Here at The Welcoming Table, I love to share real stories about real people who are connecting with the people around them through food and community-building events. Here are a few of the past posts in the series:
Today we’re welcoming Emilee, a Stay at Home Mom who’s worked years in the restaurant business, to The Welcoming Table. Since she knows a lot about cooking, I thought she’d be a great person for us to learn from. I think you’re going to love hearing from her.
Welcome, Emilee! We’re so glad you’re here.
What do you like about entertaining and cooking for friends?
From setting up the menu to putting together the grocery list and creating delicious meals, each part puts a big smile on my face. I love creating food that tastes great and looks beautiful. The best part about cooking for friends and family is that it brings everyone together.
Food is the one thing that everyone has in common because everyone has to eat. Hearing the roars of laughter and loud conversation during picnics and large gatherings is just fantastic.
What would you say is your entertaining style?
Typically we entertain small groups specific to holidays, like Christmas, or Easter and usually have a small picnic in the summer. We currently live in a very small house, so we don’t entertain large groups too often, although it has been done in the past.
Living in Maine, my favorite meal I put together a few years ago was a big lobster fest. We had huge feast with fresh steamed lobster, homemade mini moose burgers, and multiple side dishes to accompany everything. Everyone had matching plates and bibs! It was super cute and so fun.
How have you handled entertaining in a small house? And what encouragement do you have for someone who’s reluctant to invite people over because their house is small?
I usually have family over as my guests when I have a party or small get together. In this case, I don’t feel shy telling them to stay out of the kitchen while I get work done.
I would encourage someone to invite people over during seasons where the weather is nice enough so that they can be entertained outside and not be in the house. If the weather isn’t cooperating that day and your guests will be inside, I usually rearrange furniture. I have gone as far as moving the couches so that there’s more room in the living room, and I have taken unnecessary furniture like end tables or coffee tables and moved them to other rooms.
The best advice I have is to get crafty or find someone that is good with tools, take a nice piece of plywood, and add folding legs. They can be drilled right on so you can have a nice long table that fits a lot of people. All you need is a nice tablecloth and your secret is safe. Store it when you aren’t using it. My brother and father are in construction so they whipped a table up for us. We hide it in the sunroom and take it out for big dinners and BBQ’s.
How do you feel like your Culinary degree impacts how you entertain?
Something that I learned during my college years while obtaining my Culinary Arts Degree was how to feasibly cook for large amounts of people in a timely manner. We often heard the word, “production,” from the chefs who supervised and helped us learn the basics and so much more.
We were taught to have multiple different things working, rather than doing one task at a time, so our timing and skills continued to improve. The most knowledge I obtained was from Chef Murdock, one of the chefs at the college who took me in as an intern.
While interning with her at Classic Cakes, I learned all about baking, pastry arts and competing in cake decorating competitions. My years there were some of the best as I learned about running a business and working with multiple different customers.
All of these experiences combined, have made me faster at cooking, efficient at multitasking, and I don’t feel anxious knowing I have to cook for and entertain a large amount of guests.
Sure! Here are a few tips:
- When you have a large recipe to put together, look at all of the ingredients as a whole and think about what steps you can take to make things go faster. For example, if you have to make a spaghetti sauce, get a large pot of water on the stove ready for later so that all you have to do is turn the burner on when you’re ready.
- If you have 5 carrots to peel and chop, don’t peel one then chop that one. Peel them all, then chop them all. That’s “production.”
- Another carrot trick — Instead of peeling in one direction, take your peeler, and go up and down the carrot while rotating it with the other hand. Seconds turn into minutes and turn into hours down the road.
- Getting all of your ingredients out on the counter and having them out before you start is helpful because you can see the magic you are about to create. By doing this you also have an idea of what tools you need. Take all of that out to so you’re not fishing for a spatula when your hands are covered with food.
- Finally, use your time wisely and clean as you go. If you have something cooking and have a few minutes, wash a few pots and pans.
What are 3 kitchen items that you can’t do without while entertaining?
This is a really tough one.
- Besides my own two hands, my chef’s knife is the most important tool in my kitchen. I use all of my knives every day, but if I had to choose just one it would be my chef’s knife. I used to call it my baby, but then I had a baby so now we’ll just call her Pearly for fun.
- My stove — I use this every single day. I don’t know the last time I made dinner without it. Even if I am making salads, I always sauté some shrimp or chicken to put on top.
- My serving dishes and utensils to go with it. All of my plates, bowls and serving dishes are white. They are clean, look professional and make the vibrant colors of my meals pop. Can’t serve food without that!
I love Emilee’s practical tips about entertaining in a small house. We have a small house, too, and often use a folding table to host extra people, but I love her idea of making a table out of a piece of plywood. How genius is that?
I also learned a couple of new tips for multitasking — I had never thought of peeling carrots in two directions! You’ll be surprised how her tips will save you time if you put them into practice.
Thank you, Emilee, for sharing your cooking tips and entertaining ideas with us. We wish you many happy meals with friends and family!
Emilee Unterkoefler is a SAHM blogger and aspiring Freelance Writer. On her blog, Explore with Emilee, she writes about her journey in exploring motherhood for the first time as a SAHM. She also writes about cooking and provides many of her favorite recipes.