Not the Standard Buffet: An Interactive Lunch Party

How much fun would it be to create a series of food stations around your home in order to host a fantastic, interactive lunch time feast?

Let’s Begin with Beverages

Imagine this: guests arrive, drop-off their coats and purses, and then head out to the make- your-own beverage bars. One beverage bar can be set up with two blenders, ice, and all the fixings for Margaritas and Pina Coladas. Each blender will come with instructions on how to make the Mexican inspired blended drink of choice. The guests can then join others at the tables you have set up with finger foods and other snacks to keep them busy as they talk about the latest food trends they have seen on their favorite foodie shows.

Another beverage bar can consist of simple red and white wines and possibly even a specialty beer or two. This station needs a cork screw and bottle opener, but no instructions.

Your final drink station can be fun for the designated drivers in the group. You may choose to have another couple of blenders here for fruit smoothies or non-alcoholic versions of the previously mentioned Mexican delights. One of those soda makers seen for sale at the superstores might be a nice way to keep the non-drinkers involved in the drink-making process as well.

Let’s Move to the Food

It might be tasty to have a few different build-your-own-lunch bars based on different places around the world.

Mexico

The easiest Hispanic cuisine to include in a bar format might be the standard taco bar. Include both corn and flour tortillas. Seasoned ground beef, shredded chicken, and refried beans will keep nicely in chafing dishes. Then all you need are the standard taco sides: salsa (green and red), shredded lettuce, tomatoes, guacamole, and plenty of cheese. You might even consider having a hot plate at this station so that vegetarian guests can make a quesadilla if they choose.

Italy

This bar can be a fun pizza bar, equipped with store bought personal pizza crusts, a selection of red and white sauces, cheese, pepperoni, and a variety chopped vegetables (i.e. artichoke hearts, mushrooms, thinly sliced tomatoes, red and yellow peppers, olives, green chilies, etc.) Set out a toaster oven or two and allow guests to build and bake their own pizzas. You may also consider having a few kitchen timers set about, so that guests can set a timer to avoid burning their meal.

China

This bar might need a bit more planning. Consider having pre-made skewers with teriyaki chicken and beef already threaded on the wooden stick. You probably do not want to have guests touching raw meat before they eat. I even suggest having these skewers pre- cooked to avoid the catastrophe of undercooked chicken.

Set up this station near your grill and allow guests to create vegetable skewers filled with a variety of veggies and perhaps even a fruit or two. Some vegetables you might wish to include are button mushrooms, red and yellow peppers, cherry or grape tomatoes, squash, zucchini, and onions.

Although not as common, there are some fantastic fruits that grill well, too. Try grilled pineapple chunks, peaches, apples, or pears. Their natural sugars interact with the heat source and create a fabulous caramelizing effect that will pair nicely with both the chicken and beef skewers your guests have selected.

Decorating Fun

Consider having each bar decorated according to the cultural theme you have selected.

Perhaps place a piñata on the taco bar, later to be destroyed by the kids at the event. No kids? It would be a blast for the adults to participate in an old childhood favorite! Perhaps have two piñatas, one for the kids and one for the adults. Fortune cookies and tea-light take-out boxes might be a delightful way to decorate the Asian themed bar. For a taste of Italy, a bottle or two of wine, some plump grapes, and candles can create nice Italian ambiance.

You might also consider decorating each guest table according to a different country around the world. Country flags are an easy decorative idea, but what about paper dolls or a card game with instructions from the country of choice? You could include interesting trivia on the table tops to provide your guests with thought-provoking topics to digest while they eat. Did You Know? The entire area of Italy is only about the size of Arizona.

A party surrounded by clever ideas and ways to keep your guests involved will surely create an event talked about for years to come.

The Engagement Party: Planning Your First Party as a Couple

engagement partyYour parents are about to meet his, possibly for the first time, ever! The first party you plan as a couple can be one of the most intense and frustrating parties, if you let it. But if you plan right, this party will be a night to remember and celebrate.

The young couple must be aware that the new in-laws on both sides of the family will compete; therefore, do not allow one mom to “help” with the meal without offering the same opportunity to the other. The most that either mother in-law should contribute is a basic desert or a simple appetizer, nothing more. Keep their jobs as ordinary and stress free as possible. This is not their time to shine, it is yours.

