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Fat Guy

People who just can't get a meal ready on time

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I am a repeat offender. My only saving grace is that most guests are ultimately impressed with the quality, if not sheer quantity, of the food I serve them. For years, my family has insisted that they would prefer I spend time with them, sitting and chatting, rather than endlessly whirling about the kitchen. One sister-in-law often jokes that, "next time", we order pizzas.

Two days ago, my side of the family visited our new home for the first time in the year since we moved here. While I could not bring myself to serve middling pizza from Vito's a couple of miles away, I did scale back and serve homemade pizza. By the time our guests arrived, the pizzas would already be made -- baked and everything, since I didn't want the oven still blasting at 500 degrees while they were here, especially on 85+ degree day. Dessert, an elaborate ice cream cake and some chocolate glazed shortbread cookies, was prepared the previous day. There would be some nosh material. I had already blanched the green beans for one of two salads, and intended to prep the rest of the salad ingredients before they arrived.

That's where things went array. Despite the fact that my family showed up nearly an hour late (they are my family, after all), I still managed to be late with the meal. I had to first participate in the house tour, show my father where he would be sleeping (our bedroom on the first floor), describe each plant in my vegetable garden, then I would set about finishing off the salads while they waited. By that time, more than an hour had passed, and my once-perfect pizzas were starting to over-brown during the reheat. A simple green salad was less than spectacular because I had to rush through the vinaigrette mixing while my sister-in-law watched. (I loathe cooking while talking to anyone other than myself.) What should have been an easy-breezy meal turned into the usual clock-watching stressfest. I simply cannot win.

Thank god for dessert.

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My solution to dinner parties where more than one or two close friends/relatives are invited is to make dishes that can be prepped way ahead. A fancy lasagne, like an artichoke lasagne or a meat lasagne can easily be oven-ready a couple of hours ahead. So can a stew or braise which benefits from sitting in the juices at room temp. Coq au Vin is one of the most appreciated meals that can be cooked way ahead, except for the rice it gets served on, and that's easy to time. Same goes for dessert: pies baked ahead, things that can be chilled in individual servings or things served with fruit sauces, since those can be made ahead. Or something that gets unmolded at the last minute but can made way ahead; usually a crowd pleaser and gets points for visual appeal. Chilled fruit poached in wine with home-made cookies is always a winner.

Even pizza can be prepped mostly ahead: toppings cooked or chopped as necessary, dough made several hours before; it does take some fancy footwork in the kitchen at the last moment to turn out several pizzas for a crowd, but at least you can spend cocktail hour with your friends first; I agree with the poster above though, that if it's really warm indoors and you can't bake the pizzas outdours, best to have another option. I guess the most important thing for me when having people over for dinner is to make something that doesn't frazzle me in any way. If I am cooking something that needs to be done last minute or during cocktails, typically somebody will find me and keep me company while I do it. Although I really don't want help with the actual cooking, it's nice when a guest volunteers to pour water or carry out soup plates. I'm always touched when young people volunteer to help and I try to find something for them to do. My husband has gotten it into his head that his job is to entertain the guests rather than help, and he would continue to chat in the living room even if black smoke was pouring from the kitchen. That's why pizza isn't a bad option in our household, because he is the dough guy and peel expert and HAS to be in the kitchen.

I appreciate the impulse of people with a bad sense of time to entertain or reciprocate your last invite, or who get unbalanced by putting a big meal on the table but still want to do it. They may not realize that this creates an awkward evening for some of the guests. I have many friends who never reciprocate and I am totally fine with that. For some people it's just too hard or they really don't like to cook. I think it's important to reassure those friends that you like doing it yourself and they should just keep on coming over and bring a nice bottle of wine. People who feel it is their duty to return an invitation are the most likely to be a mess over it.

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Huh. I always plan on serving the meal at least a half hour after the guests arrive--usually more like 45 mins or an hour because I have late friends. I put out snacky stuff but I thought people like having a drink and a chat before the meal at a dinner party? I am a late eater by nature, but I specifically invite people to arrive a half hour before the normal person dinner hour. I think I would find it weird if I went to someone's house and they had me sit down at the table before I'd even had a cocktail and said hi to everyone. Maybe I'm being rude? I hope not...

