My Last Holiday Party

Well it wouldn’t be December without my holiday party, although this was my last one for reasons I’ll explain.  My Pinterest board shows the menu.  You can see it by clicking here.

I had to make those amazing meatballs again, the ones I served at the baby shower.  They disappeared, again.  I also did some old favorites—goat cheese-stuffed, bacon-wrapped dates.  The Columbia restaurant’s 1905 salad.  And an international cheese board. 

The new dishes I tried.  One was mini stuffed twice-baked potatoes.  Very easy and holiday-bakedtatersvery inexpensive to make.  You buy those little creamer potatoes at the warehouse club in a big bag, bake them in the oven, then scoop out the insides with a small spoon.  The rest of the story is just like full-sized twice-baked potatoes.

holiday-cheeseballAnother new dish was the jalapeno popper cheese ball.  I did not make it look like the football that’s shown on Pinterest, I just did it like a non-sports-related cheese concoction.  It was pretty well-consumed.

I also tried my hand at Cuban sliders.  Basically you take a package of King’s Hawaiian Rolls and you use them to make a pan of ham and swiss cheese and pickle sandwiches.  Then you melt some butter, stir in some mustard and drizzle it holiday-slidersover the sandwiches, then bake and serve warm.  They are equally good when they cool off.

For dessert this year I made a fruit galette.  I made it with apples, holiday-galettepears and blackberries and it was also a big hit.  It was easy as pie (no pun intended… well, maybe a little).  I took a packaged pie crust, I put in sliced apples and pears, with a few blackberries, a little sugar and some lemon zest.  Baked it.  Sliced it.  Served it.  Watched most of it disappear.

I also served a Christmas sangria that was a big hit.  It’s basically white wine with some holiday-sangriasparkling cider, granny smith apples, halved fresh cranberries and sprigs of rosemary.  It was also a big hit.

My best friend came in from out of state for the weekend and helped me with food and clean up.  We had a great time together.

But, I was disappointed in the turnout.  I set the date months in advance and tell people when it is for them to put it on their calendars.  And, without fail this year, lots of my regulars made other plans and then said, “Oh, we have a conflict.”  I wanted to say, “No, you don’t have a conflict.  You don’t want to come to my party so you made other plans.  There’s a big fucking difference.”

And that, my dear readers, is why I’m done hosting a holiday party.  I had the worst turnout in 8 consecutive years.  The people who were there were a lot of fun, and I was honored by their presence, but I just don’t think I want to spend $300 on food and décor next year to have people find “conflicts.”  Either my party isn’t as fun as I thought it was, or the food isn’t as good as I thought it was, or maybe both?  Either way…there’s a certain amount of freedom that comes from knowing I’ve let myself off the hook for next year.

I am, however, a social creature.  So that doesn’t mean I won’t want to do something.  I’ve already decided that IF people request a party or event, I will possibly organize a community dinner, in which everyone brings something and makes a commitment to attending.  I’m not doing days of food prep only to have half the food I make go in the trash.  But we’ll see if there are any requests.

Anyway, I want to wish all my readers a happy everything.  Happy Christmas!  Happy Hanukkah! Happy Kwanzaa!  And of course, Happy New Year!  May the turnout for all your holiday functions exceed your wildest dreams!  Thanks for reading BWAV!

 

 

Something Fun: A Tie Dye Party

Today I thought I would give you an idea for something really fun to do on a sunny day:   host a tie dye party.  It’s not very expensive, and it’s a lot of fun.

Step 1:  Grab a coupon for your local craft store, then go buy a tie-dye kit.  All three of the major craft chains (Michael’s, AC Moore and Hobby Lobby) usually put out a coupon once a week for 40% off or 50% off one item.  Grab one online or from your local sale flyer and then head to the store.  Buy the Tulip brand tie dye party kit.  It looks like this:

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The packaging may vary, but look for the kit that makes 36 projects.  Realistically, it will make more like 15-18 projects using the colors you really WANT.  Just know that going in.  It typically retails (in North Carolina) for $29.99, so with the coupon, you’re looking at it costing about $1 per project.

Step 2:  Find some stuff to tie-dye.  I order men’s white v-neck t-shirts from Hanes.com, but you can also watch for those at your local discount store.  And, sometimes the craft chains put Gildan brand t-shirts on sale for as little as $1.99 apiece.  But, don’t limit yourself to t-shirts!  You can do tote bags, socks, scarves, and even underwear.

