Madeleine Greey is the author of Get Fresh (Wiley-Interscience, 1999). She teaches cooking classes and is a freelance food writer. Her work has appeared in Toronto Life, Homemakers, Chatelaine, and Zellers Family. We chatted with Madeleine to find out her secrets to successful entertaining.
Q: What are your best recommendations for preparing for a dinner party?
A: First, plan as much as you can. Make tons of lists. These days, it is wise to ask about food allergies and food preferences. It's embarrassing to have a starving vegetarian guest that you are not prepared for! And don't over-extend yourself. Think out dishes very carefully. Choose ones that will allow you to do most of the work before your guests arrive. A menu loaded with stir-fries or other last minute cooking means you will not be a very entertaining host.
Q: How would you suggest getting guests involved in the dinner party process?
A: If it is the right crowd, I will get guests involved in prepping the appetizer. We might roll up cold Vietnamese spring rolls together or cook up a hot vat of deep fried wontons. The trick is to have all the prep ready and let your guests play, rather than really work. Otherwise they may not want to come back again!
Q: What are some tips for entertaining guests with children?
A: If you want the kids and the adults to really have fun, some homework is involved. Find out what your young guests like to eat. I often make pizza when families come over. Then every one can have exactly what they want. We have gourmet toppings like shrimp, prosciutto, shiitake mushrooms and Brie for the adults and the standard mozzarella and bacon for kids. I make up a big, simple salad, serve a lot of robust red wine to the adults and make sure the kids have chocolate milk or individual bottled waters. Two table seatings seem to work. Kids eat early and then go for the toys, adults have some drinks and appetizers then hit the table for the second seating.
Q: What are some common entertaining mistakes? What suggestions do you have to help people overcome these mistakes?
A: Everyone says you should never cook a new recipe when you entertain. I say "go for it!" if you are an experienced cook and have confidence in your cooking. The biggest mistake you can make is doing too much. The best tip is to know how to shop really, really well. All good cooks know that half of good cooking is knowing where to buy the best foods. Make a point of knowing where to buy the most reliable, delicious food and don't try to cook everything from scratch. I don't bake cakes or many sweets, so I almost always buy dessert. I also try to get my husband working on the grill in the summer- perfect place for him to socialize and contribute to the meal!
Q: What is your best tip for successful entertaining?
A: Practice makes perfect.