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Fast and Fabulous: Tips for Entertaining

Entertaining with terrific food, prepared in limited time, is not only possible, it's critical if you are to enjoy your own gathering. These tips and web resources will help you shine, while at the same time maintain composure.

  • Be realistic. We have steadily reduced the number of offerings at our own party table. With two or three main dishes, rather than six or seven, we now focus on preparation and quality while at the same time keeping blood pressure in check. Guest compliments have only increased.
  • Pay close attention to ingredients and cooking methods. The same wisdom we've applied throughout this book, choosing quick-cooking ingredients and quick-cooking methods, applies more than ever when planning a party menu. When considering ingredients, also consider choosing not only quick-cooking items, but also foods that are ever-so-slightly out of the ordinary to add interest.
  • Prepare in advance. Many irresistible menu items lend themselves to advance preparation, such as casseroles and pasta dishes, and many actually improve with time to allow the flavors to meld. Others are delicious in their simplicity, from casual chili to elegant salmon. Imagine how impressed your guests will be; they arrive, you chat for an hour, and then suddenly you produce a succulent masterpiece… that you've prepared beforehand.
  • Familiar themes, unusual twists. People bring expectations. These expectations can be respected, and delighted, by variations on a theme. Keep in mind that you should appeal to most (if not all) of your guests, so this may not be the time to unveil raw octopus. If your group loves salmon, however, a quick search on Epicurious.com turns up a whopping 284 possibilities.
  • Keep cool. Or at least keep room temperature. Serving up a combination of dishes that need to be hot for a long period of time means that you will be checking temperature rather than enjoying yourself at your own party.
  • Many hands make light work. Ouch, so it's cliché. It's also true. Guests, friends, and family often want to contribute by bringing or making something, or helping in the kitchen. Let them.
  • Learn from history. If you hold an event each year, record what was a hit, what wasn't, and how much to make. The hits become your “traditions.” Discard what didn't work, and replace it with something new. File the list away in real files or on your computer.
  • Don't reinvent the wheel. When you need ideas, inspiration, and practical “how-to” guidance take advantage of the timesaving tips, recipes, and collective experience of friends, family, and the web.
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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to 20-Minute Meals © 2003 by CWL Publishing Enterprises, Inc., John Woods, President. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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