Nov 14, 2009

What not to cook for picky guests

I haven't blogged in a while and I've missed it. But the thing I have done the least is cook, let alone have friends over for dinner. I am finally back in a less remote part of Abruzzi and I have moved into a sweet little attic in the centro storico, where I will soon be entertaining guests and colleagues for delicious meals. Can't wait to get my stove fired up and my pots and pans rocking over the flames.

But when inviting relatively new friends over for a meal, the good host has to keep in mind that not all guests share the same tastes, obviously. Not all the folks I'll be having over in my place are hearty soup fans, or carnivores like me. Not all may love raw fish or offal. Some will cringe at the sight of squid ink risotto, and some will be suspicious before liver crostini and octopus.

So I've decided to make out a list. An index of the most off-limits foods to serve at a meal. When designing the menu for a diverse group of guests, one must take into consideration many elements. Seasons of course, and locality of the foods served. But also ethical choices, idiosyncrasies, whims and food trends. The best part of a meal with friends is seeing the smiles on their faces as they mop the remnants of sauce from their plate. That's a sure sign of a culinary success.

Here are a few things you should avoid cooking for your pickiest friends.
Lamb. Subject to culinary and ethical foibles. If you're in Italy around Easter, it's another story.

Eel. Are you up to cutting them up alive? That's how it's done apparently. And decapitating them won't work because the nervous system keeps the chopped parts jolting for a further 15 minutes.

Lobster. Your guest will be aware that you have tossed them alive and screaming into boiling water. Consider that.

Carbonara. Very easy dish but so hard to prepare well. The danger between "raw scrambled eggs" and "quick setting cement" effect is a very fine line. Especially if you're planning to make it for more than 4 people.

Horse meat. Seriously, would anyone ever serve horse meat at a dinner? Don't think so.

Brains. Delicious deep fried veal brains are best eaten at the reaturant. Serving them for dinner at home flirts with cannibalism.

Cucumber. Strangely very unpopular.

Rabbit. The British have a huge problem with rabbit. For them it's a pet, for us Italians it would be like serving cat stew.

Liver. Vegetarians keel over at the table, hygene integralists object to it being the filter of all the chemicals fed to cattle, others still haven't gotten over the childhood shock of the first bite. It is also very difficult to cook: if served rare it is bloody and horrific, if well-done, too leathery.

Shellfish. Many are allergic.

Snails. I love the way the French prepare them, but that's me...

Raw fish. Harder to prepare than cooked fish. When deciding for a plate of "crudo" one must consider its absolute freshness, one's own carving ability, the correct serving temperature, which kind of fish to purchase, etc.

Frogs. Many of your guests have played with them when they were children. Some other romantic and optimistic may have even kissed one.

Kidneys. Cooking them requires the utmost expertise. And in case of failure, the outcome is a horrible taste of... well, urine. Eww!

Octopus. Tentacles freak people out, especially non-Mediterraneans.

Veal. The cruelty to the calves has made it very hard for folks to eat veal. But not here. The Italian farming industry is different, no chaining, no force feeding, no horror.

I'm making a nice plate of spaghetti aglio, olio e peperoncino tonight. Shall I count you in?


  1. I'll see you for dinner, whatever you're serving!...and many of those delectables that are off limits for guests, I absolutely love. Glad to see you back and blogging.

  2. I have my bib on and wine glass at the ready!

  3. Oh I am so in.
    I don't eat shellfish at all. I can't even wash up the pots and pans my husband uses to cook them without throwing up. In a restaurant if I get a good whiff of his shellfish near me I will want to leave the table. When he orders it I often have my hand discreetly in front of my nose. That rules out many a dinner.
    Organs? I'm out. Eels? Out.
    I love salmon, halibut, chicken, beef, pork, veal (ethical only)all vegetables, pasta, rice, potatoes, especially potatoes. Cheeses, not too stinky.
    I have cooked a meal that included the following restrictions in one group. Low sodium, no dairy, no nuts, no wheat, no hot spice.
    Thank goodness we could have all the wine we wanted.

  4. I'm sure whatever you decide to cook it will be delicious and a thousand times better than the baked beans on toast I would serve LOL
    I loved the list and I see the potential difficulies. If we think too much about the origins of our food then we would never eat anything.
    Great to see you back ~ Eddie x

  5. Looking forward to future posts! Glad to here everything is finally falling back into place and your abck to blogging!

  6. Ciao Lola, So nice to hear from you!
    You are funny...
    Count me in tonight!

  7. Is there room for one more? Love this reverie of foods to avoid. Soon, we'll have to ask for brand names allergies. Funny and sad, all these possibilities that will mar our cooking exploits.

  8. ok, you have thrown out everything i eat! lol. so great to see a post up by you , lola! have missed you. glad you are well...hope e is as well. againg soon hopefully, friend...

  9. I'll pass on a couple of things, but most are on my list of things TO EAT. Venison and wild game is another one you have to be careful about serving to guests.

