No. Good food is good food. I've had people who "didn't like" lamb suddenly find they loved it when they tried mine, thinking it was grilled steak... I do, if I know people, plan around their genuine likes/dislikes, but I never make, for example, "special food" for "the kids." That drives me wild.

                                            2. This is such an interesting topic to me. Like the couple of posters who have mentioned "potatoes", I have had similar experiences with my family. When attending casual potlucks, I try to keep the dishes "simple", with fresh ingredients. I made mashed potatoes with organic Yukon Gold potatoes, a little roasted garlic, fresh cream. A little grated Parm on top. First response after a taste: "Did you make these from a box?" Of course, I felt frustrated. I spent time peeling the potatoes, boiling them, mashing them by hand... I didn't expect people to rave, but GEEZ! Luckily most of my friends (and the other half of my family) share the same food tastes. I think we're generally accomodating to the non-adventurous eater. One year we had my husband's specialty - BBQ ribs, but I snuck in creamed curry corn instead of regular creamed corn. Not really a stretch to the CH or foodie, but I was glad it went over well.

                                              1. Most of my entertaining-type cooking is done for my extended family. Most of them have a rigid food comfort zone and cook out of boxes at home. However, since our matriarch was an Ozarks farmgirl, their palates remember home-grown peaches and from-scratch cornbread.

                                                I think of them as an opportunity to perfect the family recipes. Given the choice, I always want to try something new. They, however, will always prefer baked beans to edamame. If it weren't for them, I would never have made so many batches of baked beans over the years. And now my baked beans (and cherry pie, and cornbread, etc.) wouldn't be so darn good.