Party Tips from a New York Caterer
Special Fork celebrates Entertaining Week beginning today. Stay tuned for party tips and recipes from our Special Fork bloggers all week long. This week also kicks off our annual holiday kitchen tools sweepstakes. Please check our Facebook page to learn about the tools we’ve selected for the giveaway and how you can enter to win our prize package (estimated retail value: $122).
Chef Ro Howe is a talented caterer in New York City who is in demand for weddings, fundraising galas and private parties. I had occasion to use her company, Barraud Caterers, this spring for a magazine food editor event for Kerrygold, my PR client. Impressed by the quality of the food, presentation and service, I made a date to check back with her for holiday entertaining tips to share with you. We reconnected last week and as expected, Ro was a fount of excellent advice.
We focused on a holiday cocktail party, rather than a sit-down dinner, which is easier on smaller homes and apartments where space limitations might make a dinner harder to execute.
How much Food and Wine?
“This somewhat depends on the time frame of your party and how long your guests will be at your house.” Ro explains. “Let’s assume that your party will last two to three hours, a usual span for a cocktail party. For a three-hour event you should offer at least eight to ten different food items, with a minimum of two bites of each thing per person, balanced between meat, fish and vegetarian, hot and cold, savory, and finishing with sweet.
“Unless you’re a professional, keep it as simple as possible and stick to your known, tried-and-tested skills. Don’t try out a new technique you just saw on the Food Channel!” Ro emphasizes. And she adds that, in thinking through your menu, you’ll want to plan on heavy hors d’oeuvres – substantial tidbits with enough fat and starch – to constitute a meal and leave guests feeling satisfied.
For estimating drinks, follow this rule of thumb: “You can assume that on average, your guests will drink at least one drink per hour,” Ro says. “Depending on the number of guests, for a full bar, have on hand one bottle of each type of basic liquor: vodka, scotch, gin, bourbon, rye, sweet and dry vermouth and a few bottles of red and white wine, as well as sodas and mixers, bar fruit, (lemon, lime, olives, cocktail cherries, onions) and plenty of ice for chilling and drinks.
“If you’re just offering wine then again assume each guest will drink three drinks during the party. A 750 milliliter bottle pours six generous glasses,” the caterer notes.
Planning is Key
“As soon as you have established your guest list – but before you have sent out your invitations – have a planning strategy in mind,” Ro says. Hosting a holiday party “can be a labor of love or a miserable nightmare. It all depends on organization and follow through to execution.”
Ro suggests preparing to spend four to five days beforehand accomplishing a small task or two each day, rather than working until all hours the last day until you’re too exhausted to enjoy your party.
“First, when you have decided on your menu, gather all your recipes together. Print them out if possible,” she advises. Adjust all the recipes for the number of people you will be serving. If you are doubling or tripling a recipe, write in pencil alongside the recipe the new calculations for each ingredient. That way, you’re not likely to make a mistake while you’re cooking. Once you have your menu set, you can write your shopping list.
“Shopping starts with dry goods: all those items that are storable like vegetables or processed items like pate, butter, flour, eggs, sugar, spices,” Ro says. “The second phase of shopping should be for those items that are more perishable, like salad greens, table flowers and herbs.”
In addition to a shopping list, Ro makes two prep lists: one for non-food and one for food. On your non-food prep list go such tasks as: order table arrangements, select linens, polish the silver. Leave a space next to each item to write in the day you will accomplish this particular task.
Then go through your recipes, one by one, and write your prep list. Again, assign a day to accomplish each task so you can space out the workload and actually enjoy the cooking as you go along. “You will feel a sense of accomplishment as you check off each small job and realize at the end how much you have achieved!” Ro encouraged.
What are some of the things that can be prepared ahead? “Start prepping the storable recipes like pastry on the first day of your kitchen prep. Raw pastry can be wrapped well in plastic kitchen film and kept happily in the fridge for days,” Ro explains. Other things can be pre-prepped the day before and ‘finished’ the day of. For example for crudités, you can trim the green beans and peel the asparagus the day ahead and blanch them on the morning.
Clear the Decks!
