I learned that the hardest party to pull off successfully is Saturday night dinner. This meal is expected to be elaborate: appetizers, first course, dinner, dessert, and coffee. People arrive at 7:30 or 8 p.m. and stay for hours - definitely past my bedtime - and they all go home exhausted.
My favorite fall or winter lunch is big steaming bowls of soup. I usually invite people for around 12:30 and have two hearty soups like shrimp corn chowder and lentil sausage soup, which can be made a day or two ahead.
People have more fun if they don't eat so much they have to be taken home in an ambulance.
There's something really wonderful about a party where you help yourself. Of course, first you get what you really want. But 'family style' service also really encourages people to connect with one another.
They say that gardens look better when they are created by loving gardeners rather than by landscapers, because the garden is more tended to and cared for. The same thing goes for cooking. I only cook for people I love.
If it's a cocktail party, I generally make five or six different things, and I try to choose recipes that feel like a meal: a chicken thing, a fish or shrimp thing, maybe two vegetable things, and I think it's fun to end the cocktail party with a sweet thing.
I measure everything, because I always think that if I've spent so much time making sure this recipe was exactly the way I want it, why would I want to throw things into a pot?
I time everything. I'm a scientist at heart.
Instead of going out to dinner, buy good food. Cooking at home shows such affection. In a bad economy, it's more important to make yourself feel good.
The dirty little secret is that I grew up in a household where there were no carbohydrates allowed, ever. No cookies, no bread, no potatoes, no rice. My mother was very extreme in terms of what she served. Since I left home more than 40 years ago, I've been making it right for myself.
When I wrote 'Barefoot in Paris,' I wanted to make simple recipes that you could make at home that tasted like French classics.
I try to greet my friends with a drink in my hand, a warm smile on my face, and great music in the background, because that's what gets a dinner party off to a fun start.
I worked for the Office of Management and Budget in the White House, on nuclear energy policy. But I decided it would be much more fun to have a specialty food store, so I left Washington D.C. and moved to the Hamptons. And how glad I am that I did!
The most important thing for having a party is that the hostess is having fun. I'm very organized. I make a plan for absolutely everything. I never have anything that has to be cooked while the guests are there. The only thing I might have to do is take something out of the oven and carve it.
In the summer you want fresh, light and sort of quick things; in winter you want things that are comforting, so your body really tells you you want to go towards potatoes, apples, fennel, things that are warm and comforting. And loin of pork.