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Greatest Host/Hostessing Challenges


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This is really quite a little war story in the grand scheme of today's eating habits, but I one had a whole pile of people coming over and one of them - a friend I hadn't seen in ages - had forgotten to let me know that she'd been on an elimination diet to discover the triggers for her migrane headaches. Slightly more than 24 hours before kick-off, she rang me up to let me know that as well as being vegetarian (which I'd taken into account), she'd also discovered that she couldn't consume any wheat, wine, chocolate, lemon and cheese of any kind.

The menu I'd planned was Italian. It featured homemade pasta, a cheese course, a lemon-ricotta tart, and wines carefully matched to each course.

I ended up grilling a whole slew of veg to replace her starter (baby artichokes, courgettes, peppers, aubergines, etc) and pitching out my dessert idea altogether and replacing it with  individual passionfruit mousses. It all ended reasonably well, but the heart attack I experienced as I mentally compared her 'forbidden' list to my lovingly compiled menu still gives me nightmares.  ;-)

Miss J

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Mine are mostly related to home accoutrements going awry. Once my kitchen sink got stopped up somehow in the last hour before a dinner party. My partner and our housemate ended up in the tenant's apartment underneath our kitchen, bailing out her sink so it wouldn't overflow. I was so panicked that Ihave no memory of how I got dishes done that night.

Not too long ago, we had just two people over for dinner when our sun room began leaking. My partner went upstairs to deal with the problem, leaving me standing there apologizing to our guests for about a half hour until he came up with a temporary fix. Then he came downstairs in his bathrobe with a wet head and joined us for dinner. It wasn't terrible, but it was pretty bizarre. Fortunately I wasn't serving a souffle or anything that night.

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I had a power blackout in the neighborhood about half an hour after I had started a hare braising in red wine and veg.  The electricity came back just in time for the hare to be adequately done when the guests turned up, but the elaborate plans for reducing the cooking juices, adding some chocolate etc went out of the window.  The hare just got slapped on the plates with some relief (and no garnish).  One of the guests commented on the rustic presentation.

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That would have been when my girlfriend decided what we were cooking for 12 people for christmas dinner last year.... She decided that it would be fun to have a degustation, with small quantities of each course for everyone...

1: Sweetcorn and basil soup

2: Starters mezze plate with:

Duck Terrine, bbq duck rice paper rolls, verjuice prawns, mushroom pie, rice noodle pancakes, stuffed  cabbage and Kumera and Ricotta tart.

3: Chicken Ballotine with Potato puree, wild mushrooms and mushroom and port sauce.

4: Pork Cutlet with sage and corn fritter and bacon and onion roesti.

4: Veal roulade

Palette cleanser: Sauternes Jelly with Granny smith sorbet.

6:  Frangelico Bavarois

7: Chocolate Semifreddo, Raspberry Semifredo.

It all turned out well. Wine matching with the Mezze plate was a bastard though, and some of my 1988 lesnik port went into the sauce. That hurt most until I tasted the sauce. Next year we will probably try something a bit simpler.

'You can't be a real country unless you have a beer and an airline - it helps if you have some kind of a football team, or some nuclear weapons, but at the very least you need a beer.'

- Frank Zappa

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That would have been when my girlfriend decided what we were cooking for 12 people for christmas dinner last year.... She decided that it would be fun to have a degustation, with small quantities of each course for everyone...

Wow. I am suitably impressed. Just to frighten/entertain myself, I've just been sitting here trying to imagine what trying to prepare a menu like that would do to my tiny kitchen.

*Shudder*

Put me out of my misery, Niall - how big is your kitchen? What kind of storage do you have? I have this terrible feeling that you're going to turn out to be like my Japanese hostmother (back in 1989), who prepared incredible meals in a galley kitchen barely three feet long.   :wow:

Miss J

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My biggest hosting disasters relate to equipment failure. One time when we had guests on a Saturday evening I returned from work Friday to find that the gas company had been round in response to someone smelling gas from our pipes and cut the gas off pending repair. As we had a dual-fuel cooker (gas rings, electric oven) this wasn't a complete disaster, but creating a dinner menu that could be entirely cooked in the oven was fun.

