Patricia Mendez has catered and coordinated special events in the Los Angeles area since the early 1990’s. Her experience also includes coordinating a Mothers of Preschoolers community group for three years and working with women of all ages as a Director of Women’s Ministries for eight years. She met many “new nesters” who had the desire to entertain family and friends, but lacked know-how and experience. It was for this audience that she wrote her first book, Easy Entertaining for Beginners.
She has taught many cooking classes and currently teaches “Easy Entertaining for Beginners” cooking classes for novice hosts/hostesses in Torrance, CA. She speaks/teaches at women’s groups and has written articles/menus for website newsletters. She was recently a guest chef at Torrance Citicable Channel Community Cooking Show, airing in October 2008. You can visit her website.
We interviewed Patricia to find out more about her new book coming out just in time for our holiday entertaining.
Thank you for this interview, Patricia. Can you tell us a little about yourself?
Hi! I have been catering and coordinating special events in the Los Angeles area since the early 1990s. I teach “Easy Entertaining for Beginners” cooking classes. I was also a coordinator for a group (maybe you’ve heard of them – Mothers of Preschoolers; a nationally chartered community program geared towards young moms) and I was also a Director of Women’s Ministries for 8 years. That not only gave me years of teaching experience, but it also gave me the opportunity to talk to lots of women from different walks of life. I realized that I was able to counsel, mentor and relate with them in a way they responded positively to. Whenever I would coordinate some type of event whether it was a sit-down dinner for 300 or a Ladies Tea, a picnic or a holiday gathering, I always heard the same thing. “I wish I knew how to entertain, but I don’t think I could ever pull it off.” I saw the same pattern over and over; people who would love to entertain their family and friends, but lacked confidence and know-how.
In my home I have always loved to learn new recipes and cooking techniques. Nothing makes me happier than preparing a delicious meal that would rival one in a quality restaurant for my guests. I turn on my music, pour myself a glass of wine and get “cooking”. And did I mention I really enjoy entertaining our family and friends? To me, this adds to our wealth (not finances) substantially. I have been married to my husband, Augie for 29 years. I have 3 sons, 2 daughters-in-law, 6 grandchildren and 2 miniature dachshunds.
Why did you decide to write a book for the novice cook and entertainer?
I had been thinking for a year about starting classes to help novice hosts. My son, Martin and his business partner, Rene approached me after attending a birthday party I had hosted. At that party we had been conversing about how difficult it is for newlyweds and new nesters to find a resource that teaches casual entertaining designed with beginners in mind. Rene and his wife had moved into a new home and had wanted to throw a party. They had very little cooking experience and zero entertaining experience. They shared how overwhelming their internet search had been. The week after the party Martin and Rene suggested that I write a book about entertaining that could be developed into an e-book. That planted the seed and things blossomed from there.
What makes your book stand out from all the other cooking/entertaining books on the book shelves today?
I designed and wrote it specifically for beginners who may have never entertained in their lives. I like to help my readers gain confidence and give them permission to NOT take their mistakes too seriously. They happen to everyone. I put together 13 complete menus for popular occasions that I thought beginners might most like to host in their first few years of entertaining. I add a detailed checklist in each chapter along with drink and music suggestions, party etiquette, optional shortcuts, mistakes to avoid and tips to ensure success.
I believe beginners need to start at the beginning. So I encourage them to concentrate on three main areas. “Do a few things and do those well” is a recurring theme in Easy Entertaining for Beginners. All the additional bells and whistles of entertaining can be added as the beginner gains confidence and a bit of experience. My goal is to help readers pull off and enjoy their first successful entertaining experiences.
If I were going to host a dinner party and I was inviting two other couples besides myself and my date and the electricity went off just as they were walking in the door with the food only half-cooked, is there cause for panic?
Well, to be truthful most hosts would have at least a half second of panic. But the key to successful and enjoyable entertaining is the ability for the host to problem – solve and not let glitches like the one you describe ruin the evening. The ability to think on your feet, solve the problem and move on is a plus in entertaining. I would probably handle it this way:
a. I would light some candles, have a glass of wine or beverage for my guests and see if the electricity goes back on, say within 15-20 minutes. So the meal is delayed a bit! You will have more time to visit with your guests! Chances are the electricity will be back on in a short amount of time.
b. If the electricity appears to be out for the evening, I would be thinking of alternative ways to finish cooking the meal. Could we pull out the grill, do we have a propane camping cook stove; is there a neighbor who has any equipment we can use?
c. If all that fails, I would see if I could improvise with anything I could serve that I currently have in the house. If not, I just might put everything away and suggest we take our little soiree to a local restaurant (permitting that the electricity isn’t out in the whole city or town).
d. Last but not least, I wouldn’t let it ruin my evening with my friends. In fact, we would try to the see the humor in it and someday remember back to the night the gourmet meal turned into hotdogs on the grill! But the point is, we still had a good time and enjoyed each other’s company.
