I try to plan a menu with food that's fun to eat and in a place that's fun to be. Is veal with morels fun? I'm not sure, but grilled shrimp on skewers is! No one is particularly excited about eating a baked potato, but making potato pancakes together is a blast. I could never argue that it's especially fun to eat in the dining room, but a clambake at the beach with a big, roaring fire is always terrific.
The same goes for Saturday night, when we all feel that we must get serious and do drinks and nibbles, appetizers and a dinner with lots of courses. Help! I like to invite friends at other, easier times, such as breakfast on Sunday -- which can be as simple as big pitchers of tropical smoothies, muffins that you mixed the night before, platters of fresh fruit and big pots of coffee. Lunch can be bowls of soup, baked ham, a big green salad and apple crisp for dessert. I also love to invite my friends to come and cook with me. Sometimes I'll make a big batch of dough and everyone can assemble their own pizza, or I make all the fillings for pita bread and everyone makes sandwiches.
There are lots of parties to give besides the traditional dinner on Saturday night, and it takes only a little inventiveness to think of them. An offbeat menu, a few unexpected guests, an unusual location, great music -- all of these get a party off to a great start.
I can't say enough about assembling food rather than cooking. I keep telling myself that my friends won't have more fun if I spend two days making a daquoise for dessert than if I find a delicious pound cake at a bakery and serve it with store-bought lemon curd and fresh raspberries. In fact, they'll have more fun, because I'm relaxed and having fun, too. Keep your eye on the prize -- it's fun!
Excerpted from Barefoot Contessa Parties! by Ina Garten Copyright 2001 by Ina Garten. Excerpted by permission of Clarkson Potter, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.