Tag Archives: Planning

On the Table: Farm Stands of Northern Chester & Montgomery Counties, PA

At dinner’s end, with guests gone and a tired me sitting on the couch, Christina nicely extolled a wonderful dinner. While I appreciated her compliments, I expressed that this dinner was not a culinary triumph that required any great skill. I asserted, as I often do, that preparing a nice meal is more a matter of aspiration and planning than it is any great skill. You could have prepared this dinner.

Here is the slightly ridiculous haul from my drive through Northern Chester & Montgomery Counties. My farm stand shopping is a matter of faith. I have faith that when I get home I will find good uses for all that I have purchased over the week.

Here was my mostly Northern Chester & Montgomery County Menu:

Hors d’oeuvres
Roast marinated sweet & hot peppers with grilled bread
Deviled eggs
Soppressetta from DiBruno’s
Cerviche of diver scallops with coriander

Cold Beet Soup with Cucumbers, Sour Cream & Dill

Tomato & Red Leaf Lettuce Salad

Grilled Shiso-marinated Swordfish
Creamy Corn Salad
Grilled Wax Beans

Cherry Grove Farm Toma Primavera

Peach Sorbet with Blackberries & Doughnut Peaches

Dinner began at 7 PM with the Blanc de Blanc Champagne from J.Maki’s Chester County winery. Everyone agreed it was excellent by any standard — not just excellent for being a local champagne.

Light hors d’oeuvres included roast, marinated sweet and hot pepper, deviled eggs and a DiBruno’s house-made soppressetta. The deviled eggs includes mayonnaise, mustard, a tiny dice or cornichon, fresh chives and topped with sweet smoked Spanish paprika. Frankly, the roasted peppers were a pain to peel — but they were possibly the unexpected hit of the evening. I bought them at a stand in a residential street from a “backyard” farmer whose mode of transport was a golf cart rather than a tractor. The peppers were arrayed in little plastic baskets like we use to serve burgers at Frog Burger — $1 a basket, one red sweet and one hot green. But they were very thin-skinned peppers that were difficult to peel after I charred them in the broiler. I cut them into short, thin strips and tossed them in olive oil and garlic. They were served with grilled bread — something a bit different from fully crisp crostini. I plan to post a “How to Make Grilled Bread” Tip in the next week or so. DiBruno’s house-made dried sausages are a go-to easy hors d’oeuvres addition.

Another very easy hors d’oeuvres are sliced diver scallops — also know as dry scallops because they are not packed in that awful white liquid that lesser quality scallops can be packed. They are simply thin-sliced and “dressed” about a half hour before guests arrive with lime juice, olive oil, chives and crushed toasted coriander seed — plus a little sea salt and pepper. There is a similar recipe on page 149 of At Home using pink peppercorns.

Unlike recent weeks when dinner was served family style on the table — that is, on platters where guests helped themselves, this menu was a plated dinner.

This cold beet soup is the third cold soup I have done this month. As frequently noted, I am a fan of soups as meal starters. They are easy, do ahead and lend themselves to dressing up. Here, the soup is dressed up with a small dice of cucumber, a dollop of sour cream and fresh dill. To make the soup, I just peeled the beets, cut into similar-sized chunks, cooked in a corn stock with onion and garlic, pureed in a blender and flavored with red wine vinegar. Look for the recipe tomorrow.

The cold soup co-opted the first course that would likely included tomatoes so I added a small tomato salad to the menu. I picked up some beautiful red accented lettuce from the Z Farm stand on Rittenhouse Square in the morning. The tomatoes and sweet onion came from my trip as did the basil. So, this is just the lettuce, two slices of tomato, topped with small yellow pear and orange tomatoes — cut into half as even the smallest tomatoes should be — dressed with a little balsamic, very good olive oil, Maldon sea salt and fresh ground black pepper and topped with a basil chiffonade. Everything was ready to go to be plated well before guests arrived.

I had grilled fresh swordfish earlier in the week for Christina and she lobbied to have it again for our guests. Given my failure to locate duck or lamb or pork on my drive, I went for the swordfish. It was marinated in a little garlic, shredded shiso — a minty, grassy herb that I got from Z Farm and olive oil. It was grilled in my grill pan — good as any you would get off a backyard grill. Served with a properly trimmed lemon wedge. There is a similar recipe on page 198 in At Home. I decided to grill the yellow wax beans. Just lightly tossed in olive oil and grill. Here a grill pan is much better than an open grill as there is no place for the beans to fall. The grilling adds a dimension to the otherwise very simple beans. See At Home page 307 for Grilled Green Beans. And what’s the purpose of a summer’s dinner but for an excuse to eat corn. Here it’s shaved with just a little sweet red pepper for color and purple scallion. What was unusual about this corn salad is that I had some leftover home-made mayonnaise from the deviled eggs and felt that the plate could use something creamy so I dressed the corn salad in the mayonnaise. It was sweet and creamy with a little bite from the scallion. One does not frequently see a corn salad with a creamy dressing.

We served the J.Maki Viognier with dinner. Like the champagne, it was also excellent. If you are not familiar with Viognier’s — a varietal grape that typically not bone dry and with tropical fruit overtones. At Home owners check-out the wine chart on page 32.

Rather than a full blown and filling cheese course added to an already ample meal, I served just a little bit of a Toma Primavera from Lawrenceville, NJ’s Cherry Grove Farm. I would put this cheese up there with the world’s best cheeses. It is available at the Rittenhouse Square Farmer’s Market. It’s served with a little grilled bread.

Weaver’s peaches were ripe, sweet, spectacular and easy to handle freestones. I made a peach sorbet by simply pureeing a mix or yellow and white peaches — skin and all – them passing the puree through a strainer to remove the larger pieces of skin — adding a ginger-scented simple syrup and then freezing in my ice cream freezer. It is important to “temper” sorbet or ice cream before serving. That means removing it from the freezer so it has a chance to soften somewhat. The peach sorbet was served with a grilled half of a yellow doughnut peach. I used an apple corer to get the pit out while accenting the “doughnut.” These were brushed with honey from Jack’s Farm Stand of two weeks ago and olive oil and grilled. Blackberries provided a color and slightly sour counterpoint.

Prep and Service Strategy
I always counsel that the ideal is to begin planning a weekend dinner at least the weekend before and spread your tasks over time. My current schedule isn’t allowing me to do this, but here’s how I would approach this meal if I were you. The sorbet and roast marinated peppers the weekend before. (Be careful not to eat those wonderful peppers during the week!)  The cold beet soup early in the week. You can also make deviled eggs mid-week though I would not stuff them until Friday or Saturday. Shop on Thursday for everything else except the swordfish and scallops. On Friday, grill bread and store in air-tight bag, dice cucumbers and chop dill for soup, slice onions for tomato salad, rinse lettuce and store in damp towel, blanch yellow beans, make corn salad, chop garlic for swordfish marinade, make lemon wedges and remove pits from doughnut peaches. Friday also set the table and chill wine.

