Recent widower needing to find new ways of entertaining.
Hello to all.
My wife and I used to entertain regularly and I did most of the cooking and my wife was sort of like the sous chef slash hostess and was excellent at it. All I really had to concentrate on was the cooking. Anyway, I have recently begun to entertain again, having several people over at a time, including entire families.
I am finding great difficulty cooking in the same style that I once had done, meaning, mostly sauteing, making sauces and plating things up in the kitchen, etc.
What I would like to develop is a style of cooking that will enable me to to prep and prepare menus and dishes at least a few hours ahead of time that will enable to spend a bit less of a frantic time cooking. timing and serving. I'd like to make a few cocktails for the adults and entertain the children as well.
Yes- I know that I can do a Lasagna, Eggplant or Chicken Parmesan, etc but I'd like to avoid that for now.
I'd like to, if possible, still maintain my (ha ha) "Gourmet" or "Foodie" status and learn a few first-rate and wonderful dishes.
Any and all advice would be so welcome.
-sorry for dragging out my very first post.
Also adding my condolences, admiration....and 2 cents. :)
Depending on how many people come over, cooking en papillote (usually fish or chicken) gives a lovely festive air without a whole lot of fuss over plating. Parchment packets all cook together on a cookie sheet, then just place one on everyone's plate and let them unwrap the gift of dinner.
Salad, soup and snacks.....sounds like you've got great suggestions for all, so I won't repeat.
Pitchers of cocktails seems to be the lest-stressful option. I would add that designated drivers/abstainers and kids will often appreciate a little non-alcoholic station and/or signature non-alcoholic drink mixed up for them. A favorite that I've been bringing to parties recently is fresh apple cider infused with ginger and fresh lemon juice. Just slice up about a thumb-sized piece of ginger into a little boiling water (maybe 1/4 cup) and let it cool. Then add that to about a liter of fresh-pressed apple cider, and squeeze in the juice of half a lemon. Float some lemon slices in the pitcher to garnish. You can easily do this at least 2 days in advance, and the drink actually benefits from this because the flavors have a chance to mellow/mix.
As an easy do-ahead dessert that's already individually "plated", try making panna cotta,chilled in individual custard cups/glasses. I don't even bother with unmolding, and the variation are endless (buttermilk, vanilla, chocolate, lemon, berry.....)
Cheers to you! And welcome!
i'm sorry for your loss, but commend you for your desire to continue hosting!
i suggest inviting guests into the kitchen, and let them be a part of the process. set up a bar on a a table, and let guests serve themselves and each other. surely all your guests know and understand that you're now doing a job for two as one. and i'm sure they'd love to help, but don't know the best way to offer, in case they might offend you... be casual, be homey and warm, and the good times will follow (along with your tremendous food).
you could maintain "gourmet" or "foodie" status by exploring alternate cuisines too. indian, thai, japanese, peruvian, etc. or go sort of flashy, like jambalaya, or wok-frying :)
You are new to Chowhound because your post seems quite succinct to me. A few tips on entertaining with limited time. To "lubricate" interactions, you will need to be around for the first wave of people arriving so it means you can do the last minute cooking thing. Part of the welcome is making sure you've got the drinks and snacks front and center. When people have a little something to eat to begin, there won't be that anxious "when do we eat" energy that can happen with a dinner party. And snacks can be low impact or high impact. Think cheese plate, Union Square nixed nuts, dried fruit on the low impact end or gougeres and canapes on the high impact end. But once again, everything made an plated in advance and ready to go. For the cocktails, have the ingredients laid out and print a nice card with instructions. People are happy to make their own. Once there's a critical mass of people happily chatting, nibbling and drinking, you can sneak away to the kitchen to finish up. I agree with what everyone else said about main courses. A lot of humble dishes can be elevated. Think Short ribs on polenta. Finally, enlist your friends. Unless that just isn't the tenor of your gatherings, I've found that most people feel more included when they have a role in putting dinner on the table. They can help with plating or if you need to stake your turf, call folks to the table.
