Saturday, March 31, 2012

It Smells Like Family

I was recently listening to a radio interview with a woman who had written a cookbook. She told a story about one time when her son, who was home from college on winter break, was on his way to work one morning and called to her, “Hey Mom, is it okay if Joe from work comes for dinner tonight?” She said that was fine, then on his way out the door, he tossed out, “By the way, Joe used to be a professional chef.” She thought about the menu she had planned for that night – meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and green beans – and considered changing it to something more gourmet, but decided she didn’t have time. That evening, as her son and Joe walked into the kitchen, Joe took a deep breath and announced happily, “Yum, it smells like family in here!”

There’s something to be said for that. I love filet mignon and duck a’l’orange as much as the next guy (maybe more), but comforting, family style foods like chicken and rice casserole, shepherd’s pie, and meatloaf make my heart as happy as they make my taste buds. So, like that cookbook author, I don’t let myself be intimidated by guests who may have a more well-honed palate than I – I just try to make them happy with something homespun and delicious. Remember the scene from the animated movie “Ratatouille” where the bitter, cynical food critic comes to the restaurant and tastes the ratatouille – and is instantly brought back to his childhood and his mother’s simple cooking?

His sour expression cracks into a smile and he takes boyish delight in the simple but delicious meal.
That’s how I like to entertain. Simple enough that I’m not spending hours preparing food before a party or locked in the kitchen during the party instead of enjoying my guests, but still delicious enough that my guests feel special and pampered. Who needs to stress over whether a soufflé will fall or a béchamel will break or a meringue will separate? Even if everything comes out perfectly, if I’ve used up that much energy panicking over the menu, I won’t be able to enjoy the food or my guests’ company.
So tonight, when we’re hosting a birthday party for my sister- and brother-in-law, the menu will include steak tips over Caesar salad, fresh Italian bread from a local bakery, and a chocolate cake from Costco. Easy and delicious. And I promise, it will smell just like family.

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