Easing the fear of giving parties Books: 'Entertaining 101' and 'Entertaining for Dummies' help you uncomplicate the process.

December 17, 1997|By Lydia Martin | Lydia Martin,KNIGHT-RIDDER NEWS SERVICE

Here's a holiday riddle:

What's the difference between homemade pumpkin pie and store-bought?

About two hours.

Say you're doing it from scratch -- well, near scratch. Because we don't know of anybody who actually starts with a pumpkin. Except maybe Martha Stewart.

Almost everybody else starts with a can of pumpkin pulp and a prefab crust. Just add the appropriate spices, sugar and cream, pop in the oven and bake for 40 minutes or so.

In the end, you have a pumpkin pie that's a little better than the supermarket kind. Plus a bunch of dirty bowls and measuring cups, a sticky floor and a lot less time to deal with the main course.

The lesson? When it comes to entertaining, don't bite off more than you can chew. That, and Martha Stewart needs to chill.

Unless you're a master entertainer, you might want to check out a couple of new books: "Entertaining 101" (Doubleday, $27.50) and "Entertaining for Dummies" (IDG, $19.99).

"Entertaining 101," by the mother-daughter team of Linda West Eckhardt and Katherine West DeFoyd, has recipes and menus for every occasion (the March Madness Basketball Play-Off Corned Beef Buffet Dinner, for example, and the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday Weekend Soul Food Dinner for Six).

"Entertaining for Dummies," by Suzanne Williamson with Linda Smith, is more about the logistics. Say you burn the Martin Luther King dinner. "Dummies" could help you salvage it. Chapter 19, titled "Solutions to Ten Common Cooking Disasters," will walk you through "blackened, but not on purpose," or "just plain ugly."

Both books believe in uncomplicating the entertaining process. After all, throwing a party is supposed to be fun, not painful.

You're taking a stab at the recipe for salsa shrimp cocktail with hot flour tortilla wedges in "Entertaining 101"? Buy precooked and shelled shrimp, says the book.

"Entertaining for Dummies" is even more out there: It suggests you put the bar in your bathroom if you don't have space anywhere else, so long as you have another bathroom "for the usual purposes."

Here's another bold idea:

"When you're really in a pinch, don't hesitate to swing by the drive-through. One wife of a Fortune 500 chief executive officer serves Kentucky Fried Chicken at all her dinner parties, regardless of whether her guests are close friends or her husband's business associates. Her secret? She bakes the chicken another two hours in a 250-degree oven. Everyone raves and asks for the recipe."

We have only one question: If you're the wife of a Fortune 500 CEO, why not spring for a caterer?

Both books offer streams of common-sense suggestions on everything from folding napkins to putting the soup spoons in the right place. Making stuff ahead of time is high on both books' lists.

And that's one tip that works, says Maria Budet, 24, managing editor of Generation magazine.

Recently, she whipped up dinner for six -- roasted red-pepper tapenade and spinach feta spread to start, then shrimp Provencal, couscous and steamed zucchini. She pulled this off on a weeknight, after a full day of work.

"The dinner was on a Monday. On Sunday I chopped all the vegetables for the crudite, I made the spinach and feta spread and the tapenade, I chopped and measured out the onion and garlic and everything else I needed for cooking dinner. When I got home everything was already chopped, separated and peeled."

Pub Date: 12/17/97

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