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Old 05-30-2006, 06:03 AM   #1
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Tips for planning/cooking for events

Summer's almost here, which means party time, and also graduations, weddings, holidays, and other occasions for folks to gather, which usually means food and a lot of it! Whether you're a family member with a reputation of being a great cook, or someone planning a party for a few friends, here are some tips for planning/cooking/serving that special event.

We had a topic similar to this previously, and here's the link to get you started with some great tips: Entertaining help for newbies

In addition to those, I'll start the ball rolling with these:

Always cook a dish you are familiar with, are comfortable preparing, know the glitches to, and know how long it will 'hold'. This is definitely not the time to experiment with a new recipe you've just found! If you have the time, make the dish a couple of times in advance, in smaller portions if need be, to see what all the little 'quirks' are, and to determine if the dish will look as pretty on the buffet table after an hour or so as it does on your dining room table. How 'fussy' is the dish to prepare? How much room does it take up on the stove/in the fridge?

If you're planning a menu for a large crowd, figure out who that crowd is; spending time with the host/hostess, and getting a feel for their guests is all part of planning that great menu! Are they older folks, who may just enjoy more 'traditional' dishes - or a younger crowd, who loves the 'blue sky' approach with dishes that really have a 'wow' factor? Will there be children at the party? Plan for some simple snacks to keep them occupied while aps are being served. Are there folks with special dietary issues? Vegetarians - folks with allergies? I'm not talking about someone who is on a no-carb or other fad diet; as far as I'm concerned, they can fend for themselves! Suggest a vegetarian main dish/appetizer, or other appropriate dishes to make those guests feel they haven't been neglected.

Think about the prep and cook time for the dishes you're making. Everyone loves little appetizers, and 'mini' anything is all the rage right now - but - they're incredibly time-consuming. Even something as simple as a slice of the little 'party pumpernickel' with some smoked salmon, creme fraiche and a spring of drill on top takes an unbelievable amount of time, especially if you're making 200-300 of them! So pick easy appetizers!

Hand in hand with the above is the 'holding' factor, and how/where your dishes are going to be prepared and cooked. Is this a large reception hall? Church? Go to the site beforehand, and ask to see the kitchen. Look at the oven - is it big enough to hold your sheet pans? Look at the cold storage - do you have enough? Or will you need to bring coolers or rent a fridge/cooler? There's nothing more frustrating when you've got everything prepared, get to the hall, and finding out your pans with your already prepped food doesn't fit in the ovens, or that you don't have enough cold storage for your finished items.

How long will your dishes keep on the buffet table? We've all been to cafeterias, where piles of congealed glop sit. You certainly don't want your food to look like that! Investigate renting sterno warming pans - or buy some aluminum ones at Costco or Sam's. A lot of catering supply companies will also have silver chafers for rent, as well as a 'heat lamp' if you are doing a carving station. How long will the food keep safely? Do a search for food safety to see how long the recommendations are for keeping food 'out' in serving areas. You absolutely don't want your entire party getting sick! Even if you're hosting a backyard BBQ for the 4th of July, that potato salad is not going to do well sitting out on the picnic table for very long! Think about serving it in an 'ice bowl'; a large bowl with ice in it, with the potato salad in another bowl nestled down in the ice. Lots of cold dlishes can be served this way, and will give you a little longer 'holding time' on the table.

If this is a big event you're hosting, talk w/catering supply companies; you can rent just about anything from them, and they're usually pretty knowledgeable with suggestions on quantities and items you might need.

I know we have a lot of experienced party-givers here - let's hear of your tips for planning a successful party!

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Old 05-30-2006, 08:06 AM   #2
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Marmalady, both threads are full of really good information. One that I think is probably most important for me is do everything possible ahead of time. I like to have everything so that I can just dress and sit with my guests knowing nothing was forgotten. What an enjoyable occasion and certainly less stress. The threads are certainly good for newbies, and good reminders for those of us who aren't so new. Thanks.
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Old 05-30-2006, 10:15 AM   #3
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Tx, Licia, and you're absolutely right - it really is amazing what you can do ahead of time. Here's a little chart I used to make for catering to help with organization:

MENU ITEM Roast beef biscuits w/horseradish cream

PREP/advance - 2 days pre, make cream

COOK - 1 day pre, roast beef, slice; make biscuits

SERVING/GARNISH - Assemble on site/platter/kale/parsley/carrot curls

Used something like this for each and every item, sauce, garnish, platter - every time something was done and labelled, it got marked off with a highlighter. Makes things a lot easier!
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Old 06-03-2006, 04:35 PM   #4
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I'm definitely in agreement on the concept of do ahead as much as possible. Most of us will be entertaining something between a half dozen to fifty people, and in our own homes. This do-ahead concept means doing the clean up of the house, raising an awning, laundering. Have what you want to wear ready to pop on at the last minute, so you can sweat away and change as your first guest arrives. Speaking of first guest, an important element can be to invite you most practical best buddy (NOT the one who won't break her nails or has a bad back or thinks work is something for servants!) to arrive a half hour or so before the "start time" on your invitation. She or he can greet your first guests and put out appetizers while you comb your hair and throw on dry clothes (can you tell I sweat a lot?).

Have some anti-insect stuff on hand. There are some very attractive, ornamental anti-mosquito lanterns and bee traps.

I often DO try new recipes when entertaining ... we are a family of two, and I couldn't possibly experiment on a recipe for a dozen with just us. BUT I DO make sure that I have a backup plan in mind. Sometimes a smaller version of what I'm experimenting on will be an appetizer portion the first time I try it. Sometimes I'll make sure everything else is perfect, and have a carry-out backup.

