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The history of entertaining is embedded in the story of civilization. Eons ago, some unsuspecting cook dropped a handful of herbs on the family campfire and encountered a complexity of aromas and flavors never before imagined.
Reacting in a way that, ever since, has been part of our social makeup, she invited the neighbors for dinner—thereby becoming the world's first party planner! Her guests, in turn, were the world's first party animals.
Several thousand years later, as we enter the twenty-first century, Entertaining 1-2-3 addresses contemporary issues associated with the civilizing ritual of "breaking bread together." At my side is a book called The Hostess of Today, written exactly one hundred years ago, just as the last century dissolved into this one. Even then, ostentation was to be avoided and—simplicity was the ruling spirit of the day."
I think about that prehistoric woman, the hostess of 1899, and the harried hosts of today, all seeking the same social and personal gratifications that come from the pleasures of the table.
Entertaining 1-2-3 is written for an age in which leisure has evaporated, friendships are fractured by nonsynchronous lives, and time to shop, let alone cook, seems to shrink year by year. Entertaining 1-2-3 is a book of ideas and menus designed to simplify (three-ingredient recipes for food and drink) and streamline (less time at the supermarket and less "stuff" to prepare)—all meant to increase the pleasure and frequency of entertaining at home.
My first book in this series, Recipes 1-2-3, introduced the concept of fabulous food using onlythree ingredients. I called it—the haiku of cooking. Its sequel, Recipes 1-2-3 Menu Cookbook, focused on melding three-ingredient recipes into artful and cohesive meals. Now Entertaining 1-2-3, while perhaps less doctrinaire, extends this premise: It presents more than three hundred recipes for food and drink, plus more than one hundred entertaining ideas, to be used as the three-ingredient building blocks in developing your own style.
In addition, I've included sixty complete menus perfect for today's host (who is, most often, also the cook) and for guests who value simplicity but reject culinary boredom. Who'd have thought it possible to prepare a generous holiday feast for twelve, a glamorous dinner for six, or a grand buffet for twenty-four and emerge exuberant and unexpectedly stress-free'
My pared-down ingredient lists and professional preparation tricks, do-ahead dishes and last-minute embellishments, all help convert the illusion of effortlessness into reality.
Entertaining 1-2-3 means (1) easy to do, (2) beautiful to look at, (3) delicious to eat. The natural restraint required when dishes are limited to three ingredients produces food that is simple and pure and, in some cases, reaches great heights of sophistication.
This book is primarily about food and drink, recipes and menus. For instructions on setting a table, pitching a tent, catering a party for one hundred, or following party etiquette, you should consult the many excellent books on these subjects. However, if your desire is to become an accomplished host who finds that entertaining is integral to your life and no longer the exception, the 1-2-3 approach can be extraordinarily useful. It's meant to get your creative juices flowing.
My good friend Ann Feld believes that she's a culinary fumble thumbs, but she entertains often and always serves a lovely meal. Usually it's an impeccably fresh salad, a thick porterhouse steak and giant porcini mushrooms, an interesting sorbet and cookies: fairly primal, always delicious. Her husband, Dan, adds gastronomic complexity by serving a variety of single-malt Scotches alongside the steak.
Our friends Judy and John Sheldon have entertained us for twenty years— and never served the same thing twice. Judy also has such an amazing assemblage of china that each guest gets his or her own pattern for the night.
Eleanor Sigona, an accomplished cook and generous host, sets her table like a high-paid set designer, forecasting the theme of the meal to follow— be it Provengal or Tuscan.
We each have a style. Every style has its idiosyncrasies. Know them. Respect them. Flaunt them.
If you're not a great cook, choose recipes or menus that feel familiar and focus on some other aspect of the event (tabletop, flowers, conversation).
If you like to improvise, use the recipes in this book but create your own menus.
If you don't care much for serving or cleaning up, hire a waiter. (But even the king of France in the eighteenth century, after dismissing the servants at the end of a party at Versailles, himself served coffee to his guests.) If you don't want to make dessert, buy it. Or prepare my favorite 1-2'3 finale: quenelle-shaped scoops of refreshing sorbet served on a large chilled plate (sometimes black), topped with raspberries (sometimes gold), and garnished with fresh mint (or lemon balm or lavender). Always buy great bread and, like the king, serve good, strong coffee. Your guests will think you are a genius.
The range of recipes in Entertaining 1-2-3 is vast—from a simple potato-tortilla to a sophisticated chateaubriand in a porcini crust; global—from a consommi of oysters and nori to stir-fried asparagus with Chinese (Shanxi) vinegar; simple to sublime—from a homey marmalade tart to voluptuous slow-baked pears in Sauternes aspic. The flavors and techniques in this book go deeper and are more complex than those in my previous two books and result in a "higher style" of fare. And yes, there are still only three ingredients.
This book includes individual recipes and menus for those occasional morning guests—thematic, casual lunches for friends; more than sixty hot and cold hors d'oeuvres—single bites that fill your mouth with flavor; cocktails, mocktails, and 1-2 punches. Every season has its culinary blessings, so I include twenty sit-down dinners with menus built around main courses and ingredients in their prime.
Naturally, you may find Entertaining 1-2-3 most useful around the holidays, when entertaining competes with so many other demands on your time. I suggest ten holiday celebrations, from New Year's Day to New Year's Eve, comprising four-course dinners serving six to twelve that are doubled easily.
A familiar lament of the calorically challenged is that everything delicious is fattening. Savor the flavor with more than 150 recipes and healthy menus for calorieand fat-slashing guests who demand good food (see Chapter 9).
Highlighted in Chapter 10 are unstructured food ideas and recipes for spontaneous entertaining.
styles of service
The way a meal is served is a fascinating variable in entertaining, for the very same menu can feel formal or casual depending on how dishes are presented.