That leaves for Saturday during the day, slice scallops, marinate swordfish, grill yellow beans, slice small tomatoes and make basil chiffonade. Grill doughnut peaches. Place hors d’oeuvres on platters or bowls. Make sure you give yourself one relaxed hour before guests arrive. If you follow this schedule that will be easy.

To turn-out dinner: dress scallops, bowl and garnish soup, arrange and dress tomato salad, grill swordfish and plate entree, cut cheese and plate with grilled bread, plate sorbet with doughnut peach and peach sorbet.

I am not suggesting this is no effort. Nor am I suggesting you try to repeat this exact meal — though I believe you could. What I am suggesting is that by planning ahead and spreading out your tasks, this can all be fun and not a chore — including the shopping.

Thank you for visiting.

Your Home Entertaining Coach


Filed under Entertaining at Home, Menus, On the Table

Company’s Coming: Part 6 — Company Came

Blog posts have come hot and heavy over the last week or so. Maybe more than you bargained for when you signed up. This has been an unusual series that seemed to require extensive blogging. I hope you have enjoyed them and found them useful. Posts will now return to their far less frequent pattern.

Note: This is the sixth post in a series.
Part 1: A Conversation with Myself, click here.
Part 2: Party Parameters and Menu Planning, click here.
Part 3: Organizing Tasks & Time, click here.
Part 4: Shopping, click here.
Part 5: Countdown to Guest Arrival, click here.

Several months ago Christina and I contributed to the Philadelphia Theater Company’s Sweetheart Brunch Silent Auction. Our contribution was a  dinner with us in our home for four guests. We both have long connections to the Philadelphia Theater Company. Sunday evening our guests joined us.

I began planning and preparations nine days prior in keeping with At Home’s principles of spreading tasks over time — ideally beginning one full weekend prior to your party. My goals were for entertaining at home to be a pleasure and not a chore; to have one relaxed hour prior to guest arrival; and, to spend time with guests. Of course I wanted a very nice meal for our guests.

I wanted to use the occasion of our party as a model for you to encourage you to have More Parties. Better. Easier. While I am not suggesting that you tackle my menu — I do this professionally — I was hoping that in following how I approached planning and executing my party  — including my struggles, you would gain insight that you could use in planning your next party.

Sunday morning I read the newspapers and watched the usual line-up of news shows. Late morning I headed into the kitchen to do some odds and ends — primarily around the Spring Vegetable Antipasti — and begin pulling things from the refrigerator that could sit out. We made a game time wine substitute of a wonderful chardonnay we had for the Viongier.

At 4:30 PM I was comfortable on the couch in the den alternating between the NBA play-offs and the start of the Phillies game. Our guests arrived a few minutes past six and by around 10:30 we bid them bon voyage with small boxes of chocolates that I ordered online from Recchiuti Confections in San Francisco. In between we got to know two interesting and delightful couples by, as I say in At Home, “sharing the warmth of your home (our home) and a good meal.”

Note the large flower arrangement in the background. As I was enjoying my final few minutes of relaxation on the couch, I got an alarmed call from Christina and Jill (who was our Frog Commissary helper). It turned out that the tall flower arrangement I had made on Saturday of pink apple blossoms and lavender lilacs had sprung a leak! Not a big leak, but a hairline fracture through which water leaked onto our breakfront. We had no vase of the required scale to make a quick switch and it would have made a mess to re-work the arrangement in a smaller scale — plus some lilacs were already looking none too good. I made an executive decision and banished the arrangement from the scene.

Our kitchen trash can was empty.

Empty dishwasher at the ready.

Ready to receive dishes. A bus pan to collect dirty dishes. A small container with soapy water for silverware. An empty sink because…when your sink is full, you’re sunk. Empty drain board and dish rack.

My menu with notes (on the right) and final prep tasks (on the left) were posted on a kitchen cabinet on re-positionable labels along with an admonition to myself to “KEEP PORTIONS SMALL.” As tasks get completed I move completed labels off to the side. Using re-positionable labels also enables me to group and/or re-group tasks.

Each place setting had a menu card. Toward the end of the night we all signed menu cards to keep as souvenirs of our evening together. Regardless of how elaborate or simple the dinner – menu cards take only a few minutes to make and let your guests know that they are special — a hallmark of hospitality. It’s not every day guests sit down to a dinner with a menu card! I simply typed out the menu in Word, printed it on nice heavy paper and cut it down to size. Easy.

The first course of Spring Vegetable Antipasti was laid out before guests arrived — absent last-minute touches of balsamic syrup, a wonderfully green and spicy olive oil drizzle, pink sea salt and chervil leaves.

My menu objectives were to rely on fresh, local products and keep things reasonably light. We knew our guests were well-traveled and enjoyed wine so we wanted a series of interesting wines. Most critically, my menu was planned so that I needed to spend a minimum amount of time in the kitchen.

On Behalf of the Philadelphia Theater Company
Steve & Christina are pleased to host Lisa, John, Ken & Teresa
Sunday, April 25, 2010

Spring Champagne Cocktail with Honeydew & Mint

Assorted Olives
Fragrant Star Anise Lotus Root Chips
Lancaster Red Radishes with Sea Salt
Dill-cured Salmon with Honey Mustard
Spanish White Anchovies & Piquillo Peppers on Crostini
Chilled Jerusalem Artichoke Bisque
with Hackelback Caviar

Spring Vegetable Antipasti with Sorrel Mayonnaise
Grilled Asparagus, Ramps & Baby Artichokes
Rainbow Chard • Fiddlehead ferns
Roasted Beets • Fava Beans
Nasturtium Blossoms
Sorrel Mayonnaise
Prager Gruner Veltliner 2007 • Wachau Austria

Malfadine with Wild Mushrooms
Morels, Honey Cups and Miatake
Mushroom Broth
Craggy Range Sauvignon Blanc 2008 • Martinborough New Zealand

Pan-seared Striped Bass dusted with Wild Italian Fennel Pollen
Lentils du Pay salad with roasted butternut squash and sun-dried tomatoes
Kistler Durell Vineyard Chardonnay 1999 • Sonoma Valley

Assorted Cheeses from Pennsylvania & New Jersey
Shellbark Farms Fresh Goat Cheese – West Chester, PA
Cherry Grove Farm Asiago – Lawrenceville, NJ
Cherry Grove Farm Shippetaukin Blue
Cherry Grove Farm Toma Primavera
Paraduxx 2004 • Napa Valley

Meyer Lemon Sorbet
Rhubarb Relish Scented with Rosemary
Anne’s Raspberry Hearts
Felsina Vin Santo 1999 • Chianti Classico

Bon Voyage
Recchiuti Chocolates

Spring Vegetable Antipasti on over-sized plate. I had meant to get a little squeeze bottle to control adding the balsamic syrup, but never got to it. As a result, the balsamic syrup ran into places I didn’t want it. I felt this course did what I wanted — namely to be a reflection of the arrival of spring. I particularly liked my decision to decorate plate with chervil leaves. Could have used two ramps per person rather than one. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with the rainbow chard, but ended up wilting it quickly in a little olive oil and folding up into little packages. The nasturtium blossom and lemon wedge made for the perfect notes of color.