I'm not sure what you like to cook, but a lot of meats are nice and tender cooked at 200 or 250 for hours. Then they're ready whenever you want to pull them out. I live in a studio apartment, so I have to have pretty much everything done ahead of time (my rule of thumb is ONE dish that requires serious attention, everything else pre-made or simmering or in a slow oven or whatever-- not time sensitive) but it sounds like you have much more experience with kitchen multitasking than I do.
Oh, and welcome :-)
One of the things I've done in the past is spend the majority of my cooking time on a stupendous sauce for a main, where I can make the sauce early in the day and have a simple preparation, such as a roast of beef that can be mostly left alone for cooking. I can then throw in veggies to roast while the beef is resting, warm up my sauce and serve family style.
Many recipes on epicurious (all that I've looked for but I can't say all of them) have do ahead tips. The other thing I'll do is google "do ahead xxxxx" and can find quite a few.
In the winter, I find this easy with braises and stews. All day cooking and your guests come to some amazing smells. I also, and this is probably obsessive compulsive, write down a project management list of what needs to be done, up to a few days before, and what time I need to do it.
I'm sorry to hear of your loss. I'm sure your friends and family are happy just to come around and they'd be happy to pitch in, especially in the beginning. You can make an impressive meal and ask someone to bring dessert, or any of the other easier sides or drinks. Also, if there's a specific menu you're planning, ask here and I'm sure you'll get a lot of great advice. Let us know how it goes!
Sorry for your loss - glad you're out there. Great suggestions - welcome to Chow. I would suggest a generality - give yourself a break. You're a wonderful cook and host, and you need to readjust to flying solo. There are good prepared foods - consider what you've always done from scratch, and think about whether a good prepared substitute makes the grade. Where it does - USE it! You are still the star of the kitchen and the dinner party, and if talented professionals pick up the slack, all good. Think of things that can marinade and quickly come together. Scale the presentation down to wonderful from the peak you occupied before. Food is love and it all counts.
I was widowed after thirty years of marriage and having people to the house was a huge eye-opener when I went from being a part of a team to being on my own. The transition from WE to ME was difficult. My bartender, greeter, dishwasher, schmoozer and all-around helper was suddenly gone. It was up to me to try to do everything.
I was lucky that I have a food background and I traded heavily on my time as a caterer. Having the first and last course waiting in the fridge or freezer made the actual dinner much easier. As many people have already stated, braises are your best friend. The list of possibilities is endless. Knowing that the apps are pre-made and either plated or on a platter to be passed at table makes the daunting task of trying to be two people much easier. Ditto for the dessert - again, endless cold possibilities from ice cream parfaits to chilled pies and mousses, this can be pre-plated as well.
A pitcher of cocktails can be made ahead or you can ask a friend to serve as bartender. Give yourself the gift of lowering your standards a bit until you find your way. That you are willing to entertain at all is miraculous; you are to be commended.
For those first meals, a soup that is ready and waiting (a crock pot can be used here) or seafood cocktail or antipasto platter in the fridge eliminates any last minute cooking. A braise - whether it is coq au vin or osso buco or beef short ribs or lamb shanks - is made ahead and can be a full meal if you're not a purist. If you want to serve a salad, fine. Have the lettuces washed, dried and in the bowl with dressing already made. Dessert is frozen lemonade pie with raspberry sauce and needs only to be served. Plug in the coffee pot and relax. You've just scored a homerun. Welcome to CH, Rumm. I promise that it will get easier.
Forego the plating and serve either buffet or family style. Most side dishes can be made ahead of time and either microwave/oven reheated, or kept warm in a very low oven. Your guests are not going to miss the pre-plating.
Also consider fondue, shabu-shabu, seafood boils, and other participatory serving styles.
