My Entertaining Secrets to Success

By Janey Womeldorf

My Entertaining Secrets to Success

Why is it that when you have guests over for dinner, and they only eat half their food, one thought consumes you after they leave: What was wrong with the other half?

Of course, what we should really do is view the glass as half-full not half-empty; at least they enjoyed the chicken even if they didn’t try a single mouthful of the lemon-scented green beans and rice pilaf you slaved so lovingly over. Instead, what we actually do is dwell, analyze, and fester, and as hard as we try to shake the feelings of failure that bombard us as we scrape perfectly-cooked beans and untouched pilaf into the trash, our egos are injured. The truth is, I watch their faces for clues as soon as that first mouthful goes in.

I relish the guest who gives me any kind of feedback, even if it is a lie. The worst are those who cut and chew away, offering zero verbal or physical insight as to their satisfaction. As hard as you try to resist asking how their meal is, their silence is agonizing, and you can’t stand yourself. Before you know it, “How is everything?” has popped out of your mouth, somewhere between a bite of the thank-goodness-it’s-still-juicy chicken and a forkful of the is-it-too-dry pilaf. The irony is, when they answer, “Fine, thank you,” it leaves your curiosity hanging in the wind, forcing you to clean up every morsel on your plate as if to prove a point. No sooner has the front door shut behind your uncommunicative guests, than the game of twenty questions begins as you grill your husband for his take on whether they had a good time or not.

Aaah, the joys of entertaining – a bizarre mix of stress and fun; consequently, I have learned it never hurts to have a few secrets up your oven mitt. As the holidays are a time for sharing, here are some of mine:

1. Write a menu – and use fancy descriptions.

If it’s just a couple, put their names and date on the top, and give the evening a theme or a name. It might be as simple as “The Friendship Celebration Dinner.” As for the menu, use words like encrusted, infused, and nestled.

2. Get a few different bottles of wine.

Pair each with a different course and print your “wine list.” Or turn your menu/evening into a food-wine pairing theme – it’ll make the evening seem indulgent (and expensive) even if it isn’t.

3. Create table “curb appeal.” It will make them eager to “come in” so to speak.

4. Get creative with napkin ring holders.

I once printed off a selection of friendship quotes from my computer, cut each into strips, and wrapped them around the napkin. I bought a book of adhesive letters from the dollar store and used the corresponding initial of each guest to seal the paper ring, and act as a seat-placement guide. Move over Martha!

5. Wow them with appetizers.

Invest time in a few elegant hors d’oeuvres that will sneakily, but cleverly, raise their perception of your cooking abilities. One of my “go-tos” is sweet caramelized onions, served on rye cocktail bread, warmed in the oven and then topped with a pungent blue cheese just before serving. Not only can I cook the onions the day before (which you will want to so your house doesn’t stink) but it fulfils my two key rules of entertaining. One, choose dishes you can prepare ahead of time so you can actually “visit” with your guests instead of slaving in the kitchen. Rule number two? Never underestimate the power of cheese.

6. Copy professional chefs – go all out on presentation.

Buy one of those squirty, plastic condiment bottles. Lightly thin sour cream with milk, and if you are serving soup, squirt a fancy Z on top and sprinkle a few fresh herbs before serving. Practice first just in case. Use the bottle also to make up some powdered-sugar icing; create a lattice effect on dessert plates, let harden, and top with cake. Dust the whole thing with cocoa powder before serving, and watch their faces light up in mouth-watering anticipation.

7. Elevate the flavor with half the work – add fresh to store bought.

If you are making Caesar salad, start with store-bought dressing but mix in some minced garlic, freshly-grated parmesan and a squirt of lemon and pepper before tossing. Who said it was cheating?

8. Re-think preserves.

Warming preserves in the microwave for a few seconds is a quick and easy way to jazz something up. Whether it’s peach drizzled on brie, or raspberry on brownies (further elevated by a little chopped fresh fruit added after warming), it can elevate something simple into something elegant.

9. Make the evening appear seamless – prep everything.

My last dinner party featured an after-dinner cheese platter. I sectioned, sliced, and portioned out my trio of cheeses and refrigerated them alongside four small bunches of grapes all ready to go. The tray with all the necessary plates, knives and cheese-description notes sat on my washing machine, out of sight but in easy reach. Within seconds, it magically appeared on the table for a grand finale finish.

10. If they ask if something is home-made – lie.

It may have originated in a box or packet, but one, you “made” it and two, you were at home, so smile and boast “yes.”

When it comes to entertaining, the truth is, you could be the best cook in the world but there is still no guarantee your guests will enjoy your food. So prep ahead, wow them where you can, embrace their companionship, and relax and enjoy the evening. Fingers crossed they’ll gobble down every delicious mouthful but if they don’t, remember to embrace the glass half-full versus the glass half-empty mindset. You might want to follow my last secret though:

Fill that glass with wine – just in case.

About this writer

  • Janey Womeldorf Janey Womeldorf once went to work wearing different shoes. She now freelance writes and scribbles away in Orlando, Florida. It’s probably best.

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One Response to “My Entertaining Secrets to Success”

  1. Janey says:

    If serving appetizers, buy pumpernickel cocktail bread to top with caramelized onions and blue cheese (I prefer Stilton) then you have it on hand for an easy elegant smoked salmon appetizer also. Spread with a little mayo, squeeze of lemon, slice of smoked salmon. I think it adds a twist and elevates the flavor to a new level. Happy cooking and Happy Thanksgiving everybody. Janey W

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