Ironically the next story is entirely the other way round. My parents visited us last summer, and I was cooking your classic English sunday lunch; roast beef, Yorkshire pudding et al. I noticed after a while that the joint wasn't showing any significant signs of cooking. After further investigation it was clear that the oven had packed up and wasn't getting any hotter than about 60 degC (the engineer called in later told us that the heating element had probably been corroded by the direct application of oven cleaner - now there's a cautionary tale!). I'm afraid that I was a broken man; fortunately my mother is made of stronger stuff and took over, cutting the rib of beef into steaks and pan-frying them, and sauteeing the potatoes (even she couldn't salvage the Yorkshire puds). Copious application of red wine deadened the pain.

And finally, also involving my parents, we have the Great Birthday Dinner Disaster (actually a lunch, but it doesn't quite have the same consonance). Mum and Dad, my sister and her SO were visiting for my birthday a couple of years ago. The squeamish should probably stop here.

Unfortunately, the day they arrived, our drains decided to block up. Foul effluent was backed up behind the blockage, rendering the back garden well and truly out of bounds. An early-morning call to Pronto-Rod saw them promising to be with us within the hour; at half-past one, just before I put the roast goose on the table, the rodder showed up. "I can't clear this with rods; it'll have to be the high-pressure water jet," says he. So, as we sit down to our goose, Mr Pronto-Rod is blasting away at the blockage. Thank God, the dining room doesn't look over the back garden.

After this, the issues of finicky eaters seem less problematic every day. Though I didn't particular enjoy the dinner party where a combination of dislikes prevented me from serving pork, lamb, fish, beef and anything that wasn't 'good plain food'.

Adam

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Put me out of my misery, Niall - how big is your kitchen? What kind of storage do you have? I have this terrible feeling that you're going to turn out to be like my Japanese hostmother (back in 1989), who prepared incredible meals in a galley kitchen barely three feet long.   :wow:

We are currently renting what at first seemed like a reasonably sized kitchen; about 2.5 metres by 4 metres. Then we realised that the planning in the kitchen is terrible, with 2 metres of useable workspace, which only just does on those occasions. The worst thing about our kitchen is the 3, and only 3, power points. One for the dishwasher. We don't even use our electric kettle anymore. Our juicer is always plugged into one, and the other one gets to swap everything else around.

Cooking that meal was hell until we got to eating it. Then we started drinking. I think we averaged well over a bottle of wine each. It was worth it in the end. Usually when I plan a big meal it involves getting our butcher to get us a large hunk of good pork for the weber.

'You can't be a real country unless you have a beer and an airline - it helps if you have some kind of a football team, or some nuclear weapons, but at the very least you need a beer.'

- Frank Zappa

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Usually when I plan a big meal it involves getting our butcher to get us a large hunk of good pork for the weber.

Dammit, I'm jealous again. We don't have a Weber, mainly because my SO is very British and therefore not only thinks that a grill is a barbeque but also thinks that inviting people over for barbeque means offering them an endless parade of sausages, burgers, chicken legs and satay from Marks & Spencer. I pine for a barbeque big enough to...well, barbeque.  :smile:

Actually, that raises a question in my mind that's so off topic I think I'll rush off and post it elsewhere.

Miss J

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Elsewhere I was posting about cooking for Hillel at the University of Delaware, and it reminded me of one of our biggest kitchen disasters. A couple of the other board members had planned this elaborate Etheopean meal for Shabbas dinner (Friday night) as part of a whole program related to Etheopian Jewry. They prepared almost everything on the Thursday before during the day. I came in Thursday night and prepped some of the side dishes (and tasted some of the delicious chicken curry the other people had made).

Meanwhile, the news reports on Thursday evening were talking about a local restaurant which was being shut down because of a hepatitis (I think that's what it was) outbreak had been linked to one of their workers. You guessed it! One of the board members who had cooked the chicken curry had been to that restaurant just a couple days before.

The chicken curry had to be thrown out and I was called on Friday morning by the director asking if I could remake the dish (since I hadn't been to the restaurant or participated in making it). Of course, I had to admit to having tasting it, so I couldn't remake the dish, and the side dishes I made were now considered contaminated. Oy! We were probably being over cautious, but a third string of students were called in to remake the entire dinner and the three of us had to go get gamma globulen shots in our butts!