This party is the first time that you and your spouse-to-be get to show that you can work together as a couple, so work together to make this party a success. Use this engagement party to show your families that the two of you truly do belong together for a lifetime.

When Do We Have the Party?

There are many possibilities to consider as you plan your first jamboree. On which day of the week should you celebrate and at what time? Consider the work commitments for all guests, but most importantly consider what time the parents on both sides of the wedding party are available.

If your future father-in-law typically works on Saturdays, then a Saturday afternoon is most likely a poor choice for party time. Sunday brunch might be a more optimal day and time. If, however, one family typically attends church for four hours on Sunday, then perhaps a Friday evening is the better choice.

Whatever you choose, make a point of being as accommodating as possible for both the bride’s and the groom’s immediate families. After all, during the next twelve months, these are the people who will be working to help plan and pay for the wedding.

What Do We Serve?

What you choose to serve will greatly depend upon the time of your party.

Brunch

If you have an early-afternoon party, you will probably select brunch foods: quiche, berries, muffins, croissants, crepes, bacon, sausage, etc. Brunches can easily consist of the least expensive food choices, but keeping them hot and fresh requires a little planning and work.

Consider a crepe bar with a hot plate set out for people to quickly heat up the crepe. If you haven’t seen them yet, most grocery stores sell pre-made crepes in the fruit section of the store. Then there can be an endless supply of fresh berries, chocolate sauce, caramel syrup, whip crème and the like.

Bake any egg dishes at the last possible minute, as cold eggs will be the death of your party. The breakfast meats can be fried up before guests arrive and placed in a chafing dish. Muffins can either be purchased from a bakery or homemade. This could be one of those jobs you give to the moms when they ask you, “What can I do to help?”

Make sure you have plenty of cold orange and apple juice easily accessible for your guests. Coffee, hot water for tea and cocoa, and basic drinking water are the most inexpensive drink options. One other beverage is very important for a successful brunch party: champagne. This is an engagement party after all. How about a mimosa for each guest as both the bride and groom say a few words to announce their exciting engagement?

Lunch

An afternoon lunch menu can be easier to keep fresh, but might be slightly more expensive than a traditional brunch. The menu may consist of finger sandwiches, chicken strips, and other easy to eat items. Side dishes are a no-brainer: salads, chips and dip, cold cuts, fruit and veggie trays, etc.

The one way you might jazz up a lunch party is with the desert options. Perhaps you have a fondue table. Chocolate fondue fountains are easy enough to find and will be a great investment in future parties as well. Just imagine having a variety of foods available for people to indulge with warm, gooey chocolate: strawberries, pretzels, marshmallows, orange sections, dried fruit, chewy-caramel cubes on a stick, slightly stale pound cake, peanut butter cookies, and more! This will be a fun dessert idea that you will use for many parties to come.

Dinner

Possibly the most costly of parties, the dinner party has an element that a brunch or lunch party can avoid. The most expensive part of this party is the alcohol. Consider the headcount at your party and then decide how much wine to buy. Typically one bottle of wine serves about four glasses. For each drinking guest on your list, plan two to three glasses of wine. More people drink red wine than white, so you might wish to buy extra Merlot. Once you have decided what to eat, you can better plan your wine choices.

Pasta dishes are easy to make ahead of time and are just as easy to serve. Consider homemade lasagna with garlic bread and green salad. This is a simple dinner and will pair nicely with a Cabernet Sauvignon. If you are not yet a wine connoisseur, consider planning your menu using a food and wine pairing website like Winedin.com.

Whether you and your spouse-to-be decide to serve breakfast, lunch, or dinner, make sure the two of you take charge of this party. You might be surprised to know to that this first party will send a message to your friends and family regarding whether or not the two of you are truly meant to be. No pressure!

Food Sharing and Comparing Party

Not your everyday Green Bean Casserole. Check out the Brown Eyed Baker!

Addicted to The Food Network? Always ready to learn a new thing or two about cooking? Want a few new dishes to add to your weekly meal list? How about hosting a party so that you can learn more about food?

