Reader Jaleta Clegg sends us a handy hint for those planning a party:
I regularly do dinners for fifty or more people. I work summers as the cook for Space Camp, regularly host dinner parties for twenty to fifty people, and cook every day for my own family of ten. Cooking for a crowd is second nature to me.
These are some tips I've discovered. Whether for twelve or two hundred, they'll make your job hosting much easier.
Serve buffet style!
First, you have more time to mingle with your guests.
Second, it's easier for you to accommodate food allergies or preferences. When serving a salad, for instance, break it up into individual toppings with a large bowl of lettuce.
Consider doing the same for casseroles and soups. Let guests assemble their own with only the ingredients they want.
Here's a basic casserole recipe. Put out bowls of hot rice and noodles and a selection of ingredients such as ham cubes, tuna fish, petite peas, water chestnuts, sauteed onion and celery, cooked carrot slices, red bell pepper pieces, sliced olives, and lightly steamed zucchini. Next, set out two small crockpots with cheddar cheese sauce and chicken gravy. Last, set out croutons, bacon bits, and sunflower seeds. Each guests assembles their plate the way they like it.
*Cheddar Cheese Sauce recipe – melt 1/3 c. butter in medium saucepan. Stir in 1/3 c. flour. Cook 1 minute until bubbly. Whisk in 4 c. milk, 1 t. salt, ½ t. ground black pepper, and several drops of tabasco sauce. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until mixture thickens and boils. Boil 1 minute. Remove from heat. Gradually stir in 2 c. grated sharp cheddar cheese, stirring until cheese is melted and sauce is smooth.
You do have the disadvantage with buffet style of no portion control, so be generous in your estimates. It also helps to cut meat portions small, at most three ounces. Some guests will take one, others three or four, so plan accordingly.
Serving lots of small dishes makes a festive table. Use a long table or counter and intersperse vases of flowers or decorations among the dishes. Don't forget the drinks. Serve a variety and allow guests to help themselves. (Of course, you would want more control over alcoholic beverages, so either skip them or save them for after dessert when you can personally pour.)
Thanks, Jaleta! We have other great entertaining tips from Jaleta that will appear in the days ahead.
We're always happy to publish household hints from readers. Send them to us here.
Summer is a time for celebration (and has been since the 1950s; art above courtesy of apartmenttherapy.com). There will be barbecues, graduations, Father's Day, the Fourth of July, kids birthdays, adult birthdays, and Labor Day blowouts. And the center of a lot of celebration will be your kitchen. Here are three ways to keep your guests safe and your kitchen from looking like a disaster area this summer.
1) Keep outdoor activities outdoors. This sounds like a simple thing, but watch. Kids with squirt guns will chase each other in and out, unless you prevent them, and wet floors are a slipping hazard. The door will remain open for long periods of time, and insects and pests will come in. Beverages will be discarded inside, often by people more focused on going back outside than disposing of the containers responsibly. If you have a pool, make sure guests using it have floats and towels, and give them a place to dry off before they come back in the house. Make sure sunscreen is applied outdoors, not in the kitchen.
Set up areas for barbecue prep and recycling of cans and bottles outdoors, to minimize wear and tear on the kitchen. Make sure your guests have access to insect repellant and shade, to keep them from having to go in and out. Make sure any meat preparation platters or cutting boards go into a bag to take them inside later. Don't cut or place cooked meat on the platter that was used to prep it. Make sure the chef at the barbecue station has a meat thermometer to make sure food is properly prepared. Make sure leftovers are refrigerated properly and promptly.
2) Keep a loose lid on activities. Summer parties can easily get out of hand because inhibitions are looser and activities are more informal. Make sure guests put drinks on coasters and food on plates; your kitchen countertop may be stain resistant, but that doesn't mean it cannot be difficult to clean, especially if a food or liquid sits on it for hours under a wet napkin. Be sure you know who is attending, especially for parties such as graduation bashes; party crashers often feel no compunction about causing damage deliberately because they don't know the host and hostess. Don't overserve your guests; keep loose tabs on the consumption of adult beverages. Make sure other guests are available to serve as designated drivers. Keep an eye on chafing dishes or crockpots, and don't let guests injure themselves or damage your kitchen cabinets and tops. Hopping up to sit on a countertop may seem like a good idea to Uncle Leopold, but its really not.
