When you are entertaining, try not to feel that something unusual is expected of you as a hostess. It isn't. just be yourself. Even eminent and distinguished persons are only human. Like the rest of us, they shrink from ostentation; and nothing is more disconcerting to a guest than the impression that his coming is causing a household commotion. Confine all noticeable efforts for his comfort and refreshment to the period that precedes his arrival. Satisfy yourself that you have anticipated every possible emergency — the howling child, the lastminute search for cuff links, your husband's exuberance, your helper's ineptness, your own qualms. Then relax and enjoy your guests.
If, at the last minute, something does happen to upset your well-laid plans, rise to the occasion. The mishap may be the making of your party. Capitalize on it, but not too heavily. Remember that 'way back in Roman times the poet Horace observed, "A host is like a general: it takes a mishap to reveal his genius."
We are frequently asked what is the ideal number for a dinner party. Estimates vary. On the absurd side, we are reminded of the response made to this question by a less-than-gregarious nineteenthcentury gourmet: "Myself and the headwaiter"; and of Aubrey Menen's Ceylonese grandmother, who regarded the act of eating as so vulgar that she practiced it only when alone, in complete seclusion. Seriously speaking, there is no ideal answer to the question. Some of the reasons will become apparent in the discussion that follows. Yet there is probably a workable minimum; and unless the guests are very close friends, that minimum much exceeds two. Back in the living room afterward, first-time acquaintances must be able to exercise options and establish small centers of mutual interest; and we suggest that this can only be engineered with any degree of success among groups of at least eight. Twelve is an even happier number.
The procedures below represent simple, dignified current practice in table service. If you plan to serve cocktails or nonalcoholic beverages before a meal, have glasses ready on a tray. With the apéritif, you may pass some form of cracker, canapé or hors d'oeuvre. If you and your guests are discriminating diners, you will keep this pickup light. Too generous quantities of food and drink beforehand will bring jaded palates to the dinner on which you have expended such effort. Should you have the kind of guests who enjoy a long cocktail period and varied hors d'oeuvre, be sure to season your dinner food more highly than usual. You may politely shorten the cocktail preliminaries, which have a bad habit these days of going on indefinitely, by serving a delicious hot or cold consommé or soup, either near the bar area or from a tureen on a cart.
Never forget that your family is really the most important assembly you ever entertain. Whether for them or for friends always check the freshness of the air, the temperature of the dining area, and the proper heat or chill for plates, food and drinks -especially hot ones. if warming oven space is limited, use the heat cycle of your dishwasher; or, if you entertain often, you may wish to install an infrared heating unit which can be raised or lowered above a heatproof counter. Be sure that each diner has plenty of elbow room, about 30 inches from the center of one plate service to the center of the next.
Formal meals, given in beautifully appointed homes, served by competent, well-trained servants — who can be artists in their own right — are a great treat. We cannot expect to have ideal conditions at all times in the average home. However, no matter what the degree of informality, always be sure that the table is attractive and immaculately clean — and always maintain, as nearly as possible, an even rhythm of service.
As to the table itself, a top that is heat- and stainresistant lends itself to the greatest ease of service and upkeep. You can expose as much or as little of its surface as you like. If you have a tabletop of natural hardwood, you must protect it against heat at all times with pads or trivets.
For versatility and effective contrast, keep your basic flatware and dishes simple in form and not too pronounced in pattern or color. Then you can combine them, without fear of clashing, with varied linens, fruits and flowers and — most importantly -varied foods. You will find that changes in décor and accessories stimulate the appetite as much as changes in seasoning.
It is pleasant to vary table presentations by serving soup not only in cups and bowls, but from a tureen; or by making use of a crescent-shaped salad plate designed to fit at the side of a round dinner plate and so give the table a less crowded feeling. Individual serving dishes for vegetables may be replaced by an outsized platter holding several kinds of vegetables attractively garnished.