  10. Great post! I'd say another food to avoid would be anything that has peanuts or cooked in peanut oil. So many people are allergic these days. Personally, I wish sushi was served at every dinner party! I'd so be there! :)

  11. LOL!!! If you cooked all those things would that be classed as a dinner party from hell?

    Fab post!!

    C x

  12. Yes please!
    After looking at those photos, and reading your accounts, I'm almost vegetarian! I'm of the squeamish variety anyway.

  13. Very funny post.

    The British have a huge problem with rabbit. For them it's a pet.

    What?? Are you sure?? Ok, it’s probably because they all have a garden or backyard.

    In any case, we once took a couple of rabbits as pets for the delight of our daughters. Oh they were so silky-furred and sweet! But bit by bit we realised what kind of monsters they were.

    Let’s forget they were sex maniacs mating several times each day and each night with loud shrieks, and that each time we had to separate them for any reason their screams were even louder when they finally got back together. Or that they gnawed all our furniture. Let’s forget this all. The worst thing were the babies!Every now and then they ate them ALIVE before our eyes! Not only our daughters were horrified, sickened. So we gave them away.

  14. PS
    I forgot to say the name of the two devils: Carletto e Margherita.

  15. Your comment about rabbits brought back a childhood memory of visiting relatives in the English countryside and the meal was rabbit piue - the rabbit having been freshly killed that morning from their little group that lived in the garden. No, I couldn't eat it!

    Welcome back to the blogosphere - you've been missed. How is your lovely son doing?


  16. Count me in.

    I am so not adventurous.

    Miss you dear friend.

    Love Renee oxo

  17. But I LOVE frog's legs and escargot! What will I eat?

  18. Interesting list. I like most of what you give here, but brains, liver, kidneys... not so much. I guess offal is where I draw the line, mostly. Ah, well. Bring on the tentacles! Those I love!

  19. Your remark about lobsters had me wondering if you were making a conscious reference to David Foster Wallace's essay titled "Consider the Lobster", about all aspects of eating lobster... if you haven't, by chance, read it yet, you might enjoy that, very well written...

  20. Hi Lola,
    lovely to hear from you.... I almost fall into my cafe latte when laughing during reading your post. You`re definitely right with everything. And yes, I would love to have a plate of your spaghettti.... have a great week and come on to stop over for a cafe latte.... lol Myriam

  21. Oh yes, please count me in as well.
    Greetings from Scotland

  22. loved your commentary...

    brains? really? I'm hoping to eventually work up enough courage to try them.

  23. I'd love to see your short list of dishes that can safely be served anyone. Would you make that list for us sometime?

  24. Very amusing! When I invite folks for dinner, I always ask if they have any "allergies" or "isms." It's a minefield.

  25. Hurrah!!! You're BACK!!!! Missed you so much!!! But ewww...what a list!!! I'm a vegetarian...and so...and lobster? Before my vegan days, I was invited to a dinner...and the poor lobsters were running around the kitchen prior to being boiled alive...and then, the lobster I received for my meal turned out to be a mama...eggs discovered in her...oh, my...if that wasn't enough to turn me off to lobster forever more!!! You are so right,dear Lola...must be careful what we serve!!!! Count me in for your evening meal ...;-) Love you! Welcome back!!! ~Janine XO

  26. "quick setting cement"

    Oh good, it's not just me then LOL.

  27. I wish I could come!! Although I did make a nice chicken parm last night with a side of pasta. The leftovers are the best!

    About the horse - friends of ours in Verona served some at a family dinner we were invited to. And eel. (at a different meal). They loved it!

    And, one other comment, I agree about the veal, but I wish people would also think about how chickens are treated. It's not pretty.

    Hope you are well! Haven't chatted with you in a while.

  28. Dinner sounds perfect.

    I would not eat any of the things you mentioned, for all of the reasons you mentioned.

    It is getting really hard to entertain - isn't it? My one daughter is vegan, my other daughter is studying to be a holistic nutritionist, my husband loves meat. All of our friends and family have different diets, allergies, and food preferences. I am currently trying to figure out what to cook for Thanksgiving next week.

  29. have made me laugh!

  30. Hi Lola! Wow, I would certainly be drinking wine only if any of those foods were presented to me.. great to see you back again! :)

  31. and just to really mess things up, how do you deal with those who are gluten intolerant! :-)
    Right, now that sorted, where's my dinner invite? :-)

  32. You are delightful! Yes please count me in for pasta. You make good points in your post.
    If is alive, it's a pet. It is hard to cross that line ... Old MacDonald Had A Farm, childhood storiey and song, with the realities of how it gets to market.

  33. Well, I have happily eaten all the things on your list, but I'd love to join you for spaghetti aglio, olio e peperoncino as well! I'm glad to have discovered your blog.

  34. Spaghetti all'aglio, olio e peperoncino, per favore! ;-)

  35. Very clever :)

    I love the way you have done this.

    I'm the one allergic to shellfish!

    xx Ribbon

  36. I would have been there in a flash!