Saturday, January 31, 2015

The Hostess with the Most-est

For Saturday....another from my favorite book: 

Anna Johnson

Today, I will be sharing her wise and witty secrets on the subject of
 Food.....Part 1
The "Ten Laws of Shrewd Service"

1. Prepare Like A General
Lists save your bacon and save you money as well. When it comes to entertaining, there is no such thing as being too organized.  What can be cooked the night before should be made ready.  Last minute expense can be avoided by buying mineral water, crackers, olives, mustard, nuts, candles, cheese, and extra wine in bulk or when it's on sale.....
.....Experiment with lighting for the table long before the guests come, but never light the candles until three minutes before they arrive: you don't want to get down to the wick too early-and nothing is more romantic that allowing the guests to leave with the flame begins to wane.

2. Accept Pivotal Offerings
"Can I bring something?" helpful friends will ask.  And to that you swiftly reply, "Yes," and give fairly specific instructions.  Here's the equation: if three couples bring one to two decent bottles of wine each and two guests bring dessert, you have saved almost two hundred dollars in expense.  Discourage the bringing of "any old" flowers as often they won't be your taste or theme, and instead request white blooms only.  White always looks good, even white carnations can blend sweetly into a larger monochrome bunch.

3. Slip Into That Cocktail Dress, Then Serve Like A Soldier
Never answer the door with your hair still pinned up from the bath.  Be dressed in your goddess hostess-wear beneath your apron; if you look read, people will feel welcome and honored by a certain amount of formality.

4. Be Proud of Simple Fare
Abundant food is more impressive than expensive food.
A mountain of clams steamed in a simple tomato and garlic broth and a basket of rough cut warm baguettes cost peanuts but immediately set the mood.  The same goes for three or four simple roasted chickens trussed up with dried herbs, lemons, and olives along with a platter of roasted winter vegetables.

5. Dress Up The Table
If you iron some cotton table napkins, use pretty mismatched china and make little handmade place cards, then even pizza starts to look good.  I always get a big whoosh of confidence if my table looks elegant when the guests arrive.  It's inviting and involves more time than money.

6. Never Make a Guest a Guinea Pig
Experimental recipes are no fun for guests because they take longer and--after too much Riesling for the chef--they can have mediocre results.  It is better to be known for a cassoulet you can cook blindfolded than weird marinades and quirky raw soups.  Guests feel a sense of homecoming when you establish favorite dishes and serve them often.
In the dead of winter, people want hot food not cool concepts.

7. Cook Frugally Instead of Fashionably
Obscure ingredients are simply gourmet foolery.  Chicken sold with its skin in pieces is usually at least half the price of chicken that is skinned, and the irony is that fatty skin cooks better.
Chicken is also a great base ingredient for a curry or a savory pie.
Meat like fish can be prone to snobbery, but it really does come down to snobbery rather than taste.  Whole fish and large ones are rich, visually dramatic, flavorsome, and are worth the bother of baking and serving in one piece.  Fillet is dreary in  my eyes, and always costs more, so bypass this convention and give your guests credit for the ability to find a bone and not pick one with you.

8. Cook Seasonally. Period
The earth, your body and your pocket all flourish when you choose to buy food seasonally.  Even though I've been known to devour a Mexican mango in the dead of winter, nothing beats the integrity (and the reduced carbon footprint) of a locally grown seasonal fruit of vegetable.  It's an invitation to your creativity to find a million ways with apples or squash or blueberries when they are cheap and plentiful and I feel the same way about flowers.  When lilacs come I want nothing but lilacs, wild and on the stem, and all the hothouse roses in the wold can't change my mind.

9. Save Drama For Afters
Change the music at dessert and change the tome; clear away the clutter of a big roast or a stained cloth and create a mood of fresh repose.  Shuffle the guests if they are starting to coagulate into the overly intense conversational knots or if married parners are starting to get openly bored.  Why not move dessert to a candle-lit sitting room and have small bowls of berries, nuts, and chocolates waiting?  Shifting the lighting at the end of a meal softens the night and intensifies the flirting, which, I find, is excellent for one's digestion.

10. Be A Sweet Tart
Guest feel spoiled if you do something special at the end, for some reason hand-whipped cream is irresistibly scrumptious to men, especially with a drip of real vanilla and a dusting of icing sugar.
Fresh berries and cream, a slender wedge of store-bought chocolate torte, or an easy homemade cake like tarte tatin  (nothing cheaper than apples) all sing with runny heavy cream.  Serve ice cold, very dry prosecco (cheaper by far than champagne) at dessert, just a glass or two each feels like a splash of cold water after heavy wines and embroiled conversation.  And don't fuss so much over coffee.  Better that people leave on a cloud of bubbles, don't you think?

I don't know about you....but I think I want to go to that party!! ;)

~excerpts taken from Savvy Chic by Anna Johnson

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