Also, small raw vegetables and fruits may be substituted for garnishes of parsley and cress to give a meat platter a festive air. Instead of using pairs of matching dessert dishes, try contrasting bowls of glass or bright pottery. For a rustic effect, serve a hearty menu on your everyday dishes and use bright linens and wooden salad bowls with a centerpiece of wooden scoops filled with pears and hazelnuts in the husk.
For a more elegant effect, serve a dainty meal on porcelain and crystal dishes, against a polished board decorated with fragile glasses and flowers. See sketch below.
Whatever your decorative scheme, flower arrangements should be low or lacy. Tall arrangements that obstruct the view discourage acrossthe-table conversation. There is nothing more distracting than dodging a floral centerpiece while trying to establish an intimate relationship among your guests. For the same reason, candies should be placed strategically. On a formal buffet or tea table, which is viewed from above, the decorations may be as tall as you wish. In fact, food or flower accents that are elevated on epergnes or stemmed dishes add a note of drama.
Lacking an antique epergne, you can still expand the impact of flowers and fruit on a framework structured from tumblers, tinware or silverware, as shown in the chapter heading. Leaves and bloom clusters, vines and fruits bind these disparate elements and disguise or expose their origins. There, as suggested by my friend and one of my coauthors of Wild Wealth, Frances Jones Poetker, is an opulent arrangement made on a bare structure she suggested of a reversed wide bowl surmounted by a flat plate on which a stemmed compote is centered -and centered on that, in turn, a stemmed glass.
Several harmonious small containers of flowers or fruit — similar or varied — can be effectively grouped around a central element or scattered along the length of a table to replace a single focal point such as the one described above. One of these small units could be long-needled pine tufts bracing snowdrops; or clematis, as illustrated in the semiformal luncheon service, below.
A piece of sculpture scaled to your table makes a charming base for a centerpiece. Surround it with an ivy ring and vary the décor from time to time with other greenery or any elements that suggest borders or garlands. if the sculpture is sIightly raised on a base, it can be enjoyed to great advantage. Whatever you use, don't overcrowd the table. One of the most important things to remember is that no matter what the decoration, it should be suited in color and scale to the foods served to enhance it. Don't make your effects so stagey that your guests' reactions will be, "She went to a lot of trouble." Make them say, rather, "She had a lot of fun doing it!"
Consider, too, the colors of the flowers, food and linens available to you, and plan your menu accordingly. Beets or beet soup may be just the strengthening note you want on a cold day; grapefruit and avocado may bring that chill delicacy of palette you need for a torrid summer lunch. The sources at your command are really legion.
Cramped dining quarters can be eased by unconventional service distribution — a bar in the study, soup on the patio or on a traveling tea cart, a long, narrow buffet to facilitate traffic flow. But whether the party is large or intimate, you can stretch your normal equipment with unconventional use of trays, baskets, pumpkin soup tureens, watermelon fruit bowls, or ice punch bowls.
There are certain time-honored positions for tableware and equipment that result from the way food is eaten and served. So keep in mind these basic placements. Forks to the left except the very small fish fork, which goes to the right. Spoons, including iced-tea spoons, and knives to the right, with the sharp edge of the knife toward the plate. There is, of course, a practical reason for placing the knife at the diner's right, since right-handed persons, who predominate, commonly wield the knife with their favored hand, and do so early in the meal. Generally, having cut his food, the diner lays down his knife and transfers his fork to the right hand. Formal dining makes an exception to this rule; and with left-handed or ambidextrous persons the transfer seems superfluous to us, on any occasion. Place flatware that is to be used first farthest from the plate. It is also better form never to have more than three pieces of flatware at either side. Bring in any other needed table utensils on a small tray as the course is served. The server is always careful to handle tableware by the handles only, including carving and serving spoons and forks, which are placed to the right of the serving dish.
