Monthly Archives: November 2011

Make It a Fiesta!

After a neighbor invited us for a Mexican fiesta instead of an ordinary meat-and-potatoes meal and later mentioned that she was having people over for a pasta supper, I got to thinking how helpful a theme can be in making entertaining more fun for guests and hosts.

Both themes allow a lot of the real cooking to be done in advance and let the hostess accept some help from the store. The Mexican meal kicked off with salsa and guacamole with chips along with homemade empanadas, impressive but more easily made with the use of store-bought dough. I don’t know how my friend plans to precede the pasta dinner, but one smart approach would be simply to assemble an antipasto platter, possibly consisting of cured meats, Italian cheeses,and roasted peppers.

Adding a playful, interactive aspect to the Mexican dinner, this hostess set out the choices buffet style on her kitchen’s large center island and let guests serve themselves. There was a choice of pulled chicken and spicy ground beef fillings, warm tortillas, and a variety of condiments, some jarred and some fresh. She delegated margarita making to a guest.

For her pasta dinner, she was planning a typical Sunday red sauce, chocked full of meatballs, beef chunks, and sausages, to be tossed with pasta at the last minute. While the sauce simmered for hours, she’d have lots of time to prep a loaf of garlic bread, make a salad or a vegetable side, and prepare the house and herself for visitors.

If you try a themed party, be sure to consult your guests regarding their dining dislikes and dietary concerns. It would be unfortunate to have friends on a carb-free diet showing up at your place for pasta.

And, remember, the themes mentioned here are only two of the many possibilities. You could consider featuring the food of your family’s heritage or another foreign cuisine you enjoy eating in restaurants. If you have any ideas or have already experimented, please share your experiences with me and other readers.

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Befriend Your Butcher

When a butcher shop announced it was opening in my Manhattan neighborhood recently, I was thrilled. It brought back memories of the days when as a newbie cook living alone for the first time, I relied on several local butchers to teach me about different cuts of meat and to tell me how to prepare them. Then gradually butcher shops disappeared, thrusting me into the void of pre-cut packaged supermarket meat usually with only a clueless clerk behind the meat counter to guide me.

The good news is that real butchers are back, and able to enhance our entertaining experiences in a host of ways. In her excellent article for the New York Times “Smart Parts: Learn to Talk to a Butcher….,” Nov. 2, 2011, Florence Fabricant explains how the new butchers can help you and your guests eat better, either because they seek out better flavored breeds of cattle or hogs than those favored by industrial meat packers, or because they sell desirable yet uncommon cuts too specialized or odd for supermarkets to stock (among them, crown roasts of lamb, whole veal shanks, and cross-rib roasts).

Fabricant mentions the many ways in which a butcher can save you time and work (boning short ribs for stew or peeling silver skin from a leg of lamb, for instance) or give you better value if not cheaper pricing (by trimming and prepping your meat to order or suggesting less costly but worthwhile cuts for a recipe). She also touches on the services routinely available when you deal with a butcher, such as requesting a certain thickness of filet mignon, or having lamb chops Frenched and taking home the trimmings for another recipe.

It may take a bit of practice to get the knack of buying meat this way, so don’t wait until the night before your next dinner party to start. Cut yourself a break and give that new butcher shop in the neighborhood a try.

There will be no Thursday post this week, since The Hysterical Hostess will be cooking Thanksgiving dinner. Please enjoy your company and your day!

Through Their Eyes

A commercial in which a messy laundry room cluttered with cleaning supplies was improved by the installation of cabinets and shelving triggered thoughts of my own unsightly laundry room and the realization that you need to look at your home as though you are a guest.

There’s a toilet and tiny sink tucked behind the door of our laundry room, and it’s the bathroom that most visitors insist on using. Apparently, they’re embarrassed to walk through our bedroom to the master bathroom, no matter how we urge them to do so.

I think of that space as a utility room, a blessing for emergency visits when someone else is occupying the big bathroom and (since it’s just inside the “mud porch” door) convenient for workmen with greasy hands and muddy feet. But until recently I hadn’t thought how visitors might view the room or seriously consider what might be done to make it more inviting.

There are a few decorative pieces on the walls there and I always lay out hand towels on top of the sink, but it’s also crowded with ugly machines, a hamper (which often is brimming with dirty clothes), and bottles of detergent.Now I’m determined to clean up my act.

It should be easy enough to install doors to disguise the washer and dryer, and the hamper can be moved to the garage, where we recycle paper and plastics anyway. I plan to install a shelf for the soap dish and hand towels and add a little table, on which I can place something decorative and on which a woman might rest her pocketbook.

It shouldn’t take long to transform that extra toilet into a comfortable powder room. Then, maybe I’ll try spending a night in the guest room.