Entertaining at the Swedish Embassy And advice from an expert on entertaining at home
Hyde Park, N.Y. — Bill Reynolds's title has a technical ring to it. He's chef-instructor in cold pantry and buffet presentations at the Culinary Institute of America, a prestigious cooking school housed in a former Jesuit seminary in the Hudson highlands. In layman's terms, the title means that Mr. Reynolds is in charge of party food instruction at this "colossus of culinary colleges," whose alummi staff some of the world's fines restaurants.
Mr. Reynolds, a Latin teacher before he decided food was his field, views his subject with common sense. As he discussed fall and holiday entertaining at home, he offered practical suggestions in simple terms. Beginning with the assumption that every woman has a good cookbook.
"For parties," he began, "the most important thing is to be completely organized, to have a checklist for food and for equipment. On paper, not in the head.
"For home parties, a buffet meal is best because the hostess doesn't have to worry about seating or about serving. Once the buffet table is ready, the hostess can relax and enjoy the party.
"Choose dishes that you are comfortable with, that you are good at preparing, and that you will like," he advised prospective hostesses. "This is not the time for the exotic recipe you've been meaning to try. Anyway, your guests expect foods that reflect your personality and taste."
For a main dish to plan the buffet around, Mr. Reynolds suggested "basics such as a good, hearty beef stew or a chicken casserole." Then, he pointed out, there's no need to worry if the party does not proceed on schedule "because the longer a beef stew waits, the better it tastes."
"Crown roast of pork is another excellent main dish for buffets," the instructor continued, adding "The butcher does most of the work and the presentation is elegant. You can easily make a special 'fall stuffing' by adding Italian sausage poached with chopped onions, celery, apples, walnuts, and raisins, to traditional bread stuffing.
Mr. Reynolds stressed that hostesses "should not try to overwhelm guests with variety," but serve foods "that complement each other in color and offer variety in texture and shapes.
"Carrots and zucchini, cooked crisp-tender and served together dressed with herbs, are a colorful choice for fall," he said. "And rice pilaf is an excellent choice for buffets. A pilaf will hold for an hour or more and can be reheated the next day." Here are his directions for pilaf: Rice Pilaf
Saute chopped onions, green pepper, celery and mushrooms in butter in a covered pan that can go into the oven. Add uncooked rice and stir to coat with butter. Prepare beef or chicken stock, depending on main course, from bouillon cubes in double the amount of rice. Heat stock to boiling and add to ingredients in pan. Cover and place in a moderate 350 degree F. oven for 12 to 15 minutes.
Green salads are standard fare for buffets, Mr. Reynolds said, suggesting fresh spinach with feta cheese cubes and sliced fresh mushrooms with a dressing made from one-half oil and one-half bacon fat in the usual 3 parts oil, 1 part vinegar proportion. "The bacon fat adds an expected flavor to spinach salad," he explained, "and saves the trouble of cooking bacon at party time. Don't overwhelm the salad with dressing."
The young chef-instructor thinks buffet tables "are for food. No flowers, no arrangements of greens," he emphasized. "Fruit makes very effective centerpieces. Arrange it in a cornucopia for the Thanksgiving month.
For Christmas, Mr. Reynolds often makes a broccoli wreath by dipping Broccoli flowerettes in boiling water for exactly three seconds -- no more, no less -- to bring out their green coloring. Arrange flowerettes into a wreath and add cherry tomatoes for 'holly.' Pine cones can be simulated by forming softened cream cheese into cone shape and sticking the cone with almonds with their brown skins left on. The wreath can then be served with a dip as an hors d'ouevre.
Mr. Reynolds explained that parties need "logistics" as well as good food in order to be successful.