Cooking is fun.  Cooking together can be funny, entertaining, poignant, challenging, and fulfilling.  Too many cooks may spoil the broth but two palates in the kitchen can produce an endless array of delicate dinners.  The trick is to make the experience easy, affordable and non-stressful.  To ensure that your cooking experience is a pleasurable as possible, Sue and I have suggested both preparation and cooking times for the recipes, including time-saving "Do-Ahead" recipes.  We've listed the cookware required, cooked with obtainable ingredients, and honored your budget with full understanding of your hectic schedules.

Don't be intimidated!  Imagine we're in the kitchen cooking along with you. Say to yourself, "What would Abigail do in this situation?"  While preparing the following recipes, we've thought about for whom you are cooking--yourselves, parents, friends, business associates--and where you may run unto trouble.  Everyone does and it's OK!  Cooking is a learning experience.  In "sidebars," we've tried to anticipate problems and to suggest simple solutions.  And finally, we've noted that using expensive ingredients and table decor is not a prerequisite to a successful meal.  Be imaginative and you're sure to succeed.  In the menu section of the book, we've divided meals into three categories.  The dollar signs will be your guide to determining which menu best fits your food allowance.

The single dollar sign, $, indicates an inexpensive meal.

$$ indicates a moderate meal.

$$$ indicates an expensive meal.

Please remember that prices vary in different regions of the country and you'll have spirits, wine, and table decor to consider.

Our philosophy of food has always centered around simple and honest cuisine. Perhaps one of the most satisfying meals we have ever eaten was a lunch in the Napa Valley--a sandwich of grilled chicken, sliced avocado, and pepper were distinct, yet served together, they created a whole new eating experience.  If you always begin by buying the freshest ingredients, your recipes are guaranteed to succeed.  Experiment, substitute seasonal items as available, and you will enjoy the pure taste of dazzling food, whatever the occasion.

As the founder of Abigail Kirsch at Tappan Hill, an elegant mansion overlooking the Hudson River, I've met thousands of brides and grooms to discuss their likes and dislikes and to create menus tailored to their individual tastes.  As a result, I've come to understand what newlyweds need and want.  Some brides literally want a spotlight on them, while others don't even want a cake-cutting ceremony.  As I say to l the brides and groom at Tappan Hill, "Here's an outline of a menu, now design yours.  Put the "you" in it."

So it is with the foods you prepare.  Read the recipes in the front section and menu-plan together.  Combine the recipes to make an interesting meal.  Many of the recipes have a "serve-with" suggestion.  Tailor your meals to your tastes and those of your guests.  Your objective is to provide a comfortable atmosphere for your guests and yourselves and to recognize individual dietary concerns:  vegetarian, low-fat, diet, allergy to shellfish.

The most important ingredient in planning your first dinner party is a sense of humor!  It goes a long way toward easing a serious case of anxiety.  The angst before my first party was alleviated when Tony, the butcher, gave me his secret recipe for sliced steak with mushroom sauce, along with a very good cut of beef.  Tony became my cooking guru, and my guests had the dubious pleasure of dining on the same menu for at least one year.

As newlyweds, Bob and I did our entertaining on Saturday nights.  We would run a mini-marathon all evening.  I always set the table the night before (and still do).  Bob bought the wine and the flowers, lit the candles and arranged the placecards.  I cooked dinner.  As our guests finished each course, the dishes were promptly cleared and stacked in the dishwasher, allowing us leisurely time after dinner for socializing.  Our goal:  no dirty dishes after the guests left.

Bob and I often had dinner guests and soon discovered that one-dish recipes served with great salads and hearty breads were a non-stressful way to entertain.  Because many of the dishes could be cooked in advance, the trauma of wondering "is this recipe going to work for me" was laid to rest.  My so-called good friends never let me forget burning my grandmother's secret recipe for cabbage soup.  This culinary calamity could have been avoided if I had had the foresight to try the recipe in advance. Then, too, I would have realized the need for a heavy-duty soup pot in our kitchen registry.  The soup was cooked in the only big soup-pot I could find...a thin washtub.  The soup burned, and with a very red face, I served soup and salad for dinner!  That taught me to simmer soup in a heavy-bottomed pot.  I also learned the first step to a successful dinner party: Read the recipes from beginning to end and gather all your necessary ingredients, utensils and cookware before you begin.

Black Olive Pesto

Kitchenware:  chef's knife, pepper mill, food processor

Preparation time:  15 minutes

Do-Ahead:  Make the pesto up to 2 days in advance.  Be sure to cover the spread tightly and refrigerate

3 cloves garlic, peeled
2 anchovy fillets
1 teaspoon pine nuts
1/3 cup pitted black olives
1/3 cup pitted nicoise olives
1 1/2 teaspoons virgin olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1.      Put the garlic, anchovies, pine nuts and olives in the bowl of the food processor fitted with the cutting knife.  Process until smooth.

2.      Using the pulse button, slowly add the olive oil and lemon juice.  Season with pepper.

Makes 1 cup

Service:  Put the Black Olive Pesto in a small bowl and serve as a spread with Bruscetta Crisps (page 16).

Cook's Tips:
- Try the pesto on grilled French bread
- It also makes a wonderful dressing for grilled steak, seafood or vegetables.
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