My son really likes to tie-dye boxer briefs.  He once made a pair using the brown dye in the Tulip kit.  It was kind of disgusting but funny.  (Use your imagination).  This is also a good way to repurpose white shirts that have a stain on them, or that have turned yellowish.

Tell guests to bring their own garments.  That way you aren’t trying to buy shirts for everyone, and, they can be sure to have the right size and style of whatever it is they want to tie-dye.  Be specific about how many garments you want them to bring.  Whether it’s one, two or three, or more, make sure you have figured on having enough dye and supplies  for the quantity people will bring.

Pre-wash all the items, and do not dry them with fabric softener, which can impede the dye’s absorption.  I recommend also drying them once, to shrink them.  Then, wet them again (a rinse cycle in the washer is great). It’s easiest to fold and shape the tie-dye design with a damp garment, which is why you need to rinse them one more time.

(Be sure to tell your guests to do this pre-washing step before arriving, and to bring their shirts damp, if possible.)

Step 3:  Set up a tie-dye station outdoors.  You really need tables for this, if at all possible.  Cover the tables with plastic (the kit comes with a plastic table cover, but you may need more).  Don’t use newspaper!  The dye will soak through it and stain your table.  Just a few minutes before the party, add cold water to the dye bottles and mix them up.  Do NOT pre-mix the dye earlier!  It has to be mixed fresh and used within an hour or two.

The kit contains gloves and rubber bands for tie dying, but you’ll probably need extra gloves and you’ll definitely need extra rubber bands.  It takes a lot of rubber bands to create most of the styles that people want to make when they tie-dye.  So, have extras of those.  Good thick strong big rubber bands are ideal, but whatever you have will work.

Finally, you’ll need to have a supply of plastic bags.  The shirts have to be wrapped in plastic and left to process for at least 6 to 8 hours–24 hours is better.  I recommend a package of gallon-sized Ziploc bags for shirts and larger projects, and a package of quart-sized bags for smaller items.  (They are a little pricey but they are the easiest to use and they ensure that dye doesn’t leak out of the bag).

When you invite guests, you can go ahead and tell them to bring one Ziploc bag per garment.  If they are going to bring their garments damp, the bag is a perfect container for transporting the damp items.

So…. you’ve got a plastic-covered table, dye, gloves, rubber bands, and plastic bags.  Now what?

Step 4:   Start the party and fold the garments.  The dye kit comes with some instructions on basic tie-dye folding and design.  You can also find some great design suggestions and ideas online here (just click here to go to the Tulip website).  Pinterest also has lots of other suggestions that you can search for.  Print out the design ideas for your guests so they have something to look at and refer to when folding and shaping their garment.

This is the fun part, where the table comes in handy.  You have to fold and work the garments, and rubber band as needed.  Once the garment is folded and banded, you put on gloves, apply the dye, and place the garment in a bag.  Rainbow Spider DIY:

My advice for a smooth and successful party is to have everyone fold and shape their garments first, THEN apply the dye.  This way someone who is folding and working on a shirt doesn’t bump into an open bottle of dye that someone else is using.

Step 5:  You’ll rinse the shirts out after several hours.  The package says 8 hours, but I recommend 24 hours.  The dye can process for that long without harming the garment.

You should probably print out these instructions for your guests to take home with them…

  1.  Remove garment from the bag and in a stain-proof sink (such as stainless steel, or a laundry sink), rinse the garment thoroughly until the water runs clear.
  2. Remove the rubber bands, unfold, and wash in the washing machine by itself, with no other garments.  Remember there’s still soluble dye in this item that can stain other things it touches, so it’s important to wash it alone.
  3. Dry thoroughly.
  4. For the first 2 times you wash it, you’ll want to wash it alone, or with other tie-dye garments, just to be safe.  After that, it’s fine to wash with other colored clothing.  I’ve never had the dye rub off on other clothes after that point.

There!  That’s it.  Provide a snack or two and some cocktails and you’ve got a really fun afternoon, with a take-away that guests can keep and enjoy for a long time.

The Happy Hour Bridal Shower Outcome: Success!

The Happy Hour Bridal Shower that I co-hosted for a friend at work has finally happened, and I wanted to share the results.

