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Planning a Party Menu
So, you're starting to plan your festivity's feast? Whether you're leaving the catering up to the professionals, or doing it yourself, there are a few things you need to consider:
- Cook or cater? Make a realistic assessment of your cooking and baking skills, and the amount of time you'll be able to commit to the party. You may choose to hire a caterer to help you save on the stress of preparing a meal as well as entertaining your guests.
- Make it easy for yourself! If you are cooking, plan a menu that you feel confident delivering. Creative cuisine is best left to those who can deliver it flawlessly every time. Choose menu items that can be prepared mostly in advance. And remember, the best menus most often have simple combinations of the freshest, highest-quality ingredients.
- Consider your budget. The number of guests you invite will have an impact on the food that you serve. Unless money is no object, lobster and foie gras for 50 may be out of your price range!
- Think about logistics. How long will it take you to plate and serve food? Trying to dish up roast beef and potatoes for 100 people may mean some guests are served cold food. For large celebrations, choose food with a long shelf life. Save the special soufflés for more intimate occasions.
- Choose a variety of dishes. Think about variety of texture, flavour, appearance, temperature and colour - not to mention catering to your guests' dietary requirements. A buffet bursting with steak and sausages is not going to appeal to a vegetarian!
- Taste a sample menu. If you've hired a caterer, ask for a sample menu before the big day. Consider not just the taste, but the texture, presentation and general appeal of each dish. Does it ooze the style you wanted for your event?
- Stay in season. This means not serving ice cream in August or hot chocolate in January. It also means planning your menu around seasonal food. Consider what foods are freshest that month or season. Not only will you get the freshest ingredients, you'll get more bang for your buck.
- Make your food match. You'd never wear a ball gown to a barbecue, so don't mismatch your food! Select a menu that reflects the level of formality of your event.
- Think about ease of eating. Oysters are a glamorous option, but less so when your guests stand, glass in one hand, leftover shells in the other. So think about how easy the food will be for your guests to eat. A full plate of food requiring a knife and fork can be difficult to manage when tables and chairs are scarce. And if kids are involved, make sure you have plenty of napkins to go around!
- Take an inventory of your supplies: table and chairs, serving pieces, cutlery, crystal, plates, candlesticks, napery, and of course, kitchen equipment. Think about renting or borrowing items you don't have. Make sure the things you own are sparkling clean and in good repair.
- Don't overdo the nibbles. If you are hosting a dinner party, provide a small selection of nibbles as soon as guests arrive, but don't leave your guests lingering for hours. Serve dinner no more than one hour after everyone arrives - 40 minutes is the ideal.
- Serve a selection of drinks. Provide guests with a number of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverage options. You may like to prepare one ‘signature' party cocktail, such as sangria for a summer fiesta or sake as the overture to a Japanese feast, but don't go overboard with a range of complicated cocktails! Less is more!
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