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Lucy Waverman's secrets for success in the kitchen

Lucy Waverman's secrets for success in the kitchen Author: Style At Home

Party Planner

Lucy Waverman's secrets for success in the kitchen

Cookbook author and Globe and Mail food columnist Lucy Waverman knows how to serve up memorable meals with ease. In her book, Lucy's Kitchen: Signature Recipes and Culinary Secrets (Random House Canada, November 2006), she focuses on culinary basics. We talked to her about the book and her recipe for entertaining success: a mix of from-scratch dishes and store-bought staples.

S@H: Tell us about your book.
LW:
I was getting a lot of e-mails from readers who wanted to know about cooking basics, like how to fold egg whites, and they also wanted ingredient information. There's a whole generation of people out there who don't know how to cook and find it intimidating to learn. I wanted to write a book to teach people that cooking can become second nature. So this one is packed with culinary tips and techniques, ingredient descriptions and substitutions -- a reference for beginners as well as the most food-savvy cook.

S@H: What's your food philosophy?
LW:
I love to cook simply, using fresh, seasonal ingredients. Even if I don't have time for an elaborate meal, I try to add a twist to the dish. Things like topping a fresh Caesar salad with deep-fried calamari or making a chicken meat loaf by stuffing the pan with alternate layers of chicken and bread -- when you slice into it, the loaf looks like a big chicken sandwich. I want to encourage people to experiment and taste everyday food in a new way.

S@H: What's your secret to staying stress-free in the kitchen?
LW:
I tell people not to feel they must cook everything from scratch. I'm a fan of cocktail parties that aren't elaborate and a big believer in creating food stations so everything is out and people can help themselves (I never pass anything around because then I'd need staff to serve). I also like dinner parties that are casual, and interactive eating, whereby guests can be involved in the preparation.

Pre-dinner nibblies
Appetizers and finger foods are a mainstay of holiday entertaining, but the challenge is to come up with new ideas. Lucy Waverman's approach is to stick with what she knows but add a twist. We asked her for a few appetizer updates.

Banish boring basics
Forget pumpernickel as a base for smoked salmon. Serve the holiday standard on a potato rösti, a minipancake or a cucumber slice. Cream cheese doesn't need a cracker when mixed with garlic and chopped chives and piped into a hollowed-out cherry tomato. And hummus can go beyond the basic bowl and flat bread; try it spooned into Belgian endive spears or on store-bought sesame crisps instead.

Cheese, please
For drop-in guests, stock up on the favourite seasonal snack -- cheese. Besides selecting some you haven't tried before, add a few new accompaniments to the platter: truffle honey, a good-quality balsamic vinegar like Minus 8 Wine Vinegar (a Niagara-region product made from icewine) and fig jam make for trendy toppers. Instead of grapes and water crackers, include dried apples, homemade croûtes and spiced nuts.

Seasonal style
Frozen nibblies are a lifesaver but need not be the same time after time. Style them straight from the oven with a few garnishes. Miniquiches go from bland to grand with chopped arugula and a drizzle of olive oil. And spring rolls are high-end when partnered with a soy dipping sauce spiked with chilies and chopped scallions.

Fridge & pantry partners
Have these basics on hand and you can whip up a last-minute party platter in no time: roasted red peppers, anchovies, bread sticks, pesto, olive oil, prosciutto, olives and tapenade.

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Lucy Waverman's secrets for success in the kitchen