Monday, November 23, 2009

Adventures in Entertaining

After we dropped our youngest son off at college this fall, my husband and I looked at each other - both teary-eyed - and wondered: What were we going to do with ourselves?

For 20 years, our free time revolved around our kids. School, athletics, family gatherings. With both boys out of the nest, where would our focus shift?

Over dinner at our favorite pizza joint, a plan emerged.

We would entertain, something we enjoyed doing back in those primeval days before the children came along. So, we filled our fall agenda with dinners, parties, lunches and brunches with old friends.

Are you hosting a few - or a bunch - at your house this holiday season? Here are a couple of few things we've learned along the way:

Do drape your couches or keep strategic doors shut if you've had the upholstery cleaned in anticipation of a big bash - and you have furry critters in your house.

Don't turn the burner on and then leave the kitchen for some deep conversation with your fascinating guests.

Do pace yourself: Cleaning, shopping, cooking, decorating and entertaining are fun, but exhausting. Once or twice a month is better than every weekend, unless you have a lot more energy than we do.

Don't experiment with a whole new menu when you have guests. This is a hard one for me, adventurous cook that I am, but it really is better to test them on family first.

Do make this fantastic, easy, one-pot macaroni and cheese, which I clipped in 2002 from Dorothy Reinhold's Tried and True food column. One guest last weekend loved this so much, he went back for thirds! Or maybe it was fourths. I lost count.

1/2 stick unsalted butter
1/2 onion, chopped
2 T. all-purpose flour
1 t. salt
3 c. whole milk (don't skimp and use non-fat, really)
8 oz. elbow macaroni
1 1/2 c. grated sharp cheddar cheese

Melt butter over medium-low heat. Saute onion five minutes until transparent (do not brown). Stir in flour, salt and cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Pour in milk and stir to blend. Bring to a slow, steady simmer and add uncooked macaroni, stirring to combine. Cover and simmer until macaroni is al dente. Remove pan from heat and stir in cheese until it melts. Cover and let sit for five minutes before serving. Makes three to four servings.

I doubled this for my dinner party and had plenty for seven, even with the extra helpings. If you want, you can use regular cheddar or Gruyere cheese, but the sharp cheddar is really good.

Happy Thanksgiving, and may your guests be enveloped by the generosity and kindness in your home this year!


  1. Yep, that is my most-asked-for recipe! I have since modified it to include 1/4 tsp. garlic powder (not salt) and 1/4 tsp. onion powder (not salt), stirred in along with the regular salt. Try it that way. Happy cooking! Follow me on Twitter if you like...140-character recipes and food talk!

  2. Okay, I'll make a note of those additions!

  3. Something tells me you're just gonna have fun!

  4. I hope so, Desiree. We're both a little bit 'fun-challenged' I'm afraid, but we aim to try. :-)

  5. You can't know how glad I am to have a good mac & cheese recipe.

  6. Mac & cheese is cooking right now.

    And I'll have to try your fave pizza joint since I'll be down in that neck of the woods.

  7. How did it come out, Susan!?

    Yes, you should definitely stop by for a slice at Original Pizza. Steve thinks it's the closest to New York style thin-crust he's found here in Ca.

    While you're in that area, Crab Cooker and Charlie's Chili are also local legends to try out.