the years, we have cooked for hundreds of people in cooking
classes and demonstrations, for vacationing guests, in a catering
capacity, and for large to small dinner parties. Cooking live
in front of students or guests or cooking daily for our cooking
magazine has made cooking and entertaining a comfortable and
familiar part of our lives. It wasnt always so.
When I was young, I used to dread the prospect
of having people over for dinner. I worried about everything.
My dining room was too small, I didnt have just the
right napkin rings, I didnt have enough matching chairs,
my plates were old and out-dated, and that was all before
I even got to the food! Cooking made me so nervous that I
tried desperately to have everything done before anyone arrived
so they wouldnt see me blundering around the kitchen.
This anxiety of course, caused me to forget ingredients, forget
to turn the heat down, to break into a cold sweat (while attempting
to act calm and collected) and it generally caused a state
of panic that made the whole experience dreadful. Once the
meal was served, I critiqued everything to myself as completely
unsatisfactory and vowed never to have anyone over for dinner
again. Then, just like getting pregnant, time would pass and
I would forget the pain and suffering and do it again.
Those were the days prior to my Celiac disease
diagnosis. I cant even imagine attempting to entertain,
at that time, gluten-free with that level of neurosis.
So how did I conquer my anxiety about entertaining
and cooking for guests? By treating it just like anything
else in life that one wants to learn and become accomplished
at, I studied cooking and I cooked and cooked and cooked.
In our many cooking demonstrations, we frequently
hear comments like, I was wondering if you could help
me, I have been afraid to have anyone over for dinner because
Im embarrassed to serve them gluten-free food and Im
uncomfortable cooking gluten for my guests." "I
havent entertained since Ive been diagnosed because
nobody really likes gluten-free food." "Could you
give me some recipe ideas that my family might like, they
hate gluten-free food." "Id be too nervous
to serve my food to dinner guests." I have great empathy
for these people and their apprehension.
If entertaining comes easy to you, congratulations!
If, however, you experience a level of anxiety from the act
of cooking for guests or from the prospect of serving gluten-free
food to guests, Id like to share a few simple tips and
guidelines that can make the experience delightful and delicious
for both you and your guests.
Great gluten-free meals are created in the
same way as great food with gluten. Gourmet meals are usually
a result of prior planning, shopping, prepping and coordinating
complimenting ingredients and recipes. The best way to enjoy
the process is to give yourself plenty of time. This includes
planning enough time so that you are completely ready for
your guests 30 minutes before they are due to arrive. Spend
this extra half hour relaxing, sip a little wine while you
wait for your guests.
for Fool Proof Entertaining
- Dont try a new recipe
for the first time at your dinner party.
Although we do this constantly, in the words of great parents,
"Do as we say, not as we do." A dinner party is
no place to discover the unpleasant surprises new recipes
- Choose a dessert that can be made the
morning of or night before your dinner. Many desserts are
ideally suited to make ahead like Crème
Brulee, Chocolate Mousse, Chocolate Souffle, Brownies, Ices
and Sorbets. (All these desserts are also gluten-free!)
- If you would like to make a complicated
or time-consuming dish, make only one such recipe. Keep
the rest of the meal quick and simple.
- If your entrée is involved, serve
it with garlic mashed potatoes or a pilaf or roasted potatoes.
Serve simple blanched vegetables reheated with butter just
- Have your appetizers ready to serve when
your guests arrive. If your appetizer is baked or broiled,
time it so that it will be ready to take out of the oven
as your guests arrive.
- Allow 45 minutes for your guests to eat
appetizers. This is plenty of time for conversation and
allows you time to finish the dinner as your guests are
busy visiting with each other.
- Make everything that can be made ahead,
ahead of time; salad dressings, blanch vegetables, all chopping
and grating, some sauces, prep meat, fish or poultry by
washing, drying, trimming and trussing if necessary.
- If your guests want to help in the kitchen,
let them. There are always jobs that anyone can do. My favorites
are chopping, stirring a pot, washing and spinning salad
greens, generally anything that wont be ruined by
doing it less than perfect or anything that you dont
want to do, like cleaning spinach leaves.
- A few minutes before you are ready to
serve, give someone the job of herding all the guests into
the dining room. This usually takes many tries and up to
15 minutes. Let your guests resume their conversation and
freshen their drinks while you are left alone in the kitchen
to plate the dinners and add the finishing garnishes. Have
a guest serve the plates to your guests.
- The key to less stress and great results
is to be familiar with the meal you are preparing, do as
much of it before hand, and dont get too ambitious
with difficult preparations. Many of the best meals I have
made and eaten have been simple straightforward preparations.
- Cook what you like. You are more likely
to have a flair with food that you love.
- Never, ever apologize! Chances are,
you are the only one who thinks that the chicken was a little
salty or that the pork should have been more tender or that
the mousse was a little thick. Admitting or apologizing
for anything that you feel is less than perfect is actually
just making your guests aware of it. When your guests tell
you how wonderful the meal was, simply smile and thank them.
This is the mantra of a gracious host.
Now that you have the guidelines for success,
here are a collection of great gluten-free recipes that are
delicious, that no one will know or care that they are gluten-free,
that are simple to prepare and that will make your next dinner
party a success!
There you have it
. the tips and the
tools for fool proof entertaining. Remember its really
as easy as 1,2,3.
1. Prepare ahead
2. Be familiar with your menu and recipes
3. Take a deep breath and relax
Now, dont forget to invite your