Melfadine pasta with wild mushrooms and mushroom broth — needed more mushroom broth, under-salted and maybe could have used some garlic in addition to shallots. Earlier in the evening I lightly sautéed the pasta in butter and shallots and let it sit in the pan until a final heating with peas. In a separate pan I sautéed the mushrooms in shallots, butter and added a little white wine. The mushroom broth was slowly heating on the stove. To turn I got everything hot, distributed the pasta between six bowls that I had heated in a 2o0 degree oven, distributed the mushrooms and ladled the broth. Finished with fresh chopped parsley.

Pan-seared striped bass dusted with fennel pollen on a salad of French lentils, roasted butternut squash and sun-dried tomatoes. Another easy turn-out: the lentil salad was cold and placed in the middle of the plate. Added four roasted grape tomatoes and a drizzle of olive oil to dress up plate. Forgot to dust plate with additional fennel pollen — I had not written this down. I cooked two pieces per person, but decided that one looked better and more consistent with my goal of keeping portions small. The fish just had to go on top of the lentils with a little mound of microgreens added. Christina felt her fish was over-cooked and I hoped that only Christina got unlucky. I was rushing to get this out, started to take the fish off the flame, got concerned that it needed a little more time as I did not want to serve fish under-cooked in the middle. Overall,  I thought the course worked well.

The cheese course (I forgot to photograph) was surprisingly great. In keeping with my fresh and local theme, I bought three of my cheeses at the Rittenhouse Square Farmers’ Market from Cherry Grove Farm, Lawrenceville, New Jersey.  The fourth cheese — a fresh goat cheese from West Chester — came from DiBruno’s. The Cherry Grove cheeses included a firm “asiago,” a softer and mustier “toma” and a blue.

I forgot to temper the sorbet — meaning to let it get a little soft. When I took it from the freezer to serve it was hard as a rock. I stuck it in the microwave for one minute and it was perfect. The sorbet sat on the rhubarb relish with the addition of a heart-shaped Linzer cookie — cookies that had been given to us the week before by Anne Clark, a dear friend, my first baker, co-author of The Frog Commissary Cookbook and author of the Baking Required recipes in At Home.  Two candied Meyer lemon rinds, two blood orange segments and a tiny sprig of rosemary — homage to the fragrance added to the Rhubarb relish — finished the plate. Together they made for a wonderful mix of fresh flavors, colors and textures.

Our final gesture of hospitality was to bid Bon Voyage to our guests with little ribbon-tied boxes of chocolates from Recchuiti Confections. Michael Recchuiti is one of the world’s leading chocolatiers. Based in San Francisco, Michael used to work in The Commissary’s bakery.  Christina and I served Michael’s chocolates at our wedding along with those of famous Belgium chocolatier Pierre Marcolini.

At dinner’s end, one diner left “stuffed.”  “Pleasantly sated” the consensus of the rest.

Lessons of Company’s Coming
I don’t mean to pretend that this dinner is something you should plan. Though frankly, I believe you could do this with coaching. Home entertaining is much more a matter of aspiration and planning than unique culinary skill.

Of course, the subject of home entertaining came up during dinner. One couple did it frequently and the other infrequently. The later couple had done it more, but stopped, as it seemed reciprocation was rare — the result of people just finding it too hard. We all agreed that entertaining at home is special and that our spending this time together in a noisy restaurant would just not have provided the warmth and connection of this evening together. I reiterated what I often say: “I don’t care if you order out pizza and make a salad. Just do it at home.” I resolved to create some home entertaining menus that are easy and not just easier. Look for these in future blogs.

Postscript: Conversation with Myself
The Good Enough Entertainer: Well, how did it go?
The Entertaining Overachiever: I guess OK.
The Good Enough Entertainer: What do you mean by OK?
The Entertainer Overachiever: It wasn’t perfect. Christina’s fish was over-cooked! The balsamic syrup ran!! The pasta was under-seasoned and lacked the broth that was a key part of the dish — not just another sauteed pasta!!! And I forgot to dust the striped bass plate with fennel pollen!!!!
The Good Enough Entertainer: STOP! Perfection was not one of your goals. Your goals were for this to be a pleasure and not a chore — for you to have fun.  And not to be bound to the kitchen. Anything else was a bonus.
The Entertaining Overachiever: But…
The Good Enough Entertainer: No buts! Here’s another At Home principle. It’s similar to the Home Entertainers Deserve One Relaxed Hour thing. When all is said and done, Home Entertainers Deserve a Big Pat on the Back from Themselves. Inviting guests into your home is special…even noble. You did this and in so doing, you enhanced human connection. With that — and I don’t mean to turn overly spiritual here — you made the world a better place for yourself and for people about who you care.
The Entertaining Overachiever: Wow!

Reminder about At Home’s Mother’s Day Special
Last Monday At Home blog readers received an email from me about At Home’s Mother’s Day Special. The special includes an inscribed book by me to your mother, a Pascal Lemaitre Mother’s Day Card, a recipe card with my mother’s Stuffed Cabbage Recipe, and an At Home book plate for you to inscribe your own message. Check your Monday email. Note: At Home’s Mother’s Day Special is not available from our online store. You have to use the order form that comes with the email. You can also access the At Home Mother’s Day Special and download the order form by going to the blog site. If you read the blog via email or on Facebook, just click on the blog title to get to the blog site.

Next: Don’t Try This At Home…Behind the Scenes at The Franklin Institute Awards Dinner
At Home’s planning principles are based upon my more than 35 years experience as leader of Frog Commissary Catering. We have catered more than 15,000 events. Thursday evening, Frog Commissary Catering will serve a great dinner to 800 guests in conjunction with The Franklin Institute Awards. These annual awards are given to individuals across a spectrum of scientific disciplines. In addition, the Bower Award is given to a business person who has made a particular contribution to science. This year’s recipient of the Bower Award is Bill Gates. We have catered this event for many years. I will provide you with a behind the scenes look of how we cater for this large group in space designed to be a museum and not a catering hall! Certainly the scale is different from my little dinner for six, but you may be surprised at its similarity to what I encourage you to do at home.

Thank you for visiting.

Your Home Entertaining Coach


Filed under Entertaining at Home, Family and Friends, Menus, Tips

Company’s Coming Part 5: Countdown to Guest Arrival

Note: This is the fifth post in a series. If you missed Part 1: A Conversation with Myself, click here. For Part 2: Party Parameters and Menu Planning, click here. For Part 3: Organizing Tasks & Time, click here. Part 4: Shopping, click here.

Sunday Morning
All is well. I have planned well and spread my tasks over time. It’s been a pleasure and not a chore. Only a little bit of work remains and my one relaxed hour before guests arrive is within my grasp.

Shopping Update
My Friday shopping did not start so well. I rushed out of the house without my carefully crafted shopping list. I stopped and made a new list as I ran through my dinner menu in my head.

Friday’s Reading Terminal Shopping was a pleasure.