Consider the time of day, the number of guests, and the spirit of the party when choosing a particular service style. Menus can be plated in the kitchen and placed directly on the table. Known as service à l'assiette, this is the style one expects in most modern restaurants.
Large platters can be carried by waiters, with each guest helping himself or herself with serving utensils. This is known as service ` la frangaise, which becomes service à l'anglaise when the waiter places the food on the guests' plates. More familiar perhaps is family-style, where platters are placed directly on the table and passed from guest to guest. In yet another style, service ` la russe, food is presented by a waiter, who then—fixes the plate on a gueridon, or side table. And of course there are large buffets from which guests help themselves, again and again.
I like to incorporate more than one style into a meal. It provides choreographic interest for the guests and alleviates bottlenecks in the kitchen. When in doubt, serve from the left and clear from the right!
Creating a "look" is an expression of style. When it comes to table decor, my approach, not surprisingly, is simplicity.
Using one or two 3-hole candelabra with tall graceful tapers expresses either formality or romance. Sometimes I find a simple vessel—an old-fashioned painted can, an amphora, or a sleek glass pitcher—and fill it with three types of flowers, all the same color. Occasionally I scatter a variety of small vases or bottles, each with one flower, around the table. I may bed three pots of herbs in a basket, or create a triptych of fruits on a tall silver stand. A pyramid of scarlet strawberries, tiny purple champagne grapes, and stark white Jordan almonds placed strategically in little paper candy cups made a resplendent display for a friend's wedding shower. Not only beautiful, this simple decoration was good enough to eat. (For other edible 1-2-3 centerpieces, see page 32.)
If styles of service can change during a meal, so can the china. Serve dessert or salad on something quite different from the main course, and you'll liven up the occasion with no extra effort (or cost). Go one step further and serve two desserts on two different plates, alternating from guest to guest, and watch everyone start sharing.
My mother-in-law's hodgepodge of antique cups and saucers, used all at once, became a statement. My husband collects increasingly expensive double-helix brass candlesticks, and they all go on the table when company's coming. A friend fills her table with old glass paperweights illuminated by a dozen votive candles. You can achieve a similar impact with those same votives in a large shallow bowl filled with glass marbles, or use your own collectibles as decoration.
Three is a powerful number, as the Japanese acknowledge with their style of flower arranging known as ikebana. This is the art form of cutting and arranging flowers into a new shape based on three main—branches'—just as 1-2-3 is the transformation of three main ingredients into a new form. It has been said of recipes that the most important ingredient is the one you leave out. This is analogous to the "free space" deliberately created in ikebana. In both cases, absence creates a kind of vitality.
There are several good books on ikebana, and once you've mastered the art of 1-2-3 cooking, you may wish to apply these principles to your tabletop.
The world's a big place, and its people are making good wine. In the late 1970s, I was dating a wine distributor whose portfolio included Heitz, Phelps, Chalone, Mayacamas, Clos du Val, Trefethen, Spring Mountain, and Schramsberg, to name a few, and I developed a palate for California wines early on. I was then first chef to New York City mayor Ed Koch and moving in interesting food and wine circles. It was a time of experimentation, certainly, but also of discovery, for some of the wines in my own backyard—the Hudson Valley (Clinton Vineyards), the Finger Lakes (Hermann Wiemer), and Long Island (Lenz, Hargrave)—were then coming of age. Just as I was.
Today, while I'm still a passionate wine drinker and part of the team that re-created Windows on the World and the Rainbow Room, two New York restaurants known for their extraordinary cellars, it is—mission impossible—to stay current with new vintages and varietals that are produced around the globe. So I rely on my party line, three extraordinary experts on the subject of wine: Judy Rundel, Evan Goldstein, and Josh Wesson.
Judy helped with this book's grapenotes and discusses "big bottles" for parties; Evan is my California maven; Josh focuses on global wines, with some wonderful off-beat choices. I'll say more about them in Chapter 4.
the essence of entertaining
Our good friend James Beard once said that to entertain successfully, one must—create with the imagination of a playwright; plan with the skill of a director; and perform with the instincts of an actor. And, as any showman will tell you, there is no greater reward than pleasing your audience.'
To fully grasp the essence of Entertaining 1-2-3, think about a 1-2-3 recipe that you already love.
Whatever it is, put it on a beautiful plate and call a friend, or two. A peanut butter and jelly sandwich? A slab of peasant bread rubbed with garlic and doused with oil? An honest ham sandwich with real Dijon mustard? Toast with butter and Vegemite? A crusty roll smeared with sweet butter and filled with a wafer of bitter chocolate? An oyster crowned with caviar and a teardrop of lemon? A truffle omelette? Everybody loves a party.
If a successful dish begins with quality ingredients, so does a successful party: good food, planned with style, cooked with care.
Entertaining can be a joy or a job—it depends on your outlook. But one thing's for sure: The more you do it, the easier it gets! Even the simplest approach, however, requires organization. A timeline is helpful; a succinct shopping list is essential; some kind of budget (for food, wine, flowers, and the like) is probably necessary.
So that your next party won't be your last, get organized. Molly O'Neill said it skillfully in her book The Pleasure of Your Company—"Overstated planning is the backbone of understated elegance."
one month to two weeks before—Develop the idea/concept.
*Decide on the date and guests.
*Invite guests (send invitations for more formal events; call for informal events).
two to one week before
*Create a menu with wines (within your budget)—Make a shopping list.
*Hire any help.
*Rent anything you might need.
*Choose linens; arrange the tabletop and the centerpiece flowers.
*Prepare mise-en-place (get everything ready) and cook.
*Open the wines; serve the meal.