The word "entertaining" may sound fun and interesting, it actually takes some serious work to be a great host.
I am a design director for an international house-ware brand but my very first passion was cooking. I remember when I was just in elementary school and just learn how to fry an egg, I would wake up early and prepare my family breakfast. Not just cooking but I would also write a little menu and arrange the seating plan. Just seeing my parents smile after breakfast, was enough to make my younger-self feel satisfied for the whole day. Fast forward almost 30 years later, I still love to cook for my family and friends. I much prefer dinner party at my own place than dine out. I have just finished renovating my home in Taipei, so I think this is a great time to invite my friends for a housewarming party. Obviously not my first time entertaining guests but there are a few tips to this evening effortless and memorable.
The first tip is to know your audience, second is to keep it simple but interesting and last is to consider what is the take away? Sounds like a tutorial for making a presentation isn't it? You know what, come to think of it, they do share some similarity.
Know your audience. (guests)
You are hosting a dinner party after all, not opening a restaurant. You should know your friends pretty well. What do they like? Are they allergic to anything? I would even take custom order from my friends ahead of time. If you are inviting new friends, then you really have to pay attention. Are they vegetarian? what do they like? what is their favorite restaurant? What is sometimes forgotten is your new friends hobbies or professions. You never want to make a fool of yourself in font of your guests. My best friends work in different fields. Some of them are musicians, financial advisers, designers, marketing but no one are in the food and beverage industry. I have made some new friends work in the food and beverage industry in Taiwan, to be honest, inviting them to a dinner party can be a bit daunting. Having said that, a great dinner party should not just satisfy your guest. It is a good opportunity to show off your skills! That is why you should always try new things and offer something interesting and surprising for your guests. They will be talking about it in the weeks to come. Including my wife, there are two pregnant ladies at the party so I was extra careful when I was designing the menu, especially when it comes to dishes that need wine. BUT! what is a party without a drink or two? I don't have too much knowledge when it comes to wine or liquor but my friends do. Our unspoken rule is that I provide the food, they bring the drinks. Although I do have a very small collection, its never enough for them.
Keep it simple and interesting
Keeping it simple is to make the host/your life easier. The host need time to prepare in the kitchen but also need time to mingle with your guests. Never cook everything ahead of time and serve everything cold. You don't want your guest feeling they are eating leftovers. However, a great host shouldn't hide in the kitchen all night. It will be awkward that all your friends are seated at the table but the host is missing. A great dinner party is not just about taste, it is also about sense of smell and sound. Modern TV and Bluetooth speakers are getting better and better, it shouldn't be a problem to get a nice room-filling sound for your party. I use the Philips Fidelio E6. It is a surround sound system that is able to transfer into individual Bluetooth speaker, perfect for events like this. Since this is ambient music. It shouldn't be deafening loud, so having the best speakers is not the priority. What is important, is the play list. To prepare for a dinner party, not only I would go to my local market for ingredients, but also create a playlist for the night. The playlist should flow seamlessly. Nirvana followed by Philip Glass is never a good idea. To me, jazz, trip hop, soul are great for dinner party. Artists like Clazziquai Project、Kero One、Green Assassin Dollar pop up in my playlist quite often. Almost every time someone would ask for my playlist. Before my first guest show up at my door step, I would light an aroma candle near the entrance. The sense of smell is a interesting one. It is the most noticeable sense but your body get used to the easiest. This phenomenon is called odor fatigue. Everyone’s home has a distinguish smell but most of the time the host don’t even realize it. That is why I always light up a sense candle or turn on my aroma diffuser before my guests arrive, just to make sure I get the first impression right. I want the first two things my friends notice when I open my door to be pleasant music and aroma. Remember, everything should be in moderation. It is a good idea to keep the aroma towards the entrance. You don’t want it to overpower whatever you are cooking in the kitchen, right?
Designing the menu takes more work. There are more aspects to consider. What are the dishes? What is the presentation of each dish? How many friends are coming? What sort of kitchen equipment you have? Again, I can’t stress enough, this is a dinner party, not a restaurant. You should always plan ahead so you have time to spend with your friends. Having an open kitchen or island style kitchen of course is a plus but there are things you can do to make sure you are not hiding in the kitchen the whole night. Tonight, I am serving 5 dishes, 6 if we count the dessert. I will share my recipes in the next post.
