In my life, my food obsession is synonymous with entertaining. As someone who works three jobs, tends to our lovely animals, and attempts to have a social life – entertaining with food can be overwhelming, exhausting, and downright hectic at times. However, regardless of how much money I spend, all the energy I exert, and the countless hours I use up concocting new meals to try on loved ones – the practice is therapeutic somehow.
I was recently listening to an episode of the Splendid Table about restaurant service and hospitality and it struck a chord with me.
The segment discussed what made great service and whether service was an entity entirely exclusive from hospitality. Will Guidara, co-owner of Eleven Madison Park in New York, was interviewed and he conveyed that he wanted to have an atmosphere that was as welcoming and warm as having a dinner with trusted people but that also offered something unique and memorable (especially for about $300 a head for the tasting menu!).
Guidara describes how they innovated upon the experience of leaving the check on the table: “So, we give them the check when it’s clear the dinner is over, but we put it down without even referencing it. And alongside it, we put down a bottle of apple brandy, or an eau de vie. We pour each person at the table a little sip, and we leave the bottle there. This is with our compliments, drink as much of it as you want. That’s our way of saying, “Hey, there’s the check when you’re ready for it,” but if we were trying to rush you out, we wouldn’t be giving you an entire bottle of liquor right now to just slowly marinate over.”
Obviously, in my home, I have no occasion in which to drop off a check (or give guests a whole bottle of expensive brandy) but I think that Guidara illuminates a point that even home cooks who enjoy entertaining can get behind. When we invite people into our homes to eat and sit with us a while, we extend a part of ourselves to them.
I recently co-hosted a small Memorial Day gathering that was very casual and just involved the normal burgers and hot dogs and other simple but wonderful foods. When I reached out to my friends about coming over, they explicitly and almost heatedly insisted that I do not make all of the food.
“Let us help!” They ordered. I was surprised for a moment that they felt the need to nudge me into not cooking the feast I had already started organizing in my head. I paused for a moment and then wholeheartedly agreed that I would use the time to relax and only make a dish or two.
However, this is inclusive method of entertaining is in my blood. I learned, single-handedly from my parents, that part of hosting is sparing no effort. My parents never out-rightly stated these mantras, but my subliminal take-away was: my guests should never have to worry.
In my mind, if anything is happening at my house – I take the majority of the responsibility. Sometimes that gets me in over my head but I’m not sure I could ever be rewired to function otherwise!
From the moment my guests walk in, I always greet them wholeheartedly (while simultaneously trying to tell the dogs to shut up since any visitor sets off a cacophony of barking) and take their coats if they have them. I ask them to take off their shoes – because other than it being a cleanliness issue, my home is your home! So get comfortable and wiggle your tired toes into my soft carpet! I try to have a candle lit before they come in so that the air doesn’t get stagnant after the heady aromas of the cooking food has subsided. I don’t always do this, but it certainly is nice when I remember.
I offer them a drink of their choice and see if they need any sort of noshing food while I finish cooking the dinner. I bring the food and plates to the table and accept their offers for help. With the exception of very old friends, I generally like to eat at the table with my guests so I can spend some quality time with them.After dinner, I try to have something sweet. It can be as simple as a bit store-bought chocolate or ice cream or as complicated as a homemade dessert.
I, myself, don’t get this treatment often since I am always the one cooking, but when I do – I always immediately recognize why I go through all of the effort. When people, even old friends whom I know too well, treat me this way – I feel incredibly loved. It is not the only way to show love, but it certainly is an effective way. The warmth and affection that encapsulates me when I am offered a bit of cheese and wine the moment I come through a door is palpable. Nothing, also, compares to when an old friend thrusts a warm bowl of apple crumble with the cold ice cream pooling enticingly at the bottom of the dish.
To this day – when I visit my parents every week, they still go through these motions with me. My best friend of nearly 10 years coddles me in this way as well. I can only hope that they know my love for them in the way I feed them.
How do you practice hospitality?
Well! You could start with this gem of a quick but satisfactorily sigh-inducing dessert:
Bruleed Honey Apricots with Sweetened Ricotta Cream and Brown Butter Amaretti and Pecan Crumb
Serving Size: This deserves a note because this recipe is written so that you can accommodate it to feed any number of people. The beauty of this dessert is that you can make enough just to feed yourself, or 10 people!
*Measurements per one serving
For the Ricotta Cream (serves one)
- Scant 1/2 cup Ricotta Cheese
- 2 tblsp Honey
- 1/2 tsp of Orange Zest
- 1 tblsp of Orange Juice
- Stir all ingredients together and set in refrigerator while you prepare the other components.
Bruleed Honey Apricots (serves one)
- 2 apricots, halved and pitted
- 2 heaping tblsp of Honey
- 1 tsp of whiskey (if you don’t use this, use vanilla extract in it’s place)
- Move an oven rack as close as you can to the broiler. Turn the broiler on to high.
- Stir the honey and whiskey together until combined.
- Put the apricots, halved sides facing up, in a heavy baking dish (I used a cast iron dish). You may want to line the bottom with tin foil since the syrup will drip off and burn slightly. Brush or spoon the honey and whiskey mixture over the tops of the apricots.(you will have a little leftover after you use this mixture on the apricots. Do not throw this away.)
- Set the dish with the apricots under the broiler and monitor the fruit until the tops get slightly charred and caramelized. Once done, carefully take the dish out and set aside.
Brown Butter Amaretti and Pecan Crumb (serves one)
- (I use store-bought Amaretti cookies, the crunchy kind)
- 2 tblsp of butter
- 1 and a half amaretti cookies (or two heaping tblsp of amaretti cookies crushed)
- 1 heaping tblsp of finely chopped pecans
- 1 tsp of leftover honey and whiskey mixture
- Combine the crushed amaretti cookies and chopped pecans (I threw this all in a food processor to make my life easier)..
- In a skillet on medium heat, melt the two tblsp of butter. Do not walk away from this. Swirl the butter around and carefully watch for the butter to darken to a toffee color.
- Once the butter has browned, take it off the heat and pour in the cookie and pecan mixture and the one tsp of the honey and whiskey mixture and toss together.
All Together Now
- In a wine or parfait glass – whatever you prefer, layer the ricotta cream first, then the warm cookie crumb, and then the bruleed apricots. If you want to get fancy, you can garnish them with a bit of orange zest.
Eat your face off. Seriously. I’m not sure how you’ve waited this long.