Let’s say I’m a newly married bride and it’s my turn to host the annual Christmas dinner which would involve maybe 30 – 40 people. The relatives are bringing over dishes and I’ve been delegated to cook the turkey and provide a super side dish to accommodate that many people. What would you suggest?
I would choose something I could prepare in advance so I am not trying to greet guests, take coats, get beverages and rush around cooking at the same time. Part of a host’s role in entertaining is to set a friendly and relaxed tone. Being prepared helps the host be more relaxed and sets a great tone for the Christmas dinner.
I would suggest some time of potato dish that can be prepared a few hours before guests arrive. Any type of mashed potato casserole, a baked sage and cream potato dish or the Cheddar Hash Brown Gratin featured in the “Christmas Social” chapter of my book, Easy Entertaining for Beginners. That one is really quick to assemble and throw in the oven. It is made with frozen hash browns and delicious cheddar cheese.
Okay, let’s say I have a twelve-year-old who wants to get involved in this huge family gathering and wanted a recipe that would be easy for her to fix but would wow’em. What would you suggest?
Depending on the 12-year-old’s cooking experience, I would say she could pull off just about any recipe in my book with a little bit of supervision from an adult. Some type of dessert would definitely do the trick. I am a big fan of cupcakes for a party. They are perfect little yummies with no utensils required for eating and when they are frosted and decorated in Christmas colors with sprinkles, they look beautiful on a buffet table and will be gone in no time. I have two super-easy cupcake recipes in the book that start with purchased cake mix: chocolate pudding cupcakes and lemon cupcakes with cream cheese filling. Purchase an inexpensive mechanical pastry bag (looks like a cookie shooter) and attractive festive sprinkles so your 12-year-old can have lots of fun making the cupcakes look like ones that come out of a fancy bakery.
What’s your most favorite recipe in the book and can you share it with us?
My favorite recipe is the one featured on the cover of the book, the Shrimp Ceviche. Ceviche is a gloriously simple Mexican recipe that is crunchy, fresh and delicious (pronounced say-vee-chay) served in glasses with tostaditos. A ceviche generally consists of raw fish marinated in lime or lemon juice. The citric acid “cooks” the fish, which is served in a luxurious concoction of sweet and piquant flavors. We are using cooked shrimp for this recipe, and the flavors of tomato, lime, and avocado, along with the crunchy cucumbers and jicama, are quite delicious.
Shrimp Ceviche with Tostaditos
Makes 12 to 16 appetizer servings
2 pounds cooked medium shrimp (50 to 70 per pound), shelled, deveined, and tails removed
1 cup fresh lime juice (8 to 10 limes), divided
1 medium white onion, chopped
2/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 cup ketchup
1/4 cup bottled hot sauce, such as Cholula or Tapatio (use less if you prefer a milder flavor)
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cups chopped cucumber
1 large or 2 small, ripe avocados, peeled, pitted, and chopped
1 cup peeled (use a vegetable peeler), chopped jicama (optional; produce section)
About 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
Tortilla chips (preferably a small round shape)
Lime slices or cilantro sprigs, for garnish
In a small bowl, toss the shrimp in 3/4 cup of the lime juice and refrigerate for 30 minutes. In a separate bowl, mix the remaining 1/4 cup lime juice, onion, cilantro, ketchup, hot sauce, olive oil, cucumber, avocado, jicama, and salt.
To serve, stir the marinated shrimp with the lime juice into the other ingredients. Spoon about 2 tablespoons of the ceviche into each small martini glass or disposable wine glass, with one or two tortilla chips (tostaditos) in each glass and a slice of lime or sprig of cilantro for garnish. These individual servings can be put on the table alongside a bowl containing the remaining ceviche and tostaditos so guests can replenish their glasses. Sit the bowl in a larger bowl with ice to keep the ceviche properly chilled.
Tip: Purchase frozen cooked shrimp at a warehouse store and run under cold water in a colander to defrost for about 10 minutes; then remove the tails, if needed. It should already be deveined if you purchase it this way. Ceviche will not be good the day after the party because the lime juice will make the shrimp chewy if marinated for too long. Don’t worry, there won’t be any left!
Thank you so much for your time and wonderful answers, Patricia. Any final words?
I tell my students in my cooking classes that hosting casual entertaining is a gift that you give to others. It is so worth your time to learn to entertain and express your creativity to those near and dear to you. Happy Entertaining!