Let’s talk parties! Shall we? One of my favorite subjects! If you’ve hung out at this blog for any length of time you know I used to be a wedding coordinator and now I’m a catering manager at a university, so I sorta throw parties for a living. As a caterer and a food blogger, can you guess what my favorite/most thought about part of throwing a party is? The menu! And while it’s pretty easy to put together a menu for a party, there is a trick to it. It takes a little bit of pre-planning, but if done correctly, then it sure does make the day of the party soooo much easier!
This past labor day, my parents threw their annual block party. And I was in charge of appetizers. This was more a self appointed position, because my mom is happy as a clam to put out chips and salsa. Frankly, she’s happy to eat chips and salsa morning noon and night, so a party is definitely not different. I however, can not hear of this nonsense. Because for me, the food, especially appetizers is THE. MOST. IMPORTANT. PART. EVER. Ok? ok.
One of my favorite “go-to” appetizer plans is an interactive station or “bar.” For my husbands graduation party, I did a Taco Bar. For a New Years Eve party a few years back, I did a Champagne Bar. An interactive station or bar is great for a few reasons,
- You can usually make a lot of the components ahead of time, then just set them out. Read: Easy!
- It usually looks like waaay more food than it is. Read: Cheap!
- It appears very visually appealing Read: You look super fancy!
- It’s a lot of fun!
- You don’t have to deal with picky eaters. Read: my husband!
- It’s a topic of conversation, “what kind of cheese are you putting on your taco?!” “Oh you should definitely try this salsa next!” Read: keeps the party lively and encourages interaction, especially if you have people who don’t know each other! See #4.
- How much time you’ll have to prep and/or WANT to prep. Think both the days leading and the day of. Maybe you’re free all weekend (like I was) but you promised your mom you’d come over to help set up early! So I had a lot of time in the days leading, but hardly any the day of.
- Guests- picky eaters? Kids? Vegetarians?
- Environment- Formal? Not? You get the idea.
So, how to plan the menu!
- Pick a theme, here bruschetta bar. Maybe not necessarilly a theme, but gives you direction. For Michelle’s shower, I did brunch. My husband’s graduation party, Taco Bar.
- Think variety- you want a mix of items, hot and cold, salty and sweet, meat and vegetarian. For this brushcetta bar, before I even decided on the ingredients themselves, I decided I needed 2 types of cheese, 2 types of meat, 2 sweet items to balance all the salty components, and 2 spicy items. This helped immensely with menu planning, write out the categories, then fill in the components
- For party food, you need to think ease of eating. Bruschetta? pretty easy! Try and make the food as easy to eat as possible, if it’s complicated or people feel awkward, they’ll pass, and that’s not fun, considering you put the work in! A few tips,
- Chop things small
- Pre-slice cheese and meats
- Provide correct utensils, tongs, spoons, knives. For this menu, a small fork worked much better for the sun dried tomatoes and the caramelized onions than a spoon would have!
Next, you need to write out your menu and grocery list, this is how I do it. Now this was a party I was bringing something to, so my list was a lot shorter than normal, if the party was at my house, remember you need drinks, plates, napkins, cups, silverware, etc. For my list, I write it in outline format, I write out the main component, then underneath I write any misc ingredients I need for that component. Here’s a look at my Bruschetta Bar shopping list and menu!
So now, once you have your menu and your ingredients, it’s time to plan you prep. I usually break it up into 3 sections, day of, day before, and ahead of time. I realize “ahead of time” is a bit vague, but basically it’s stuff I can do that won’t spoil, get soggy, turn brown, get stale or anything else bad, ahead of time. Here’s the plan for this menu.
Ahead of Time
- Arrange and clean serving dishes- I start with a wood tray to keep everything contained, for both transportation, but also the visual aspect, I think it looks nice all arranged together on a wood tray. For the dishes, I like to use different sizes and shapes, but to make it look clean, I keep with all white! Varying sizes, shapes, colors of food and dishes would look a bit busy! These are the ones I have! Small Round, Corningware (favorite!) and Square
- Make cranberry chutney- stay tuned for recipe!
- Caramelize onions – stay tuned for recipe!
- Make chimmichurri
- Make blistered olives
- Make Ricotta
- Slice Salami
- Tear apart prosciutto
- Make tomato relish– you CAN make this the day before, but I think the tomatoes have a better texture if fresh.
- Slice bread
- Grill bread- I drizzled with a little olive oil and threw on the grill. You can always use a baking sheet and the oven if it’s easier!
- Put everything in serving dishes
- Assemble on Tray
See how a little pre-planning, makes the day of SO easy?!
- When slicing the bread, you should always use a serrated knife.
- For slicing salami and tomatoes, it’s super important to have a REALLY sharp knife, personally I love my Sharper Image Knife Set
- Since this party was not at my house, I needed to make transportation of all the toppings easy! Well, I guess even if it was at my house, the tray just looks nice. This one I got at Home Goods, but here’s a great option!
Alrighty guys, I realize this was a long, but hopefully very information packed and useful post! Stay tuned in the coming days for individual recipes for the various components on the tray! Tomorrow, blistered olives! One of my favorite treats! mmmm….