If you look at some of the place settings illustrated, you can, with a few exceptions, practically predict the menu. Let's consider the semiformal luncheon setting. Line up the bases of the handles about one inch from the edge of the table. Some people still consider it important to supply a knife at luncheon, even if that knife is not needed for the actual cutting of meat. Others omit the knife if a typical luncheon casserole is passed or is served in individual containers. For a formal luncheon, a butter plate is placed to the left on a level with the waterglass. The butter knife is usually located as shown, and a butter ball or curl is already in place before the guests are seated. Later, the butter plate is removed simultaneously with the salad plate. Both are taken from the left side. The butter plate is picked up with the left hand, the salad plate with the right.
At semiformal luncheons, you may have the dessert spoon and fork in place above the plate, as sketched opposite. This indicates that no finger bowl will be supplied. Or you may, as in the dinner service, bring the dessert silver to the table with the finger bowl.
Water and wine glasses are already in place as sketched left. The water is poured in the former to about two-thirds capacity; the wineglasses are left empty. Glasses are filled from the right and are never lifted by the server when pouring. Goblet types are always handled by the stem in presentation, replacement or removal, by the diner or server; tumbler types are always held well below the rim.
When it is time to serve coffee, empty cups and saucers are placed to the right. There is a spoon on the saucer, behind the cup and parallel to the cup handle, which is turned to the diner's Tight. After all the cups are placed, they are filled by the server, and afterward sugar and cream are offered from a small tray from the left. But the entire coffee service may be offered, even for luncheon, in the living room, after the dessert.
Individual ashtrays and cigarettes may be placed on the table. Fortunately, a host or hostess is not required to press his conviction that smoking is injurious to either health or gastronomy. But if you are a strong-willed hostess, you may prefer to have the ashtrays and cigarettes placed on the table just after the dessert is served.
At informal dinner parties, place cards may be omitted and the hostess may indicate where guests are to sit. When the diners number six, ten or fourteen, the host is at one end of the table, the hostess at the other. If the guests number eight or twelve and you want to alternate men and women guests, place the host at one end and the hostess to the left of the other end.
The honor guest, if a woman, is seated to the right of the host; if a man, to the left of the hostess. At a formal meal, a dish is presented, but not served, to the hostess first. Food is actually offered first to the woman guest of honor. The other women are then all served. Finally, the men are served, beginning with the guest of honor. If there is no special guest of honor, you may want to reverse the direction of service every other course, so that the same people are not always served last.
While it is not the best form, some people prefer to have the hostess served first. She knows the menu, and by the way she serves herself she sets the pattern for the other guests. This is a special help if the guest of honor is from another country. In America it is customary for guests to wait until everyone is served and the hostess begins to eat. In Europe, however, where each course is usually served complete on one plate, it is permissible to start eating as soon as one is served.
Plates are usually removed from the right and placed or passed from the left. Service and dinner plates are frequently of different patterns. For the purpose of clarity in the illustrations following, service plates are sketched with a solid banding, plates on which cold food is being served are shown with a thin double-banded edge, and plates for hot food are unadorned.
Most of us moderns look with amazement, not to say dismay, at the menus of traditionally formal dinners. Such meals are a vanishing breed, like the whale — but, like the whale, some manage to survive. They begin with both clear and thick soups. Then comes an alternation of entrées and relevés, each with its accompanying vegetables. The relevés are lighter in quality and fewer in number than the hefty joints and whole fish which make up the entrées; but by current standards many of them amply qualify as main dishes in their own right.
However, in the parlance of the haute cuisine, the term "entrée" had a quite different significance. Classic entrées commonly occurred immediately after the main entrée as we now define it, and consisted of timbales, seafoods and variety meats, served in rich pastes and with delicate sauces — tidbits distinguished for their elegance.
A salad takes next place in this stately procession and is usually made of a seasoned cooked vegetable such as asparagus, with greens doing garnish duty only. After this, the diner may choose from a variety of cheeses.