My first stop was Fair Food. I had a general idea as to what would be included in my Spring Vegetable Antipasti — but open to unexpected discoveries. Fair Food had beautiful fiddlehead ferns, ramps (wild spring onions), rainbow chard and asparagus — all just-picked and grown within a stone’s throw of Philadelphia. Red scallions will be added to the French lentil salad. I picked up fresh sorrel for the sorrel mayonnaise I planned for the anitipasti. Fair Food also had beautiful Jerusalem artichokes (aka Sunchokes) that I picked up for my missing hors d’oeuvres — a cold, creamy white soup topped with caviar.

A blog reader had let me know that Livengood’s was no longer at Reading Terminal Market and directed me to a wonderful website called Local Harvest. For information about where Livengood’s organic produce will be available, click here. Thank you Ken.

I found an abundance of wild mushrooms at Iovine Brothers — beautiful morels, honeycups and hens in the woods. These were supplemented by the gift of maitakes from a dear visiting friend who is a blog reader and knew of my quest for wild mushrooms. She also brought beautiful edible nasturtium blossoms that I will use with my Spring Vegetable Antipasti.

My regular fish stand was out of striped bass, but I found plenty at another stand.

At DiBruno’s I switched pastas from pappardelle to malfadine. I thought this narrower but still ample pasta would be easier to eat with the wild mushrooms. Picked up some crackers for cheese, Spanish white anchovies and caviar for my hors d’oeuvres soup.

Saturday morning I walked across Rittenhouse Square to the farm stands that line Walnut Street. It was a perfect spring day with a deep blue cloudless sky and azaleas in full bloom. My mission was to buy local cheeses for our cheese course. Cherry Grove Farm from Lawrenceville, New Jersey makes organic cheeses from their own grass-fed cows. I picked an “asiago,” a toma and a blue. I wanted a fresh goat cheese, but the neighboring stand only could offer a goat gouda. At DiBruno’s I found a fresh goat cheese from Shellbark Farm in West Chester. Cheese course complete.

I also picked up wonderful fresh lilacs, apple blossoms, sweet peas and nameless yellow and blue flowers from the Amish farm stand. I love arranging flowers. I think of it as a cross between painting and sculpture.

Honeydew Roulette
I don’t know about you, but I rarely have luck with honeydews. I find that if you don’t find a ripe honeydew, hell may freeze over before an unripe honeydew ripens. Fortunately, I found a ripe honeydew last Saturday at Whole Foods. Unfortunately, it had no flavor. At Reading Terminal Market I found another, pre-peeled and in a plastic bag for 99 cents. Once again, not much flavor — but marginally better than the first. With a little mint syrup mixed with champagne it will be good enough.

Sue’s $1 Packets of Fresh Herbs
My little local produce market is Sue’s on 18th Street between Sansom and Chestnut. Family-owned and well-priced, it is a welcome alternative to Whole Foods and Rittenhouse Market. Among the things I love about Sue’s are the $1 packets of fresh herbs. I only use fresh herbs, but nearly all markets sell expensive packs of herbs that provide much more than you can use before the herbs gets too old. Sue’s breaks down the large packets into small $1 packets that provides plenty of herbs for a meal or two. Sue’s also had nice looking Sicilian blood oranges — not exactly local, but a nice addition to dessert.

Perils of Internet Shopping
I ordered fennel pollen on Monday from Chefshop.com. Standard shipping. I just assumed it would get here by Friday.  By mid-day Friday I started wondering where it was?  I went to the email and tracking number and lo and behold, not due until Monday!!! That’s right, Monday. Not good for a Sunday dinner. A touch panicked, I called Chefshop.com who confirmed 1) it was not due until Monday and 2) it had not even arrived in Pennsylvania. It turns out that Chefshop.com ships from Redmond, Washington and my assumption about when it would arrive was profoundly wrong. It seemed my only option — if available — was to ship it overnight, Saturday delivery with a shipping cost of $55.  Overhearing this, Christina said I should try our neighborhood DiBruno’s.  I said, with a man’s confidence, that DiBruno’s did not carry it. They did not even show it on their website. (This is the shopping version of real men don’t ask directions when lost!)  Ignoring me, Christina called DiBruno’s. Sure enough, they had it…just as I suspected. Thank you Christina.

Step 5: Organizing Space
Step 5 in my Plan to Entertain is Organizing Space. A critical early task is to clean out your refrigerator to make room for what is likely to be something than its normal line-up. By dinnertime on Sunday, my counters will be clear of everything but what I need to turn-out our dinner. That will include an empty dishwasher and dish rack. Next to my sink I will have a bus pan (like you find in restaurants) and small plastic tub filled with soapy water for flatware. My sink will be empty and I will keep it empty because I know that once my sink is full, I’m sunk.

Step 6: Setting the Table
Step 6: Setting the Table provides suggestions and tools to get your table together including a Setting the Table Worksheet. My preference is to use re-positionable labels.  See At Home Page 12 for more about re-positionable labels. As I watched the Phillies loose to the Diamondbacks on Friday night, I created my re-positionable labels for setting the table. On Saturday Christina used these to pull, pile and label everything we needed to serve our guests with a need for only the occasional menu question. It seems as though Christina has worked hard getting our apartment together. I know she enjoys entertaining and likes an excuse to get things organized, but I hope she has found this to be a pleasure and not a chore.

Prep Work
By Friday mid-day my shopping was well in hand. My plan was to do prep work on Saturday, but I was more in the mood to cook than go back to my desk. Doing my prep work on Friday would make for an even more relaxed Saturday than I had planned. So I trimmed the mushrooms and finished the mushroom broth, portioned the striped bass, pureed the honeydew, made the Jerusalem artichoke soup, cooked and peeled the fava beans, made the sorrel mayonnaise and figured out my rhubarb relish.

Rhubarb Relish
I had to resolve what to do with my rhubarb. The rhubarb had been macerating in sugar since last Sunday creating a pinkish syrup. I love the crunch of raw rhubarb and despair of cooking it. But I I had never seen it used un-cooked — something about not eating raw rhubarb. I had nibbled on quite a bit and I seemed none the worse. Some internet research revealed that the prohibition extended only to rhubarb’s leaves and roots. I strained the rhubarb-infused syrup, added a few sprigs of rosemary and reduced my two cups to one cup of a fragrant syrup. After allowing the syrup to cool fully, I poured in over my rhubarb. Now I have my relish to serve with the Meyer lemon sorbet.

Rhubarb Relish
Rhubarb relish retains the crunchy character of raw rhubarb and is perfumed with rosemary. It’s the perfect complement to a citrus sorbet or vanilla or strawberry ice cream.

Do Ahead May be made up to one week in advance.

1 pound rhubarb, leaves and bottom trimmed and discarded
1 cup sugar
2-3 small springs rosemary

1 Cut rhubarb into long, thin strips and 1/4-3/8 thick. Line up strips and cut across creating little cubes.
2 Combine rhubarb cubes and sugar in bowl and mix well. Allow to macerate for 24 to 48 hours, stirring occasionally to make sure all sugar melts into syrup.
3 Strain syrup and reserve. You should have about 2 cups syrup. Return rhubarb to refrigerator. Place syrup and a few springs rosemary in small pot and cook over moderate heat until reduced by half to about 1 cup. Strain rosemary from syrup. When syrup is cool, pour over rhubarb and mix well.

