Food is not about impressing people. In fact, it’s just the opposite: it’s about making them feel comfortable. I invite friends to lunch and make bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwiches. They are the best BLT’s I can make, with homemade white bread, thick slabs of smokehouse bacon, tomatoes from the garden, and Hellman’s mayonnaise. The meal is simpler than you expected and better than you remembered. And because there are no surprises, somehow, very subtly, it makes you feel safe and comfortable. And I think that is the best setting for really connecting with people.
The recipes that are successful in the store are often the ones that are familiar but taste better than you remember. Pan-fried onion dip is like the one from Lipton’s onion soup mix, but this is the real thing, with slowly cooked caramelized onions and sour cream. It’s irresistible. Sure we make tomato soup, but first we roast the tomatoes to intensify their flavor, and then we stew them with lots of fresh basil leaves. Meatloaf is made the old fashioned way, but with freshly ground turkey so it isn’t so rich and heavy. And the lime tarts are baked with lime zest and freshly squeezed juice so you can taste the tartness of the fresh limes.
The most useful thing I learned by cooking professionally is that there are a million things that you can do in advance to make cooking less stressful. Cheddar dill scones can be mixed, cut into squares, and refrigerated for a week before they are baked for breakfast. Grilled salmon salad ingredients can be prepared separately from the dressing and then mixed with vegetables and seasoned at the last minute. Our French potato salad tastes better if it is left in the refrigerator for a day so the vinaigrette soaks into the potatoes. I have learned how to prepare everything in advance so I’m not a wreck when my guests arrive. There are notes throughout the book to help you save time and avoid stress.