And one thing that cannot fail is that there is nothing wrong with potluck. The group I mostly hang out with have a custom of the host makes the main part of the meal, then sort of hands out assignments. I'm doing brunch for a dozen or so tomorrow, and am doing the egg, meat, and potato. I've "assigned" fruit, salad, desert, appetizer, and bread. The host supplies the "theme" hootch, but every guest brings their favorite bottle of bubbly to share. This way you can entertain without it being something horrid for you. This is especially good for those of you who are starting out and may not be able to afford to entertain.
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Old 06-03-2006, 05:27 PM   #5
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Great ideas, Claire! I especially like the bug repellant one for outdoors entertaining!
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Old 06-03-2006, 09:03 PM   #6
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I love entertaining...something I inherited from my Grandma Snarr, I think.

As has been mentioned, pre-planning and orginization are the most important things. Once you settle on a date and complete your guest list, here are some guidlines to help you out.

*Unless your finances are such that money is no object, figure out what you can afford to spend without straining your budget. Consider invitations, food, beverages, paper goods, decorations, and mescellaneous expenses...a cushion for those last minute items that always seem to come up.
*Decide on the theme for your party, if you're going to have one, and compose your menu. When doing so, take into consideration any items you have in the freezer or pantry that can be utilized. Note which items, if any, you wish your guests to bring.
*Get your invitations written and ready to send. Include not only the obvious who, what, where and when, but also any special information, such as "BYOB", "bring a covered dish", and make the theme of the party clear so they'll have some idea of what to wear. Also ask for an RSVP (I always say "if possible).
Invitations need to be sent out 2 weeks in advance of the party. Any sooner, and it slips their minds...any later, and it doesn't give them a chance to make arrangements. This is particularly important for people with children, who need to find a baby sitter.
*Make a complete grocery list. If you are using specific recipes, get them out and look them over to make sure you have everything you need. Again, go through your pantry and see what you already have. If you are using a lot of fresh produce, you may have to make two trips if you are going to do a lot of the work in advance.
*Get a game plan. Make a list of what to do when. As everyone said, do as much as you can in advance. Many things can be prepared ahead of time, then frozen or refrigerated. Chop vegies and store in ziplocks, and make rubs and sauces.
*If you do not have the luxury of an extra refrigerator, you can ice down things like potato salad, melon balls, etc, in coolers. I once cranked the air-conditioning to penguin mode (my daughter's wedding) and put an hor d'eouevres tree, covered with many sheets of plastic wrap, on a tray close to the vent in my back bedroom, then closed the door.
*Get all your mise en place...serving dishes, needed canned goods and cooking pots, dinnerware, be it good paper and plastics (recommended for a casual affair), or your fine crystal and china. Remember, if it is a formal occasion, your silver will need to be polished in advance, and your tablecloth will probably have to be ironed.)
*Think about asking a friend (or 2 or 3) to help you with preperations the day before. They won't mind, especially if you serve them a few jello shots and a snack, and it could take a big load off your shoulders.
*Remember, when it comes down to the last minute, do the most important things first, and what doesn't get done...dosn't get done. Your guests will neither know nor care.
I remember one party where I thought I had everything completely under control. Kim's bosses wife (a true friend and sweethheart) asked what she could do, and I asked her to microwave a bowl of dip. I went out to the deck to serve something, and came back to find her giving my nasty microwave a quick cleanup.

Once your guests arrive, relax and enjoy them. They came to see you, after all.
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Old 06-04-2006, 06:25 AM   #7
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Constance, I love your ideas, and especially the one where you have to say to yourself at one point, what didn't get done .... to bad. Sort of "Que Sera, Sera" I often have a moment of panic when it is one of my semi-annual big parties (40 or 50 people) a day or so before. Then I realize no one will notice whatever I think was missing. I joke with a neighbor that I usually forget one thing. For a Thanksgiving meal, it was a can of cranberry sauce. For a big summer party, it was an entire trifle (sitting in the fridge, ready to go). I try to remember that Julia used to have the attitude of what goes on in the kitchen, stays in the kitchen. If you don't tell people what went wrong, they won't know it went wrong.

I have a lot of freinds who never entertain because they can't adopt that attitude. I have a freind who does entertain, but I am sort of on stand-by the morning of her get-togethers because she gets panicky at every little change in her plans, and calls us in a frenzy (hubby and I field the calls equally -- we just soothe her and remind her that people are coming to see her, and no one will notice that one little detail went wrong).

I would have made this a personal message, but I think everyone needs to know that it isn't going to be perfect, ever, and you need to let go of the things that went wrong and enjoy the party yourself.
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Old 06-06-2006, 05:19 PM   #8
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Everyone here has provided great advice, so I only add one rule I always follow if I can't do anything else -

Be sure you have plenty of ice and toilet paper and you won't go wrong.
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Old 10-11-2006, 05:06 PM   #9
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More tips

Now there's a thing you can put down first is a charger. You can put that underneath your plate here if you're doing kind of a fancy dinner setting. Now what I like to do is pre-set my water glasses with a little bit of ice, that way the last thing I need to do right before my guests arrive is pour the water. I've made this great water, I've put some lemon slices, some oranges and some limes and then you can just go ahead and pour that in there. It gives the water a great flavor and your guests are going to love it, it tastes so refreshing. We're just about ready for all of our guests to arrive, it's going to be such a great dinner party, I'm so excited.refLinks('preparing-dinner-guests-dinner-party','Preparing Dinner for Guests at your Party');
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