Years ago I remember that some friends were amazed that we had talked one afternoon at work and when I learned that they had no specific plans for their wedding anniversary that night, I invited them for a nice meal at home and prepared everything from the time I left work at 5pm to the time they arrived at 7pm, and this included shopping for the food.
There was nothing amazing in the process, and all it took was preparation and organization. Knowing your limits also helps. If you like to entertain at home like I do, you always end up with some failsafe recipes that you can always whip up at a moment’s notice. If you always keep the basic ingredients at hand and you have made the recipes many times before, you can easily make a nice meal after simply shopping for perishables you might not have at hand. This is exactly what I had done that evening. I do not remember exactly what I had cooked, but I remember running across the street from my office to pick up some small shrimps for a seafood first course, then to the butcher for a nice piece of meat, and throwing together some blueberry desert with some nice blueberries I picked from the over 50 acres of brush I used to own at the time. It also helped to have a well stocked wine cellar with a few thousand bottles where I could always match what I was planning to cook with one or many different wines. Like everything in life it only takes a bit of practice and confidence to end up with great results.
Another thing that you should do is to always think about what you can do with what you have at hand in your house. One of my favorite things to do in cooking is to look into the refrigerator and see what we can put together with whatever things we have laying around, including leftovers. At times it can be a challenge, but it keeps you culinary mind well exercised.
One thing to remember though is that if you are planning a special event where you want to show your best, do not try to do a new recipe for that event, unless you practice it first. Not doing so would be asking for big trouble. I have never met a new recipe that I have not fiddled with to make it work the way I like. The time for the fiddling is when you are relaxed in your kitchen and do not have a bunch of guests to attend to. Unless you have lots of experience you should not try to improvise something for that special meal. ‘Iron Chefs’ antics should be left to the pros, and even for them the results can be very hit and miss.
Saying all this, I wrote a new recipe today for a lentil soup that I plan to serve on Saturday when special friends will come over for supper. I am pretty sure that it should come out well, but in a way I am contradicting all that I have said above. The rest of the meal will be tried and true recipes though. I really do not have time to try the new soup beforehand, but I will probably make it either Friday afternoon, or on Saturday morning so if things do not go as planned I can always prepare something else or try to fix the mess without the pressure of our guests being there.
So remember the following, if you have to do something special at the last minute, do some of you favorite recipes that you are comfortable with. Try to have most of the ingredients for them always at hand, so you have to buy a minimum amount of ingredients at the last minute. Always keep at hand a few bottles of red and white wines of different types so that you have something that can match most dishes without having to run around for wine at the last minute. We will talk about what type of wines to keep at hand for regular and/or emergency consumption in the coming weeks. If you have a bit of lead time and want to try a new recipe, practice it before to make sure that it turns out as you expect and you do not run into major problems with your guests waiting at the table. At least, do as I will do next weekend, prepare it with enough time before the guests arrive to be able to cook something else or change the recipe without being under pressure.