They'd thought through potential problems: locking up their 18-year-old cat, who normally spends her days and nights sitting in the kitchen sink; hiring someone to do the dishes; scrutinizing the menu for allergens.
After relaxing with drinks (Tom Collinses made with Meyer lemon) and appetizers (fried plantains in the living room), guests sat down to apple Thai squash bisque; chile and garlic shrimp stir-fry (see recipe) over caramelized fennel and Vidalia onion (see recipe); pan-roasted free-range airline chicken with Asian spices (see recipe); lemongrass and ginger potato salad, garlicky sesame-cured broccoli, and then, for dessert, bittersweet chocolate peppermint cookies and banana sorbet made with goat yogurt and ricotta.
Of course, what can go wrong, will. The cat got out midway through the meal, and the hired help canceled.
In the end, the meal won raves and laughter resounded from the dining room by way of a pass-through to the kitchen, reassuring the cook.
And, by the way, this story is really about the cook, Ed Tettemer.
At 55, Tettemer is a marketing consultant whose client roster includes the Mural Arts Program, the Free Library of Philadelphia, and the Pennsylvania Department of Tourism. As part of the tourism mission, Tettemer crisscrossed Pennsylvania, mapping attractions and eateries far from the turnpike's mundane path and created a chronicle of those joints in a book and blog, the Shunpiker's Guide (shunpikersguide.blogspot.com).
A bearish man with a sly grin under a thick mustache, Tettemer is a character. Gregarious, hilarious - he's always quick to share a story about some oddball situation he's encountered and survived. He's the kind of guy you tell your friends about later, as if recommending a particularly captivating show.
And he has long been a passionate cook, inspired by his mother in the tactile, sensory pleasure of ingredients and the joy of serving others.
Tettemer donated his culinary services for the First Person fund-raiser that Scher won.
"When I was bidding, I thought I was getting a celebrity chef," Scher said. The bids went over $500. "Then I found out he was a cook, not a chef. And I thought, that's OK. But I didn't know what to expect."
Four years ago, Tettemer's desire to feed others also prompted him to start making monthly dinners for the volunteer fire company in Strathmere, N.J., where he and his wife, Lyn, have a second home.
"I was reading something by Benjamin Franklin and he said every fire company had to have a really good cook or a tavern, so the firefighters could bond over strong drink and good food. The food is the glue that makes them a brotherhood."
More recently, in an audio essay for WHYY radio's This I Believe (whyy.org/91FM/tettemer.html), Tettemer offered to cook for total strangers.
The essay program, which started in the 1950s in Philadelphia and went national with the legendary Edward R. Murrow as host, invites any and all locals to explore the core values that shape their lives.
So Tettemer wrote: "I believe in feeding people. I love to cook for friends, family, heck, anyone with taste buds and a happy hunger."
He ended the essay with a vague offer to cook for people at dinner parties. But that part wasn't very well thought out, he said later.
"Good thing nobody called me on that, because I don't know what I'd do." Still, he added, "I'd rather cook for a crowd than do anything else."
In that regard, Tettemer's dream could be someone else's nightmare - yours at Thanksgiving, for example.
The planning and the prep, the cooking and cleanup; and doing it all in somebody else's kitchen, where you don't know your way around - why?
"The pressure's on them," he says. "Having somebody else take over your kitchen."
Tettemer grew up in Warminster before it was overrun with shopping centers and multiplexes - when his dad would take him fishing for sunnies and catfish in the Neshaminy Creek.
"Every Friday was a fish fry. And Mom knew exactly how long after a good rain it took for the mushrooms to pop up. She'd hand us cotton sacks and lead us out to harvest while the meadow grass was still wet.
"A coffee can of bacon drippings stood ready by the stove, and nothing beats those wild mushrooms sauteed in bacon drippings, with garlic and onion and a mother's love."
If she were alive today, Sara (Sally) Tettemer might be shocked at the current cult status of sustainable gardeners. With no encouragement from a society that was busy pouring concrete, she grew pole beans and Swiss chard, red beets and rhubarb, fertilized with manure from Jigs Kentop's farm.
Franklin Tettemer was a loving father and chief deputy sheriff of Bucks County for 19 years.
"Dad was a tinkerer. He could fix anything," Tettemer says. "And I couldn't."
The telling admission hangs out there.
"So, when I can pull something like this off," he says with a sweep of his right arm encompassing all the details of a grand gourmet meal, "I feel like my old man."
Meanwhile, back at the stove, Tettemer is fretting about the front right burner that glows but won't heat.
"Next time I'm going to charge more for cooking on electric stoves," he jests.