Yield 1 1/2 cups

Looking Ahead and Looking Forward
My tasks today are primarily getting the Spring Vegetable Antipasti together plus a few other pre-dinner odds and ends. The antipasti is designed to be a celebration of our local harvest — seasonal cooking that reminds us of our place and time. This will will include baby artichokes, wild ramps, fava beans, fiddlehead ferns, rainbow chard, asparagus and beets (more homage to winter past than spring present, but some needed color). These wonderful vegetables are best left to “day-of” preparation.

I have arranged for a helper from Frog Commissary to assist in serving. Before dinner I will group the elements of each course together on the kitchen counters. I will have posted my menu and my re-positionable labels with my final tasks and reminders. I will post a sign reminding myself to “KEEP PORTIONS SMALL” as we have lots to enjoy. And enjoy has what I have done so far.

Christina and I are looking forward to meeting our guests and, as I say in At Home,” sharing the warmth of our home and a good meal. ” (OK, maybe a very good meal!)

Coming on Tuesday
On Tuesday — my day job permitting — you can read about whether I ended up getting my one relaxed hour and how the evening went including photos. More importantly, I will share with you the central lesson of Company’s Coming.

Coming Next Weekend
I know posts have been coming hot and heavy with an unusual number of pretty long blogs over an unusual few days. I hope you have enjoyed reading them and how to do More Parties. Better. Easier. After a break of several days, I will post Don’t Try This At Home, a behind the scenes look at Frog Commissary’s catering The Franklin Institute Awards dinner this Thursday where the guest of honor will be Bill Gates.

REMINDER: If you plan to order At Home’s Mother’s Day Special, Mother’s Day is only two weeks away and you need to order in time to allow for shipping.

Thank you for visiting.

Your Home Entertaining Coach


Filed under Entertaining at Home, Recipes, Tips

Company’s Coming Part 4: Shopping

Note: This is the fourth post in a series. If you missed Part 1: A Conversation with Myself, click here. For Part 2: Party Parameters and Menu Planning, click here. For Part 3: Organizing Tasks & Time, click here.

So far, so good. But it’s still early in the game. I feel confident in my game plan, but the game is really just starting. What’s important is that I feel focused on making this fun…for me.

Plan to Entertain’s Step 4 is Shopping. On Sunday I filled out the At Home Shopping List based upon my menu plan. I had my “what” shopping plan. With At Home’s Organizing Tasks & Time Schedule, I had my “where and when” shopping plan.

Last Saturday I did a little “pre-shopping” — and picked up bread for crostini on Tuesday.
Thursday I will do a little light neighborhood shopping for a few things I want to do on Thursday evening. My preference would to have done this on Wednesday, but I had the opportunity to have dinner with a friend I only see rarely so I changed my plan. A sub-principle of planning  is to be flexible.
Friday My day for fun shopping at Reading Terminal Market.
Saturday More fun at the Rittenhouse Square Farmers Market for cheese, flowers and maybe a little last minute inspiration.

There are several ways to look at food shopping.

Shopping can be purely functional. You’ve got your list…milk, check…eggs, check…coffee, check.  You’re on a tight schedule, you’re in, you’re out…done. Task completed, check. I concede that with good reason, in our busy and over-committed lives, this is how we do most of our food shopping. In fact, for much of what we shop for, this works just fine.

However, not all food shopping need be the same. I invite you to look at some food shopping differently..shopping with more foreplay! It has to do with enjoying the journey and not rushing to the destination. Enjoy exploring what’s seasonally new in the produce aisles.  Rhubarb and local asparagus are as sure a sign of spring as the daffodil and robin. Shad roe has just appeared in markets — the annual evidence of shad’s life force. Shopping slowly extends beyond fresh food. Buying dried pasta? Explore its origin. Honey? There are now honeys available with all manner of natural flavor accents — the result of where the honey is from and where and on what bees fed.

I remember, as a teacher many years ago at the Green Tree School (See At Home Page 69: The Green Tree Cafe), using food shopping to teach learning-challenged inner-city children that bacon does not simply come from the supermarket, but from pigs and some is smoked and some is not and pigs are raised on farms. Food is the result of farm and farmer, ranch and rancher, fish and fisherman. Food is not just “there.” Food goes through a journey to get there and that journey is “contained” in the food itself…if you just stop to think about it.

Do your functional shopping wherever, but occasionally seek out better markets and farm stands and shop slowly and for fun.

Reading Terminal Market
Which brings me to The Reading Terminal Market. The Reading Terminal Market is my favorite place in Philadelphia. This extends from the wonderful prepared foods your can buy — no better lunch options in the city — to the fresh fish, meat and produce. Strolling the aisles for me is akin to wandering the galleries of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

My principal objectives on Friday will be seasonal local vegetables. There are two stands in particular that I will visit. One is the Fair Food Farmstand. Fair Food is formerly a program of White Dog Community Enterprises — a program to focus community support of and access to local farm products. See www.fairfoodphilly.org. It is centrally located along the 12th Street perimeter of the market. The other produce stand specializing in local produce is Livengood’s Produce, located in the center of the market.

Here are some notes about some interesting ingredients I am using for our dinner.

Wild Italian fennel pollen
Wild Italian fennel pollen is a distinctly Tuscan product harvested from wild fennel plants in full bloom, dried and screened. It has the texture of a coarse powder with sweet notes of anise plus musty and floral aroma. I bought mine from chefshop.com. It’s actually from Umbria and costs $19.99 plus shipping. It is pricey but a little goes a long way and keeps well.  While cooking with wild Italian fennel pollen might not make you swoon, it tastes wonderful and just saying those words are somewhat transformative! You may substitute toasted fennel seed coarsely ground in a spice grinder. Not quite fennel pollen — but a perfectly reasonable substitute.  (See At Home’s Fennel-scented Striped Bass on P.260.) But if you do make the substitute you won’t get to say “wild Italian fennel pollen.”

I will use the fennel pollen to coat my striped bass before searing and maybe sprinkle a little fennel pollen “dust” on the entrée plate as a garnish.

Meyer Lemons
Meyer lemons are a cross between a lemon and Mandarin orange. They are more round than a lemon and more oval than an orange. Correspondingly, their flavor is a cross between the two – sweeter and a lemon, more sour than an orange. Same thing with color – pale orange to deep yellow.

Meyer Lemon Sorbet
Meyer lemon produces a sorbet with a distinctive flavor that results in the crossing of a lemon and mandarin orange. Remember to remove sorbet and other frozen desserts from freezer ahead of time to allow to temper and soften a bit.

Do ahead Must be made at least one day ahead and as much as two weeks ahead stored tightly covered in freezer. You may pre-scoop portions and hold in freezer to speed the process of serving.

3 cups Meyer lemon juice (about a dozen Meyer lemons)
3 cups simple syrup
2 tablespoons Meyer lemon rind

Combine Meyer lemon juice, simple syrup and Meyer lemon rind. Chill. Transfer to ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacture’s directions.

