Make your guests feel at home in your home

  • By Jan Roberts-Dominguez / Herald Columnist
  • Tuesday, April 19, 2005 9:00pm
  • Life

For my birthday last August my husband presented me with a pocket-size altimeter-barometer-compass combo.

“Steve gave you what?” my mother asked.

“Well, it’s called an Altitech, and it’s really cool,” said I, not immediately registering my mother’s implication that this just might be the proverbial power tool-trumped-up-as-a-birthday present sort of gift.

When I finally caught her drift, I protested vigorously. “No! No! It’s really cool. I’ll be able to use it next week on our pack trip into the Wallowas. I’ll know elevation gains and losses, temperature, be able to forecast storms and in the middle of the night, I just press one little button and the face will light up so I can read the time.

“Plus, it’s moss green – the exact same shade as my hiking shorts, so when it’s dangling from my belt loop it’ll blend right in.”

It wasn’t a dozen roses or a tennis bracelet. It was, quite simply, the perfect gift. It showed an understanding of and respect for my very specific outdoor passions. I’ll cherish it always.

I like to employ the same strategy for feeding guests. When folks come to visit, why not take some time to figure out what it is that would make them feel at home in your home, then do it.

In my teens, I remember spending a weekend with relatives on the East Coast and being served steak along with the rest of the adults. They were trying to make me feel welcome and grown-up. But I was homesick, and what I really hankered for were the pigs in a blanket that the other kids were eating.

In my earlier years of marriage, I felt compelled to haul out our finest china and crystal for every occasion and put on a four-course meal. I always wondered why the evenings sometimes seemed a little stiff and unspontaneous. It would have helped if we had backed off on the heavy-handed approach to the menu. We still love to use our favorite china and crystal – that’s our style – but we’re more interested in serving food that encourages relaxed and lively conversation.

I repeat: When folks come to visit, figure out what it is that would make them feel at home in your home, then do it.

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One of the best ways to welcome any youngster to the dinner table:

Pigs in blankets

1 recipe of rolled biscuits (as directed on the Bisquick package)

1 to 2 packages of your favorite brand of hot dogs

Make rolled biscuit dough as directed on Bisquick package. Roll the dough about 1/4-inch thick into rectangular shape. Cut into 4-by-3-inch oblongs. Wrap each oblong around a wiener, letting ends of the wiener peep out. Bake in a 450 degree oven for 15 minutes. Serve hot, with mustard and ketchup on the side. Makes 6 to 12.

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This specialty of Walla Walla shallot grower, Jim Robison, provides an easy avenue for entertaining.

Jim’s garlic-shallot marinade for pork tenderloin

3 tablespoons soy sauce

3 tablespoons sugar

6 tablespoons bourbon or dark rum

1 teaspoon salt

4 to 5 cloves garlic, smashed or chopped

2 to 3 tablespoons minced shallots

1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger

About 21/4 pounds pork tenderloins

Hot dry mustard (optional)

Toasted sesame seeds (optional)

In a small bowl, mix together the soy sauce, sugar, bourbon, salt, garlic, shallots and ginger. Place the marinade in a self-closing plastic bag with the pork tenderloin and refrigerate overnight or for at least 4 to 6 hours.

Remove the marinated meat from the refrigerator and drain for 20 to 30 minutes before cooking (this also allows the meat to come to room temperature for more even cooking).

Grill the tenderloins on all four sides, about 4 minutes per side, for medium doneness. The meat will feel moderately firm to the touch, but not completely hard.

Let the meat sit for about 5 minutes before cutting. Cut into 1-inch wide slices and serve with rice or potatoes and a big salad. If using as an appetizer, then put out small bowls of toasted sesame seeds and hot mustard. Instruct diners to dip their meat in the mustard first, then into the sesame seeds.

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The meats been marinating all day or overnight. Let your guests help you with the cutting up of the veggies and the skewering of the ingredients.

No-sweat beef kabobs

1 (16 ounce) bottle of Italian dressing

1/3 cup bottled tempura sauce (Kikkoman makes it, but it’s hard to find), or soy sauce

Abaout 31/2 to 4 pounds of top sirloin, cut into 1- to 1 1/2 -inch chunks

1/4 pound fresh mushrooms, halved

1 each red and green bell pepper and sweet onion, cut into 1-inch pieces

In a resealable plastic bag, combine the dressing with the tempura sauce (or soy sauce), top sirloin and mushrooms. Refrigerate overnight in the refrigerator.

At least 30 minutes before cooking (or much earlier in the day), skewer the meat and the vegetables on bamboo skewers, alternating the meat with the vegetables for the best merging of flavors. Grill the skewers on all sides to the desired degree of doneness. Serve with baked potatoes or rice and a nice fresh green salad. Yields 8 to 10 servings.

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When entertaining, don’t forget the ease of casseroles and one-dish meals. I was treated to this dish at a potluck gathering many years ago. But the memory of that tender treat lingers behind. It’s basic goodness and simply assembly are its strong suit.

Susie Gakstatter’s pork and sauerkraut special

4large boneless pork spareribs

1tablespoon vegetable oil

1quart sauerkraut (with a bit of the juice)

2or 3 apples, peeled and sliced (or coarsely chopped)

1/2to 1 cup brown sugar (it depends on how sweet you like it)

Salt and pepper to taste

In a Dutch oven or large, heavy pot, thoroughly brown the ribs on all sides in the oil over medium-high heat. Add the sauerkraut, apples and brown sugar, cover and simmer for 2 to 3 hours until the pork is very tender and the mixture has thickened in texture and mellowed in flavor. You may need to add a little water if it gets very dry. Add salt and pepper, if desired. Great with mashed potatoes.

Crockpot option: After browning the spareribs, place all of the ingredients in a crockpot and cook up to 8 hours on low, or 5 hours on high. If you happen to be home during the process, give the mixture a stir every now and then. Makes 4 servings.

Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis, Ore., food writer, cookbook author and artist. Readers can contract her by e-mail at

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