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Auds -- I think what you're describing is not what's frustrating people here... It is true (at least in my opinion) that good hosting usually involves a little chatting / drinking / snacking before the meal itself. But I think what some of us here are complaining about is when someone invites us over for normal person dinner hour, and then upon arrival none of the food is ready -- as in, even the basic components of the meal have not been prepped, etc... And in my particular gripe, no snacks to be had either!

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I'm thinking that if a person cant get a meal ready in a reasonable time, they also dont think of snacks. Plus, who wants their guests to fill up before the meal?

I have a family member who suffers from both sides of the issue - serves meals 2-5 hours late, and shows up for them 1-3 hours late.

This is not because she cant do the math, its because she cannot accurately estimate how long things take, nor stay on task.

So in her head, its 10 min to make fettucini carbonara. She's forgotten she needs to cook the bacon, and that the pasta alone takes 15 min to cook, plus she'll start the pasta, then realize about the bacon, then decide to use a specific pan which is in storage and must be retrieved and washed, and oh that's all going to be so quick when it cooks that she better go now and pick the veg for the salad (takes 3 min right? except for the washing and chopping parts, and the making a vinaigrette and finding a bowl and ....)

She could get this entire meal ready in under 30 min, if she truely could figure out how much time each part takes, but she cant, and she apparently cant learn from that experience either. She consistently expects to frost a cake within minutes of its leaving the oven, for example.

So, we eat before we go over for dinner. Generally we're empty enough to do the final meal justice when it is served. And when she's coming our way, the only snacks are vegetables, so that no one gets too full to eat before she arrives. (We have eaten when the food is ready and just served her when she got there. Depends on the event and the menu).


"You dont know everything in the world! You just know how to read!" -an ah-hah! moment for 6-yr old Miss O.

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.... I have many friends who never reciprocate and I am totally fine with that. For some people it's just too hard or they really don't like to cook. I think it's important to reassure those friends that you like doing it yourself and they should just keep on coming over and bring a nice bottle of wine. People who feel it is their duty to return an invitation are the most likely to be a mess over it.

Amen, sister!

eGullet member #80.

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Huh. I always plan on serving the meal at least a half hour after the guests arrive--usually more like 45 mins or an hour because I have late friends. I put out snacky stuff but I thought people like having a drink and a chat before the meal at a dinner party? I am a late eater by nature, but I specifically invite people to arrive a half hour before the normal person dinner hour. I think I would find it weird if I went to someone's house and they had me sit down at the table before I'd even had a cocktail and said hi to everyone. Maybe I'm being rude? I hope not...

Totally concur--I plan for guests to arrive 45 min to an hour before we sit down to dinner. My friends pretty much expect this when they dine chez moi. But it is important (and nice!) to make sure guests know this. I simply tell them, "We will probably eat around 7:30, so come around 6:30 for apps and drinks." It lets those who don't know me well know what to expect, and it allows those who run late kind of a grace period. If my fabulous cheese sticks are gone by the time they arrive, or if they are too late to score one of my husband's Manhattans, well, how sad for them. It's been a while since my relatives and friends had small kids, but cocktail hour was why the VCR was invented. And I do mean VCR.

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My late sister-in-law was notorious for not being able to get a meal together so that it was all ready at a aproximately the same time.

She cooked one thing at a time and not exactly in the order it should have been done.

It wasn't totally her fault though, her husband bought what he wanted to eat and brought it home to her to prepare. Best divorce that I know of.

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We stayed at a friend's house overnight once. Normally I can wack out a full English breakfast in a little under half an hour (eggs, bacon, sausages, tomatoes, baked beans, fried bread, black pudding, mushrooms, toast and tea/coffee) - we waited two hours for the wife to get breakfast – so long that her husband called it “lunch”. Didn't help as she insisted on providing a running commentary on what she was doing.


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