Entremets — hot or cold sweets -succeed the cheese course; and these are topped off, in turn, by both hot and cold fruits. Thus, in outline — if "outline" can be regarded as le mot juste — a dinner in the grand manner; except, of course, to add that each course is accompanied by a choice and sympathetic wine.
We marvel at the degree of sophistication required to appreciate so studied and complex a service — to say nothing of the culinary skills needed to present the menu in proper style. But, more critically, we ask, "Where do the guests stow away all that food?" Granted that a truly formal dinner lasts for hours and that each portion may be a dainty one, the total intake is still bound to be formidable. Such an array is seldom encountered in this casual and girthconscious era, But a semiformal dinner with traces of classic service still graces the privileged household.
When the guests come into the dining room, the table is all in readiness. Again the setting forecasts the menu through the first three courses. If more silver is required, it is always brought in separately later. The water glasses are about twothirds full; the wineglasses, though empty, stand in place, see illustrations at right.
At formal and semiformal dinners, butter plates are seldom used. Melba toast or crackers are served with the appetizer or soup, and hard rolls without butter later, with the roast. The setting indicates a seafood cocktail, a soup, a meat course a salad course, water and two wines. Water and wine are poured from the right. The glasses may stay in place throughout the meal, but it is preferable to remove each wineglass after use. A third wineglass may be strung out on a line with the others or placed to form a triangle slightly forward toward the guest and just above the soup spoon. However, if more than three wines are to be served, fresh glasses replace the used glasses as the latter are removed.
Once the guests are seated, the server's steady but unobtrusive labor begins. There is a plate, filled or unfilled, before each guest throughout the meal. The server usually removes a plate from the right and replaces it immediately with another from the left, so that the courses follow one another in unbroken succession. At such a dinner, second helpings are seldom offered.
When a platter is presented, it is offered from the left to the guest by the server, who holds it on a folded napkin on the palm of his left hand and may steady it with the right. The server should always make sure that the handles of the serving tools are directed toward the diner.
The passing of crackers, breads and relishes, the refilling of water glasses, and the pouring of wines take place during, not between, the appropriate courses. When the party is less formal, the host may prefer to pour the wines himself from a decanter or from a bottle. If the wine is chilled, he will wrap it in a napkin, and hold a napkin in the left hand to catch any drip from the bottle. The hostess on such occasions may pass relishes to the guest at her right, and the guests may continue to pass them on to one another. Also, relishes may be arranged at strategic places on the table, but must be removed with the soup. However, even with these slight assists, the work of the server is one that calls for nicely calculated timing. It is easy to see why one server should not be called on to take care of more than six or eight guest — sat the most — if smooth going is expected.
Let us go back to our dinner, which begins — as forecast by the setting sketched below — with a seafood cocktail, and goes on to the soup. The seafood, served in a specially iced glass, is in place when the guests enter the dining room.
After the seafood has been eaten, the empty seafood cocktail glasses are removed — leaving the service plate intact. The soup plate is placed on it -served from the left. Crackers and relishes are presented.
The service plate is now removed, along with the empty soup plate, from the right. If a platter of hot food is to be passed, an empty hot plate is placed before the guest — from the left.
However, if the meat course is to be carved and served in the dining room, the soup plate only is removed, leaving the service plate before the guest. The meat platter is put before the host, who carves enough meat for all the guests before any further serving takes place. The server, who has replaced the host's service plate with a hot one, stands to the left of the host, holding an extra hot plate on a napkin. When the host has filled the individual plate before him, the server removes it and replaces it with the empty hot plate he has been holding. Then, after taking the service place in front of the guest of honor from the right, the server gives him the filled hot plate from the left, returns to the host via the buffet for the next hot plate, and waits to replace the plate being filled by the host for another guest.
When all guests have been attended to, the server passes the gravy and then the vegetables — with a serving spoon and fork face down on the platter and the handles directed toward the guest. The hot breads come next. During this course, the server replenishes water and wine.