The Food Experts

Your first job as a hostess is to find the food experts who will teach the remaining guests how to cook their specialty. Everyone can be a food expert if given an opportunity. While most of us are not gourmet chefs, we typically have one or two dishes that we make really well and that our friends and family always request. Often these meals are cultural dishes, a meal that we ate at least once every week or two while we were growing up, or perhaps we indulged only during the holiday season, but it is a meal close to our hearts. Other people may have never even heard of it, or they simply believe it is too hard to make and do not even attempt to try making it, but they love to eat it.

Share your party idea with a few of your closest friends and brainstorm a list of possible food lessons that you and your friends can teach. For example, one friend might teach a small group how to make Filipino lumpia (a Filipino take on an eggroll) and pancit (kind of like chow Mein); another might demonstrate the German Bierock (a savory meat pastry); and still another could model how to make Mexican flautas (kind of like homemade taquitos, only better).

Any food dishes are acceptable, but do keep in mind that you do not want everyone at the party trying to use the oven at the same time. You will need to select items that can be made using the stove, the oven, and perhaps even a hot plate or two. This way your guests are easily separated into different groups bases on the dish to be made.

Compile a list of food items that need to be purchased for each lesson and estimate a grocery bill. With this total in mind, ask guests to contribute a small donation to the cause; otherwise this party idea might become a bit too cost prohibitive.

The Lessons

Have a friend in charge of each learning station and guests equally assigned to a lesson. Keep in mind; not all guests need to participate in every lesson, but it might be nice if they can rotate through at least two of the lessons being taught. The goal is to get the guests to help make the food and then be able to sample each dish as well.

A nice touch would be to have recipe cards printed up with step-by-step directions attached to each. You might even wish to take pictures of steps as they are being completed at the party. When the party is over and done, send step-by-step instructions to each guest with pictures of them participating in the lesson.

Not only will this be a fun party talked about for years to come, recipe boxes will be replete with new ideas, and the guests will remember how to make them and what they tasted like.

The Future of Sharing and Comparing

Now that you have hosted a party complete with festive cooking ideas, pass the buck onto the next inspiring chef. Encourage one of your guests to plan a similar party so that you can learn, too. This might be a good party idea to have once every four months or so. You only have to hostess it once; then it is the next guy or gal’s turn. The possibilities are endless!

Budget-Friendly Party Planning

Budget Party PlanningBudget-Friendly Party Planning

Having a party at your place, but afraid it will bust the budget? You don’t have to be scared; just plan a budget-friendly party. The goal is to get friends and family together at your place for an afternoon of socializing and enjoying one another’s company, right? This can be done and the price can be right, too.

The Guest List

First of all, decide who your guests will be. If you are attempting to narrow down the guest list, consider having a party for a specific type of guest. Are you hoping to spend time with small families (moms, dads, and their kids)? Do you prefer to have an adults’ day out, no kids? Perhaps you just want to have your male friends over, or female friends. If you narrow your guest list by type of guest, you save money. Keep in mind; although parents love their children, they also look forward to the few events in life that force them to get a sitter. If you fear that not inviting the kids will hurt feelings, ask your friends in advance. What do you think about coming to a party without the kids? I’m thinking of hosting a barbecue and I’m debating whether or not to do an adult only party or a family event, what do you think? You may be surprised by their answers.

The Food

Once you have your guest list figured out, consider what types of foods you can select that will not break the bank. Hot dogs and hamburgers, always popular barbecue items, are certainly possibilities. If you would like to elevate the hot dog, buy the larger and tastier polish dogs often for sale in bulk at the big name superstores. Providing fixings like chili, sauerkraut, specialty mustards, relishes, and other condiments will allow each guest to create a unique and mouthwatering plate. Another protein that doesn’t cost much, is easy to fix, and typically pleases the crowd is chicken. You can buy large bags of boneless, skinless chicken breasts or chicken tenders, marinate them and throw them on the grill. Easy and tasty!

Another inexpensive but fun food item is the baked potato. You do not even need to light the barbecue to accomplish this task. Potatoes are definitely cheap and quite filling. Bake off thirty potatoes and allow guests to doctor them up with butter, cheese, sour cream, homemade bacon bits, chives, etc. You can also have a crockpot filled with homemade chili that guests can either add to the top of their potatoes or enjoy in a cup with cheese, onions, or other “potato” toppings.