Everything went great!  There was plenty of food and drink, and all the ladies seemed to enjoy themselves.

Here’s a gallery of the results:

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As with all things, a few plans changed along the way…

  1. No balloons.  I decided with those big pom poms we had enough “aerial” decor.
  2. No penis cake.  Couldn’t find anyone to bake one!
  3. I changed up Paula Deen’s deviled egg recipe.  I used sour cream instead of mayonnaise because I didn’t have any mayo in the house and didn’t feel up to making any.  I also added a good blob of dijon mustard to it for a little twang.  I still wasn’t happy with how they turned out, they tasted bland to me, but they got rave reviews from the party goers, with people even asking if they could take home some of the extras.  Not an egg was left when the party was over!

Finally, the candy in the condom game was a big hit, everyone thought it was funny.  And, the bride guessed the correct number of candies in it!  FYI, a standard condom will hold about 65-80 cherry sours.  If you go past that it’ll break.  Trust me on this one.

A Happy Hour Bridal Shower

A gal from my office is getting married, and two of us offered to throw her a bridal shower.  I wanted to show you what we’re doing!  As with all my events, I started the planning with a Pinterest board.  You can see it by clicking here.  

Format and Theme

We decided on a Friday afternoon, happy hour time just after work ends.  That way people can stop by on their way home and have a drink, unwind, and celebrat

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Fruit kabobs

e her upcoming nuptials.  I have that day off so I can work on preparing everything during the day, and, my son’s girlfriend is available to help me since she also doesn’t work or have class that day.

Our theme is a lingerie shower.  I personally wouldn’t want one of those, because I’m not a lingerie person, but she seems to be loving the idea and this is all about her!

Color Scheme

We chose pink and white for two reasons.  One, pink is her accent color in her wedding.  Two, it’s Valentine’s day and the stores are FILLED with pink and white stuff that’s cute and romantic and affordable!

Food Menu

Since we are not trying to feed people lunch or dinner, we decided on three sweet and four savory bites for the event:

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Pretzel rods dipped in colored white chocolate with sugar pearls

Sweet:  fruit kabobs, chocolate covered pretzel rods, and cake (hopefully in the shape of a penis if we can find someone to bake it for us.  My co-host owns the penis pan.  I didn’t ask her why.  Haha!).

Savory:  deviled eggs, tomato and cheese crostini, finger sandwiches, and nuts.

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Paula Deen BLT deviled eggs.

The sweet items–I chose fruit kabobs because I own a BUNCH of packages of skewers and it just made sense to put them to good use.  Plus everyone at this event is over 40 and probably watching their carbs so fruit is a good choice.

The pretzel rods I saw on Pinterest

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Tomato and cheese crostini

were just too cute.  I went to Michael’s last week and for Valentine’s day they had all the candy melts and candy decorations on sale plus I had a coupon for an additional 20% off.  So, I got the candy melts and little sugar pearls for about $6 total. I can make the white chocolate a nice pink color with a dab of gel food coloring.

The savory items….my favorite deviled egg recipe is Paula Deen’s BLv5T Deviled eggs.  The last party I served them at they were a huge hit.  They are very “bridal-shower-y” in my opinion and unique.

The tomato and whipped feta cheese crostini is another favorite from a previous party.  It’s a Barefoot Contessa recipe that is always a huge hit.  Plus it’s something you can serve “deconstructed”–put the cheese mixture in a dish, then put the tomato and pine nut mixture in another dish, and serve that alongside a platter of toasted bread slices.  People can make their own (which also has the advantage of not getting soggy in advance).v7

Finger sandwiches in the shape of hearts. Who doesn’t love heart shaped stuff at a bridal shower???  My co-host is making those, not sure what she will put in them but I’m sure whatever she chooses will be great.

And, finally, we’ll have some nuts of some sort for an easy, high-protein munchy.

Drinks

We are going to serve a pink alcoholic punch that I love to make.  The recipe is from Giada DeLaurentis and it is absolutely lovely both in color and in flavor.  The recipe is super simple and it’s always a crowd pleaser.

Decorationsv1

I love those tissue paper pom poms that are so popular!   So I went to www.papermart.com to buy tissue paper to make them, and I found that they sell ready-made pom poms for about $1 to $1.50 apiece.  What a deal, and no trying to figure out how to make them myself!  I ordered pink and white ones in a range of sizes.

