Dinner Party in an Hour

Question: What do you do when friends are\r\ncoming over and you haven't got anything prepared?\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n

Mark\r\nBittman: I often don’t\r\nfigure out what I am cooking until an hour before people come over but I make\r\nsure there's food in the house and I think that's important.  It seems so obvious when you say it but\r\nso many people don’t do it.  

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If you have a\r\nlot of food in the house cooking is much easier because now you have so many\r\noptions plus there's pressure on you to cook because you don’t a want the stuff\r\nto go bad.  So what I cook for\r\npeople pretty much depends on what I have.  I try to always have, you know, something.  

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Question: Tell us about one of your dinner\r\nparties.

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Mark\r\nBittman: I had made a\r\ndeal with a friend who was an architect and he designed an office for me and\r\nthe deal was that I was going to cook dinner for him and his wife and two of\r\nhis friends and my wife. 

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So there was\r\ngoing to be six of us.  And we set\r\na date, I guess; he says we set a date. \r\nAnd that morning -- that afternoon actually, about two o'clock he called\r\nand said what time do you want us to go over?  I had completely forgotten about it.  So I went shopping and I made -- I ran\r\nout to the store, I came back, I made – this is a long time ago -- but I made\r\nroast chicken with vinegar, was sort of classic French recipe, some kind of\r\npotatoes, a salad, and I don’t know if I made or bought a bread and I made\r\nchocolate mousse for dessert and I did that in about two hours, which, for me,\r\nis a lot of time in the kitchen for me; I don’t spend two hours in the kitchen\r\nthat often.

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The great thing\r\nwas the food was not that great. \r\nThe food was fine.  The\r\ngreat thing was, a.) I got away with it and, b.) they thought it was fantastic\r\nand it was then that I realized that if you cook for people in your home they, a.) they're looking forward to it, b.) they're going to cut you so much\r\nslack.  They're going to give you\r\nevery benefit of the doubt. \r\nThey're going to be grateful and, therefore, the food is going to taste\r\nbetter than it would if you were in a restaurant where the server was annoying\r\nyou and you knew you were going to spend a lot of money and, you know, you had\r\nto travel to get there and blah, blah, blah. 

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So I think it\r\nwas really – and that was probably 12 or 15 years ago.  So it was about halfway into my -- I've\r\nbeen cooking for 40 years, so it was two-thirds of the way into my life as a\r\ncook when I realized that you can do pretty much anything in your home if you\r\ntake it seriously and do it as well as you could do it and your friends and\r\nfamily are really going to appreciate it.

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Question: What defines a Mark Bittman meal?

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Mark\r\nBittman:  My presence.  I guess there's other kinds of Mark Bittman meals.  Well really its simplicity, its\r\nhonesty, it's not overdoing it. \r\nGenerally speaking, it's very few ingredients and very little technique\r\nand not that much time and its home cooking.  There's nothing fancy about it.  There's no pretense, I like to think there's no\r\npretense.  I mean this all -- it\r\nsounds too good to be true.  It\r\nsounds like better than I am but it really is what I do.  So I guess I'll take some credit for\r\nit.

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What do you do when you've got guests on the way and barely any time to prepare for them? The New York Times cooking columnist comes to your rescue.

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