The Art Of Entertaining

Entertaining guests is about having a good time, not impressing them; on the 'dangers' of potlucks and an easy Pineapple-Banana Crumble recipe.

Entertaining guests is about having a good time, not impressing them; on the ‘dangers’ of potlucks and an easy Pineapple-Banana Crumble recipe.

By Neeraja Subrahmaniyan

Every little girl in every country/culture plays with a mini kitchen set at some point in her life. Mine comprised of lovely wooden toys, hand-painted in bright reds, greens, yellows, and oranges. There were grinders, cookers, pots, jars, ladles and so many cute little things that were used to host mock-tea or pakoda-parties in the backyard. The guests were usually a mix of toys, friends and bemused adults who munched on non-existent or unpalatable “food” hashed out of spices stolen from mom’s kitchen, crushed leaves and unknown berries from nearby trees. But, there was always plenty of giggles and laughter. The giggles and laughter – they remain most special. It was creative, interesting and everybody had fun – kitchen sets are still being sold as toys, aren’t they?

Then, something happened as we grew up into all-important adults. Entertaining people has become a task; a stressful one at that. As creative and interesting as cooking is, the prospect of entertaining a small crowd of people is daunting, because of a few misplaced social conventions. It’s hardly about enjoying something simple and homey amongst friendly company. Entertaining is now about showcasing one’s talent as a worldly, versatile super-chef. Meals are expected to be elegant, yet unique and fancy, the house is expected to be chic and contemporary with everything in its place, and you, the hostess are supposed to look dashing and interesting, with not a hair out of place. Ideal. But, idealism is far from reality.

As much as we look forward to spending time with friends and close family at the end of a tiring week, we keenly dread throwing such an “event”. One can’t hope to unwind by bringing in more work.

So, potlucks are now a rage everywhere – it simplifies things (or so they say), but there are so many unsaid rules and unmentioned competition that hangs at the dinner table as people try out the different dishes and profess the “best” one and lavish compliments. A little part of us wants our dish to be complimented or at the very least, be eaten heartily. No one wants to enter a potluck with day-old sambar (please don’t judge me) and plain idlis, and place them next to a platter of tofu-kababs, lasagna, risotto, and dishes that look alien! As you watch people go for third and fourth helpings, your sad little idlis remain untouched, for idlis are so bourgeois in an Indian crowd, right?

A little part of us wants our dish to be complimented or at the very least, be eaten heartily.

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The next time around, you mutter and curse, feverishly run through “exotic” recipes, frantically purchase unheard-of ingredients, and attempt something brand-new for the very first time, hoping against hope it will turn out right! Ironically, you sometimes wouldn’t even know if the final dish tastes as it is supposed to… As this stress culminates to a grand finale meltdown, you begin turning down invitations, and remind your spouse you’re a classified introvert. But really, this shouldn’t merit so much stress.

We really need to cut ourselves some slack now and then, and re-kindle that lost spirit of entertaining that involved fun and good-times – that’s the whole point of get-togethers. So, I have “evolved” from the frazzled hostess to someone more easy-going. I borrow ideas from books, online resources and TV shows on easy, simple dishes that cross culinary boundaries. I love experimenting with simple dishes by adding my own little spins to make them healthier, “Indian” and interesting. I remind myself to enjoy the experience. Most importantly, I don’t mind “losing” at potlucks. It’s the company that matters, food is secondary. And boosting my ego is even more worthless.

Here is a simple fruit dessert that can be adapted and prepared in a jiffy. Bonus point– it’s relatively “fancy”.

Ingredients (serves 6-8)

6 cups (total) of diced pineapple and banana (approximately 1/2 a pineapple and 2 bananas). Use any fruits that taste well together.

The zest and juice of 1 lemon (2 lemons if they are very small)

3-4 teaspoons + 1/4 cup of white sugar (depends on how sweet the fruits are)

1/4 cup brown sugar (can substitute with white sugar)

1 cup all purpose flour (maida)

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cardamom powder

3/4 – 1 stick unsalted butter


Marinate the fruits with 3-4 teaspoons sugar, lemon zest and lemon juice for 1/2-1 hour.

Mix the white sugar and brown sugar, flour, salt and cardamom powder. Dice the cold butter and add it to the mixture.

Pulse this in a mixer, or using a fork work the butter into the dry ingredients until it looks like coarse-meal and the butter is the size of peas. The topping should be crumbly, and the butter should remain in tiny bits so that the topping is flakey.

Pack this on top of the fruits. Bake in a pre-heated 176 C oven (or 350 F) for 40-45 minutes until the fruits begin to bubble in their juices and the corners brown. If you would like the topping to brown, sprinkle a few bits of butter on top.

Don’t own an oven? Not to worry, marinate the fruits in the same manner. Prepare the topping by frying some bread crumbs (a cup or two) in melted butter, toss them in sugar and cardamom, and add this as a topping.

Hope this recipe comes to your aid when it’s time for the next get-together. Think of the simpler and happier times when you were proud to serve leaves and plastic cookies. Always remember to keep things simple; as Coco Chanel said, “Simplicity is the keynote of all true elegance.” Happy and stress-free entertaining!

*Photo credit: bloggyboulga


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