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Pink tulle chair decorations.

Also from Papermart, I ordered some rolls of pink tulle to tie on the chairs in my dining room.  I think that looks so festive, and their rolls of tulle are super inexpensive!

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A little bit of sparkly ribbon on the straws makes them look so festive!

I have pink and white paper straws, which will go great with the pink punch!  I love this idea I found on Pinterest of tying a little slash of ribbon to each straw.  Definitely going to do that.

As with all my events, I went to Dollar Tree and stocked up on disposable platters, bowls, etc.  They have plastic ones that look like cut crystal, and silver ones that look like metal.  They even have some metal trays that are only $1.00 and very elegant looking.

I also grabbed tons of heart shaped doilies since the stores are full of those around Valentine’s day!

I have some pink and white silk gerbera daisies in my craft stash.  I’m planning on putting those in vases and jars, for a touch of feminine color.

8cee5588da43ad0194fab581530d7e9aFinally, I saw this idea on Pinterest to tie pictures of the couple to balloons.  I thought that was very clever and I’m going to try to pull that off, too.

Entertainment

I know some people love shower games, some people hate them.  I went to the v8bride and asked, she said she was fine either way.  I told her about this game I saw on Pinterest that I just loved.

You fill a condom with gum balls or other candies that you can count, and then the game is for everyone to guess how many candies are in there.  Then, for additional fun, you can gather all the guests in a circle, then have them pass the condom from person to person using only their knees, and no hands.  This sounds like fun after everyone has a few glasses of that alcoholic punch!

Other than that, I think the entertainment will consist of watching the bride open her gifts, and, sharing good conversation.

I took lots of pictures of the actual event to share.  Click here to see them.

A Throwaway Event

I want to tell you how to make your next party or shindig a breeze in terms of cleanup.  (You might want to also check out some of my other posts regarding entertaining, including one one entertaining for large groups. Just click here.)  Two years ago when I planned the wedding that didn’t happen, we were having the celebration on a charter boat.  And, we were catering the food ourselves.  So, to make things easy I figured out how to make absolutely everything we carried with us in terms of dishes and servingware to be 100% disposable.  Every serving platter, every dish, every utensil–completely throwaway.

What I’m about to say is not going to be popular with environmentalists, so I’ll apologize in advance for showing the world how to make a 100% disposable catered event that is also lovely.  I ultimately used all the supplies I bought for the wedding for a party I threw at my home, and tested them out for reliability and performance.  They worked like a charm.

For any party or event you’re going to need several things, which I will address in turn:

  • Serving bowls and platters
  • Serving utensils
  • Individual plates & napkins
  • Individual utensils
  • Individual beverage cups (unless everything you are serving is in an individual can or bottle)
  • Table covers

Serving Bowls and Platters

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A silver plastic platter from Dollar Tree

You will need platters for serving individual canapes and other pieces of party food.  And, bowls for things like dips, salads, etc.  For my money the best bet is your local Dollar Tree store.  Yep, they have clear plastic serving platters and bowls that are great, and, they are only a buck!  They also have silver colored plastic platters, as well as divided platters.  You can shop in store or buy online.  Buying online does require you to purchase a case of something or else you pay a handling fee.  My advice is to shop early because not every store has every item in stock when you need it.

If you need fancier wares, the BEST place to shop is the Webstaurant Store.  They have an entire section of their site dedicated to “Disposables” and you can find everything from punch bowls to serving platters here.  Shop carefully because they have lots of items in the other categories that I’m about to cover and you’ll want

Disposable plastic serving bowls from Dollar Tree.

Disposable plastic serving bowls from Dollar Tree.

to order everything at once to save on shipping and handling.

Finally, there’s your local warehouse club (Sam’s, Costco, etc.).  My town only has Sam’s Club, so that’s all I’m familiar with.  They have some disposable serving platters and bowls, but truthfully I haven’t seen anything very fancy or eye catching at these places.  Your’s may be very different, so check them out!

Serving Utensils

You will need serving spoons, forks, tongs, and possibly spatulas and/or cake servers, depending on your menu.  This is where the local warehouse club often comes in handy.  I have found nice bulk packages of large serving spoons at Sam’s Club that were super cheap and very handy.  I’ve also found packages of tongs there, but then again I’ve found packages of tongs at Dollar Tree, too.  And yes, Webstaurant Store sells those, too.  Your best bet is to figure out which types of utensils you need and then comparison shop for price.

