My husband and I are really social. Like, pathologically social. If you stop by my house after 4:30pm on any given weekday, there is a good chance he will force a glass of wine into your hand and convince you to stay for dinner (even if the wine is from a box, and the dinner is delivered pizza. Don't judge). He's Latin American, and that's just how they roll- socializing is a part time job and weekends are one long party. It took me some time to adapt to this free-wheeling come-on-in mentality, but now I am completely on board. In fact, we have some neighbor friends coming by for dinner tonight, but I'm not stressing. I have figured out a few easy tricks to entertaining that make it easy to welcome friends just about anytime.
Step 1: The Easy App. As in appetizer. People love a good cheese plate. Add a bunch of grapes, a little drizzle of honey and a good quality jam, and you look like a million dollars with very little effort.
Step 2: Cook Ahead. I always have at least a few components completely done before guests arrive. In the winter, I am the braising queen, and in the summer, I am all about grain salads made ahead of time. No surprises, no stress.
Step 3: Cook A La Minute. That is a fancy way of saying cook in front of your guests. (And yes, I realize this is in direct contrast with Step 2) Grilling is casual, interactive and cuts way down on clean-up; putting the finishing touches on a salad is interesting to watch; or even doing something dramatic, like a flambe on bananas foster, is exciting for everyone involved (especially the person with the match!). In my experience, guests always end up in the kitchen, so make it for a reason.
Step 4: Have fun! This is crucial. If you are comfortable and having fun yourself, everyone around you will feel it. Don't be intimidated and don't worry about being judged, these are your people. And it's okay, even if something goes awry and the food is a total fail- as my mother would say, it will either be a good time, or a good story. If you're lucky, it will be both.
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