I can get all rhapsodic about having friends to our house for meals. Then a big book deadline looms and the calendar fills up with meetings—and I don’t even have time to grocery-shop, let alone cook for Merle and me. Instead, we’re digging out the take-out menus while the guest lists vaporize.
Until about a month ago when we invited three groups for dinners at our house, all set to happen within a 10-day span. A bunch of international friends were coming through our town, plus we planned two little parties for Merle’s big birthday. Yikes.
I got out my trusty ,Fix-It and Don’t Forget-It book where I write down the menus I’ve served to guests, and where I list my favorite recipes. (After years of spending hours hunting through cookbooks and files and piles of recipe tear sheets, I also list where those recipes are. Enough crazy and desperate recipe searches.)
So I made my menus with two goals in mind. First, the food had to be good. Second, I was going to enjoy our guests. No panic. No slaving after the people arrived.
Our friends from India, Congo, and Colombia shine over me like galaxies when it comes to hospitality. So I wanted to honor them with what I consider a feast. But I wasn’t ready to sacrifice having a great time around the table with these people. I went looking for dishes I could prepare before our guests arrived and then hold the food without doing any damage to it until we were all seated.
Our first birthday meal for Merle put me under a different kind of pressure. We invited three of his cousins (and their spouses)—one of whom was born in November, another in December, the third in January, and Merle in February, all within 90 days of each other.
These people can cook. From scratch. Impressively. I kept talking to myself about not imagining a contest and not getting all stewed up about the wrong things.
This time, too, I wanted a celebration-worthy meal, but I was determined to be relaxed during our dinner.
Our third party was a birthday fest for Merle with our kids. Merle picked this menu, and by now I was back in practice with cooking for a table-full.
Okay—a disclosure. I made the same meat dish for two of the three meals. I had planned a completely different recipe for Party #2, but Merle rehearsed all the good comments that the meat got during Party #1 and wondered what was wrong with making it again. There was no overlap in visitors—and I couldn’t beat it for simplicity or tastiness. Only some sort of self-manufactured pride made me hesitate.
And it worked a second time, just as well as the first!
Here’s the winner meat for your next table-full:
from Lancaster County Cookbook, page 88
Makes 8-10 servings
3-4-lb. beef roast
1 medium onion, diced
10¾ oz. can cream of mushroom soup*
½ cup water
¼ cup brown sugar
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. dry mustard
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1. Place roast in roast pan.
2. Cover and bake at 450◦ for 2 hours.
3. Combine all remaining ingredients and beat with a whisk until smooth. Pour over roast.
4. Cover and bake at 250◦ for 4 more hours.
5. Cut roast into serving pieces and serve with sauce.
*If you have time and the inclination, make your own cream of mushroom soup. See Homemade– or Canned? Making Cream of Mushroom/Celery Soup.
A couple of notes about this recipe:
1. This really works—and you do not have a dried-out chunk of rawhide at the end, despite being in the oven for 6 whole hours.
2. I have discovered that if you increase the recipe amounts—by 1½ times or by doubling—you end up with too much sauce and meat that lacks the caramelized edges and the tender innards that the recipe as stated yields. If you want to increase the amounts, it’s better to do a second complete recipe (in the portions stated above) in a separate roaster. The meat and sauce freeze beautifully if that makes more than you need.