Saturday, March 08, 2014

Living the Pantry Lifestyle - The Hospitality Pantry revisited, yet again...

You can probably assume the subject of keeping a Hospitality Pantry is a favorite as it has been written about quite often over the past eight-ish years.  But I was thinking last week that I hadn't looked at it from the viewpoint of... planning.  So what follows is more an essay but there are links at the bottom of the page, should you read long enough.

I have shared about keeping on hand items one needs for a properly informal teatime (and if you so choose, one filled with elegant china but even then... simple).   I have shared what I kept on hand for unexpected company dinners and planned high school & college get togethers.  I have even written about the fine points of disguising packages of really good cookies so they are not stolen from your pantry.

But I don't recall sharing how I planned for showing Hospitality.

When I was first married, my idea of "having people over" leaned a lot more toward entertaining.  For as a child of the 60s, that is what one saw on television and in movies.  Of course, we married when my husband was in graduate school (I was just barely out of high school but that is another story) so fancy dinner parties were a thing of the future.

Fortunately, even with gourmet cooking classes behind me... and a fondness for beautiful china... I rarely went in for the fancy smancy dinner parties.  Most probably because much of my early married years included combining family life, church activities, and a full time job.

I also came to realize what I served more casually could easily be taken "Uptown" by only a difference in presentation.  Much like the way your little black dress changes completely with the addition of some sparkly jewelry and perhaps a shimmery scarf.  ;)

So... here are some tidbits of wisdom collected over the years about planning and preparing for "having people over".  As with most wisdom we obtain over the years, much of it was earned through experience.

Planning is as important as the Pantry items.

I learned to have four or five meals I always go to for company dinners.  There were a couple favorites that I served most often but a few other "go to" recipes were needed as the seasons changed.

By the way, I also learned never to try new recipes on company.  Family yes... but not company.  The only exception would be if I belonged to a group who hosted each other in their homes to try out new dishes and such.  That would be fun (kinda' like they do in Bread & Wine).

The main dish and side dish recipes were always available in my kitchen recipe card file.  With the availability of a computer and printer, I probably would have kept them in a three-ring notebook instead but cards were the best at that time.  Not to mention I love opening the file box and perusing recipe cards from the late 1970s and 1980s... and finding hand written recipes from those no longer with us.

Then I made certain the ingredients for at least one or two of the main dishes and a couple side dishes were always in the pantry and freezer.  Sometimes the preferences changed with the seasons as what is well received in January... such as chili... may not be so welcome in July.

I think one of the disadvantages of today's celebrity chef cooking shows is how they make it seem more normal to have dozens and dozens and dozens of recipes to serve regularly.  We tend to forget that to keep their jobs on The Food Network, they must keep up with new trends and develop new recipes.

In reality, the majority of home cooks and even most restaurant chefs have their seasonal specialties.  We must never feel embarrassed when we serve our favorites most of the time we have friends over for a meal.

My sister, Joan, was famous for her chicken tetrazzini and I believe if it were not served... everyone would have banged on the table with their spoons in disappointment.

Joan went one step further with her famous casserole.  She often tripled the recipe and delivered a casserole to a few of us to pop in the oven at our convenience.  Sometimes it was my mother and my brother who were the recipients, sometimes it was my family, and eventually her own married children and grandchildren.

I am embarrassed to admit that as my two sisters and I left Joan's bedside, knowing she would be passing away within hours... I suddenly thought of that recipe and asked in horror if anyone had asked for it!  Thankfully, my oldest sister had done so... sometimes bossy older sisters are a good thing... but I digress again.

But we all know how certain foods remind us of people in our lives.  That is because they had one or perhaps a few specialties.   I think of my mother when I fry chicken and my daughter makes a delicious fried chicken dinner of crispy fried chicken, mashed potatoes, cream gravy, and a veggie...  just as the women of past generations (on the maternal side of the family tree) have made for decades.  My mother's veggie would always be cooked-to-death green beans which is usually what I serve but Stephanie prefers her green beans a little healthier.

When her father-in-law raved about the delicious fried chicken, I reminded her that the ability to make really good fried chicken was part of the DNA we inherited from her Kentucky born Mamaw. Hmmm... perhaps genetics play a part on what we serve at the dinner table?   ;)

Anyway, I should mention that the Hospitality ingredients I kept in the pantry were added to and subtracted from over the years as my children went through their various stages of life.  When Stephanie was in college... and we lived fairly close to the University at the time... I kept pantry items conducive to having a crowd of college students over.  When the neighbor kids would come over to play with Christopher, the cookie jar was always full.

I love the showing of Hospitality around the dinner table.  It is not something I do all that often these days due to circumstances of chronic illness.  But even then if I have planned ahead and stocked a few special items in the pantry, I can invite those I care for over on a good energy day.

And like my sister, Joan... I can show Hospitality "to go".  ;)

So now I will share how easy it is to plan and then provide the links to past Hospitality Pantry posts to make it easy for you to jump back in bloggy time.  It is this simple... pick a few main dishes and a couple side dishes that you make brilliantly and write down those ingredients.  Then keep them on hand in the pantry and freezer.

Write down the menu ideas ahead of time but don't feel they are written in stone.  I wish I kept a list over the years of menus served, it would make a wonderful book to remember past dinners, picnics, tea parties, etc.

