Monday, August 17, 2009

Western/Eastern Approaches To Hosting Dinner at Home

Betty can make me dinner anytime.

Cooking dinner is a challenge that is not lost on me. I am not talking about cooking dinner at a restaurant, but rather simply cooking a meal at home for family, friends or random guests. Growing up in a traditional Asian household, meals are approached from a "family" style cooking method. At any given night for a hosted dinner, a collection of 6-10 plates will appear before the table. Sometimes if the number of dinner plates is superstitiously bad, the host may even add some sort of easy starter side to "even" things out.

Myself? I try to cook more along the basic lines of Western cuisine. Starter, salad and or soup, entree and then dessert. Most of the time, I won't go beyond a 4 course dinner for certain reasons. The looming question here is, what is a better way to host dinner as a cook?

The family style format allows everyone to sit and eat at the same time, reducing any necessary trips back to the kitchen for this or for that. The coursed way allows for the food to be served properly and likely at the right temperatures without having items sit on plates for long periods of time. Both formats seemingly are deeply flawed to most people and often result in some menu planning maneuvering.

For family style, you would likely not cook hot sauteed items until the very end and the cooking time will have to be very short. If you choose to cook hot items early, then they will change with reheating or simply get cold. Many times during these dinners, the first item cooked is all but a vague memory of how it was made prior to all the waiting. Unfortunately, cold items are not a staple in many Asian household classics. Most families use a wok to sizzle almost anything and rarely have a desire for a baby gem salad.

For a coursed meal, if you plan on serving the food and dinner properly, you should plan on not eating or being part of it. Each course change will require time to cook/heat the next. The food comes out right, but you now must prepare for the next course. Running back and forth in the kitchen likely keeps the cook uninvolved and unable to entertain the guests at the table. As a result, most people who cook this style always serve cold salads and easily heated soups to start. By menu planning this way, you are also severely limiting your options for hot items. There are also many faults here as well.

I'm not sure what is right or wrong, but all I know hosting and cooking a nice dinner for more than 2 people at your house is always a big challenge. What are your favorite ways to deal with this situation and what considerations do you make when you are approaching a hosted dinner? Is there something you are never willing to do as a starter because it simply requires too much time and or heat?

No comments:

Post a Comment