Laurie Colwin said, “No one who cooks, cooks alone. A cook in the kitchen is surrounded by generations of cooks past, the advice and menus of cooks present, and the wisdom of cookbook writers.” Today, we have Jennifer Chandler, author of four cookbooks and Food and Dining Reporter for The Commercial Appeal, with us to share her thoughts on fall entertaining. She offers great advice on how to love your friends well by serving them fabulous food as well as your undivided attention while they are guests in your home. Sometimes it’s a challenge to do both at the same time, but Jennifer has mastered some methods that are accessible even for the home cook. Turn on your slow cooker and learn from Jennifer Chandler as she shares her culinary experience.
It’s fall, which is a lot of people’s favorite time to eat. Let’s talk about your personal approach to fall cuisine. What are your favorite ways to feed a crowd?
Something about chilly weather makes us want warm, nourishing things. What’s great about fall entertaining is that dishes lend themselves to seasonal ingredients that can also be made ahead of time. Soups, stews, and casseroles are all great for feeding a crowd. Soups and stews in particular can be made in advance and served directly from a slow cooker.
Another of my go-to dishes for entertaining in fall is braised short ribs. Braising is a great way to make a dish hours ahead of time, pop it in the oven while I get ready, finish setting the table, and do last-minute prep work, and then it’s ready to serve when the guests arrive.
Do you have some seasonal ingredients that you love to recommend to the home cook?
Cool-weather crops in season here are always the ingredients I like to use in fall. Roasted root vegetables work as a side dish or they can be used to top rice bowls. Brussels sprouts, carrots, parsnips, and sweet potatoes can be used as sides or as a main dish vegetarian option. Greens such as kale and Swiss chard are cool weather crops you can grow in your garden in spring or fall. Sautéed Swiss chard is one of my favorites. You can put it in pasta, casseroles, soups, or frittatas. It is so nutritious and has so much flavor! Butternut squash is another of my favorites that works well in risottos, soups, side dishes, or pureed as a pasta sauce.
What are some hosting tips you might give folks who enjoy having others into their homes to eat together?
Always remember, your guests are there to see you, and you invited them so that you can be with them. You do not want to be spending time over the stove while they are present … 80-90% of my menus are make-ahead. I know if I’m going to be serving steaks, I will have to work on those while my guests are with me, so I’ll make sure my side dishes are casseroles or something that enables me to be only working with one dish while guests are here. Braised short ribs are great because I only have to serve them … All of the cooking was done before they arrived.
Another idea is to set the table the day before. You can also take some stress off by pulling out your serving dishes and putting sticky pad notes on each one indicating what you plan to use it for. It’s one less thing to worry about on the day of the gathering. It gives you more free time to enjoy your friends.
What are your go-to Memphis comfort dishes?
Some of my favorite things are Southern BBQ. I love anytime someone does a pulled pork with a Memphis-style (has to be Memphis-style!) sauce. I also love dry ribs. Fried catfish is one of my favorites, and nothing beats a big plate of Southern-style vegetables. There are so many places around town that do that really well. It’s hard to narrow the list.
When I think of Memphis, it’s more than just BBQ, but that’s a very key component. I love the dishes (like the Southern vegetables) that your grandma made, that now these restaurants are doing really well, that bring a smile to your face. That’s what I would call my go-to Memphis food.
What are some of your favorite places to acquire recipes?
If I’ve had a great meal at someone’s home, I ask them to share their recipe. Don’t be afraid to ask for recipes from friends. People are flattered when this happens. You can swap out one or two ingredients and make it your own.
When I eat out, if I come across a dish I really love, I will screenshot the menu description, ask the waiter some questions about it, and come home and try to replicate it. It doesn’t always work, but sometimes I find something I really love. One tip: Always test these recipes on yourself before you serve them to friends at a dinner party. Don’t add more stress by serving a recipe for the first time to your friends.
Would you be willing to share your favorite chili recipe?
Absolutely! My favorite chili recipe is my white bean chicken chili from my cookbook, Simply Suppers. I usually make a huge batch because it freezes well, and it’s so good! One fun thing to do when entertaining in the fall is to make a chili bar. I like to put my chili in a stockpot on the stovetop or in a slow cooker. Then, I like to put out an array of toppings in little bowls. Things like sour cream, cilantro, jalapeños, cheese, and chopped onions are all great on top of chili. Your guests can build their own bowl of chili just the way they like it.
White Bean Chicken Chili
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- ½ cup finely diced yellow onion 1 small onion
- ⅓ cup seeded and finely chopped poblano pepper ½ pepper
- 1 can (4.5 oz.) diced green chilies
- 4 cups chicken stock
- 2 cups shredded cooked chicken
- 4 cans (15 oz.) cannellini beans do not drain or rinse
- 1 tbsp dried thyme
- ½ tsp ground cumin
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 6 tbsp sour cream optional
- ¼ cup sliced fresh or pickled jalapeños optional
- ¼ cup fresh cilantro leaves optional
- In a large stockpot over medium-high heat, warm the oil until a few droplets of water sizzle when carefully sprinkled in the pot. Add the onion and poblano pepper and sauté until soft, about 10 minutes. Add the green chilies and sauté until combined, about 1 minute.
- Add the chicken stock, chicken, beans, thyme, and cumin. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Over high heat, bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 35 to 40 minutes. Adjust seasonings as needed.
- Serve hot. Garnish with a dollop of sour cream, sliced jalapenos, and fresh cilantro, if desired.
Where does your inspiration for cooking come from?
It all comes from creating something that puts a smile on someone’s face. I started in finance many years ago but wasn’t really feeling rewarded in my work. When I cooked for people, however, I loved seeing the smiles on their faces. I quit my job, moved to France for culinary school, and never looked back. Food comforts people, evokes memories, nourishes them, and makes them smile. Dinner parties, or even dinners at home, invite people to gather on common ground.
Now, I am a Food and Dining Reporter for The Commercial Appeal. I wear two hats. I have the blessing of being a food writer, but my roots are in cooking for myself and my culinary training. What I love most about my job as a writer is the people I’ve met. Their passion for their food as well as the way they follow their dreams is inspiring. I really enjoy seeing them share their passion for food as well as their culinary talents.
With the exception of faith, family, and friends, what are three things you can’t live without?
I’d say chocolate, trips to the beach, and laughter.
Thank you, Jennifer! To find more of Jennifer’s delicious recipes, visit cookingwithjennifer.com.
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