Think of a couple seasonal dessert recipes that you love to make and keep those items in the pantry or freezer.  And never, ever think homemade cookies are too humble for company.  I have yet to have anyone not rave about a good cookie.  If you happen to make a really good pie, they may find a tiara and crown you queen.

And a reminder that the food does not have to be fancy.  These days people seem to appreciate the same comfort food you serve your family to filet mignon.   Look for pretty plates at garage sales and thrift shops. 

One good thing about my collection of brown transferware is how easily it is to mix and match various patterns so I now have a lot of beautiful dishes to make my table special.  I remember reading on another blog that the hostess collects all white dishes in various forms while thrifting and her table always looks fabulous for both company and her family.

Do ask your guests ahead of time if there are special dietary needs and restrictions.  For instance, if you have no one who is gluten free in your home, then tweak your favorite recipe to be gluten free... or find new recipes by doing a little research online.   If someone is on a completely sugar free or low fat diet, I will cook such a meal.

Otherwise... I am never concerned about the calorie and fat content of my company meals because killing the fatted calf (so to speak) happens rarely enough that a little culinary decadence here and there is just fine.

A few previous Hospitality Pantry posts:
  1. The Mom Heart post I wrote about the subject... here.
  2. A fairly recent post from last fall... here.
  3. A very short post from 2007... here.
  4. How a homemaking library helps in showing hospitality... here.
Please forgive minor typos and grammar errors.  I am writing this in a very short window of time to have computer access. Thank you.

Picture:  Fresh Bread by Loren Entz


suzanne said...

Brenda, did you intentionally tie in the "heirloom" theme to this post, because it was definately there. The thoughts about recipes being passed down from one generation to the next, SO good to remember. I appreciated the remark about how we don't all cook like the celebrity chefs most of the time. That is also good to remember. This was such a fun and happy post! Thank you for hitting the nail on the head, as usual.

Thickethouse.wordpress said...

I always enjoy your blog posts about pantry keeping and cooking! My mother made turkey tetrazzini (ah, perhaps this is spelled incorrectly since word check wants it to be tetracycline!). I certainly associate certain meals with the people who made them with such skill and such love. Alas, I only have some of the recipes!

A book which I think you would greatly enjoy is Cleora's Kitchen, written by an African American woman who was a cook for many well to do families in Oklahoma for decades. And that is how she organized her book, decade by decade as things came into fashion and left. Perhaps your library has a copy. I see amazon has paperback copies from $.01 and up. I bought mine in the mid-80s and treasure it!

mdoe37 said...

I think you hit a key item there. There's nothing wrong with humble. I remember reading a magazine article about downsizing and simplifying. A couple talked about having a few couples over and serving a big pot of spaghetti (presumably sauce too!?!), some green salad and a simple dessert. Nothing fancy at all, but within their means. If they are dishes you make well, people will enjoy them just as much as T-bone steak.

And honestly, if they complain that its only spaghetti, drop them from the guest list as you probably don't want to hang with them anyway!

Anonymous said...

It was interesting what you said about old family recipes. I have my Grandma's old recipe box. (Some of the recipes were written with an old-time stick pen) A lot of the recipes would horrify modern nutritionists-all of that fat, sugar and Flavour!

Anonymous said...

I actually have a little recipe card with each of our Thanksgiving menus and thoughts on the day. It is a treasure.I keep it in the front of my recipe box. I also noted the favorite soft drinks of who was there and other such information and who could not stand this or that and such. Also how many pounds the turkey and how big the sides were and if when served there were enough left overs for everyone to take home. :-) This way I could adjust next year. Now the cards are a loving memory or who was there that year that are no longer with us.
One of my favorite cakes to have on hand already made and frozen is a brownie cake. It is called a Texas sheet cake and other names. It is only brownie high and has cocoa and powdered sugar in it and most recipes are usually about the same. I ice it with the recipe's own homemade frosting and all freezes beautifully for a long time if wrapped good. Thaws quickly and comes out like it was just baked. I make one recipe as it makes a large cookie sheet. size cake. But instead of using a cookie sheet I put it in several different recycled low sided aluminum cake pans so each can be taken out and still have another in the freezer for another time. I usually use the pans that had held store bought rolls or such in. Again Brenda lots of good fresh ideas!!! Thanks so much!!! :-) Sarah

Deanna Rabe - Creekside Cottage Blog said...

We practice hospitality weekly and most often just serve what we would eat as a family. If it is someone we don't know well, I wouldn't make curry for example, unless I knew that they liked it. But you are right, tasty food and good company is what is key.

Keeping these items in our pantries, so we can be ready to host guests, sometimes on the spur of the moment, is so helpful!


Deborah Montgomery said...

I think it's so true we don't have to serve fancy or expensive food. Food lovingly prepared and nicely presented makes everyone feel welcome and loved. Old family recipes, with history and stories attached to them, are wonderful. Great post, Brenda.

Anonymous said...

I love making menus and print out plain calendar sheets by the month and fill in each day with a menu (with a pencil as menus are subject to change). I try to work up one week at a time. I have several years of menus that I keep in a three-ring binder. I also make note of special occasions such as company,
Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, etc.
Having a menu plan helps me remember to take something out of the freezer and do preparation the day before especially as I work till 5:30 p.m. Love your thoughts. Blessings, Sharon D.