First dish is baked brie with two types of figs and various jams. This is such a simple dish to make. It almost takes no effort. You can start preparing this after your first guest arrive. The soft rich cheese with the sweet but subtle taste of figs plus different types of jams to add even more fruity flavor to the overall simple yet layered flavor.
The appetizer is chayote vine salad with honey white wine mustard dressing. Just what is a "chayote vine" you ask? It is the vine for a type of gourd. It is quite common in Asia. The name literally translate to "dragon's whiskers" It is similar to asparagus but more curly and softer. If you can't get it in your local market, you can substitute it with asparagus. Most cold dishes and salads can be prepared the day before but beware of ingredients that oxidize easily, for example avocado. Although most of the alcohol from the white wine mustard dressing evaporates during cooking, just to be safe, I prepared a non-alcoholic version of the dress replacing white wine with mirin. What's special about this salad is the homemade salt cured egg yolk dusted on top just before serving. It added a sophisticated savory flavor to the sweet and tangy dressing. Homemade salt cured egg yolk are easy to make and are very versatile. This salad is not the only dish I used this evening, I also used it on our dessert tonight! Everyone should try to make them.
The third dish is salmon warped in raw bean curds with shiso plum dipping sauce. This dish can also be prepared ahead of time and keep them in the fridge. You serve them cold so when its time, just cut the warps in to smaller pieces and serve with dipping sauce on the side.
Next on the menu is Spanish potato omelet. My secret ingredient is Chinese salted duck egg. It intensify the egg flavor and smells infinitely better.. Since the potatoes have been deep fried in low temperature, they will not oxidize, so this is another dish that you can prepare ahead. I recommend prepare the egg yolk when you serve your previous dish, this way when they are about to finish the last dish, your Spanish potato omelet are almost done.
Last but not least, the sous vide tomahawk steak and rib eye steak. Since sous vide steaks uses low temperature, it usually cook for at least 2 to 3 hours. Again, this is another dish that you can prepare prior to your guest's arrival. My sous vide machine was a birthday gift from my friends. I was excited to receive the gift but now I think its a trap. Now I have to make sous vide steak for my friends all the time. Sous vide steaks has to be seared. There are the torch method or you can simply grill it on high heat. Tonight, I chose grilling the steaks on cast iron skillet. I simply love grill marks. Its visually appetizing and its prefect for your guest to take Instagram photos.
When it comes to drinks, there is red wine glass, whiskey glass and Champagne glass but how about Korean rice wine makgeolli? Well, you use an aluminium bowl of course! My Koreans friends from Vancouver were in town visiting Taipei. They not only brought makgeolli but also they bought a few of those aluminum bowls! How thoughtful. I think there is something about the metallic taste and the thick rim that give the makgeolli an authentic taste.
Taking store-bought items and combine them in a creative way takes some skills too. For tonight's dessert, I am doing just that. I am making a plum wine soaked frozen cake top with high quality vanilla ice cream with salt cured egg yolk dusts. (of course for the pregnant ladies, we will skip the wine-soaking) The plum wine not only adds the refreshing tangy flavor the store-bought frozen cake needed, it also gives this simple dessert an "adult" tastes. I was inspired by Japanese ice cream drizzled with soy sauce. The contract between savory and sweet really intensifies the sweetness. That is exactly why I decided to dust the ice cream with salt cured egg yolk. That was one of the most memorable flavor of the even for me. There is really not going back to vanilla ice cream without the salt cured egg yolk. Without it, its just too...vanilla.
What is the take away?
I always want to keep things interesting and memorable and that is why I always want to try something new. Its good I have a bunch friends who are very adventurous yet honest. They always wanted the recipes. Some of them just got married and are just starting to learn how to cook, so they are always looking for new recipes to try. For this evening, the most requested recipes are the salted egg yolks and the salmon bean curd warps. Entertaining does take some work. As long as you know your guest, think about music, aroma and plan out your menu, you will be able to host a dinner party people talk about in the weeks to come. How about the dishes? Just leave it for tomorrow.
