Monthly Archives: May 2013

Hassle-Free Hospitality

A coffee klatch or a tea party are among the simplest forms of entertaining, but even they can sometimes have me rattled. The secret to turning those occasions into small pleasures instead of painful jolts is, I’ve realized, being prepared.

My house is located in such a remote place that it takes a 20-minute drive one way to pick up a bottle of milk or a loaf of bread. Being in the country, it’s also a place where neighbors sometimes show up unexpectedly and where it’s nice to invite friends over for a cup of tea just as an excuse to see another face during the long, cold winter.

Until recently, however, when friends showed up, I’d ask if they wanted a cup of tea and then apologize because all I had on hand was ordinary Lipton’s. When it came to sweets to serve with the tea, the cupboard was bare. We need to watch our carb intake, so I didn’t stock cookies, fearful that we’d finish them before company ever arrived.

But my recent realization that “being ready” can help calm company jitters, convinced me that it was critical to end this silly dilemma. The next time I went shopping I picked up a variety box of herbal teas. And, just like that, I eliminated a source of entertaining shame.

I’ll need to find a more secure place for the cookies, however. The elegant bag that I bought disappeared before it was ever offered to friends. I’m thinking it might be nice to bake something—brownies, banana bread—store it in an airtight tin, and set it at the back of my clothes closet, where my husband won’t find it.

Then whenever there’s an unexpected knock on the door or I get lonely for some girlfriend gossip, I can host a tea party in a hurry, and feel very confident about it.

Garlic Tamer

Even if you’re a fan of garlic (as I am), there may be times when you’ll want to take advantage of Wolfgang Puck’s technique for taming garlic’s strong bite by blanching it. It certainly would be in order if you know that your guests are not garlic-lovers or if you’re hosting a romantic dinner for two, since blanching reportedly helps to prevent garlic breath.

Here’s a link to an article where Puck describes the procedure and offers a recipe that calls for the mellower garlic that results:

A Little Shrimp Advice

The sign in the case said “Fresh Florida Shrimp,” and I fell for it, even though it was Monday, a day when I’m told you should avoid the seafood counter. But when I got the shrimp home, I noticed that they had an unpleasant…well, fishy…smell. What’s more, when I slit the backs to remove the intestinal track (which looks like a thin black cord), I found an oozy substance that was a real turnoff.

I was so dissatisfied that I returned the shrimp to the store for a credit and turned for some shrimp-buying advice to a book written by the scrupulous editors of Cook’s Illustrated Magazine: The Best Recipe (The Boston Press, 1999). So many factors go into shrimp-buying decisions (species, size, farmed or wild), but one came as a real surprise to me: The editors recommended buying “still-frozen shrimp rather than those which have been thawed.”

Since most shrimp are frozen after the catch, and thawed shrimp start losing their flavor in just a couple of days, buying thawed shrimp gives you neither the flavor of fresh nor the nor the flexibility of frozen, they explained. During their comparison testing, they found that shrimp stored in the freezer retained “peak quality for several weeks, deteriorating very slowly after that until about the three-month point….”  They also determined that cleaning or shelling shrimp before they are frozen definitely deprives them of flavor and texture, so it’s best to avoid pre-peeled or deveined frozen shrimp.

While there was no mention of the oozy substance that I found so offensive, they did say that thawed shrimp “should smell of salt water and little else, and should be firm and fully fill their shells.” In addition, there should be no black spots, or melanosis, visible on their shells, an indication that a breakdown of the meat has begun. Also, you should be suspicious of yellowing shells or those which feel gritty, either of which may indicate an overuse of sodium bisulfite, a bleaching agent sometimes used to retard melanosis.