Here are some menu planning tips and techniques I’ve found as relevant and helpful to planning your own successful home party, as I have to my professional catering engagements. Enjoy!
Know your limitations: Take a realistic look at how much time you want to, or are able to invest, how many serving dishes you have (is it in your budget to buy more?), or your ability to flambé crepes tableside – it will guide you in making choices you can live with.
Establish your budget: This is a huge factor in deciding on your menu.
Balance your challenges – Divide & conquer: I’m fortunate to have a wonderful team to help me prepare and get everything together for a big event. You do too! Think of the grocery store, bakery, specialty market or restaurant as part of your team and delegate, delegate, delegate! Some helpful proportions to follow:
Balance flavor, color, and texture: Serve appetizers that reflect the entree to follow. If you’re Italian appetizers, like White Bean Pesto Hummus or Bruchetta, don’t follow it with Orange Beef with fried rice. Try to serve contrasting colors, Barbecue dishes look beautiful with corn on the cob and greens. If you’re doing a heavy dinner, try a lighter dessert, and vice versa. Don’t overuse strong flavors, like blue cheese, in more than one dish.
Select a style that fits your party: Don’t do a big sit-down dinner for a group larger than 10 or so. Buffet style will be much easier. Whatever you choose, make sure you select recipes that are suited to your party style. Are there a lot of vegetarians in the bunch? These are things you’ll want to consider.
Celebrate the seasons: Meals are freshest and menus are more exciting when they reflect what foods are in season that particular time of the year.
Plan recipes and quantities that are appropriate for the event time frame: Portions are smaller for lunch than at dinner. A cocktail reception from 4-6pm can get away with far less food than a dinnertime event from 6pm on. That doesn’t mean you can’t do cocktail fare for a dinnertime event, but be prepared to serve enough quantity to provide a fully filling meal.