Avoid guests having to constantly open the refrigerator or freezer, open the cabinets and drawers, or turn on the stove. Utensils you suspect will be needed should be readily available where you can supervise. If you allow smoking in your home, keep a special eye out to be sure ashtrays are being used properly.
3) Make it more than just your responsibility. Having a friend help you out with the hosting duties will keep you from being overstressed and allow you to have more fun. Tell your guests at the start who is helping and make sure they know not to use the appliances or rummage by themselves through drawers or cabinets. Having an extra pair of eyes is especially helpful with kids and teens.
When it's clean-up time, clean up should start immediately. Don't put off wiping down the counters and the cabinets, and wash the dishes as soon as possible. Watch out for paring and other knives and put them in the flatwear tray point downward. Make sure the garbage is disposed of promptly and properly; put bags in receptacles, rather than loose outdoors where animals can get at them. Make sure the barbecue is out and not a fire hazard. Watch for any broken glass or plates. Again, having a friend help will make the chore less onerous and more fun. And if you're a guest at someone else's summer gathering, consider volunteering to help them.
As a festive addition to a party, or just a way to brighten an ordinary meal, a reader calling herself Moonchild points out that you can use a pumpkin as a soup tureen.
Select a pumpkin that is wider than it is tall, one shaped like cinderella's coach. You want to be sure it sits solidly. Try to pick one without blemishes. Wash it thoroughly with warm soapy water, and rinse it.
Cut the top off the pumpkin, as if you were going to make a jack o'lantern, but don't carve a face. Scoop out the seeds and stringy stuff, then rinse it out inside.
Before serving, warm the pumpkin in a 200 degree oven for 15 minutes; this will keep the soup inside warm.
For added variety, try an ornamental pumpkin, like Lumina, which is white, or Long Island Cheese, which is tan. Jarrahdale pumpkins are hard to find but very distinctive, wth a bluish gray exterior.
By the way, the seeds you remove from the pumpkin can be cleaned and roasted for about 45 minutes with a little salt and butter for a delicious snack.
Of course, there's no better place to entertain guests than your newly renovated kitchen. Give us a call at 1-855-5REFACE to find out how easy and affordable your dream kitchen can be.
This weekend is Hallowe'en, when ghosts and goblins will be out and about. Why not plan a party for your kids and their friends?
There are a number of great games you can play to liven up your party.
Fill a jar with candy bars or candy corn, counting out how many are in the jar. As guests arrive, have them guess how many pieces are in the jar. Write down each guess next to their name. At the end of the party, the guest who came closest wins the jar.
Draw a jack o'lantern face on yellow apples or a turnips with a magic marker beforehand. During the party, divide the guests into teams of four or five. Have one hold the jack o'lantern under his or her chin and pass the jack o'lantern to their team members without using their hands. (If this seems inappropriate, have them hold their hands behind their backs and pass it that way). The first team to have all their members hold the jack o'lantern wins.
Divide the kids into teams of three or four. Give each team a roll of toilet paper and have them wrap one of their members into a mummy. The first team to wrap their mummy wins.
Take paper plates, scissors and string and create masks. Let each kid use crayons, glitter, glue bits of fabric and feathers to create their own masks.
If the weather allows for outdoor activities, bobbing for apples is a time tested activity. Fill a tub with water and put apples in it. The players must try to bite" into and "catch" and apple while holding their hands behind their backs. Don't forget to have some towels handy.
Another good outdoor game involves tying plain doughnuts to string and dangling them from tree branches. Kids must try to eat the doughnuts without using their hands. First one to finish wins!
Fill a rubber glove with water and freeze it. Add the frozen hand shape to a bowl of fruit punch and ginger ale for a creepy touch. Add food coloring to the water for fun.