The menu we have been serving has consisted of three courses: seafood cocktail, soup, meatandvegetable. A salad and dessert course will follow; but first let us consider a different menu — one that omits the cocktail and introduces a fish course.
Obviously, a different setting of flatware is in order for this alternate menu. The illustration will show you that it consists of soup, first. After that, there is a fish course, followed by meat, salad and so on. You will notice that there are one water and two wine glasses. Because no seafood cocktail is included, the napkin is placed on the service plate, with a place card on top. For this setting, individual salts are placed to the left of the glasses, and a small dish of mixed nuts is centered above the service plate. No other food is on the table when the guests are seated.
For this second menu, plates of soup are passed from the left and placed directly on the service plates — after guests have removed napkins and place cards.
After the soup has been relished, the soup plate and service plate are removed together from the right and the fish course, arranged in the pantry on individual plates, is presented next from the left. If sherry accompanied the soup, the sherry glass is removed at this time.
After the server has removed the empty fish plate from the right, a hot plate is put before the guest from the left, as shown next.
The meat course follows — either carved by the host or previously arranged in the pantry. A vegetable placed on a narrow so-called bone plate shown to the left of the meat plate may follow. With such vegetables as asparagus and artichokes, or salads with vinegar dressings, no wines are served.
A handsomely arranged fruit compote, passed during the meat course, can be used as an alternate to a salad. If a compote is substituted for a salad, a spoon is put on the right of the setting , instead of a salad fork on the left, as illustrated.
The next illustration shows a separate salad set-up after the meat course is removed. After the salad course is removed, the table is denuded for a short time. Any unused flatware, salts and peppers and relishes are taken away. The table is crumbed. The server uses a folded napkin and brushes the crumbs lightly onto a plate or a crumb tray.
Now, the dessert setting with the finger bowl and doily is placed in front of each guest.
The finger bowl, partially filled with water, may have a scented geranium leaf, a fragrant herb or flower, or a thin slice of lemon floating in it. Each guest places the fork and spoon to either side of the plate and then puts the doily, with finger bowl on it, to the upper left side of his place setting — opposite the water glass.
An exception to this finger bowl procedure is made when fruit is to be served after dessert. In this case, the dessert plate complete with flatware is placed in front of each guest. After the dessert has been passed and eaten, the dessert plate is removed. Next comes a fruit plate with doily, finger bowl, fruit knife and fork.
Should coffee be served at the table, empty demitasse cups and saucers are, at this time, placed to the right of the diners. Demitasse spoons are on the saucers, behind the cup and parallel to the handle. Coffee is poured from the right and cream and sugar passed on a small tray from the left. Liqueur may be served with the coffee or passed on a tray later, in the living room.
Women's liberation works both ways. A host or hostess may still welcome a lull of 15 minutes or more after dinner, during which the sexes are segregated and free to develop conversational topics of special and specific interest. The traditional — and entirely suitable — time for such a break is between dessert and coffee. The men may remain in the dining room to converse over glasses of port or brandy; or the entire company, after the English custom, may first share a savory. The hostess may then retire to the drawing room with the ladies and later pour coffee for her reassembled guests there. By this time, good food, wine and conviviality have usually broken down the minor social inhibitions, and the coffee service may be completely informal.
Your chances for a successful informal dinner party are much greater if you key your efforts to your own belongings and service rather than struggling to meet the exacting demands of the kind of dinner just described. Plan a menu that will make advance preparation and last-minute serving feasible. Offer fewer courses and put several kinds of food on one platter. But please do not let your guests sit, trying to make conversation, with a rapidly congealing slice of meat before them, waiting with embarrassment for a seemingly shipwrecked gravy boat to follow.