Individual Plates & Napkins

There is NO shortage of paper plate sources.  There’s all the places I’ve mentioned above, plus Party City and your local grocery store.  But, if you’re looking for really nice quality plastic, “pretty” plates,  I recommend Webstaurant Store.  They have some nice options that come in all shapes and sizes, although color choices are usually limited to black and white.  They have options that are plastic, but that look like real china!  I have also seen some fairly fancy options for durable plastic plates that look like china at Sam’s Club.

Fancy plastic plates from Webstaurant Store

Fancy plastic plates from Webstaurant Store

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Personalized napkins in a variety of shapes and sizes from The Knot’s Wedding Shop.

For napkins, again, you have lots of options.  If you are hosting a really special event I recommend getting some affordable personalized napkins from The Knot’s wedding shop.  Although they specialize in weddings they have the ability to print anything you like on your napkins and you have a ton of color choices.   I’ve used these for party napkins, dinner napkins, and even disposable guest bathroom hand towels.  Best of all?  Their prices are REALLY cheap!

Individual Utensils

You again have choices here, for knives, forks, etc.  My personal preference on the wedding was to make everything a finger food, and to provide mini forks for eating cupcakes and other messy foods.  The mini tasting forks were too cute and very affordable from Webstaurant Store.  You can also usually find packages of full-size cutlery at your local warehouse club that have a silver finish which adds a sense of elegance to your affair.  Clear plastic utensils are available everywhere.

Individual Beverage Cups

You only need to buy cups if you’re pouring beverages (rather than providing canned or bottled beer or soft drinks).  In this instance I do think your best best

Little plastic disposable square shot glasses from Webstaurant Store.

Little plastic disposable square shot glasses from Webstaurant Store.

is Webstaurant Store.  They have tons of options that are pretty and practical.  They even have little disposable square shot glasses that are so fun!

 

Table Covers & Other Goodies

Table covers are a must in most circumstances.  They sell disposable ones at Dollar Tree, and at Webstaurant Store.  But, there’s another place to try:   Linen Tablecloth  These people sell VERY affordable solid color tablecloths that will last wash after wash.  They are useful at home and for a variety of intents and purposes.  Yes, I know this is supposed to be a 100% throwaway event, but here’s the ONE thing I would suggest pricing for reusable quality.  You can get a great tablecloth for under $15 that you can use again and again and again.  They also sell cloth napkins by the dozen at prices that almost rival those of paper disposable napkins.

In the process of planning the ultimate disposable shindig I even made disposable cupcake stands.  If I can round up the pictures of those I will post them in another article and share them with you.

Conclusion

Meanwhile, just know that as much fun as I know it is to bring out “The Good Dishes” we all have lurking in the cabinets, it’s also quite liberating to have an event that requires just a couple of Hefty bags for a complete event cleanup.  The next time you are overwhelmed with the thought of all those dishes and utensils for a party or dinner, give my way a try!

 

And The Crowd Roars… Entertaining a Crowd

As I have gotten more experience in the kitchen I find that entertaining for a large group is actually a joy rather than a chore.  I simply love doing it!  I know it can seem very intimidating to cook for 20 or 30 or even 50 people, but trust me, it’s not so bad once you get the hang of planning.  Here, I’m going to share my tips for entertaining a crowd.

Plan, Plan, and then Plan a Little More

The reason I am rarely stressed out about entertaining large groups is because I plan every detail down to the letter.  This takes laying things out on paper and really defining what you’re going to do, and how you’re going to do it.  I keep checklists of things to buy, and things to do, and I religiously add to those lists as I think of things that will be needed.

My favorite app for list making and checklists is Wunderlist, by the way.  It’s free and it’s a life saver for event planning!

Define “A Crowd”

How many people are you entertaining?  I recommend if it’s your first time to cook for a crowd that, if at all possible, you stick to a group of 10 to 15 people.  Of course, you may not have that luxury–your boss has just nominated you to host the office Christmas party for 40 coworkers?  Jump on in, the water is fine!  But, if you can get some practice with a smaller group first, you’ll have a chance to build your confidence.  No matter what, you need to have an idea of the maximum number of people you could end up with at your event.

