The phone rings about three o’clock on a busy afternoon. Pete wants to bring someone home for dinner. Is it all right with me? With a hurried look at my to-do list, and a quick prayer for help, I agree. He hangs up happy, and I start wracking my brain. I’m suddenly feeding someone I’ve never met before. What should I serve?
This is actually a pretty common scenario at our house. Pete collaborates with ministries all over the world, and he frequently invites out-of-town visitors for a home-cooked meal. As hostess, I want to make these guests feel welcome, while filling them with good food. With years of practice, I’ve learned some helpful tips, which I now pass on to you.
For the most part, you can serve your company the same food you’d normally eat. It is their part to be gracious and thankful for whatever you offer. Don’t feel pressured into putting on a special feast, or spending a lot on expensive ingredients. Not everyone is a gourmet chef.
The primary exception to this rule comes when we host those with health-related food issues. Many people have food allergies, and many more are on special diets for medical problems. For example, I can’t have sugar, or any other foods that would quickly raise my blood glucose levels. A good friend of ours is on kidney dialysis, and has an even more restricted diet. It’s important to check ahead of time to find out what special needs your guest has.
In considering how to make our visitors feel at home, I also try to avoid foods they just plain don’t like. I don’t want to spend time cooking only to discover that my special meal isn’t appreciated. On the other hand, good cooks have introduced me to several foods I thought I didn’t like. If you have a lot of meals to plan, it’s okay to include a dish your guests are hesitant about, but make sure there plenty of choices on the table that you know they will enjoy. (And of course, never force anyone to try anything.)
Since we host a lot of international visitors, I try to make meals that are familiar in most cultures. Unless they’re vegetarians, most people enjoy chicken, and rice is a staple worldwide. Many people avoid pork or seafood, so I skip them too, unless I know it’s not a problem.
Whatever you decide to serve, make sure everyone is on the same page regarding which meals they’ll be joining you for, and what times they’ll be served. I usually say something along the lines of, “Dinner will be on the table at 6:30 (or whenever), but I’d feel more comfortable if you’re back by 6:00.”
To get you started, here’s a somewhat unusual chicken recipe that generally receives rave reviews. I usually serve it with a green salad, a vegetable such as broccoli or zucchini, and a simple dessert (sliced oranges sprinkled with a little cinnamon-sugar and/or butter cookies). The recipe serves four adults.
2 small or 1 large onion, sliced
2 Tbsp. oil
½ tsp. cumin
½ tsp. cardamom
½ tsp. black pepper
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ tsp. ground cloves
1 tsp. turmeric
1 chicken, cut up or 4 chicken breasts
1 C chopped tomatoes (canned, diced is fine)
½ C water
2 Tbsp. chopped cilantro
Slowly, over med heat, fry onion in oil until beginning to brown and turn clear. Add spices and cook 2 minutes longer.
Add chicken, sprinkle lightly with tenderizer, and brown. Add tomatoes and water and barely simmer until chicken is done (about 40 minutes). Use lid to control water loss, keeping mixture somewhat wet so it doesn’t burn. Remove lid at the end to dry out pan, leaving a thick sauce.
Serve chicken and tomatoes over rice, sprinkled with cilantro.