The recipes will be avalable in the up coming posts.
畢竟不是餐廳，來家裡的應該都還是熟識的朋友居多。老朋友應該都了解到不行了。愛吃甚麼，對甚麼過敏應該都瞭若如掌。我的老朋友們甚至還會點菜。新朋友可能就要多了解了。吃素?過敏?喜歡吃甚麼?不喜歡吃甚麼? 還有就是新朋友的專業與興趣一定要了解。要是在關公面前耍大刀就糗大了。我老朋友們從事金融，音樂，行銷，設計，翻譯，但這幾年在台灣認識了些飲食界的新朋友，說真的，要邀請他們來吃飯，壓力真大。當然，除了要滿足客人的需求外，宴客畢竟還是一個很好讓主人分享品味的機會。所以每次還是要有些新意。這次，除了我老婆懷孕外，還有一位好朋友也懷孕。在設計菜單的時候，除了有些食材要避掉之外，有些菜色還特別準備了孕婦版本。孕婦最忌諱的當然還是酒類，但無酒不成趴。怎麼可能dinner party沒有酒的呢? 我對酒，真的沒太多研究，到是朋友對紅白酒，威士忌等等都很懂，所以雖然我家有些酒，但跟朋友的默契是我準備食物，酒水請自備。絕對不收開瓶費。
現在藍芽音響選擇很多甚至電腦，電視的音響都越做越好。硬體要到位其實不難。像我用的是Philps的音響，厲害的是它可以從環繞音響變成移動式的藍芽音響。非常方便。Dinner Party的音樂應該是背景音樂所以也不用太大聲。重要的當然還是音樂的選擇。宴客前，除了準備食材外，我會花點時間整理出一個Spotify的歌單。歌單的風格建議一致 ，一下情歌一下電音實在是很不順。我覺得最適合dinner party 的曲風是Jazz，hip hop，soul，loundge. Clazziquai Project、Kero One、Green Assassin Dollar等等都是常出現在歌單裡的藝人。幾乎每次都有人跟我要歌單。在朋友來之前，我都會點一些精油或香氛蠟燭在門口區。每個人的家都有一種特有的味道，這味道不一定好聞，但因為長時間住在同一個地方已經習慣，所以沒有特別的感覺，但剛進門的客人一定聞得到。在門口點香氛這樣至少確定第一印象是好聽的音樂、好聞的味道。
菜單的設計需要考慮的因素就更多了。菜色是甚麼? 怎麼呈現? 客人喜好？ 人數多寡？ 家裡廚房硬體設備都有關係。重點是菜色不用多但要有變化。再次強調，這不是餐廳或私廚。能跟朋友聊天互動才是重點。有開放式廚房是最好，但沒有的話也可以經由事前準備讓你不會在廚房很久。 今晚總共五道菜，加上甜點有六道。食譜下次再跟大家分享。
最後，應該是大家最期待的一道料理：低溫舒肥戰斧牛與牛肋眼。舒肥（sous vide）是一種低（恆）溫，長時間的烹煮方式。今晚的牛排，用舒肥機烹煮了三個小時。 這又是一道可以提前準備的料理。用舒肥的好處是時間控制很有容易。因為是低溫烹調加上恆溫，所有時間過了一下也不容易過老。我的舒肥機，是我這群朋友送我的生日禮物。收到很開心但現在覺得是陷阱，因為收到這禮物，我就要幫大家常常準備牛排了。
紅酒用紅酒杯，香檳有香檳杯，威士忌還有各種不同的杯子。那韓國的米酒瑪格麗呢? 當然是鋁製米酒碗啊! 當天，除了大家帶來的紅白酒，清酒，梅酒外，我有一對來自韓國的好朋友剛好來台灣玩，他們夫妻倆從韓國帶來瑪格麗外，還帶了一碟鋁碗。一碗下肚後，感覺似乎還是要拿一個帶著點金屬味，厚厚邊的碗喝才對味吧?