Thursday, October 31, 2013

What do you do when your plans go up in smoke…literally?

Could this be the end of  a wonderful dinner party?
Sage advice says to post happy and pretty pictures on a food and travel blog, but my blog is about making food and travel accessible to all and sometimes that means fessing up to mistakes and sharing recovery strategies. Things happen in real life and I write for real people who need real life solutions. Dinner a few nights ago offered me the perfect opportunity to strategize real solutions real fast about what happens when everything (at least the main course) goes up in smoke.

 When people come to eat at my house it is always an event. I love cooking for others, I enjoy creating an event, using themes, experimenting with new foods and recipes and then offering a playful presentation or some interactive eating experience. Sometimes that means creatively elevating bratwurst and burgers by changing it up and having a South African Braii, or an Argentinian Asado or perhaps taking common foods and putting them in fancy bowl or presenting them on an elegant platter...something that makes my guests feel special.


For me the fun begins with the invitation, knowing who will attend helps me plan the meal, knowing how far I can push their taste buds, or what they don’t like, I enjoy making certain that at least one thing that I know that they love is served at some point in the evening, and it may not be food – it could be playing a favorite game or a having a special coffee, or their favorite music, something that makes my guests feel special.

So how special do you think my guests felt when I pulled this chicken off the grill? Everything was ready, caramelized brussel sprouts in bacon, sweet potato rosemary chips, and the cornbread was warm enough to melt butter and cool enough to not burn your mouth. All that was missing was the chicken which was going to be served hot off the grill. I am still not sure what happened but when I went to take the chicken off the grill it was on fire and burned for several minutes after I turned off the gas…this is when I moved into salvage mode.

In a split second twenty options went through my mind and my guests added a few more, all of which included NOT ingesting more than the lifetime amount of charcoal, here are some of the choices:

·         Serve what was ready, there was bacon in the brussel sprouts, so  we had a protein and the meal would have been plenty – had I gone with that option, I would have pulled a few pickles out of the fridge and added a little pickle tray in a pretty bowl;
·         A chips and salsa plate would have been a nice compliment to the meal;
·         I had some leftover chili which would have added a nice balance with tomato and spice;
·         Adding some extras to elevate the cornbread; cutting up jalapenos, shredding some cheese, offering maple syrup and a fig jelly so that there would be several different ways to enjoy the cornbread in addition to the grape jelly and honey already on the table;
·         Slicing up an apple and cheddar cheese and serving on a cutting board;
·         A small meat and cheese platter with salami and monterey jack cheese;
·         Serving the dessert (homemade turtles) with dinner to distract the diners…

After checking with my guests, we had all been in the mood for something grilled, although there was some trepidation about letting me back out on the grill again, so I opened my freezer and found enough bratwursts to cook.  While they defrosted in the microwave, I boiled a mixture of 1 cup of beer to 1 cup of water, sliced up 2 onions and dropped the brats and onions into the boiling mixture until they were cooked (about 8 minutes). I placed them on a hot griddle on my stove to create a “grilled” taste and voila, dinner was finally ready!  The entire recovery effort took 15 minutes, and we used that time to catch up with our friends.

A good attitude can really turn around a bad situation
What I realized within minutes after the discovery of the disaster on the grill was that my reaction to the disaster would be the difference between salvaging the evening or not. While the brats cooked, we put fun mustards and condiments on the table to dress up the “plan b” option, and had some fun with it. My guests were more important than my ego. Having a fun time together was far more important than having a “perfect” time together. And while I like being known as a good cook, I much rather love having a home where people feel special. That is all in the attitude…burnt chicken, perfect chicken…it does not matter…it is about creating opportunities for people to feel special.


While I hope that all of your meals are perfect, don’t sweat if they are not, there are always options – I had 8 easy options, but it all began with a choice to have a good attitude, and you can make that choice too. Things are going to happen and you get to choose how to respond. Now we were certainly all disappointed and I learned that my guests grilled chicken the following night but we still had a great evening. From my table to yours…Mama Caruso