Quarter hot dogs lengthwise and fry them. They will curl up into worm shapes, which can be put in worm sandwiches.
For monster eyes, poke a raisin into the center of a marshmallow, and use red icing to make bloodshot veins.
Lots of party stores will sell jello molds in the shape of body parts or other Hallowe'en themed shapes.
Enjoy! And if you can't throw a party this year, consider renovating your kitchen for parties later. A revamped kitchen is a great place to entertain friends and family throughout the year. Give us a call at 1-855-5REFACE to see how easy it is to get started.
Here's a Southwestern twist on the all-American apple pie from our friend Carol C. of Woonsocket, RI, whose kitchen we renovated.
1 9 inch pie shell
3 tablespoons jalapeno jelly
4 cups peeled sliced granny smith apples
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons minced seeded jalapenos
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup butter
3/4 cup grated monterey jack cheese
Preheat oven to 350°F Spread jalapeno jelly into the bottom of pie shell.
In a bowl, toss apples with lemon juice. In a separate bowl, combine the tablespoon of sugar, the tablespoon of flour, the cinnamon, the nutmeg and the brown sugar.
Sprinkle sugar mixture over apples, toss and spoon into pastry shell. Sprinkle jalapeno pepper over apples.
For topping, combine sugar, flour and butter with a pastry blender to form crumbly mixture. Stir in grated cheese. Sprinkle over pie.
Bake 45 minutes, or until golden.
Thanks, Carol! Readers, we're looking forward to seeing your recipes. Send them to us here.
From Martha G., of Scotch Plains, NJ, a recipe for a fancy occasion:
2 lbs beef tenderloin
Ground black pepper
1 sheet prepared puff pastry (in supermarket freezer case)
1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon butter
2 cups finely chopped mushrooms
1 medium onion, finely chopped
Place the beef in a lightly greased roasting pan. Season with the black pepper, if desired. Roast at 425 degrees F for 30 minutes or until a meat thermometer reads 130 degrees F. Cover the pan and refrigerate for 1 hour.
Thaw the pastry sheet at room temperature for 40 minutes or until it’s easy to handle. Heat the oven to 425 degrees F. Stir the egg and water in a small bowl with a fork.
Heat the butter in a 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and onion and cook until the vegetables are tender and all the liquid is evaporated, stirring often.
Unfold the pastry sheet on a lightly floured surface. Roll the pastry sheet into a rectangle 4 inches longer and 6 inches wider than the beef. Brush the pastry sheet with the egg mixture. Spoon the onion/mushroom mixture onto the pastry sheet to within 1-inch of the edges. Place the beef in the center of the onion/mushroom mixture. Starting at the long sides, fold the pastry over the beef. Place seam-side down on a baking sheet. Tuck the ends under to seal. Brush the pastry with the egg mixture.
Bake for 25 minutes or until the pastry is golden and a meat thermometer reads 140 degrees F. Slice and serve warm. Serves 10 people.
For an additional luxurious touch, add some canned liver pate to the onion/mushroom mixture.
Readers, we’d love to share your favorite recipes from your very own kitchen. Send them to us here.
Reader Jenna M., of Lambertville, NJ, has been kind enough to send us some household hints for the kitchen.
Mash and freeze ripe bananas, in one-cup portions, for use in later baking~no wasted bananas (or you can freeze them whole, peeled, in plastic baggies)
Thanks, Jenna! Readers, we'd love to share some of your household hints and workday tips. Send them to us here.
The kitchen is a great place to entertain guests. And your friends and family will enjoy a gathering in the heart of your home.
One great way to hold a successful party in the kitchen is to lay out a buffet for your guests. Using a countertop as staging area is a terrific idea, because it ensures that traffic will go in one direction, leading to smoother flow of the buffet line.
The order of food platters on your buffet is designed to offer the ability to choose their favorite foods in portions that they desire. Layout the buffet as you would serve the meal. Salads first, followed by rolls and bread, an entree, condiments and sauces, side dishes and finally, desserts.
Get the most out of your guests by asking them to bring dishes that will fit your overall plan.