This week, I’m thinking about the trials and tribulations of entertaining—especially my disasters in the kitchen and, believe me, I’ve had quite a few.
I once made this great rice dish for a dinner party. It was a recipe that I’d made before so I knew it was easy and full of flavor. When I served it and finally tasted it, it was gummy and bland. I decided to not say anything and pretend I didn’t realize it wasn’t good—better not to bring attention to the disaster. The minute everyone left, I grabbed the recipe to figure out what I’d done wrong. I’d mixed the cooked rice with all the correct ingredients and then put it into a 350° oven for 30 minutes. Nowhere in the recipe did it say bake for 30 minutes. Baking had turned it into a gummy mess!
What I learned: No matter how many times I’ve made a recipe, read and reread it to make certain I’m not inventing steps.
When I first started entertaining, I found an interesting African fruit salad recipe I thought would be fun for dessert. The recipe called for salt as well as sugar to make the sauce. I followed the directions and when it came to the addition of the salt, 1/4 cup struck me as a lot. But this was an African dish and the review said it was unexpectedly good. So I followed the directions and served it. As I dished the fruit salad out, I explained it was an unusual recipe from Africa. My guests listened and tasted. When I finally took my first taste, I gasped in horror at my mouthful of salt! Beyond awful. My guests were good friends, and they hadn’t said a word as I rambled on about this unusual recipe.
What I learned: 1. Always taste your food before serving it. 2. Listen to your instincts; if an instruction seems wrong, it may well be. 3. Always have something to serve as a backup just in case. French vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce, and cookies are always good.
I planned a party at an offsite location. I made lists and lists to ensure I would have absolutely everything I needed. Someone offered to bring the corkscrew. Great—one less thing for me to worry about. I got there early, set everything up perfectly, but when I went to open the wine, there was no corkscrew! The person was late. Guests started arriving and I had no wine to serve them. A party without wine is not good. I tried to explain the corkscrew would be here any minute, but I was beginning to panic. Seeing my expression, my assistant said if I could get her a pen, she’d open the wine. I didn’t even ask how. I got a pen and she disappeared in the back. When I looked back she was serving wine—bless her.
What I learned: Never leave home without the corkscrew even if someone offers to help out.
My husband, Mark, makes cinnamon buns for holiday mornings. It’s a wonderful ritual we love. One year, mouth watering, I wandered down to the kitchen to the smell of cinnamon buns. I pulled one apart and placed a piece in my mouth. Oh no, something was wrong, this didn’t taste right at all! I looked around to find my sister and husband staring at me. "What happened?" I asked. Mark explained that when he went into the spice drawer at 5 a.m. he grabbed the cardamom instead of the cinnamon. Once he realized his mistake, he wiped it off and even rinsed the dough. Then he continued his work, this time using cinnamon. Unfortunately, cardamom is a very strong spice and the taste still made its appearance.
What he learned: Put on your glasses and have a cup of coffee before you start cooking!
I was entertaining my cousins who were visiting from France. They were coming for brunch, and I decided to make a Southern meal: spiral ham, kale, potatoes, and biscuits. I’d never made biscuits before, so I read about the best ways to get them light and fluffy. As I did my research, I found instructions on homemade baking powder with no aluminum in it. Great. One less unnecessary chemical in our food. I made the meal, everything was perfect, and I was just waiting for the biscuits to rise and come out of the oven. I waited and waited but all I had was an oven full of flat brown hockey pucks! I explained to my guests—what a shame, because biscuits were really good with ham. The next morning my husband woke me with a breakfast tray that included a pot of coffee and a basket full of freshly baked flaky biscuits. I looked at him, speechless. “I didn’t know you could bake biscuits” I said. “You never asked” was his answer!
What I learned: 1. I shouldn’t try something totally new for guests. 2. How bad can a little aluminum be anyway? 3. Ask my husband if he has any other talents I should know about.
I miscalculated a recipe I was making for a dinner party and realized just before our guests arrived that I had to finish the main course at the last minute. Bad planning. I found myself in the kitchen working away as I listened to our guests laughing in the other room. Dinner was great but I felt I’d missed the party and that wasn’t fun.
What I learned: 1. I need to read the entire recipe before I decide to make it for a party. 2. If you want to attend your own dinner party, select recipes that can be made ahead of time.
The truth is that no matter how many mistakes I make, I love entertaining. I enjoy gathering with friends and creating good food. There is something so personal about entertaining at home: getting the house ready for company, lighting the house to set the mood for the evening, setting a festive table, and waiting for our guests to arrive.
What about you?
Have you had any disasters in the kitchen?
Disasters while you were entertaining?
What did you learn?
Do you enjoy entertaining? Why?
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