The Side Dishes

Once you pick the main dish to be offered, have your guests bring the extras. When your guests RSVP, give each a list of two or three things from which to choose: a desert, specialty bread and butter, a salad, or an appetizer. Based on what you still need, ask each guest what he or she would like to contribute to the menu. Make sure you have a balance of foods, as you do not want to have twenty deserts and no appetizers. If you just keep a checklist by the phone, this should be easy to accomplish.

The Beverages

The other big money item is drinks. We never know what people like to drink or how much they will drink. An easy way to solve this problem is to tell guests (or write it on the invitation) that you will provide bottled water, sports drinks, and/or a small selection of generic sodas, but that if they would like any alcohol or other specific beverages, they may bring their own.

In order to make this a simple endeavor, set up one ice chest filled with bottled water, one filled with sports drinks, and one filled with generic sodas. Label each cooler and then have a few other coolers filled with ice for people to add their own drinks to; or better yet, encourage them to bring their own small coolers and have pen and paper available to label the coolers with guests’ names.

Ding-Dong!

Now that you have the foods and beverages planned, your party is nearly paid for. Visit one of those superstores in your area to buy plates, plastic ware, cups, and napkins and your party is set. Now all you need to do is clean your house, set-up a few tables and chairs, open the door with the bell rings, smile, and have a good time.   

Cooking up Couples: A Sizzling Singles Event

Buffet IdeasCooking up Couples: A Sizzling Singles Event

Spending a few hours with one’s TV is a common date night for many singles, and lately many have been hooked on the competitive nature of food shows. Why not use this information to create a Caramelized Singles event? Sound sticky? Good, the goal is to get one single to stick to another and form a decadent duo of love.

Invite a variety of singles in your area to an evening event at your home. If you are single, this is a great way to invite those few guys around the water cooler, whom you might have a slight interest in getting to know a little better, to an evening at your home. On the invitations, include several different food competition challenges: amazing appetizer, simple salad, melt-in- your-mouth main dish, and delectable dessert. Each invitee RSVPs with the competition he or she would like to join. That person then brings a dish aligned to his or her selected category. The goal is to have a minimum of three or four people per group (preferably a balance of men and women). You might need to sweet talk a some of these casual chefs to compete in areas that have fewer entries than others.

As each person arrives to the party, he or she will set the food brought on the buffet table, no store bought goodies allowed. The hostess of the party will place a pile of judging cards, labeled with the appropriate category, in front of the dish. These cards do not need to be elaborate. They may simply have a scale of one through five.

  • One: I would screen my calls so that I didn’t have to see this dish again.
  • Two: I might call this dish for a second date.
  • Three: I would enjoy a few dates with this dish.
  • Four: I would love to have some more one-on-one time with this dish.
  • Five: I would marry this dish.

When other guests taste the food, they fill out a judging card and place it in a box that is also decorated and labeled with the appropriate competitive food category. At the end of the night, the hostess tallies the judging cards and announces a winner for each cooking competition. It might be nice to award each winning cook with a special cookbook to inspire romance, a box of chocolates in a suggestive red heart, or two tickets to a movie theater in the area. In any case, the prize awarded should be something the winner can potentially share with a selected single from the party.

Having an event like this solves a few party problems: What foods do I serve? Will the guests have anything in common? Who should I invite? How do I announce the event is over? As a hostess, you supply the paper goods (plates, napkins, etc.), the drinks (wine, beer, sodas, and bottled water), the space, and the prizes. The guests supply the food. Every guest will have something to talk about: the food. What did you cook? Which food in each category do you like best? How did you make that? You will not hurt your married friends’ feelings by not inviting them to the party, because they simply do not fit the most important invitation criteria – being single! This is a match-making event, so if you already have a match, you stay home.

After the final judging results have been announced and the prizes have been awarded, guests will quickly realize that this event is coming to an end. If they still do not seem to get the hint, then have a few number exchange papers and pencils handy. After you have handed out the prizes, tell your guests it is time to exchange numbers and be sure to call a single or two for a one-on- one date later on. This last bit of advice will open the door to ending the party. Hopefully you will have made some potential matches of your own. The good news is, every guy at the party has your number on the invitation; no awkward exchanges necessary.