There are actually two kinds of informal company meals — and by informal we mean those which can be successfully carried off by a hostess acting more or less alone. The first is a small sitdown affair; and when we say small we mean one limited to eight guests — six is a more confidenceinspiring number. Such a dinner flourishes not on spur-of-the-moment activity but on careful forethought and now and then some nimble footwork. Main dishes should be limited to two or three: a casserole, for instance, an aspic and a pôt-de-creme. Many such dishes that can be prepared in advance will be found in the chapters on Lunch, Brunch and Supper Dishes; Salads; and Frozen Desserts. Five minutes before your guests are expected, everything should be organized and in readiness: hors d'oeuvre and cocktails — which may be simple — on a conveniently available side table, plates warming in the oven, and dining table completely set, needing only that last-minute ceremonial touch — the fighting of the candles.
One of the hostess's more important roles is a deliberately unobtrusive one. After she sees to it that serving dishes and implements are in place on the table, she sets the first main dish and a stack of heated plates in front of the host, whose responsibility it becomes to fill them and pass them along to the guests. She then promptly takes her own seat at table, determined not only to remain graciously installed there until the time comes for main-dish replenishment or for bringing on a an other course, but to be generally at ease throughout the rest of the meal.
When the guests have finished the first course, serving initiatives are largely hers. She gathers the plates left over from the first course, removes them from the dining area, and reappears with whatever serving dishes and implements are needed for the next course. These she sets at her own place at table; she seats herself again and serves each guest in turn, repeating the host's previous procedure. The main objective here is to ensure that guests and hosts remain at table: nothing disrupts a little sitdown dinner so much as the inclination of anyone present to execute a series of disappearing acts and U-turns.
The hostess's continuing presence may be further assured by arranging to serve the wine in a decanter, which can be passed from hand to hand during the meal, like the relishes and the bread. The bread, incidentally, may be of the crusty-loaf variety cut into thick slices and buttered, then warmed in the same oven used to heat the dinner plates.
For removing relishes and odd items, a small tray is handy. "Crumbing" may be dispensed with. But do resist the messy and quite intolerable practice of stacking plates as you remove them from the table.
While we deplore the kind of pinch-hitting that often turns the maidless dinner into a volunteer free-forall, we do not in the least reject an unobtrusive dependable assist from the host, or from a close friend of the hostess who knows her way around the house and is cooperatively disposed. The host may help by carrying out such far-flung responsibilities as mixing salads and drinks, greeting the guests and taking care of their wraps, inquiring about and distributing "seconds," and in general seeing to it that the company is kept promptly and well supplied. The help that a close friend can proffer is less thoroughgoing and less well defined: it may vary from filling water glasses to clearing the table. Whatever its extent, it should stop short of officiousness. A hostess who wants to keep her sanity should resolutely resist the invasion of her kitchen by a guest who is inspired to "keep her company" while she makes her final preparations for the meal.
In order for food to reach the table at the right temperature, it is wise to use such aids as covered dishes — in which case, remember to allow a place to put hot lids; double dishes with provision underneath for ice or hot water; and a samovar arrangement for hot drinks.
For both service and removal, a cart may facilitate matters, unless there are children trained to lend unobtrusive help. Impromptu deputization of your guests may invite chaos and should be avoided except in extreme emergencies or in deliberate plans such as those described in participatory menus.
Obviously, from the hostess's standpoint, buffet service is the most satisfactory way to take care of large groups informally. However, under no circumstances should you expect your guests to eat without enough chairs or table space for all.
Plan a menu from foods that hold well, keeping hot foods above 140° and cold foods below 40°. The best way to keep an attractive buffet looking that way is to concentrate on individual portions. These can be replenished easily, thus preserving the looks of the table. For instance, rather than a large aspic, use individual fancy molds — even if released from paper cups. Use sea shells or vegetable cups as individual containers for seafood or other mixtures. You may cut turkey, ham and salmon into individual portions. Also see About Stuffed Vegetables and Cases for Food.
Types of food especially suitable for buffet service are a risotto or jambalaya, a goulash, a seafood Newburg, moussaka, empanadas, a cheese tray. Meats served en croûte, and as chaudfroid, make dramatic features of buffet service. Both types of preparation keep buffet food from drying out. Avoid soups and other sloshy food that may prove hazardous for diners in motion.