Your kitchen prep area must be functional and that means clearing the clutter in the kitchen, Ro insists. “A lot of people live in their kitchen. Clear the surfaces so you can make it a working space, not a living space. Otherwise, there’s no room to work.
“If you are not serving the fresh fruit in a bowl that lounges atop your counter, let it grace the study; the dog food and treats should be banished to a closet; the phone with the message pad and pen can take a nap in the bedroom. All your surfaces should be free.”
Everything in its Place
Organization is critical for a caterer and Ro suggests you organize yourself, too. “All the plates, platters, serving utensils should be ready and in order,” she says. “The garbage bin and recycling bags should be empty and ready to go. The dishwasher should be empty. All pots, pans, dishes that you have used for prep should be washed and put away. All the tools that you will need for the meal should be ready where they can be reached.
“Designate the area for plating the food. As soon as you’ve finished dealing with the pots, pans and tools, place them in a ‘holding area’ until you can scrape and clean. Tell everyone who is helping you your system and where everything should be placed. If you have thought out the logistics you will not be tempted to say those doomed words, ‘Wherever you can find room!’”
Setting the Stage:
“Flowers – even if you’re a boy you’ve got to do your flowers,” Ro advises. “Figure out where you are going to put them so they’re not in the way.
“Move furniture out of the way. Put chairs against the wall or in groups of two. Take away tchotchkes that can be broken.”
With so many helpful tips in mind, here’s a recipe to get you started with your party planning. While, as you might expect, many of Ro’s dishes are complicated, I asked for a simple recipe for Special Fork readers and she provided a delicious and versatile Spanish tortilla, which, as you know, has nothing to do with Mexicana tortillas, but is a Spanish omelet. This one is made in mini muffin tins for bite-size hors d’oeuvres.
To get the recipe and shopping list on your smartphone (iPhone, BlackBerry, Android device) or PC, click here.
Ro’s Chorizo-potato Spanish Tortilla
Here’s a simple recipe for mini Spanish tortillas (Spanish omelet) made bite sized; equally delicious served hot or at room temperature, as they do in Spain.
Makes about 35 mini tortillas
2 cups 1/4 to 1/2-inch diced potatoes
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 cups chopped white onion
1-1/2 cups 1/4 to 1/2-inch diced dry, (cured) or cooked fresh chorizo
12 large eggs
Kosher salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1-1/2 teaspoons Spanish pimenton dulce (sweet Spanish smoked paprika)
1/2 cup minced parsley
Place the diced potatoes in a shallow saucepan filled with cold salted water. The water should just cover the potatoes. Cover the pan allowing a small gap for the steam to emerge. Bring to a boil. Turn down to a medium simmer. If the water boils too vigorously the potatoes will fall apart. When they are tender enough to withstand a prick with a skewer, drain them and spread on a half sheet tray to cool. Do not shock them in cold water! Moisture will evaporate from the potatoes as they cool, allowing for the egg-starch osmosis to happen for a happy binding of ingredients.
Heat a 12-inch sauté pan. When it is hot add the olive oil. Heat to shimmering but not smoking. Add the chopped onions and cook through to translucent and lightly golden, about 8 to 10 minutes. When the onions are cooked through add the chorizo. Spread all on a sheet tray to cool completely.
In a large bowl, beat eggs and season with salt, pepper and pimenton. When onion mixture has cooled, add onion mixture and potatoes to the bowl and stir to combine.
Ladle into well-oiled mini-muffin tins ensuring that there is potato and chorizo in each portion.
Place on a sheet tray in a preheated 350°F oven and cook until eggs are set, about 10 to 12 minutes for mini-muffin tins. There should still be a little jiggle in the center.
Carefully remove the hot pan from the oven and allow tortillas to cool for at least 10 minutes. Residual heat from the pan will finish the cooking process.
This can be served hot or at room temperature. Sprinkle a little chopped parsley over all to brighten. Even a beautiful face looks better with mascara!
Note: pimenton dulce can be purchased at specialty markets
Note: Mini muffin tins can be sprayed with nonstick cooking spray instead of oiling them; to facilitate easy removal, use nonstick muffin tins if you have them.
Recipe from Chef Ro Howe, Barraud Catering, New York
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