Gail Monaghan at the French Cheese Board © Gary Duff
“We entertain a lot but don’t have that skill,” food author and culinary expert Gail Monaghan said at the French Cheese Board in SoHo. It is true. Few things will fill me with more dread than hosting a dinner party, which often means tons of work and minimal satisfaction.
Gail’s latest book, It’s all in the the Timing: Plan, Cook and Serve Great Meals with Confidence is an ultimate home cook companion, giving both recipes and prep advice and making a dinner party an enjoyable, relaxing affair.
Gail is no stranger to the culinary world. A graduate of the International Culinary Center, she has made a career as a prolific writer, contributing to the Wall Street Journal, and private cooking class instructor. With one James Beard award under her belt, she has also collaborated with the likes of Mario Batali. But for Gail, there is a difference between the professional and home kitchen.
We often forget how difficult it is to entertain at home. “People have other responsibilities such as kids, jobs and housework,” she said while admitting the her culinary training had not completely prepared her for the home service. Somewhere between the professional kitchen and cooking at home, she spotted a gap in the market for a guide that could marry the two.
In Gail’s book, the fundamental rule is that entertaining should be a pleasure. Let’s face it; “if you’re frantic, your guests can’t relax!” It’s all in the Timing showcases recipes from the very simple to complex, while providing a timetable to help the host plan ahead. While many cookbooks contain easy-to-do recipes, Ms. Monaghan’s book focuses on the big picture, that is putting together a menu of dishes that compliment each other.
“Creating a menu is like a jigsaw puzzle,” Gail explained. First, decide on the menu, read your recipes and plan ahead. In her book, one chapter titled, “Assets” features recipes for pie crusts, pastry dough, ice cream and vinaigrettes, which can be done well in advance and keep for days. Knowing your ingredients, which can change in taste and cooking time depending on their origin and season, can also help you anticipate any potential obstacles. Ms. Monaghan’s book also has dishes that can be served at room temperature, while others like duck, but not chicken, can be easily reheated without drying out. Prepared salads, marinated in advance, can also relieve the host of the dismal prospect of having to do everything to order the day of.
It’s all in the Timing is a useful home kitchen instructional manual that can make any dinner party doable and fun. Without being too fussy or over-complicated, the book helps by breaking the steps down into simple components. Organized by holiday theme or special occasion, the dishes compliment each other. Each with a “Begin Prep” section, easy-to-read charts help the reader determine what elements to prepare in advance by hours or even days.
Her private cooking classes and demos also follow a similar philosophy of cutting down stress, according to a few of her students attending the event. But these days, thanks in part to celebrity chefs, cooking shows and foodie articles, public interest in cooking has grown, with more students willing to take on more complex dishes, according to Ms. Monaghan. “They want to do it all,” she said.
Above all whether fancy or rustic, she said, the cook should feel comfortable with the menu and the dishes chosen. She warns to never try something unfamiliar or seemingly too complicated. In the end, “you want to relax and just have fun.”
For information on upcoming cooking classes, please visit gailmonaghan.com.