Yield About 5 1/2 cups serving 6-8

Wine Shopping
Start by getting a sense of what style/type of wine you would like to serve based on your menu. (At Home includes two terrific wine charts on Pages 32 and 33 than can help you.) If you are planning for a single wine for your dinner it should be paired with your entrée with some consideration given to what comes before. More interesting than doing one wine with a three course dinner would be to do one wine with your first course and another with your entrée. You will probably spend about the same — for example, two of the same bottles or one each of two different wines — two bottles. Rely on the store personnel to the degree that you can. Some Pennsylvania State Stores are better than others and they have all made great strides since the State Store dark ages. New Jersey is blessed with numbers of excellent wine sources including Canal’s and Moore Brothers. Moore Brothers is especially good for high value uncommon wines. Unless you are dealing with a wine store with extensive variety, it makes no sense going into the store with a specific winery and/or year in mind. The chances the store will have that particular wine are slim. They know their wines best. Give them a per bottle budget, let them know what you are serving, what you think you came in for, and trust them. You really have little choice other than making your own best guess. And they want you to be happy so you will return.

In our case, knowing that our guests are wine enthusiasts, we decided that having several wines is a way to add interest to our dinner. As a result, we planned our wines corresponding to each course. With cocktails we will serve At Home’s Spring Champagne Cocktail — champagne with a little honeydew puree and mint syrup. (Page 43)

Here’s our wine line-up
Spring Vegetable Antipasti — Gruner Leltliner, a medium dry Austrian white wine.
Pappardelle with Wild Mushrooms —  New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc
Striped Bass with wild Italian fennel pollen – Viognier
Cheese – a red from our little “cellar” – actually a rack and two small Cuisinart wine refrigerators, TBD
Dessert – also from our little wine cellar, TBD

We bought two bottles each of the Gruner, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier, but it is unlikely we will need two. A bottle of wine typically yields five glasses, but with all this wine six per bottle seems fine – one slightly small glass for each guest. In fact, as host I have the responsibility to control the amount of wine guests drink. Alcohol is an area where the generous host is not the caring host. I am not concerned that this will be an issue with our guests, but as moderation in portion size is a goal of my dinner, that extends to wine.

Next — Step 5: Organizing Space and an Update on Thursday’s prep work

Reminder about At Home’s Mother’s Day Special
On Monday At Home blog readers received an email from me about At Home’s Mother’s Day Special. The special includes an inscribed book by me to your mother, a Pascal Lemaitre Mother’s Day Card, a recipe card with my mother’s Stuffed Cabbage Recipe, and an At Home book plate for you to inscribe your own message. Check your Monday email. Note: At Home’s Mother’s Day Special is not available from our online store. You have to use the order form that comes with the email. You can also access the At Home Mother’s Day Special and download the order form by going to the blog site. If you read the blog via email or on Facebook, just click on the blog title to get to the blog site.

Thank you for visiting.

Your Home Entertaining Coach


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Company’s Coming Part 3: Organizing Tasks & Time

Note: This is the third in a series. If you missed Part 1: A Conversation with Myself, click here. For Part 2: Party Parameters and Menu Planning, click here.

Having established the party parameters and planned the menu, on Sunday I printed and filled out three At Home Worksheets: Menu Planning, Schedule and Shopping.

Step 3. Organizing Tasks & Time
Organizing Tasks & Time is probably your most important planning effort. The principle here is that you should spread your tasks over time and resources. If, when you have scheduled your tasks it feels like there is no way you can do this and imagine not feeling pressured and get your one relaxed hour before guests arrive, you need to drop back one step and re-think your menu. Remember: Things always take longer than you think! Alternatively, you need to develop more resources! That means more help from friends and family or the decision to make less and buy more. The latter may mean some menu revision.

I feel confident in my menu and plan. I can imagine this being a wonderful dinner and my enjoying it from start to finish. As you review my schedule, it may look like lots to do as the list is long. I never took the position that home entertaining is effortless. But this list is spread over nine days and most of the tasks are easy. And remember, I enjoy doing these things. It’s only when they become too much that what should be a pleasure becomes a chore. We’ll see as the week progresses.

Here is my schedule as I filled out on At Home’s Schedule Worksheet:

The Weekend Before (that meant this past weekend):
Pre-shopping/scouting (completed)
Menu Plan (completed)
Meyer Lemon Sorbet (completed)
Candied Meyer Lemon Peel (nearly completed — the peels are candied and drying fro a few days)
Rhubarb — not entirely sure how I want to make this. So far I have cut rhubarb into small cubes and am macerating the cubes in sugar. This creates a kind of “cure” to the rhubarb — extracting some water.
Completed shopping list
Filled out Schedule worksheet
Ordered Wild Italian fennel pollen online
Ordered chocolates from Michael Recchuiti (forgot to do this and now may need to pay higher freight)

Plan for this week
Thursday looks like the day or evening I will have time for most of this
Arrange for server/helper from Frog Commissary staff (completed)
Figure out a hot hors d’oeuvres to add to menu
Cure salmon
Make components of lentil salad
Make wild mushroom broth
Finish candied lemon peel (Completed)
Make crostini for white anchovy hors d’oeuvres and cheese — I cut these today and they are drying before a brush some with garlic and olive oil, for the hors d’oeuvres and some just olive oil for the cheese.
Make mint syrup for the champagne cocktail
Finish rhubarb
Make cornmeal cookies
Ask Frog Commissary kitchen for small amount of our star-anise scented lotus root chips for cocktails
Some light neighborhood shopping mid-week to deal with my mid-week prep (Wednesday for Thursday prep)
Shop for wine (Christina) (Completed)
Friday – Reading Terminal Market shopping

Rittenhouse Square Farmer’s Market — flowers and cheese
Portion striped bass
Sorrel mayonnaise for Spring Vegetable Antipasti
Cook fava and peel fava beans
Roast beets
Peel asparagus
Prep and cook baby artickokes
Puree honeydew
Pull and label platters/bowls
Set table
Arrange flowers

Sunday Day
Chill champagne and wine
Cook pappardelle
Portion striped bass and coat with fennel pollen
Assemble lentil salad
Slice and platter cured salmon
Grill baby artichokes
Platter/bowl olives and chips
Temper and pre-scoop sorbet and hold back in freezer
Run dishwasher and empty
Wash and put away any dirty pots, pans, etc.
Put away things on counters we won’t need to turn-out dinner

Post menu and task list (prep labels) on cabinets
Review dinner plan with Frog Commissary helper
Make white anchovy crostini
Make hot hors d’oeuvres
Arrange antipasti plates
Sautee wild mushrooms and compose pasta course in bowl
Pan-sear striped bass and arrange with lentil salad on dinner plate
Make cheese plates

Next: Shopping and Progress Report

At Home’s Mother’s Day Special
You should have recieved an email from me Monday about an At Home’s Mother’s Day Gift Special that includes a personally inscribed At Home, a Pascal Lemaitre Mother’s Day Card and At Home bookplate for you to inscribe a permanent Mother’s Day greeting in your gift. I hope you consider giving the gift of At Home. Also, please forward the email to everyone you think might be interested.

Thank you for visiting.