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  • 2 months later...

We lived in a lovely victorian house with high ceilings and an open plan kitchen. The table was opposite the cooker with several friends sitting around it chatting happily. The dessert was going to be bananas in brandy with cream. I usually only cooked bananas in butter and sugar. I heated the brandy and whoosh - I don't know where the flames came from!  It silenced the table chatter. As I shook the pan frantically I remember looking up to the ceiling and thinking just act normally - thank god for high ceilings! I returned to the table not realising my eyebrows were missing!!!!

Another "foo pah" was when I was only 17. A very naieve 17 year old. I had purchased very recently from a jumble sale a lovely white porcelain, unusually shaped pan with a very long handle with what I thought was a hole through it to let the steam out... I remember the gasps to this day as I put it on the table. Was my food really that good?

It was a long time after when I was reminded about the time when I put a bed pan on the table....... Talk about cringe!

:sad:

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penelope, two great stories in one post.  :biggrin:

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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Penelope - I had seen this program where they were talking about a museum exhibition in which they included all sorts of beautiful procelain bed pans. The hostess commented on one of the pieces and said it looked like a soup tureen. The guest said that she did know of some people who used antique bed pans as serving vessels....so you are not alone.....and some people do it deliberately!!

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The guest said that she did know of some people who used antique bed pans as serving vessels....so you are not alone.....and some people do it deliberately!!

Degustation -- When you have a chance, please respond to whether you would accept food that once had been in a antique bed pan, even assuming that the pan had been thoroughly washed, etc.!  I would not knowingly take food from such a container.   :wink:

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Really, cabrales? Why? I would find it in bad taste but no worse than a test tube. :wink:

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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This is "a friends hostess story. We had been invited to a friend for 8pm dinner. We arrived at 7.45, chatted with the host and hostess and the other invited couple for a while. At about 8.15 I noticed the hostess getting agitated and looking continually at her watch. "Maxine and Allan are coming too", she said.She went out of the room to phone them, but they didn't answer the phone. By 8.30 she was getting frantic. "I don't know where they are" she announced, and  "but the dinner's spoiling so we'd better sit down without them".

We'd just finished the first course when the doorbell rang, and in came Maxine and Allan. The hostess rushed out to get their food as they sat down, full of apologies. Maxine sat next to me and whispered out of the corner of her mouth "We thought it was just coffee and we've come straight from the Indian restaurant".

I watched them in admiration as they ate their way thru a huge 5 course dinner. To this day the hostess (still a close friend) doesn't know the truth.

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Really, cabrales? Why? I would find it in bad taste but no worse than a test tube. :wink:

Jinmyo -- The difference is what one knows a bed pan once housed, at some point in time. A test tube that once held chemicals might be bad, depending on the chemicals, but I would hope Veyrat's test tubes had not beem recycled from prior non-culinary uses.  :wink:

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Cabrales - I must say that with my very overactive imagination, the images that would fill my head as the food was being served from such a container would certainly spoil the dinner for me. So no thank you.  

This reminds me of the Kraft dinner commercials where desperate hungry people prepared the noodles in a fish bowl and the dog's bowl, since those were the only containers available at the moment. But then again, it is Kraft dinner and maybe the serving vessels were appropriate in this case?  :wink:

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Apres bed pans, le deluge?

At my Quaker summer camp, we all contributed to meals and chores. Some cleaned the kitchen, some cleaned the outhouses. One hot August Saturday, we ate spagetti with meatballs, then ran around as usual, and went to bed in our tents. One by one, camper to counselors, we all got very ill with food poisoning. After spending the night heaving into the creek, the entire camp packed into a school bus and rocked our way to the local hospital. If anyone has a copy of the Medford Journal from August 1976, why yes, that is my 11-year-old backside on the receiving end of a penicillen injection. Camp went vegetarian the next year.

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My story can't compete with the above, but it was still a hoot --

It was a New Years Eve dinner and skating party at a farm I shared in the Catskills. We had planned a suitably elaborate dinner for maybe 12 people, then, skating by candlelight lunaria and full moon on a lovely pond, with hot chocolate and individual folded pies near a bonfire.