But seriously, smoke is starting to emerge from the oven, and a blaring alarm would spoil the ambience. His wife, here helping, cracks open the kitchen door.
Scher breezes in from the dining room with a platter emptied of its fried plantains.
"Big hit, big hit!" she declares. Tettemer shoos her out playfully.
"This is supposed to feel like magic when it comes out," he says.
"Cheaters" Chili Pepper and Garlic Shrimp Stir-Fry
Makes 4 to 6 servings
1 pound large raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 splash peanut oil
1 healthy squeeze chili pepper paste
1 healthy squeeze garlic paste
1. Pat the shrimp dry.
2. Heat the oil in a wok pan or big fry pan (if nonstick, you can use less oil) until it starts to sizzle.
3. Squeeze in the chili pepper and garlic pastes and stir quickly in the oil for a few seconds until blended.
4. Drop in the shrimp, a few at a time, and shake and stir to coat the shrimp with the spicy oil.
5. Shake and stir for just a few minutes, 3 or 4 tops, until the shrimp is bright pink.
6. Remove the shrimp and serve on a bed of caramelized fennel and onion (see recipe).
- Ed Tettemer, email@example.com
Note: This is "cheaters" stir-fry, because it uses chili pepper and garlic pastes that come in a tube (Gourmet Garden brand, widely available in supermarkets). The viscosity of the paste helps the flavor cling to the shrimp.
Per serving (based on 6, without pastes): 123 calories, 16 grams protein, 1 gram carbohydrates, no sugar, 6 grams fat, 115 milligrams cholesterol, 112 milligrams sodium, no dietary fiber.
Caramelized Fennel and Vidalia Onion
Makes 4 to 6 servings
2 fennel bulbs
1 to 3 tablespoons butter
1 medium Vidalia onion, sliced in thin rings
1 tablespoon sugar (simple syrup or brown sugar may be substituted)
1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1. Wash and trim the fennel. Cut off the stalks and root end.
2. Cut bulbs in half and discard any tough outer layers. Slice as you would an onion, making thin rings.
3. Melt the butter in a heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the fennel and onion. Stir to spread butter. Reduce the heat to medium-low and stir occasionally until the fennel softens, about 10 minutes.
4. Add the sugar and salt. Stir as it cooks another 10 or even 20 minutes, until the fennel and onions are a bit brown and tender. The longer and slower over low heat, the better the caramelization.
- Ed Tettemer, firstname.lastname@example.org
Per serving (based on 6): 77 calories, 1 gram protein, 10 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams sugar, 4 grams fat, 10 milligrams cholesterol, 229 milligrams sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber.
Pan Roasted Aromatic Airline Chicken Breasts
Makes 4 servings
2 teaspoons chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon fresh cracked pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon dark brown sugar
Peanut oil for searing
4 chicken breasts on the bone, with skin and first wing bone still attached (see note)
A healthy splash of white wine (at least ¼ cup), for deglazing
Juice of one lemon (or lime)
1. Prepare the dry rub, combining the first six ingredients and using some of the oil to bind the mixture so it will stick to the chicken better. Rub it all over the chicken and under the skin. Let the seasoned chicken soak up the flavor for several hours (or overnight) in the refrigerator.
2. When you're ready to cook, preheat the oven to 450 degrees and set the rack in the middle.
3. Heat the peanut oil in a heavy, ovenproof skillet. Two skillets may be necessary if the chicken pieces are large.
4. Add the chicken skin side down in the sizzling oil. Let the chicken sear 3 to 4 minutes on each side until golden brown and aromatic.
5. With the chicken skin side up, put the hot skillet in the oven and roast until just cooked through, about 15 minutes. (Caution: The breasts will snap and pop in the oven and it may get a bit smoky. That's OK.)
6. Use your meat thermometer to test for doneness. The chicken is ready when it reads 165 degrees and the skin is crisp.
7. Put the hot skillet back on the stove on a burner set at medium-high. Remove the chicken to a warm serving platter and deglaze the pan with the white wine. Stir, getting all the crunchy brown bits off the bottom of the pan. If you want, add a little butter.
8. Add the lemon juice and stir another minute or so.
9. Pour the sauce over the chicken and serve immediately.
- Ed Tettemer, email@example.com
Note: Airline chicken breasts have the first wing joint intact, so they resemble airplanes from the art deco era. Here, the chicken is seared on the stovetop and finished in a hot oven.
Per serving: 459 calories, 48 grams protein, 3 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram sugar, 26 grams fat, 145 milligrams cholesterol, 157 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber.
Contact staff writer Dianna Marder at 215-854-4211 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her recent work at http://go.philly.com/diannamarder.