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Company’s Coming Part 2: Party Parameters and Menu Planning

Note: This is the second in a series. If you missed Part I: A Conversation with Myself, click here.

The biggest mistake people make in party planning is not investing enough time in actually planning and too much time doing. (I think that mistake transcends party planning!)

My mantra: More planning. Less Doing. That’s the path to More Parties. Better. Easier.

Step 1: The Consultation
The first step in party planning, whether it is for a group of 300 at The Franklin Institute, or dinner at home for six, is to establish the party parameters. Over the years I have repeated the process of thinking through the party parameters with catering clients many times. (Frog Commissary has catered more than 15,000 events since its first event in 1976.) From this experience I developed for At Home a 7-Step Plan to Entertain. Step 1: The Consultation, is used to establish the party parameters. I have completed The Consultation — a series of questions — for my party and you can view my answers at the end of this blog.

The major points, summarized here, are my Party Parameters:
Dinner for six on Sunday, April 25th at 6 PM.
Format: Cocktails and light hors d’oeuvres followed by sit-down dinner.
Food Preferences: Our guests are world traveled. Preference for fish/seafood, “love fresh ingredients,” salads, vegetables,cheeses.
Avoid raw food, rare meat, coconut. One guest particularly loves chocolate desserts.
Adjectives describing dinner: Friendly, relaxed though with some formality — the result of a planned multi-course meal.

Step 2: Menu Planning
Menu Planning is Step 2 in At Home’s 7-Step Plan to Entertain. It is based on the party parameters you established in Step 1. Then, nearly everything else you do is based upon the menu plan.

My favorite way to menu plan is to roam. So I began this Saturday morning at the Rittenhouse Square Farmers’ Market. I was looking for inspiration and checking out what I could expect to be fresh next Saturday. Actually, the pickings were slim as it’s still pretty early in the growing season. I did see just picked asparagus, kale, spinach and beautiful rhubarb. I bought the rhubarb. There are now three stands that offer local cheese and since my guests like cheese, I plan to get my cheese assortment here. Local cheese from these stands may not be as good as the world-class cheese I could get at DiBruno’s, but they will be more consistent with my fresh and local emphasis. Besides, my guess is that my guests have had many world-class cheeses, but not necessarily from New Jersey and Lancaster. Also, there were early flowers at the Amish flower stand so I’ll get my flowers here next Saturday. Still, not too much culinary inspiration.

Next, I decided to do some weekend grocery shopping at my local Whole Foods so that I might find some additional inspiration. The problem with supermarkets — even one as good as Whole Foods — is that their produce comes from all over. So, their produce is not often local — though they try in summer — and they surely have vegetables that have nothing to do with our spring. Maybe Spring in Central California or Florida or Mexico, but not Lancaster. So, one needs to stay keenly aware of what produce is really a reflection of our time and place in the world. See my blog Coming Late to Spring from last week. I did see baby artichokes and, a Springtime favorite, fava beans. I picked up Meyer Lemons — a Spring-time staple for a Meyer Lemon sorbet. Finally, I visited the fish counter. They had beautiful shad roe, but that’s a strong taste not universally enjoyed.

Between the menu parameters I established with my guests and my roaming around, I felt prepared to create my menu. My plan actually is to go to Reading Terminal Market next Friday where I am likely to have the widest choice of local fresh produce, especially at the Fair Food Stand.

My goals are to accent fresh, local produce; be able to do nearly everything in advance including some things during the week so that I can spend time with guests and not all night in the kitchen; to have an interesting and varied multi-course menu, but keep to portions small and the overall total amount of food in check so at the end of our evening our guests will be pleasantly sated, but not stuffed.

My Menu

As guests arrive
House Drink: At Home’s Spring Champagne Cocktail with Honeydew & Mint

Out and Around
Cured salmon with honey mustard I picked up last weekend at Maple Acres Farm. (Note to self: Stop eating this with pretzels!) Not sure yet what I’ll cure this with. One guest does not like raw food, but cured salmon is not raw. Still, I check this out with her.
Assorted olives (picked up from Whole Foods)
Spanish white anchovies (already picked up from DiBruno’s by Christina) on toast
Maybe something with shrimp or crab?

Dinner is served…
First Course
Spring Vegetable Antipasti (Something like a I had at Corton in NYC recently) It will certainly include fava beans, the baby artichokes, asparagus, probably beets. Not sure yet what else but I’ll figure it out next Friday at Reading Terminal. I can arrange these plates before guests arrive and they’ll be perfectly happy sitting out at room temperature.

Second Course
Pappardelle with wild mushrooms in mushroom broth
Everything can be ready to go and basically just in need of re-heating.

Pan-seared striped bass dusted with wild Italian fennel pollen
Served on a Salad of French lentils du Pay with roasted butternut squash, sun-dried tomatoes and red wine vinaigrette.Maybe work kale into this. The lentil salad will be room temperature (actually I would like it a touch cold to contrast with the hot fish.) I will have to quickly sear the fish. Maybe a bit of microgreens on top of the fish to give it a finishing touch.

Cheese Course
These will all be local — probably from the Rittenhouse Square Farmers’ Market. Some great bread from my local Metropolitan Bakery. I have some nice honey and Membrilla (sweet quince paste) to serve with the cheese. I will probably do individual plates for each guest. Nothing to cook!

So far my plan is Meyer Lemon Sorbet with Rhubarb — plus a cookie — maybe the easy Cornmeal Sugar Cookie that I have mastered from At Home. I’d like to get some chocolate in here, but I want to keep things light. And since I’m not a baker and not about to become one, I am not sure I will accommodate this wish. I could get something from my Frog Commissary bakers. Every aspect of dessert I can do during the week. Maybe some candied lemon rind, leftover from squeezing the Meyer lemons, for the road.

So, I have my basic menu — with a few holes to fill and maybe some slight modifications to make. I will write my menu on an At Home’s Menu Planning Worksheet that I will print from At Home Online.

Christina and I need to talk about wine. Champagne cocktail to start. Certainly mostly white wine. Current thinking is a Gruner Veltliner and maybe a Sauvignon Blanc and a Viognier. (For At Home book owners, see the wine charts toward the end of Part 1) Maybe a red wine with cheese? We have talked about including a dessert wine.

Next: My Schedule/Shopping/Prep Plan

At Home’s Mother’s Day Special
Look for an email from me today about an At Home’s Mother’s Day Gift Special that includes a personally inscribed At Home, a Pascal Lemaitre Mother’s Day Card and At Home bookplate for you to inscribe a permanent Mother’s Day greeting in your gift. The email is being sent to all blog subscribers, but if you do not receive it, drop me an email. Also, please forward the email to everyone you think might be interested in giving the gift of At Home.

Thank you for visiting.

