For Beautiful House 125th anniversary this year we are dig in some of our favorite spaces in our archivesâIncluding, until now, decorator Sister Parish New York Apartment and the West Hollywood home and studio of designer extraordinary Tony Duquette, nicknamed “a magician’s house”. Here, we revisit a collection of questions and answers with Ina Garten from the early 2000s.
No matter how often you cook an elaborate meal or throw a party, there are always areas that you can improve. Enter: Ina Garten. At the beginning of the 2000’s, Beautiful House published a column called Ask the Barefoot Contessa in which readers submitted their burning questions on all things cooking and lodging to the one and only Ina. She responded to readers with her expert advice, tackling everything from common dinner issues to her thoughts on non-stick cookware at the time (spoiler: she wasn’t a fan!). Coming up, we’ve handpicked some of the best Q&A, all of which cover topics a cook or host might be wondering about today.
Reader: How do you deal with people who are late for dinner?
Ina Garten: This is a really tough question because you want to be respectful not only of friends who are late, but also of friends who are already at the party. No one wants to wait until 10 am for dinner, and I certainly don’t want to serve a burnt roast! Here is what I do: I wait up to 30 minutes for the latecomers to arrive. If they’re still not there, I discreetly rearrange the table setting to remove their plates, glasses and chairs, and set them aside in case they arrive. Then we all sit down for dinner.
If the friends arrive later, everyone can quickly rearrange themselves to make room – and then I serve them the dish we’re eating at that time. It works for everyone. Friends who are at the party have the same expected good time, and late guests don’t feel guilty about ruining your party.
Reader: I get so nervous when I have dinner. What can I do to make it more fun for myself?
IG: The truth is, I’m always nervous when I throw a party, and I’ve been doing it professionally for almost 30 years! There is so much to do and never enough time. (Regardless, I still think I should vacuum the back of the fridge before people come!) So instead, I sit down and make a list of everything I can do at the go ahead and divide it between the number of days left before the party. Three or four days in advance, I decide on the menu, make the shopping list and plan the schedule.
I’m specific: the shopping list will say 2 pints of strawberries and 12 ounces of olive oil. The schedule will say: 5:00 p.m. boil the potatoes; 5.30 p.m. put the oven at 350 degrees; 6:00 p.m. put the lamb in the oven. Three days before I will buy all the non-perishable products such as flour, butter, sugar and potatoes, so on the day of the holiday I will just need to buy perishable products like fish and strawberries. Two days before, I’ll set the table – polish the silverware, the iron napkins and arrange the flowers. If the flower petals are tight when they come from the florist, it gives them a few days to open up and look gorgeous for the party.
I also take out all the trays and write Post-it notes for them that say âlambâ and âorzoâ. Just when I’m ready to serve, it’s not the moment when I want to realize that last Thanksgiving, I broke my favorite food and forgot to replace it!
Reader: Should we serve coffee at the end of a meal?
IG: Okay, I’m guilty of this as well: at the end of dinner, if I ask, “Nobody wants coffee, right?” Nobody will ask. But if you want to be really nice to your guests (and I do!), This is the best way to serve coffee after dinner: before the party, set the water and coffee in not one but two coffeemakers. , but do not turn them on. (I keep an extra coffeemaker in the pantry, and you’d be surprised how often I use it.) Then, I put regular coffee in one or both coffeemakers, depending on the responses. If no one wants coffee, I’ll leave the pots ready for the morning. Is it easy?
Reader: Do you use non-stick cookware?
IG: Personally, I’m not that crazy about the non-stick. While nothing works as well as non-stick pans, I’ve always avoided them. I always feel like I have to be careful with them and need to use a special utensil or the nonstick coating will come off in my dinner. It’s not that appetizing!
You like to find new design tips. U.S. too. Let’s share the best of them.
I’m not very good at making table settings. Do you have any advice?
I tend to keep mine fairly simple. I generally base the color of the frame on the color of the flowers. Not a lot of different flowers, just a big bowl of something dramatic: orange tulips, hot pink peonies, or white roses with lime green lady’s mantle. To make the flowers look their best, I will use a lighter colored tablecloth, usually white, cream or natural Belgian linen. The plates are almost always white (this makes the food more beautiful) and the napkins pick up the color of the flowers or contrast with them. If I have blue hydrangeas, white cloth and plum napkins look great. If the roses are peach and the fabric is cream, a large peach towel is fine. Next comes the silverware and glasses. To mix together. I have a set of silverware that is half old and half new, and I think it looks more modern than your grandma’s silverware. For glasses, I like to have an assortment of heights – low water goblets, stemmed wine glasses, champagne flutes (if appropriate). The light from the votive candles will make silver glasses sparkle. Don’t obsess; not all dishes and chairs need to be matched – if they are the same color and roughly the same shape, they will look great together. Remember, these are friends, not table setting.
What is the best table size for a dinner party?
I like small parties. With 6 people, you can really start a conversation. The ideal table for 6 or 7 people is a 48 inch round table because everyone is engaged in the conversation as well. If people are a bit crowded, it feels even more intimate. For a bigger party, I don’t like big round tables. We’ve all been seated at huge 60 inch round tables and there’s probably a giant flower arrangement in the middle. It’s impossible to talk from across the table, so you’re stuck talking to the two people next to you for the entire evening. For large parties, a rectangular table works best, but make sure it’s no wider than 30 to 36 inches so that guests can talk across the table.
If you have a 48-inch round table anywhere in your home, consider hosting your dinner there, even if it’s in the office or living room. Why does the party always have to be in the dining room? If I don’t have the right table in the house, I’ll call my party owner and ask them to deliver me a table, some folding chairs, and a nice tablecloth. It’s not only easier to put on, but after the party is done I don’t need to wash and iron the fabric. Is it easy?
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