The Secret to Great Entertaining

The most important thing about giving parties is to stay very, very cool. When I brought a huge salmon to my first catered party and it wouldn't fit in the oven, I instinctively knew that the hostess must never, ever know that I had a problem.

The same is true at home for your guests. They want to believe that you just whipped this party up in a few minutes before you got dressed, not that you've been slaving for a week and you're too exhausted to speak (which of course is how I used to feel before giving a party). Otherwise, they feel bad that you have worked so hard, and the party is off to a rocky start. How many times have we arrived at a party and the hostess is obsessing that the liquor store delivered the wine only fifteen minutes ago, or that the chickens in the oven are taking forever to cook? Don't ever let on that you're stressed. The thing to do is greet people at the door with "I'm so glad to see you!" It is, after all, why we invited them. These are our friends; no kitchen disaster should overshadow that you invited them so you could spend time together.

Several years ago, my "cool" was really tested. One summer Sunday, I invited eight friends for lunch. A few days before, four people who were coming together called and said they had an emergency and couldn't come. No problem: I cut back my shopping list and decided to serve lunch in the kitchen.

An hour before the party, two of the people who had canceled earlier called and said they could come after all, was it all right? "Sure," I said, and sent my husband to my specialty food store, Barefoot Contessa, for some more rolls and lobster salad. Two other guests arrived -- with three houseguests! Then another guest arrived at the door and said, "I have a friend in the car, can she come, too?" Now we were up to 10 people.

I took a deep breath and made a silent plan. As soon as everyone was settling in with drinks, I slipped away to the kitchen, leaving the guests in the good company of my husband Jeffrey. I moved the table settings from the kitchen to the larger dining room table, then I ransacked the refrigerator to find more things to serve. There wasn't enough lobster salad for the sandwiches, but I had chicken salad (fine for Jeffrey and me -- who would know?). I divided the shortcakes in half and piled them high with extra fruit and whipped cream. Fifteen minutes later, we were all sitting in the dining room having a wonderful time, and no one ever knew what had happened -- not even Jeffrey!

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.

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