Posts Tagged ‘hosting’

Food Fixations

November 2, 2018

Lately, everyone and I mean everyone, has a food thing. Gluten-free, dairy-free, vegetarian, vegan, pescatarian, no soy, no sugar, Paleo, Keto; the list is endless. As a caterer, my job is made a bit more challenging while trying to adhere to all the guests’ dietary issues. As a former trend forecaster, I believe it is going to become even more prevalent, with more restaurants and catering companies (it me!) creating special menus to work around it all. With party season upon us, the owness is on you, as a host to ensure that all of your guests have something they can eat. Here are a few of my pro tips for entertaining in the age of the restricted diet.

 

 

Ask your guests if they have any dietary restrictions.  

If you know what people can’t eat, it is easy to plan around them. Every dish doesn’t have to adhere to one person’s diet, but you can certainly make sure to include at least a dish or two that they can eat and enjoy. If you are hosting a small dinner party with someone who doesn’t eat gluten, you may want to rethink that pasta-centric menu and choose something else. As a caterer, I often ask if it is an allergy or a preference. I would never try to trick someone into eating something they don’t want, but if it is an allergy, I need to take extra precautions to make sure that the offending ingredient is kept far away from the other foods. That means that I can’t put the gluten-free cookies on the same tray as the conventional ones, or more importantly, that I need to clean the kitchen completely between preparing items that use the allergen, and those that don’t.

Plan a menu that has lots of choices so that those who are eliminating food groups, or just trying to eat more healthfully can find things to enjoy.  

Plan a varied menu with options to suit any diet. This is easier to do than you might think, especially for a buffet or cocktail party. A good host will make their guests feel comfortable. If you are inviting a dairy-free friend to a wine and cheese party, add some fruit and vegetables to the tray for variety. Gluten-free? Those same vegetables can take the place of crackers. A varied menu is more interesting, and a carnivore might welcome some creative vegetable dishes too.

Think about what your guests CAN eat, and less about what they can’t. 

The elimination of multiple food groups can be daunting to a host. Try to reframe the issue and concentrate on what your guests can eat. Often it boils down to vegetables, fruit, healthy fats and lean or plant-based proteins. Use this as the centerpiece of your menu planning and feel free to add grains, carbs, sweets etc. around it for the guests who are able to partake.

As a guest, let your host know in advance of your dietary requirements, especially if a meal is involved.

At least if they decide not to provide anything that suits your diet, you will not be offending them when you choose not to eat. Be gracious about it. Don’t just provide a list of items you have eliminated and expect them to be banned from the party. You can eat healthfully and not come off like a diva. Tread lightly and don’t expect everyone to eat Tofurky for you. (‘Cause that stuff is nasty!)

If you are going to an event that you know is going to be problematic for you, offer to bring a dish that everyone can enjoy with you.

Thanksgiving is a perfect example of one of those meals. Families take their traditions seriously, and many may balk at adjusting their menus for just one guest. ( Or many guests with dueling requests.) Bring an interesting salad or a non- cheesy, sugary, marshmallow-topped side that fits your dietary requirements. Who knows? It may just become a new tradition for your family!

Don’t be a pusher.

As a host or a fellow guest, don’t try to push foods on those who don’t want them. “Just a taste” is a rude and manipulative gesture to those who wish to abstain, as is a grand announcement of their food choices. Putting other guests in an awkward position and making them feel uncomfortable is unacceptable. Don’t do it.

Making your guests comfortable shouldn’t make you uncomfortable.

Catering to guests’ dietary issues shouldn’t make entertaining more difficult or unpleasant for the host.  Opt for some simple additions or changes, and get on with your cooking. You shouldn’t have to make multiple versions of things or tailor the entire party around one person or group of people. (See Tofurky comment above.) That said, I have I taken a single portion of many Thanksgiving sides and used margarine instead of butter, or eliminated sugar or nuts to feed a guest with restrictions. In doing so while I was cooking, I gave the guest a special version without much additional effort on my part and gave the rest of the group what they wanted. That gesture of compliance was greatly appreciated.

Food is something that brings us together and preparing it can be an act of love. Don’t lose sight of that as you enter party season, dietary issues and all!

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RSVP

April 15, 2015

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RSVP

[ahresveepee
Spell Syllables
verb (used without object)RSVPed orRSVP’d, RSVPing or RSVP’ing.
1.

to reply to an invitation:

Don’t forget to RSVP before Thursday.
nounplural RSVP’s.
2.

a reply to an invitation:

He sent a lovely bouquet of flowers with hisRSVP.
3.

(used on an invitation to indicate that the favor of a reply is requested).

 

This week, I hosted a dinner party for a group of parents from my daughter’s school. The school provided a guest list that had 31 guests on it, many of whom I did not know. I received 2o responses, and despite multiple resends of the invite and a group message, 11 people still did not respond.
In this case, the host had the option of providing the meal, or coordinating a pot luck. Since cooking is my passion, I opted to cater the event myself, with a beverage sign up sheet for wine and soft drinks. Five people signed up to contribute.
Many of the other hosts opted for potlucks, or ordered food. I am sure some of the parents thought that it was no big deal, hence their lack of response. Frankly, it isn’t a big deal to anyone other than the host of the party. Even serving hot dogs requires a head count.