If the servings are not individual, cater generously, as guests are apt to take larger portions at buffets. Layouts below and on 22 show typical buffet settings. The first one represents a dinner at which the host or hostess serves the guests, who then proceed to tables which are already set. The menu includes duck with orange cups, wild rice, podded peas and a green salad. The serving platters are later removed and replaced by the dessert; or individual desserts may be served at table.
Note again that height in candles or flowers is often a distinct asset in buffet service, as is the use of tiered dishes.
The drawing on 22 shows a buffet at which the guests serve themselves and proceed to sit at small tables. If there are no tables, individual trays may be used. For tray service, plan food that does not call for the use of a knife.
Shown are a meat or fish casserole dish; artichokes vinaigrette filled with masked hard-cooked eggs with herbs; relishes and rolls. A dessert may be on the table at the beginning of the service. If the serving table seems too crowded, place the water and hot drinks on another serving surface.
The institution of afternoon tea is going out of fashion — menaced on the one hand by the cocktail party and on the other by the "coffee break," which in America is beginning to assume the proportions of a compound fracture. We still find tea or coffee in the afternoon-whether of the formal or the informal type — a revivifying event, even if an occasional one. When it is informal, the hostess does the honors alone. However, when the tea is formal, friends of the hostess sit at each end of the table and consider it a privilege to pour.
The drawing opposite shows a handsome, formal tea set-up with a coffee service at one end. Tea may be served at the other. It is wise to instruct a supplier to keep in frequent touch with the pourers to anticipate their need for additional hot water, coffee or cups. It is also canny to have additional platters ready to replace those at the table that have become rather ragged-looking. Medium-sized rather than large platters are easier to keep in trim.
CASUAL ENTERTAINING FOR ONE OR FOR MANY
Tray meals can be a delightful stimulant if they include a surprise element in the form of a lovely pitcher, a small flower arrangement or some seasonal delicacy. Make sure, especially if the recipient is an invalid, that all needed utensils are present, that the food is hot or cold as required, sufficient in amount and fresh and dainty looking.
A cookout, whether a mere wienie roast or a luau, can be — although it seldom is anymore — one of the least complicated ways to entertain. Unless your equipment is equal to that of a wellappointed kitchen and you can assure your guests of comparably controlled cooking, we suggest that you choose menus that are really enhanced by outdoor cooking procedures.
Have enough covered dishes on hand to protect food from flies. Give your guests a tray or a traylike plate if there are no regular places set or normal seating arrangements. And prepare an alternate plan of accommodation in case of bad weather.
We recall an informal party that was really too big for our quarters and whose pattern might provide a substitute for a weather-beleaguered barbecue. The guests arrived to find no evidence of entertaining, only a most gorgeous arrangement of colchicum, those vibrant fall blooms that resemble vast, reticulated crocuses. After drinks were served and hors d'oeuvre passed, the host circulated a cart with soup tureen and cups. In its wake followed tray baskets containing white paper bags, each fitted out with individual chicken salad, olives, endive filled with avocado, cocktail tomatoes, cress and cheese sandwiches, bunches of luscious grapes and foilwrapped brownies. Coffee was served, again from the circulating cart.
In order to get an informal after-supper party rolling, young hostesses are often so eager to present the fruits of their labors that refreshments are served too early for the comfort of the guests, most of whom have rather recently dined. Instead of hustling in solid food and alcoholic or carbonated drinks, it might be pleasant to open the proceedings with a tisane.
