Along with the goblins, the candy corn, and the spooks that prance through the night, thoughts are turning to Halloween parties to kick off the holiday season.
No one knows more about entertaining than Patricia Mendez, author of a new book called Easy Entertaining for Beginners. We interviewed Patricia to see if she could share some of those entertaining tips that have made her famous.
Q. Thank you for this interview, Patricia. How did you get into teaching others how to entertain in the first place?
A. I started working with lots of different women back in the early 90s. I was involved in a Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) community program as assistant coordinator and then coordinator. I taught on lots of different subjects and also taught at other MOPS groups. I also served as a Director of Women’s Ministries for eight years and I have catered and coordinated special events for seventeen years. As I would cater many different events, women would always comment on how they wished they knew how to entertain their family and friends.
I taught cooking classes and gave ideas for entertaining and I involved a lot of other women in helping me pull off lots of creative events. I started teaching Easy Entertaining for Beginners cooking classes through the City of Torrance Adult Education last June and I also teach, speak and do events for women’s groups and public groups like the Torrance Public Library. Also, I have always loved to cook, learn, and write new recipes and techniques and entertain friends and family in my own home. So I have had lots of practical experience.
Q. Your book, Easy Entertaining for Beginners, is chock full of great ideas for entertaining. Can you tell us briefly what’s inside?
A. There are thirteen complete dinner party menus for popular occasions. I have also included photographs, party etiquette, music and drink suggestions, step-by-step checklists, optional shortcuts, mistakes to avoid, and tips to ensure success. I designed and wrote the book specifically for beginners. I want beginners to gain confidence and enjoy their first entertaining experiences! One of the main themes in my book is “Do a few things and do those well.”
Q. Can you give us a sample recipe that would be a great idea for a Halloween party of four?
A. Hot Buttered Apple Cider: Serve your guests this cup of autumn cheer. The fragrant aroma of the cloves, cinnamon, and allspice is a perfect complement to the buttery, sweet cider. It is a great recipe to serve guests for the holidays. Serves 4
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 tablespoons granulated or maple sugar
1 quart apple cider
6 whole cloves
Zest of 1/2 orange, cut into 2 large slices
Zest of 1/2 lemon, cut into 2 large slices
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup dark rum (optional)
Cream the butter and sugar and set aside. Simmer remaining ingredients (except rum) for twenty-five to thirty minutes, strain, stir in butter/sugar mixture and serve immediately. Note: If using rum, add the last five minutes of simmering.
Q. Do you have to be a “gourmet chef” to throw a great dinner party?
A. Absolutely not. People mistakenly believe that to be true when cooking for a crowd and many are too overwhelmed and intimidated to try to entertain family and friends. I tell my students and also explain in more detail in my book that hosts should concentrate on three things to pull off enjoyable and successful entertaining: the tone that they set as host, the food, and the table. All the other bells and whistles of entertaining can certainly be added as new hosts gain a bit of experience and confidence. The key to successful entertaining is to pace yourself and be organized.
Q. You give cooking classes and have catered and coordinated special events in the Los Angeles area since the early 1990s. Can you tell us more about this? Do you run these from your home? How many students do you average?
A. I have been employed as a Special Events Coordinator at my church for seventeen years. In all that time I have catered and coordinated many different events, from a sit-down dinner for 300 people, to holiday meals and events, picnics, ladies luncheons and teas, conferences, workshops, theme dinners and barbeques, children’s events, etc. The classes that I teach for the City of Torrance have a maximum of twenty students in each class and the other classes vary widely, mostly from twenty to thirty people, depending on the venue.
Q. Give us an example of a “mean party” you could throw for Halloween.
A. I think entertaining should fit your life so I have no qualms about preparing some of the food for a party myself and filling in the rest of the menu with some terrific purchased food that I know my guests will enjoy. I threw a Halloween party last year. My husband works for the motion picture industry and asked me if we could host a party for the crew who worked so hard on a feature film they had just wrapped at that time. I made all the munchies and a terrific fall salad and purchased some awesome Yucatan-style tamales from a small local restaurant in our town. They were melt-in-your-mouth delicious and the best part about ordering them was the pressure it took off of me.
I made hot wings with blue cheese dressing and small, brightly colored bacon wrapped peppers stuffed with garlic/sun-dried tomatoes and cream cheese, dips with crudités, and assorted cheeses and spiced nuts. I picked up some purchased chocolate chip muffins from the warehouse store and frosted them with purchased frosting with my little mechanical pastry bag and sprinkled them with festive sprinkles. I also picked up some purchased iced pumpkin petit fours and everyone loved them and called them Halloween ding-dongs. I also prepared a cocktail in a punch bowl along with bottled beer, juices, and water.
I concentrated my decorating efforts on the buffet table and decorated it with a grouping of hollowed out pumpkins with candles and fall veggies and gourds. I picked up some cute sparkly plastic spiders to sprinkle around the buffet table and votives strategically placed so no one would burn themselves when reaching for food on the table. It looked dramatic in the evening with the candles lit.
I downloaded music from the internet and made my own Halloween party mix with fun and festive music. In this particular case, we didn’t require costumes and most guests were more comfortable that way. I tried my best to greet each guest at the door, make introductions, and help the people get to know each other a bit better. We had fun music, great company, and a fantastic time. Plus, I got to know people that my husband works with every day so much better and they were able to receive a gift of a relaxed, fun evening.
Q. What’s your favorite season for entertaining and why?
A. That is a hard question to answer because one of the reasons I love to entertain is the variety. On Valentine’s Day, I enjoy showing my love to my husband with a special meal and time together. On Easter, I typically invite our sons and daughters-in-law and grandkids over after church. We don’t always do a traditional Easter meal; we mix it up with lots of different types of food and games for the kids. That day also has a deep spiritual meaning as well; I love to share it with my family.
I really enjoy entertaining in the summer because I love simple food prepared on the grill and all the fresh ingredients available at my local farmer’s market. Having friends over on a beautiful summer Southern California evening and enjoying each other’s company adds so much wealth to our lives.
Fall entertaining is so refreshing because of the change of weather and the harvest of food that is available. Switching gears from grilled foods to pumpkin, squash, apple, and other fall comfort fare adds variety to an entertaining menu. Inviting acquaintances that you may not know as well into your home gives you a great opportunity to get to know each other better and make new friends. One chapter that I include in my book is “My First Thanksgiving” so beginners can have a helping hand with terrific recipes as they navigate hosting their first Thanksgiving.
Entertaining during the holidays is a tradition that most people enjoy. Even if it is just an evening where those near and dear stop in for hot chocolate and Christmas cookies, the point is—you are making a connection with other people’s lives in your own home. I think entertaining is a beautiful thing.
Q. Thank you for this interview, Patricia. Can you tell us how we can find out more about your new book?
A. Please visit my Web site . Feel free to look around and see all the free recipes and tips. I have designed everything for beginners who would like to learn to entertain, but may have never done so in their lives. Check out my blog and sign up for my free monthly newsletter, Entertaining 101. You will receive a link to a free bonus downloadable e-booklet, Party Etiquette 101, that I wrote. There is a link to Amazon on the site or you can purchase a copy at your favorite online bookstore or any Los Angeles area Barnes & Noble retail bookstore.