Party Food Made Simple

It’s that time of the year again—the holiday season. The time of year when we delight in spending special time with family and friends, when we break out the decorations and traditions from years past, and—for many—when we fret endlessly over just what to serve people to eat.

Creating fabulous fare for your next gathering or party doesn’t need to be stressful. Follow these simple tips for whipping up a spread that will delight your guests but leave you feeling calm and in control.

Make Ahead
The last thing you want to do on the day of a party is spend hours in the kitchen, ending up exhausted with aching feet before your guests even arrive. Plan your menu ahead of time, and insist on dishes that can be either fully cooked or at least prepped in advance.

Create a Schedule
I know this might sound like a military exercise, but creating a battle plan is key to figuring out how to spread the work out and making sure everything gets done on time. Writing it all down helps you visualize the work to be done—and that, in turn, helps you figure out when you need to start. Shop the day before you start cooking, and spread the cooking out according to how long foods will hold.

Family-Style Rules
While there’s a time for making individual canapés for a party, the busy holidays usually aren’t it. Instead of making a platter of bruschetta, simply pile up the tomato and basil topping in a large bowl and surround it with crostini on a platter. Let the guests do their own assembly work and save yourself some time. As a bonus, you won’t have to figure out where to store all of those individually prepared and plated appetizers.

Serve at Room Temperature
I’ve heard it said that, in the US, we have a fixation with serving our food piping hot, when in fact, most foods actually taste better when they cool down a bit. Don’t plan foods that have to be served hot, or you’ll be back and forth to your oven throughout the party to make sure everything is heated. Plan a menu that largely works well and tastes great at room temperature, and you’ll only need to refill platters occasionally.

Balance the Selection
Your guests will appreciate your menu if you offer a balance of foods. I like to serve up one crunchy appetizer, one seafood dish, one dip, one vegetarian selection and one meat option. When selecting your recipes, try to stick to a single cuisine to make sure everything goes well together. A sample Mediterranean menu might include Tomato-Garlic Crostini, Shrimp with Romesco Sauce, Hummus with Paprika Pita Crisps, Spanish Tortilla Bites and Beef Skewers with Chimichurri Sauce. The flavors work together, everything can be prepared in advance, and everything can be served at room temperature (make sure to keep shrimp on ice for food safety reasons).

RECIPE: Shrimp with Romesco Sauce

Chimichurri Sauce

About the author: Michele Morris leads cooking dinner parties and teaches private and group cooking classes for both kids and adults. For more great recipes, cooking tips, and resources, visit her website

Categories: Entertaining, Recipes