Solo Hosts Benefit from Relaxed Rules

Article excerpt

PASTA, potluck, and picnics: These are a few of a single entertainer's favorite things.

"Whenever I have friends come over, undoubtedly they get some sort of pasta dish because it's easy," says Pam Alexander, a financial analyst at Ford Motor Company in Dearborn, Mich.

Like Ms. Alexander, many solo hosts are taking advantage of the recent shift in tone - from the elaborate, self-conscious 1980s to the comfortable casual '90s.

"The idea of entertaining people is really to have {them} over as friends and for conversation, and to not think of cooking as a competitive sport," says New York chef Michele Urvater, author of "Monday to Friday Cookbook" (Workman Publishing, 1991).

No longer are perfect place settings and four-course meals a must. In fact, the dishes don't even have to match.

"Matching is bad," declares Michael McLaughlin, author of the new book "Cooking for the Weekend: Food for the Best of Times" (Simon & Schuster, pp. 333, $25). Mr. McLaughlin, who deliberately mismatches his kitchenwares, says that having people over for a good meal is more important than having "the perfect equipment to do it."

Those in the culinary industry would advise singles to keep things relaxed and simple when entertaining. Among other things, they say, it gives those guests who often eat out a break from elaborate restaurant cuisine.

"Today the most personal way you can entertain is to serve people the food you eat on an everyday basis," says Julee Rosso, co-author of the Silver Palate Cookbooks and author of "Great Good Food:Luscious Lower-fat Cooking" (Crown/Turtle Bay Books, pp. 574, $19 paper, $29 cloth).

For many people living on their own, a lack of time, kitchen space, and tools can make weekday meals, let alone entertaining, a challenge. The key to planning for guests is to think modestly, say those with experience.

"Start with something simple," says Ms. Urvater, "something you are familiar with and that you like very much, something that tastes wonderful - it can be as simple as pasta."

According to Urvater, an effortless way to dress up pasta is to simply buy it in different colors. When it's the main course, Urvater suggests serving a salad first and then finishing with either a homemade or store-bought dessert. She encourages entertainers to choose menus that include at least one store-bought item, "where somebody else does the cooking."

Some singles opt to have somebody else do all the cooking. Mark Sheft, who entertained more frequently before he started Harvard Law School last year, recalls that he often had picnics with purchased items. "I was willing to pay more for convenience," he says, "so I would buy prepared food or food from these specialty stores rather than having to take the time and do it myself. …