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Entertain, Sane
Tod DimmickEntertaining with terrific food, prepared in limited time, is not only possible, it’s critical if you are to enjoy your own party.

These tips and web resources will help you shine, while maintaining composure.

by Tod Dimmick - to find out more about Tod <click here>

A gathering of friends presents a unique challenge for those who aspire to good cooking. Magazines, newspapers, and television cooking shows are filled with images of perfect tables, arrayed with carefully prepared, gorgeous gourmet dishes. Many such occasions focus on food, and we have a huge desire to impress our friends and family with our efforts. Of course, it would be nice to be able to enjoy our own party at the same time.

No pressure.

With these realities in mind, consider these seven tips for entertainment cooking sanity:


Be Realistic

We have steadily reduced the sheer number of offerings at our 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.


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. Think of rich, savory stews such as Boeuf en Daube or Coq au Vin. 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). This is likely not the time to spring raw octopus on your guests. If your group loves roast turkey, however, a quick search on epicurious.com turns up eighty-four variations, including such tempting recipes as 'roast turkey with port wine gravy' and 'mustard-rubbed roast turkey with mushroom gravy'.


Keep Cool

Or at least keep room temperature. Serving up a combination of dishes that need to be hot, or cold, for a long period of time means that you will be checking temperature rather than enjoying yourself at your own party. There are a myriad of dishes that are delicious served at room temperature. And you get to socialize. My favorite is a whole cold poached salmon, magnificent, delicious, and unusual


Many hands make light work

Ouch, okay, so it’s a cliché. It’s also true. Guests, friends and family often want to contribute by bringing or making something. 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. For specific recipes, you can keep a 'recipe box' of your favorites on many cooking web sites, including Epicurious and AllRecipes.


Don’t reinvent the wheel

When you need ideas, inspiration, and practical 'how to' guidance, take advantage of the collective experience of others. These web resources go a long way towards enabling a delicious meal with limited time.

Theme Menus

Here’s a terrific site for theme menus. Christmas, Chanukah . . . a menu for Van Gogh? Talk about theme cuisine. Emphasis is on simplicity, taste, and 'scalability' (quantities can be increased for large gatherings). Menus requiring time can able to be made a day or so ahead. (Check out Braised Beef with Anchovies and Oranges, part of the 'Menu for Van Gogh')

The story of a meal

Most of us recognize that the appeal of a terrific meal is not just in the ingredients, but in the environment and history that accompany that proudly prepared dish. In that vein pay a visit to Hub-UK, a site that makes no claim of capturing all recipes for all events, but rather delves deeply into a selection of pleasing dishes, with a dash of history to add flavor. Check out Bobotee, the South African meat dish . . .



Epicurious, a web standard for years, draws on the extensive resources of Bon Appetit and Gourmet for recipes, techniques, product and restaurant reviews, and more. The sophisticated search engine enables mix-and-match creativity; think porcini and veal, or figs and cream. Tap them in and inspiration flows.



AllRecipes offers up a truly massive recipe database that can be sliced and diced by type of cuisine (Indian, Seafood, 'Healthy'), which course, and holiday. Pay close attention to the entertaining reader reviews.


"Coming together at the table is a reminder that you are part of something bigger than yourself" ~ Marion Cunningham
from The Shaker Table, Saveur, April 2001

Freelance author Tod Dimmick writes about food, wine, and family travel. His new book, the Complete Idiot's Guide to 20-minute Meals (Alpha Books) has just been published, and strong demand has already led to a second printing. He also covers wine and food for TastingTimes.com, a food and wine publication (and now website) he founded in 1991. To learn more <click here>

© Tod Dimmick 2002

Meet Tod Dimmick the author of the Complete Idiot's Guide to 20-minute Meals

Since 1984, when Tod and his then girlfriend (now wife) spent the summer in a tiny Fiat driving across Europe, he's delighted in experimenting with the food from different cultures. He also caught the travel bug - bad.

Flash forward to today: after years of practice, Chef Dimmick has learned a lot about how to make people happy with good food. And with a family, Tod discovered that traveling with children actually helps him meet the locals.

He delights in exploring the world, both in a physical and culinary sense; and he's not shy about sharing his enthusiasm. If only the kids would eat that dish with the tentacles coming out of it . . .

Freelance author Tod Dimmick writes about food, wine, and family travel. His new book, the Complete Idiot's Guide to 20-minute Meals (Alpha Books) has just been published, and strong demand has already led to a second printing.He also covers wine and food for TastingTimes.com, a food and wine publication (and now website) he founded in 1991. To learn more, <click here>

Two years ago, he agreed to design and write The Busy Person¹s Guide to Gourmet Cooking on a Budget for WZ.com, the well-known web guide site. In less than a year, subscribership to this email newsletter ("zine" in online lingo) rose from 0 to over 75,000.

He is the author of the Gourmet Cooking on a Budget, made Simple, Healthy, and Fun (WZ.com). His writing and photography has also appeared in publications including Cape Cod Life, Cape Cod Home, Townonline.com, and the MetroWest Daily News.

Tod is also, most days, a dad. He lives with his family West of Boston. He and his wife entertain frequently, and invitations to dinner at his house are coveted throughout the area.

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Many people would like to learn about wine, but are intimidated by both the complexity and the cost, and do not have time to read extensively and take courses to become "fluent" in wine. As a result, they risk either sticking with what they know they like, or avoiding wine altogether, outcomes sad for the people who miss exciting wine opportunities.

TastingTimes.com is devoted to providing "wine intelligence for the budget enthusiast". Wines we review will generally be under $15, and we will always look for ways to provide just enough background information to add to the romance, enjoyment, and learning related to the wine at hand.

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