A Note from the Chef
As the end of April draws near and Spring has finally sprung here in the Northeast – both in fact and in feeling – we open up to a season of celebration. We come out of winter’s hibernation and prepare for a rebirth of aliveness sprouting all around us.
This of course is recognized and enacted in many ways – from the practical to the more sublime. For some, it calls us to organize a feast to initiate the season of rebirth. Whether it’s a dinner party for friends or family we haven’t seen since all winter, or a celebration to mark a life event such as a wedding, graduation or special birthday, party planning is in the air and I’m here to help.
In this month’s Note from the Chef, I have 3 tips to help your next party go off like an easy breeze stirring excitement in the air while gently carrying you along like a busy bee relishing the sweet nectar along the way.
I know…a bit flowery. But the advice is totally practical, garnered from my many years of catering parties of all sizes in all sorts of venues.
Yes, many people get nervous and frustrated when planning a party. What do you make to feed a crowd – especially when people are so fussy about what they’ll eat and what they won’t? How can you prepare a variety of dishes and have them ready at the same time? How can you create a party atmosphere, shop and cook all the food and still enjoy the party?
I get it. I know it can feel overwhelming. That’s why many people outsource the whole thing. And that’s great for people like me but I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be hard and in fact can be quite fun if you want to do the preparations yourself.
When it comes to food preparation, it’s all in the menu planning. It’s not so much what type of food you want to serve but rather what type of food is easily adaptable to your preparation and serving schedule without compromising on taste.
1. Plan it in 3 parts
Ask yourself what can be made and frozen ahead of time; what can be made a day or two before the party; and what has to be made the day or or during the party? Don’t be afraid to be cooking while the party is going on. Your guests will love gathering in the kitchen, watching and helping you.The activity adds to the life of the party.
Put your guests to work filling platters and bowls with all the food you prepared ahead of time. And with only 1/3 of the menu needing last minute preparation, it won’t be overwhelming.
2. Keep it Balanced and Divided
When choosing a menu, keep it balanced between items that can be served at room temperature as well as those that need to be served hot.
Choose dishes that use a variety of cooking techniques at the same time. ie; baking, grilling, and stove top. This way while something is in the oven or on the grill (or both) you can be doing something else. Simple efficiency.
This will be a big help when preparing the bulk of the food as well as what can easily be reheated or needs to be made on the spot. The oven, stovetop and grill will provide a division of labor that can be assigned to various helpers.
3. Keep it Simple
We all love those little bite sized appetizers that get passed around or sit on a platter for us to nosh on while sipping our wine. But they’re time consuming to make because they need to be individually hand molded or shaped. And you’ll need lots of them! The rule of thumb is that when making a small bite of something there should be 2.5–3 pieces per person. For a party of 35, that would be around 100 pieces!
So if you want to serve hors d oeuvres, buy them pre-made or choose ones that can be made and frozen without losing their flavor. Or, better yet, choose ones that require no cooking like a great appetizer platter of marinated vegetables, cured meats, olives and fancy cheeses. All of these items can be purchased from the deli or gourmet store. All you need to do it put them together.
Here’s an example of a menu I catered along with the prep times.
Platter of Fresh Mozzarella, Tomatoes, basil & roasted red peppers (peppers roasted 2 or 3 days ahead, the rest cut the night before, assembled the day of)
Eggplant Meatballs made with grilled eggplant, ground pork and turkey (made and frozen the week before/baked the day of)
Antipasto Platter of prosciutto, sopressata, assorted cheese, olives and marinated mushrooms (no cooking required…just assembly)
Side of Salmon with a panko/pine nut crust, served with a tomato and fruit salsa (topped the day before, salsa the day before/baked the day of)
Filet Mignon, blackened and served thinly sliced with a horseradish sauce (sauce 2 days before/meat grilled the day before/cut and put on a platter the day of)
Classic Caesar Salad (dressing 2 or 3 days before/salad mixed just before serving)
Grilled Vegetables (grilled the day before/heated in the oven the day of just to take the chill off and assembled)
Tubettini Pasta Salad with sun dried tomatoes, olives, asparagus, peas, tomatoes (cooked and tossed the night before/seasoned and plated the day of)
Shredded Chicken Salad with Pesto (pesto 2 days before/chicken cooked and shredded the day before/put on a platter the day of)
Assorted breads (nothing needed but purchased fresh the morning of and sliced just before serving)
Now over to you.
Any questions? Go ahead and pick my brain.
Any good advice or party tips you can share with us? Let’s hear them.
I love this! Especially because you included the days you can make ahead of time. When you grill veggies, how do you keep them from getting soggy by the party? I think I grill my veggies for too long and then they seem “wilted” and a little sad…
Great question Sarah. I think your veggies may get soggy if you oil them before putting them on the grill. Try oiling the grill but not the veggies. Also store each type in a separate container. This way the flavor and the water content won’t mix and cause sogginess. You can also roast the veggies in the oven…FYI.
Silvia, this is a great way to take the overwhelm out of entertaining. I have definitely run into trouble when I needed the oven for too many dishes, so I appreciate the reminder to use a variety of cooking techniques. The only thing that I can think to add to your thorough plan is to take the serving dishes out ahead of time and think about which dishes you will need for all the food that you are serving at the event. Thank you for simplifying~
Thanks so much Elise. And good point about the serving dishes. You’re so right!
The stovetop/ grill/ bake tip is GENIUS! thanks for sharing!
You’re very welcome Melanie. Thank you for your comment.
Thank you for your insightful order. I am giving my son and his new wife a party in June since they eloped in March. It will be a Saturday luncheon. At first I thought I would do salads and order wraps. Dessert, order all sorts. I really don’t know what to do and I need to order tables, chairs and glasses and decorate. I am grateful for any ideas you may want to share. Thank you, Teri
You’re welcome Teri. Feel free to ask me any specific questions you may have and I’ll be happy to help.
Your advice is very big help for me. I entertain a lot and sometimes am stuck with order of possessing dishes. Now I know what to do. Thank you very much,from now on you are my adviser forever.
I’m so glad Larisa. I’m honored!
This is amazing! So helpful for planning dinner parties and holiday’s!! Thank you! 🙂