Saturday, October 21, 2006

Smug Tips for Superfantastic Entertaining: Part 1

I've got both ovens going and half the burners. The sweatshirt is off and preparations are moving right along. But as I've been chopping and sautéing and taste testing ('cause you have to do that) I've been thinking about how preparing parties like this really aren't that big a deal. They used to be, but not anymore. Because I've learned a thing or two in 28 years of entertaining. I feel compelled to share my wisdom with you.
First of all, don't make fussy food for a dinner party. If you want to try a recipe that require a whole lot of fiddling, save it for a leisurely weekend. Once guests arrive you should be able to spend the majority of your time with them, not in the kitchen seiving and mixing.
I learned that lesson in the early years with The Spouse. I think it was our first Christmas. At that point, young housewife that I was, I was planning menues largely with an eye toward impressing the crap out of my guests. NOT a pure motive, by the way. Anyway, the dinner had been grand and people were still talking about it weeks later.
A friend, days hence, was talking about something really funny that had been said or done at the party and I had no recollection of the event. Because I had been in the kitchen, working on my impressive whatever, and had missed the heart of the party.
I have never, ever done that again.
Menues are planned with lots of yummy sounding food that I know people will want to eat and then do as much as possible ahead so that the evening is spent enjoying my guests. A minute or two here and there to finish a dish or pop something in the oven is all that is required. This also has the advantage of leaving me far less harried which means I'm not shrieking at the family in frustration moments before the guests are to arrive. Trust me, that is much more enjoyable for all of us.
Second of all, I don't care what your kitchen looks like; I don't care if it 2400sf with all the latest appliances, a hot plate in a room the size of a phone booth or something in between. The key to stress-free entertaining is to clean up as you go. I'm serious. There is nothing that makes you never want to entertain again than a kitchen that looks like a dirty bomb went off.
Empty the dishwasher, start a soapy sink and empty the garbage pail. Load, wash and wipe as you go. Run the dishwasher when it's full and empty it as soon as it's done so you are ready to go again.
I haven't mastered this completely and there is always something going on in the kitchen when guests arrive. It rarely looks like it's about to model for "House and Garden", with all the counters clear and all the pots washed. But minimizing the chaos as you go is the only way you're going to feel like doing this again sometime. Plus, it makes it really easy to restore order after the evening is over. (This is important to me because while I don't mind waking up to dessert plates still on the table, being greeted first thing by a roasting pan full of greasy water... Eeww).
Third, if you feel like blogging in the middle of preparing for a party, preheat the oven for your crostini to 350° when it's really supposed to be 425°. You'll have at least 15 minutes of blog time.

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