Dispite excellent weather the night before, the evening was bitter cold, windy and cloudy. Just as we were getting into full swing with dinner prep -- we ran out of propane -- no stove or oven. It being a bitter cold new year's eve, we figured we had a snowball's chance to get help, but we called the propane company anyway.

Meanwhile, in the kitchen, Plan B. We made popcorn with the electric popper, and fired up the Weber on a protected porch. Amazingly, we were able to adapt dinner and finish almost everything, albeit 2 hours late, on the Weber, including the 1/2 baked pies (no burned bottoms either!) Just as we were finishing, the heroic propane guy appeared, and we thankfully gave him and his pal their own warm apple pies (and a tip, natch).

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Can you believe those propane guys? A big hug for them. Before I met the charming Mr Hugget, I was wild about a man who was a vegetarian, and planned a big seduction dinner to get him into my clutches. To begin, we had an appetiser of red peppers stuffed with cherry tomatoes, herbs and garlic. He loved it, until he bit into something hard and crunchy, which he had to spit out. And there it was, gummy side up, on the table between us; the scarlet false nail - forgive me, it was the 80's - that had slipped unnoticed off my index finger. And that was The End of that big romance.

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We normally get one power cut a year at my place which is SOOO much fun. :biggrin:

Last time it happened, fully booked bistro..power cuts out at 7.10pm.First guests are seated and choosing...we get out the candles. Front of house is not too bad, just a bit dark, kitchen is hell !!!.I'm reduced to 6 burners and an oven (gas), and  you only really miss electricity when the extraction doesn,t work, your heating everything on one stove, You run out of hot water, You cant make coffee unless you use a sauce pan and the stove is a bit busy, the fridges are getting warm, you burn yourself repeatedly on hot candle wax,and  and and etc etc etc.

Customers seem to perversely enjoy it, "Spirit of the Blitz " and all that, but we normally surrender after about 12 / 15 guests.

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My daughter’s wedding.  Site:  our country house.  Time of year:  August.  Number of guests: 200.  Tents cover twenty dining tables, each with ten seats, three serving stations, bars and dance floor.  Separate tent for grilling station. Ceremony to be held on hillside, facing lake, under the sky.  

Night beforehand, severe weather alert.  Thunderstorms, dangerous lightning, High winds. No tents are blown away! Weather continues through morning and, miracle of miracles, clears by 11 am.  Sun comes out, day turns perfect. Grill chef and crew of three don’t show at predetermined time. Disc jockey and crew don’t show at predetermined time. Twenty beef tenderloins with pepper crust, eight butterfly legs of lamb and three twenty-pound fresh salmon await grilling.  

Contingency planning goes into high gear. Three grill assistants recruited from guests, I plan to take senior grill position. Three musicians recruited from guests to play wedding march. SUV with six-speaker stereo recruited to play CD with baroque trumpet music processional.  

Grill chef and crew show during ceremony (got lost).  Disc jockey and crew show during dinner (got lost).  No one the wiser but my wife and me.  My panic subsides and a good time was had by all.  A wonderful event, seamless service, delicious food, dancing ‘till the wee hours.  When I think of what could have been, I start sweating all over again.

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  • 4 years later...

Once when Henry Kissinger came to lunch, lunch had been plated and served for all of the twenty-seven people there. As he was the guest of honor, nobody wanted to pick up their fork first to eat. He kept rumbling on to the guy next to him in that marvellous deep voice of his, not too worried about eating apparently.

The rest of the people were vaguely fidgeting and looking nervous and vaguely skinny even if they were fat. Finally he picked up his fork and so did everyone else, quickly. Problem was, now the food was approaching being cold.

First the most critical guest summoned a waiter and asked for a fresh hot plate of food. Then, of course, not to be outdone, others followed suit. Some even asked for different items than they'd had before.

Servers running hither and fro, round the table, in and out of the kitchen, fresh plates popping here and there while the people at the table still stared in admiration at Kissinger and grated their teeth at the servers.

Silly.

Edited by Carrot Top (log)
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The talk about antique bed pans (one might also relate to antique spitoons) amuses me. I presume that those so afraid of this possibility have never eaten kidneys, liver or, for that matter, eggs????

Nor, of course, would they think of cooking anything over dried cow, buffalo or camel dung.....among the most popular cooking materials even today in some parts of the world....

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