COMFORTABLE ENTERTAINING by Nathalie Dupree is one of those cookbooks everyone should have on their bookshelves. With holidays quickly approaching, you may find yourself contemplating company meals and parties.
I think the one thing I have heard most often over the years is the fear many people have when it comes to entertaining.
I have enjoyed giving dinner parties for many years. As a matter of fact, in the early 1980s a group of us – four couples – formed a dinner party club which we kept going strong for about twenty years. We took turns entertaining once a month – the hostess provided the dining room, entrée and wine—then assigned accompanying dishes, such as a salad, vegetable or dessert – to the other three women.
The dinner party club would probably still be going strong but – one couple moved to the East Coast, another couple retired to the mountains. One of the husbands passed away and I went through a divorce and a few years ago, moved to the desert. But those dinner parties were great fun while they lasted.
And before moving to the Antelope Valley, I generally hosted three or four other parties a year—but I digress. The point I really wanted to make is that I used to agonize for days over what to serve and getting things prepared.
Nathalie’s Golden Rules for Comfortable Entertaining, (Page 4, Introduction), seemed to have been written just for me. Think about who is coming and why before you think about the menu, Nathalie advises. Rule #2, serve what you know! Making something you’ve never prepared before isn’t the best idea when planning a dinner party. Over the years, I’ve kept that kernel of wisdom in the back of my mind—and often fall back on two favorite recipes -
Beef Burgundy and Pepper Steak. Both dishes can be made in about an hour, and go well with either rice or noodles. A salad and dessert and you’ve got it made.
Other rules include Plan ahead, start ahead, work ahead…make yourself and your guests comfortable.
Nathalie tells a hilarious “cautionary tale’ about Rules #2 and #3 as she related the story of once deciding, along with her roommates, to make a roast pig for Thanksgiving dinner4. The pig ended up being roasted in a too-small fireplace and although, says the author, “…the pig was succulent and meltingly delicious” for those who cared enough to stay, it took hours and hours to cook.
“Entertaining is a mindset” the author instructs, “An attitude as well as a practice…not quite an art form but more than a craft. Like most artistic endeavors, it is a marriage of personal expression and technique learned through observation and experience. An exellen5t host may well be self-taught, with the desire to entertain in a way that is graceful and comfortable…” She goes on to explain that this book talks about her mistakes as well as her successes, what she has learned not to do as well as what she hopes you will learn to do.
COMFORTABLE ENTERTAINING comes equipped with loads of party menus and the go-with recipes—and lovely illustrations! There are sit-down meals, “fork meals” “finger meals” (a seafood party, tortilla party, buffet for 12 to 50 in four hours or less! – and two hors d’oeuvres parties.
(For many years, we had an annual Christmas open house party and it took a lot of years of hit and miss dishes before I discovered that you can’t go wrong with wide variety of different hors d’oeuvres. I began collecting hors d’oeuvre recipes—and whenever anyone asked “what can I bring?” I would reply “Your favorite hors d’oeuvre or a bottle of wine – your choice!”)
One of the features I especially like about COMFORTABLE ENTERTAINING are the highlighted chatty-style true life experiences as told by the author, such as the roast pig tale. Also highlighted are lots of shopping and cooking tips..and another useful feature, many of the recipes contain a highlighted variation. COMFORTABLE ENTERAINING provides detailed instructions for preparing for your party—right down to cooking times, and which dishes can be prepared in part, if not completely, well in advance.
There are so many yummy sounding recipes; you may want to try them all; be sure to check out Cornish Hens with Lime Spice Marinade, the Spinach and Mushroom Strata, and for those of us who can’t get enough of anything made with spinach, there’s also Whole Baked Fish with Spinach and Tomatoes. Also check out the Apricot and Almond Tartlets, and Whole Wheat Bread Pudding with Dried Cranberries.
Although COMFORTABLE ENTERTAINING is beautiful enough to lay out on your coffee table, trust me – this is a to-be-used-cookbook that you will find immensely helpful.
It is wonderfully illustrated with photographs by Tom Eckerle.
This is a book I first reviewed in 1999 for the Cookbook Collectors Exchange. It has aged well.
I found it listed on Amazon.com starting at one cent for pre-owned, collectible for $3.83 or new for $12.98. I found it on Alibris.com starting at 99c. Please remember that pre-owned books from private vendors, through Amazon or Alibris, come with a $3.99 charge for postage and handling. I have bought many cookbooks over the past decade from the private vendors – service is FAST and I have never been disappointed.
Review by Sandra Lee Smith