When hosting dinner seems too complicated, and brunch isn’t quite what you had in mind, go old-school with a classic Sunday roast.
By the time I was a teenager,” writes the Canadian cookbook author Laura Calder in her new book, The Inviting Life: An Inspirational Guide to Homemaking, Hosting and Opening the Door to Happiness, “I’d grown into a proper little tyrant when it came to table settings and etiquette (I’d discovered Emily Post and Amy Vanderbilt, to the despair of my two brothers).” But it was that etiquette and the family dynamic that informed the Food Network Canada host’s culinary-driven career and her love of hosting at home. “I was aware even then that there was power in feeding people, that on the occasions I took over from my mother to cook for fun, I was somehow helping to keep our household together and make everyone happy. That gave me purpose and satisfaction.” Here, her thoughts on being a host with the most.
Vivian Vassos: “Homemaking” is a word we haven’t heard in a while! Is nostalgia key to hosting now?
Laura Calder: If there’s anything that never goes out of style, it’s hosting and homemaking. Without those foundations, civilization quickly starts to unravel as, unfortunately, I think we’ve seen over the past decade. That’s probably why the pendulum is starting to swing the other way. People are finally sensing that these pursuits are not frivolous, they’re vital. I wrote this book to underline their importance – to highlight why they matter so much.
VV: Is there a difference between entertaining and hosting?
LC: In a way, they’re the same, but there is a nuance of difference. I find the word “entertaining” problematic because it sounds like some sort of top hat routine, mere diversion. “Hosting,” on the other hand, is more gracious-sounding and suggests taking charge of something that has meaning and consequences, hopefully good ones. Hosting is a true leadership role.
VV: Do good cooks automatically make good hosts? Do cookbook authors make good entertainers?
LC: Good hosting isn’t really about the food, so even if you’re the best cook, if you don’t know how to make people feel good, you’re unlikely to excel at hosting. As for authors, a lot of great writers tend to be quite introverted, so hosting can make them uncomfortable. And there are different types of hosts. Some people are fabulous at big bashes. I’m not; I like smaller gatherings. There again, though, it’s the diversity that keeps things interesting.
VV: But we can just get Uber Eats. Why bother cooking? Is this where the happiness factor comes in?
LC: There is something about being cooked for by someone that is immediately a deeper experience than just sharing takeout. It’s more intimate and more bonding because there’s vulnerability involved, both on the part of the host and the guests. It’s certainly more powerful when it comes to relationship-building than meeting in a restaurant. There’s no comparison. As for happiness, I think that comes from true connection, and you get that much faster between people when you’re not being fed on neutral turf by a middleman.
In that spirit, take these tips, recipes and a few pages out of Calder’s book, excerpted here, and throw your own mid-day fete.
If dinner feels too much like jumping in at the deep end, a great way to wade into entertaining at home is to invite people for lunch. The food can be simpler and lighter, there tends to be less of it and there’s no need to offer a full-blown dessert (which, even for a proper dinner, can always be replaced by a bit of fruit and cheese, a plate of cookies or a smattering of chocolates, candied ginger, licorice and the like).
Noontime entertaining is ideal for guests with children, as well as for old people (ahem, like me) who don’t want a late night out. It’s also a useful time for getting together with one or two friends or colleagues for a private, clear-headed chat. (I know brunch is popular these days too, but I personally keep my distance because I find the food weird – one friend typifies brunch as “the pork chop waffle par-fait” – and because eating at neither-here-nor-there hours of the day throws my body out of whack. Chez nous, therefore, mid-day eating means lunch proper.)
Lunch can be exactly the same as what we’d serve in the evening, albeit in smaller portions, but I think unless it’s meant to be the main meal of the day, it’s nice if it has its own flair and unique stamp.
The Sunday Roast
There is one so-called lunch that is not so easy – the infamous Sunday roast – but it’s definitely worth mastering because it’s basically smaller-scale practice for all the grand-scale family celebrations that come dotted throughout the year to terrify us all. I was inspired to resurrect the tradition in our house after I’d spent a small fortune on a big white linen tablecloth. (Where more appropriate to use it than at Sunday roast?) The stroke of genius with our Sunday lunches is that we roped a particular group of friends into the game and turned ourselves into somewhat of a club. Sunday roast happens roughly once a month (summer months excluded), and we rotate houses, which lightens the workload for everyone and spreads expenses out evenly (meat isn’t – and shouldn’t be – cheap).
A Sunday roast is essentially the dreary old meat/starch/two veg formula of dining, only at its most glorious. Christmas dinner is a Sunday roast, with a few special fixings; Easter lunch is a Sunday roast; Thanksgiving is a Sunday roast. Because these feasts are so substantial, no first course is required; the main spread just goes on platters on a buffet or straight on the table where chaos ensues as people pass dishes around and around and around in circles like so many minds gone mad. This is how such family-style celebrations should be: total chaos, with shouting children, barking dogs, wine glasses knocked flying in the heat of a good tale … There is no reason not to stray from the traditional menus (I do it all the time), but it’s also worth being familiar with the tried-and-true because they’re comforting and familiar, always appropriate and never go out of style.
Host’s First Roast
Makes 6 servings
If you’re new to Sunday roast, take the easy route and serve cold roast beef with an array of enticing sauces: grainy Dijon mustard and horseradish cream, both of which you can buy, along with walnut mayonnaise and green sauce, both of which you can make in a wink.
3 lb sirloin roast
Salt and pepper
Heat the oven to 425 F. Season the roast and rub it lightly with oil all over. On the stovetop, heat an oven-friendly skillet that will accommodate the roast and brown the meat on all sides until you get a nice dark crust, about three minutes per side. Transfer to the oven and roast until a meat thermometer reaches 120 F, about 40 minutes. (If the meat is not quite to temperature, return it to the oven, but check every few minutes because things can go overboard very fast from this point on.)
When it’s ready, remove the roast from the oven and set aside to rest for at least 15 minutes. If you’re making the roast early in the day, wrap and refrigerate once cool, then remove from the fridge an hour before slicing ultra-
thinly and arranging on a platter. Serve with the four sauces, each in its own bowl.
Depending on the strength of your walnut oil, you may want to use half walnut and half grapeseed oil.
1 egg yolk
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp sherry vinegar
½ tsp salt
1 cup walnut oil
Lemon juice to taste
Whisk together the yolk, mustard, vinegar and salt. Whisk in the oil, adding it only drop by drop so the mixture emulsifies. Taste and add lemon juice and more salt, if needed, to taste. Refrigerate until serving.
Makes about 1 cup
1 cup parsley leaves
½ cup mint leaves
½ cup basil leaves
2 anchovies, rinsed (optional)
1 heaping tsp capers
1 heaping tsp Dijon mustard
1 garlic clove, grated
⅓ cup olive oil, more if needed
Salt and pepper
Put the herbs, anchovies (if using), capers, mustard and garlic in a food processor and pulse fine. With the motor running, add the oil in a stream to sauce consistency, thinning with more oil if necessary. Taste and season to your liking with the salt.
Makes about 1 cup
Excerpted from The Inviting Life by Laura Calder. Copyright © 2017 Laura Calder. Published by Appetite by Random House, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.
A version of this article appeared in the May 2018 issue with the headline, “Let’s Do Lunch,” p. 41.