The centerpiece of any party is undoubtedly the food, so it makes perfect sense that planning the menu should be a priority.
Stacey Monschein, owner/chef of Sweet Picks Pastries, says more and more hosts and hostesses want to keep it simple, for themselves and their guests. For instance, Monschein says cocktail parties are not what they used to be. “They’re now considered ‘party’ parties,” she says. They usually start between 6:30 and 7 in the evening, and while the menu consists of cocktail food, that doesn’t mean you can’t get a satisfying meal. “We try to have at least one or two items that will serve as the main dish, like beef, fish or chicken. From that, we can add the extra stuff, like a vegetable or cheese item, or maybe something starchy like potato triangles,” she says. “It’s best to build the menu around a few main, hearty pieces.”
This preference for keeping it simple doesn’t mean the menu can’t also be creative. Monschein notes that the more people travel and experience new tastes, the more adventurous their palates become. “It’s exciting for me as a chef to be able to experiment. Instead of the usual beef slider, we can serve a Santa Fe chicken slider or Bombay slider with curry,” she suggests. ‘Pick-ups’ are also becoming popular. “These are items like chicken satay skewers, people want things on a plate but they don’t want to use forks.”
A good caterer readily accommodates special dietary concerns and offers suggestions for creating vegetarian, diabetic and other health-conscious menus, according to Mark Russo, co-owner of Russo Catering Company. “That’s why the planning is so important, we really try to keep our clients aware of every possible scenario,” he says. Fortunately, Russo adds, hosts are becoming more educated about what it takes to pull off a successful event. “For instance, people are much better at getting numbers, the guest count is much more accurate. Also, people are more knowledgeable about food in general, so they ask the right questions,” he notes.
If younger guests are attending the party, Russo says their needs should be addressed. “We do a lot of graduation parties, and sandwiches are always on the menu because we know that kids will eat them. We usually also provide a special kids’ dessert.” He says another popular option is a burger bar where kids can create and top their own burgers.
Timing is just as crucial to the success of a party, Russo notes. “When you invite people during the dinner hour, they expect to have something heavier,” he says. “If you want to serve lighter fare, have the party later in the evening or in the afternoon.”
A reliable, full-service caterer can help avoid party missteps such as running out of food or not having enough seating. “We provide detailed planning for months ahead and make sure you time your event accordingly and stay on budget,” says Steven Becker of Steven Becker Fine Dining. “Our services include a tasting and selection session when you pick items such as chairs and table settings, all customized to make the event a little more special.”
Becker says experience counts when selecting a caterer. ““Even in the consultation stages, people can learn and get ideas from the best in the business,” he says. “If someone’s successfully been in the business for a long time, then they’ll have the knowledge and referrals to back it up.”
Glum Over Gluten
More and more these days you’re likely to run into guests with eating issues. Because you may not be aware of these until your guests show up and you notice that some of them just aren’t eating, it’s a good idea to anticipate problems. That means making sure there is always something vegetarian on your menu, as well as items that are dairy-free and gluten-free. Gluten is not only found in bread products, although allergy to wheat products is the most common grain allergy.
• Gluten is a protein found in grains, including rye, barley and wheat.
• In baked goods, gluten acts as a binding agent, making bakery items fluffy.
• Gluten intolerance, known as celiac disease, is the body’s inability to digest gluten of any kind.
• CD can lead to osteoporosis, infertility, neurological conditions and cancer.
• Gluten-free diets are sometimes recommended for managing autism and other developmental disorders.
• There is no cure for CD.
• There are gluten-free products that ‘simulate’ typical breads, cakes and cookies, some of which have earned high praise from the gluten-sensitive population.
• The following are among the grains gluten-sensitive people can eat: rice, corn, soy, beans, quinoa, buckwheat and millet.
• The following should be avoided, as they may contain gluten: broths, candy, imitation bacon, imitation seafood, marinades, luncheon meats and gravies.
Information provided by Pamela’s Products