Here are a few parting reminders as we wind up this chapter on entertaining. In cooking for more people than you are normally accustomed to, allow yourself enough extra time both for preparing the food and for heating or cooling it Please read the comments on the enlarging if recipes. Be sure that your mixing and cooking equipment is scaled to take care of your group, and most important of all, that you have the refrigerator space to protect chilled dishes and the heated surfaces to maintain the temperatu le Of the hot ones. Don't hesitate to improvise steam tables or iced trays. Utilize insulated picnic boxes or buckets either way, and wheelbarrows or tubs for the cracked ice on which to keep platters chilled.
If you often entertain casually, it may be worthwhile to make — as one of our friends did — a large rectangular galvanized deep tray on which the dishes of a whole cold buffet can be kept chilled. Or try confecting an epergne-like form such as that shown on 60 for chilling seafoods, hors d'oeuvre or fruit.
For camping trips or boating parties, consider the safety factor when choosing the menu. No matter what the outing don't transport perishable foods in hot weather in the even hotter trunk of a car.
Not all types of entertaining — formal or casual or inbetween — can be detailed here. But, whatever the occasion, assemble your tried skills in menu planning so as to reflect the distinctive character of your home. Flavor the occasion with your own personality. And keep handy somewhere, for emergency use, that cool dictum attributed to Colonel Chiswell Langhorne of Virginia: "Etiquette is for people who have no breeding; fashion for those who have no taste."
COOKING FOR LARGE PARTIES
Most of the recipes in this book make 4 to 6 servings and will double satisfactorily for 8 to 12. But at times all of us are called on to produce meals for larger groups, and it is then that we must be on our guard. For unexpected surprises are apt to POP UP just when we want everything to go particularly well. No matter how rich or how simple the menu, remember, first, that for special occasions it is preferable to cook from recipes with which you are familiar. Secondly, cook in several moderate-sized batches, rather than in one big chunk, because, mysterious as it sounds — but true, even for the experts — quantity cooking is not just a matter of indefinite multiplication. If you overexpand, too, you may run into a number of other problems.
Take into account the longer time needed in preparation — not only for paring and washing of vegetables or drying salad greens, but for heating UP large quantities. Even more important, you may be confronted with a sudden pinch of refrigerator space — discovering that the shelves are needed for properly chilling large aspics or puddings just when they should be doubling to keep other sizable quantities of food at safe temperatures. This warning is of great importance if you are serving stuffed fowl, creamed foods, ground meat, mayonnaise, cream puffs, custards or custard pies: these foods spoil readily without showing any evidence of hazard. Before completing the menu for larger groups, assess equipment for mixing, cooking, refrigerating and serving.
If the meal is a hot one, plan to use recipes involving both the oven and top burners. Increase your limited heating surfaces by supplementing them with electric skillets, steam tables or hot trays to hold food in good serving condition above 140°. But do check the electric capacity of your system.
If serving individual casseroles, see that you have enough oven space; or, if the casserole s are large, that they will fit. In fact, stage a dress rehearsal -from the cooking equipment requirements right through to the way the service dishes and table gear will be placed. Then, satisfied that the mechanical requirements are met, schedule the actual work on the menu so that enough can be done in advance to relieve the sink and the work surfaces of last-minute crowding and mess.
Stick not only to those dishes you are confident you can handle without worry, but to those that make sense for the time you can spare for them. If one dish is going to require much last-minute hand work and fiddling, balance it against others that can be preassembled or are easy to serve: casseroles, baked or scalloped dishes, gelatins or frozen foods. See Menus for further suggestions.
One of the hardest things in mass cooking is to give the food that personalized and cherished look that is achieved in intimate dinners. Do not hesitate to serve simple foods for company. Choose seasonal ingredients and cook them skillfully. Then wind up with a home-baked cake or pastry — nothing is more delicious or more appreciated. Guests are really captives, so build a menu, in any case, that is not too restrictive. If you decide on octopus pasta, be sure you know the guests are adventurous enough or have sophisticated enough palates to enjoy it -or that they know you well enough to be able to ask for an egg instead.
Excerpted from: Joy of Cooking: 75th Anniversary Edition, Copyright © First Scribner Edition 1995
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