I toyed with my options. Cook for the amount I knew were coming, or incur the time, leftovers and expense of covering for the extra 11 people, “just in case.” I tend to over do it when I entertain, so I knew that I would have plenty of food if a few extra dropped by, but 11 extra? I wasn’t so sure. I decided to do an antipasto table, with dips, cured meats, and roasted vegetables to start, and serve a casual buffet dinner when most of the guests arrived. That included salads, wild mushroom tarts and 7 pounds of shrimp cooked in a tomato and fennel sauce.

The doorbell started ringing promptly at 6:30. And then it stopped. Exactly 10 people came. Ten. If I had a proper headcount, I would have done things very differently. In fact, for 12 people (including ourselves,) I could have prepared a nice sit down dinner, instead of huge quantities of a vast variety of food, some of which looked like it was barely touched.

It was a pleasant evening, and I met some people who were new to the school community, and got to know a few who I only knew superficially. They were all warm, lovely guests, and I sent each one home with containers of food to enjoy at another time. I also threw away huge quantities of dishes that I felt had sat out too long to safely save, and packed up the rest. I am sure some of it will spoil before it will get eaten and end up in the garbage, due to the sheer quantity of it.

It was my pleasure to host these families, so I don’t want to appear bitter or regretful.  I am however, a little peeved that people cannot take 2 minutes to let their hosts know if they intend to come, and alert them if they have a change of plans. It’s the wastefulness that is nagging at me, not to mention the expense of preparing food for people who didn’t show up.

The solution? I don’t have one. I don’t believe in being an apathetic host and not going out of my way to provide a wonderful meal and a warm atmosphere to anyone that comes to our home. I don’t have any hints to get people to respond, as after 3 resends and a friendly reminder, I was coming perilously close to being a stalker.  I can however, use this forum to remind you dear readers, that being a good guest is as important as being a good host.

So, in case you were wondering, RSVP stands for “respondez vious sil vous plait”, which is French for “please respond.” Next time you get an invitation, please do.

photo: Glasshouse Images

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Thanksgiving Game Plan

November 10, 2014

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Thanksgiving is just a few weeks away, and to make it as stress free as possible, it’s time to start making a game plan.

If you are hosting, it’s important to be a well-oiled machine, with all parts coming together to create a massive feast in a relatively short period of time.

Here are a few tips to create a game plan that will guide you to a successful dinner:

Make a guest list. Encourage your guests to commit, and let you know if they are planning to bring someone along. Every year, without fail, someone calls at the very last minute asking if they can bring a friend or two. We always figure out how to squeeze in a few more, but frankly, it’s best and most polite for all involved to give a little notice. (Yeah, I went there.)

Plan a menu. If you are like me, you will be making lots of dishes over a 24 hour period, and need to juggle time and precious oven space to make that happen. If you are like most people who aren’t control freaks, you may be sharing the cooking with others, and want to make sure every item is covered, and no duplications show up. It’s not fun to have 5 store bought pies and no potatoes or cranberries. I like to print out all of my recipes and place them in a folder, along with my menu and grocery lists. I keep it from year to year, and add or subtract recipes as necessary. Since we have just done some home renovation, I had better start looking for my beloved folder, which I am sure is in a bin somewhere.

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Ask about food issues: Notice that I called them issues and not allergies. These days, everyone has them. This one is gluten free, that one is vegetarian. Someone avoids nuts, another avoids dairy. I have had dinners where there was not one single item that everyone at the table was willing to eat. With all of the side dishes on Thanksgiving, it’s very possible to have enough items for everyone to find a few things to feast on without having to make anything special. One year, I knew I had a vegan guest coming, and scooped out portions of every non-meat dish as I was making them and substituted margarine for butter, or made sure to use vegetable stock instead of chicken stock. It wasn’t a big deal to do this as I went along, and she was very, very grateful. Make sure that if you don’t do that, you are completely transparent about it. Don’t tell someone it’s ok if it really isn’t. As a guest, if you have a lot of food issues, offer to bring a dish that you can eat and enjoy. Be gracious and make enough to share with everyone.

Inventory your cookware, dishes and serving pieces. Do you have everything you need?Are the linens stained?  If not, now is the time to shop for those extras, or borrow them. Make sure you have a chair for every guest, if you are planning a sit down dinner. It’s rarely the worry of having enough food for those last minute guests that throws me into panic mode: it’s more about having enough dishes and a seat for them.

Make a grocery list. I like to divide mine into perishables, and non-perishables which can be bought in advance. Now is a great time to stock up on those non-perishable items and leave them in the pantry. Think about everything you need, even salt and pepper, so you don’t run out. The stores are a virtual zoo in the days leading up to the holiday, so the less time I spend in them the better.

Prepare: I am not much of a make ahead kind of cook. The idea of preparing a meal and freezing it, to me is akin to serving fancy TV dinners. Ok, I am exaggerating, but I prefer to get my cooking zen on and make everything with a day or so of the meal. Having said that, there are many things that freeze well, if you want to get a jump start. Homemade breads,rolls and pie crusts can be made ahead, and baked on Thanksgiving day, making them freshly baked, without the last minute fuss.  If you make cornbread for stuffing, that is also freezable. Non creamy soups also fare well in the freezer.

Now sit back, relax and repeat after me: “I go this!” You do, you really do!

photos: Glasshouse Images

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