Your Home Entertaining Coach

The Consultation
1. Why are you having this party—is it a holiday, a birthday or a special occasion, for example?
These are the winning bidders from the Philadelphia Theater Company’s Silent Auction
2. About how many guests do you expect?
Four plus Christina and myself – dinner for six
3. What’s the day and date?
Sunday, April 25
4. So what season does that make it?
Early Spring
5. What meal are we planning for?
6. What type of party is it?
Sit-down dinner
7. How much space do you have? In the house? In the kitchen? Outside?
Plenty of space for six.
8. What time will guests arrive?
Early evening – about 6 PM.
9. Generally or specifically, who are the guests?
We do not know them but look forward to getting to know them.  I met one briefly at a recent speaking engagement at Penn. The two guest couples are good friends.
10. How casual or formal is the party?
It should be relaxed, but it is a sit-down dinner so some level of formality.
11. What do you know about your guests’ food preferences? Any dietary or nutritional issues? Gluten-free? Vegetarian? Vegan? Kosher? Other?
My understanding is that I should avoid coconut, raw food and rare meat.  Christina tries to avoid gluten and dairy. One couple has a home in Italy and the other spends time in Napa and Italy. They love fresh ingredients, fish, seafood and chocolate desserts.
12. Where would you place your guests on a food adventurer scale? a) Very safe b) Safe c) Moderately adventurous d) Very adventurous
My sense is they are moderately adventuresome. Favorite restaurants include Le Bec Fin, Parc, Palm, Zahav and Table 31.
13. What kind of time do you have leading up to and the day of the party?
I planned the dinner for Sunday evening so that I would have Saturday and Sunday to spread my tasks. I will have some time this weekend and maybe an evening or two during the week.
14. What kind of help do you have for things like shopping, food prep and getting your home ready?
a) I’m in this alone.
b) I can get some assistance.
c) I have a partner who will help a lot.
d) I plan on hiring some help.
I can get some help. The food part is mostly mine. I plan to get a Frog Commissary server to help on Sunday.
15. What about your budget? Without being specific to the dollar, what kind of budget do you see for your party?
a) Serious budget issues b) Moderate budget c) This will be a pretty lavish event. d) The sky’s the limit.
This is not a major concern. There is not need for this to a lavish dinner – just very nice. Since it is a small number of guests, I am not especially worried about the costs.
16. What adjectives would you use to describe your event? Any themes or motifs?
Relaxed. Very nice – worth the money bid on the dinner.  Friendly. Seasonal. Light. No special themes and motifs other than very Spring-like.

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Company’s Coming Part 1: A Conversation with Myself

Some time ago, my wife Christina was the Managing Director of the Philadelphia Theater Company. In addition, we have numbers of friends who have long been supporters. So, when the Philadelphia Theater Company asked this year for a contribution to their annual Sweetheart’s Brunch Silent Auction, we thought it would be special to donate dinner for two couples with Christina and I…At Home. That was in February.

Well, company’s coming next Sunday and I need to start planning. Over the next week plus I will share how I go about planning this dinner and hosting our guests including a postscript with some photos and after-dinner thoughts about how things worked out. Tomorrow I will share my menu planning. But first…

A Conversation with Myself

The following is a conversation with myself between the me that is The Entertaining Overachiever and the me that is The Good Enough Entertainer.

The Entertaining Overachiever: Oh my God. Dinner next weekend. Our guests are world travelers, eat in sophisticated restaurants…and they bid good money for this dinner. It had better be amazing!
The Good Enough Entertainer: Whoa! Slow down partner.
The Entertaining Overachiever: What do you mean, slow down.?!! I can’t slow down. I’ve got way too much to do to get ready. I have nine days and that means there is not only so much to do but so much I can do.
The Good Enough Entertainer: Relax. You know your pattern. You always try to do too much.
The Entertaining Overachiever: Too much?! I have a reputation to uphold. I’m a chef of forty years, served millions of guests, won awards. I am how I entertain!
The Good Enough Entertainer: First, let me tell you that’s wrong. You are not how you entertain. You’re just fine and the outcome of this dinner will not change that one way or the other.
The Entertaining Overachiever: …but, they have expectations.
The Good Enough Entertainer: I don’t think it’s their expectations that you’re struggling with. I think it’s your expectations.
The Entertaining Overachiever: This is really hard. How can I change how I do this?
The Good Enough Entertainer: It’s not really so hard. In fact, it’s easier! First, you really focus way too much on the food. Home entertaining is about creating a sense of welcome and warmth.
The Entertaining Overachiever: But it’s dinner. I’m not serving welcome and warmth!
The Good Enough Entertainer: Ha, ha. I’m not suggesting you order in pizza. Of course you want this to be nice. You want it to be nice for your guests, but especially because this is something you love to do.
The Entertaining Overachiever: I know I love to do it, but it seems that every time I entertain at home it ends up feeling like work. I feel hassled when I’m doing it. And when it’s over I feel tired and resentful.
The Good Enough Entertainer: That’s because you’re not taking enough time to make a good and realistic plan, spreading your tasks over time and resources.
The Entertaining Overachiever: So, what should I do?
The Good Enough Entertainer: It’s important that you spend enough time planning. Your plan needs to be realistic.
The Entertaining Overachiever: What’s realistic?
The Good Enough Entertainer: Well, realistic means that whatever you do, you can imagine getting it done given the available time and resources, not feeling hassled, tired and resentful and your having fun doing it. When you make your plan, ask yourself if you can imagine that. If you can’t, make another plan! And remember, things always take longer than you think.
The Entertaining Overachiever: Right. I keep forgetting that this should be fun for me.
The Good Enough Entertainer: And always spread your tasks over time and resources.
The Entertaining Overachiever: I get the time thing. But what do you mean by resources?
The Good Enough Entertainer: You do not have to make everything. You can make some things and buy some things. Make a little. Buy a lot. Buy a little. Make a lot. It really doesn’t matter. Remember that welcome and warmth thing. And taking good care of yourself.  You can also hire a helper. And, remember, home entertaining is a team sport and Christina is part of the team. She’s a resource.
The Entertaining Overachiever: But Christina is very busy.  I hate to ask her.
The Good Enough Entertainer: She always helps. She gets the apartment ready, deals with the wine, takes care of the table. And she helps clean up.
The Entertaining Overachiever: I think I’m beginning to understand. Isn’t there something about one relaxed hour?
The Good Enough Entertainer: Yes. Every home entertainer deserves one relaxed hour before guests arrive. But that doesn’t just happen. It happens because you plan for it.
The Entertaining Overachiever: I feel better now. I think I understand the principles and I will try to apply them over the next nine days.
The Good Enough Entertainer: Why don’t you join me for a glass of wine?
The Entertaining Overachiever: Why don’t we have a vertical wine tasting of vintage cabernet blends from Napa bottled between 2005 and 2008 from organic wineries producing less than 500 cases? I’ll go get my tasting notebook.
The Good Enough Entertainer: Have I not taught you anything. Augh!

Tomorrow – Company’s Comping Part 2: The Consultation/Party Parameters and Menu Planning

At Home’s Mother’s Day Special
Look for an email from me on Monday about an At Home’s Mother’s Day Gift Special that includes a personally inscribed At Home, a Pascal Lemaitre Mother’s Day Card and At Home bookplate for you to inscribe a permanent Mother’s Day greeting in your gift.

Thank you for visiting.

Your Home Entertaining Coach


Filed under Entertaining at Home