photo by Jakub at foodiesfeed
Last September I invited my colleagues and their loved ones into my home to celebrate a myriad of personal and professional accomplishments of the team over the past year. It forced me to focus on the real purpose of the party: to spend time together. I wanted low-maintenance food and self-serve beverages. Given the noted weather-related risk of a house bursting with people, food that was easily eaten standing up (read: no cutting with a knife and fork) was also a must.
So how did I do it? Read on for my menu and party planning notes.
- Classic Sangria — I used a great recipe from minimalist baker
- Crowd-pleasing wines — Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Australian Shiraz
- Selection of craft beers
We have a well-stocked liquor cabinet thanks to the expertise of my brother-in-law Kevin over at Alcohol Reviews; other than a “signature cocktail” I rarely plan for hard liquor consumption, knowing that those that prefer it can usually find what they need in our bar. I always have on hand a few individual-sized bottles of soda and water, sparkling water, as well as lemonade, apple juice, and milk for the kids and others not partaking in adult beverages.
“bottle opener” by Jakub at foodiesfeed
- Mediterranean Mezze Platter — tabbouleh, baba ghanoush, kalamata olive spread, dolmas, feta cheese, and mixed olives
- Cheese Board — Humboldt Fog, Piave Vecchio, Shelbourne cheddar, fig-stuffed goat cheese, manchego, aged gouda
- Ithaca Lemon Hummus (available at Whole Foods) with pita chips and flatbread
“Dip. It should be meal.” I love appetizers, and taking the time to arrange a lovely spread really shows your guests you care. To minimize prep, I opted for a mix of catered and low-fuss homemade options — a mezze platter from Whole Foods and Fresh Direct’s selection of cheese boards. Fresh Direct does the thinking for you by pairing 2-3 complementary cheeses and the best “pairings” of charcuterie, nuts, apricots, honey, fruit, or figs. I added lightly toasted cranberry-pecan bread. In my view, it is nicer than crackers.
“hummus” by jcvelis via pixabay
- Grilled Chili Shrimp with Pineapple Jalapeño Salsa from Real Simple
- Roasted Salmon with Sun-Dried Tomato Spread from Jacques Pepin’s Fast Food My Way
- Apple Gouda Pork Sausages and Rolls
- Nann Sandwich Platter
- Green Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette
- Roasted Vegetable Platter
- Roasted Rosemary Potatoes
- Fire-Roasted Corn Salad from the Williams Sonoma Entertaining Cookbook or as adapted on the website
“green salad in a wooden bowl” by Jakub at foodiesfeed
Variety was in order given the mix of appetites and eating restrictions. I also wanted food easily served at room temperature with minimal active cooking during the party. And finally, I didn’t have the time for days of cooking in advance. Again, a hybrid solution of catered and homemade dishes worked perfectly.
Maximize the low-fuss factor of catered foods by choosing ones that aren’t temperature sensitive. Fresh Direct’s Roasted Vegetable Platter went straight from fridge to table, and Whole Foods’ Rosemary Potatoes could have been served room temperature. I opted to warm them briefly in the oven (it was on anyway).
Pick one item that stands out on both presentation and flavor. The Roasted Salmon is my go-to for parties. Super easy to prepare ahead of time, and doesn’t dry out thanks to low-temperature roasting. Every last bite got eaten to rave reviews!
Remember little appetites can be a little different. Knowing there would be little eaters around, I saved a few ears of grilled corn and made sure I had hot dogs on hand in case the sausages weren’t a hit (they were).
- Selection of Brownies, Cookies and Dessert Bars
- Mixed Berry Salad
Again, a mix of purchased and homemade options works. Whole Foods and Fresh Direct helped out with the baked goods, and pre-sliced berries simply macerated with sugar for a few hours looked beautiful right in the serving bowl.
“blueberries” by Brandon Wilson at unsplash
Overall, it was a success. Here are my lessons learned:
Minimize party stress with damage-free beverages. The sangria was a huge hit and a great “warm up” beverage to get the party started. However, red wine based beverages, especially those that require a little assembly, increase the risk of a hidden stain found a few hours later. Consider a white wine based recipe.
Even great food won’t keep people inside during nice weather. Locating the cheese plates in the living room was a strategy to get folks hanging out throughout the house. It didn’t work. They all wanted to be outside! As much as I love a good cheese plate, it’s just not right for outdoor parties; save it for cozy fall and holiday gatherings.
Plan for how much food you need and then subtract some. The small mezze platter would have been plenty, the naan sandwiches weren’t very good and probably unnecessary, and 2-3 vegetarian dishes would have been enough.
You cannot stop your guests from bringing something. My experience is that when you don’t specify something for your guests to bring, they will bring dessert. Either give them specific instruction, or menu plan assuming sweet treats will appear.
photo by Jakub at foodiesfeed
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Do you have a favorite party menu or tips for hosting low-fuss gatherings? Let me know with a comment below!