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Simply Entertaining: Guests' diet restrictions skewer menus

Thursday, October 17, 2002

By Mary Miller

For a small dinner party last winter, I prepared Veal Medallions with Wild Mushroom Sauce. After Sarah cleaned her plate, she asked, "That wasn't veal, was it?" Oops.

"I don't eat veal, but that was terrific," she said. Politely, she quickly let the subject drop.

Because I care about my guests, I always inquire ahead of time about foods they'd prefer not to eat. Sarah listed beets, sauerkraut and Brussels sprouts. No problem. She'd forgotten to mention veal.

Looking back, I should have known better. I had a similar experience many years before where the guest wasn't nearly as well mannered. Upon his realizing that veal was the entree, other dinner guests were treated to descriptions about slaughtering baby animals and, as you can imagine, it put a real damper on the evening. Who wants to eat veal, when you can practically hear the calf bawling for help?

Almost everyone I know has a special diet request -- no tomatoes, only reduced-fat foods or no animal products -- the list goes on and on. Although the requests are often for health reasons, these restrictions can wreak havoc on planning a dinner party. When is it your problem and when is it not?

Most experts say it's not the hostess's problem. The guest should inform you of special dietary restrictions -- but only when necessary.

Some people are deathly (yes, really) allergic to foods such as nuts, shellfish or bananas. In these cases, try to avoid the allergy-causing food. If it's not a life-threatening allergy, your guest should just quietly avoid the food.

For vegetarian visitors, prepare at least a few meat-free dishes, along with the regular meal. You do not have to prepare an entire vegetarian meal.

If a guest is on a liquid fast, it's their responsibility to bring their "food." You don't have to have cans of Happy-Colon handy. It works the other way, too. If you are on a strict dietary regimen, do not impose it on your guests.

At serving time, avoid announcements about the special food. Just serve it without bringing attention to anyone.

Do try to remember the food likes and dislikes of your friends. For example, I know that Don doesn't like meats cooked in a sweet sauce, Peter doesn't like anything with cream cheese, and Pam despises coconut. I try to keep this in mind when cooking for them.

But sometimes it all becomes too much. We once knew someone who wouldn't eat if foods were touching each other on the plate (no, this was not a 5-year-old), wouldn't eat anything white or creamy and couldn't stand the smell of onions. Take this person out for dinner instead of trying to cook for him.

Over the summer, I heard about a woman who was invited to a lobster fest only to lose her cool at the party. She grabbed the uncooked lobsters, ran to her car, shouting, "Save the lobsters!" If you would protest at a lobster plant, then stay away from a lobster party.

When planning a meal, I am careful about strong tastes, such as blue-veined cheese, sardines or anchovies. Also, know your guests well before serving rare meats and fish, or fish with lots of bones or the head attached.

Seared Tuna With Black Olive Vinaigrette

Although it's wise to check with your guests before serving seared tuna, this starter is delicious and simple to prepare.

  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 cup purchased black olive paste (olivada)
  • 1 pound ahi tuna fillet
  • 4 tablespoons chopped chives

Place lemon juice in small bowl. Whisk in 1/2 cup olive oil, and then add olive paste. Season with salt and pepper.

Sprinkle tuna with salt and pepper; rub with remaining 2 tablespoons oil. Heat heavy large skillet over high heat. Add tuna to skillet; sear on both sides, turning occasionally, about 10 minutes. Transfer tuna to plate, let rest for 5 minutes.

Thinly slice tuna crosswise, Spoon 1 tablespoon vinaigrette onto each of six plates. Arrange tuna slices, overlapping, on each plate. Spoon remaining vinaigrette over tuna. Sprinkle with chives. Serves 6.

-- Adapted from Bon Appetit

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