Sorry for your loss, friend.
Bbq. Smoked brisket, pulled pork, etc. It takes hours and hours, but it's all done before the guests arrive. You can spend the last hour getting the table ready while the meat is resting. And bbq can be gourmet. I serve mine with red wines and homemade bread. Not traditional, maybe, but pretty slick.
Ina Garten and Mark Bittman's books on entertaining have never failed me. Ina's cream of wild mushroom soup can be made early in the day and with a substantial app(s),(prepared ahead and served buffet style) good bread and salad is great for casual entertaining.
One of my favorite go-to dinner party menus is a big slab of roasted salmon (basted with a lemon/butter/wortershire sauce) served family style on a big platter surrounded by frest dill and lemon wedges; cuke/sour cream/dill salad; Another platter of roasted asparagus beside roasted new potatoes w/rosemary, garlic. Maybe add a crusty sour dough loaf. Buy or make ahead your app(s) (maybe a nice assorted antipasto platter with good stuff from your favorite Italian specialty market or just bowls of melon chunks wrapped in a good ham, good olives and your own spiced, roasted cashews) and dessert. Serve apps with a festive prosecco and dinner with a good sauvignon blanc. Makes a very elegant buffet. Delicious and easey-peasey
I second the suggestion to use Ina Garten's cookbooks and strategies. I think her basic entertaining method is ideal for the sole cook: buy top-quality ingredients, spend most of your time on one showcase element of the meal, and buy, pre-assemble and/or pre-make the other elements. This allows one to spend leisurely time on the table, assembling, but really enjoy your guests without worring about the timing juggle.
Ms Garten also advocates elevating common food with uncommonly good ingredients -- i.e. pot pie becomes lobster pot pie.
Ok. It seems what you need is to be able to do a lot of prep work in advance. Use a foodsaver to bag and preserve chopped veggies like mirepoix. You could even freeze them. Bring them out a day or two before the event to thaw. You could precut all the meat and do the same.
You could switch over to braises, maybe even to crockpot meals. Some good braises would be Chicken Cacciatore, Osso Bucco, though the price of veal makes it expensive, Swiss Steak, beef bourguignon if you don't want to call it beef stew. Braises also have the advantage of tasting even better 2-3 days later so you could premake the dish, let it cool and throw it into the fridge, dutch oven and all.
I guess the other solution would be to find someone that wants to learn how to cook, perhaps one of the people you entertain, to be your sous chef.
re: Hank Hanover
One book we use a lot for braising is All About Braising. Three are some things in there that are definitely company worthy. One thing we make from that book is beef birds. It is flat beef pounded and then stuffed with prosciutto, golden raisins, pine nuts, herbs and other stuff, then rolled up, tied with string and braisedin a tomato sauce. A fair amount of work but all done ahead. Things like that would be good.
re: Hank Hanover
Don't know if this is gourmet enough, but when I'm having lots of people over, I go with something like seafood gumbo, pulled pork or maybe in the fall a full sauerbraten meal. I love to cook but not when there are people around, it breaks my concentration. These meals can be made in the morning and then all you have to do is heat and serve at the appropriate time. They all actually taste better when they sit a bit. Some corn bread, or pumpernickel, maybe some side salads like home made cole slaw or cucumber on the table. Then, at the appropriate time, get one or two volunteers to help transfer your finished plates into the dining area.
One thought: continue to make the things you've been making, but plate for people at the table. Your plating becomes part of the meal. If you don't have them, think about cooking pots and things that come to the table well and look nice there.
Another quick thought: souffles. Dramatic and way easier than people think. Most of it can be done well in advance, and then you only have to whip the egg whites and fold it into your base and bake. Would definitely allow you to keep your foodie "cred"! Would probably work best for smaller groups. And you can do "twice baked souffles" which allow you to do even more ahead of time. Those may require individual ramekins if you don't have them. (But have a million other uses too.)
Will think more.