I recommend taking the maximum number of people and then figuring on about 60 to 75% of that number realistically showing up to the party.  Unless you have very firm RSVPs from everyone on your list, you’ll find that people forget to show up, they have other things come up, they get sick, etc.  When I plan on 50 people I almost always, without fail, end up with about 30 people.  I still plan on food and beverages for 50, but I make sure that all the food and beverages are things that I like and will use the extras of after the party.

Getting the Equipment You Need

A lot of people are intimidated by entertaining a crowd because they don’t have enough chairs, tables, dishes, etc.  Don’t let that stop you!  You can rent virtually anything you need!

Google “party and tent rentals” in your2015-04-17 17.24.49 hometown and you’ll find the place that rents everything.  You can rent tables, chairs, chafing dishes, popcorn makers, cotton candy machines, and just about anything else you can think of!  As you start planning your event, find the rental company and get their number in your phone so you can call with questions and get prices on what you need to rent.

The rental companies will deliver, by the way.  Delivery costs extra and is typically about $50 to $75, but it’s really worth it unless you have someone in your life with spare time on their hands and a large truck to haul things.  You’ll be glad you paid for delivery when, the day after the event, you watch the rental company drive away after picking up all their stuff.

Seating

Unless you are purposely trying to get people to stay only for a few minutes and leave, you need a seat for every person.  You can beg and borrow from friends to have enough chairs or you can rent them.  Renting is easier and more reliable than hoping people will remember to bring chairs to your event!

Most chairs are about $1.50 each to rent, but fancier chairs can run $2.50 to $4 apiece.  In the photograph you’ll see white chairs that were $1.50 each to rent.  I could have gotten black ones for .75 cents each, but I wanted the look of white.  Tables are usually $10 to $15 each.

You can also rent table cloths in a myriad of colors for any theme.  In the photograph you’ll see I have five different colors of table cloths to go with a Mexican Fiesta party theme. Each table cloth was $11 to rent.

Outdoor Cover

If your party is going to be outdoors, watch the weather at least a week in advance.  If it looks like rain, call that rental place back and rent a tent!  Get sides (walls) on the tent, too, if the weather looks severe.  There is nothing worse than having everyone huddled under a tent with wind-driven rain pouring in underneath–trust me on this one!  You will need a tent that can accommodate all the tables and chairs, plus tables for serving food.  If you want dancing at your event you can even rent a dance floor to go in that tent!  The rental company can help you determine which size tent is best for your event.  Just remember that larger tents are fewer in numbers and may book up in advance, so you’ll need to make the call about a tent several days in advance of your party.

Hot Food Hot, Cold Food Cold

A disposable chafing dish costs about $10 or $15.

A disposable chafing dish costs about $10 or $15.

Unless you want food borne illnesses to go home with your guests, you will need to keep foods at their proper temperatures.  Hot foods need chafing dishes, cold foods need to sit on top of ice.

If it’s a fancy formal event you’ll want to rent “real” chafing dishes from the rental company.  Otherwise, most warehouse clubs and party stores sell disposable chafing set-ups that work just fine.  Just make sure you buy extra cans of fuel to power them and keep things warm.  You can reuse the wire frame on these several times and buy replacement foil pans very inexpensively from that warehouse club.

To keep things cold, I like to find a large container that I can fill with ice and then put the dishes on top of the ice.  My favorite containers for this are from Oriental Trading Company.  They sell what’s called an “inflatable buffet.”  They cost about $10 each and if you’re gentle with them you can reuse them a time or two before they spring a leak.

Inflatable buffet from Oriental Trading Company.

Inflatable buffet from Oriental Trading Company.

Be creative with your ice containers!  A big galvanized tub, a large deep serving bowl, and just about anything that won’t leak can be used as long as it’s clean and fits with your party theme.  The rental company may have options for you, too, so be sure to ask.

Speaking of keeping things cold, you are going to need beverages.  If it’s a casual event you can use clean coolers you already have.  You can probably borrow coolers from friends, too.  The rental company will likely have large coolers or containers that you can rent if you need them.  Just be sure to choose containers that go with the style of your event.  If it’s a casual outdoor barbecue then good ‘ol coolers are fine.  If it’s a formal event, you will want to find a more elegant option.

Portion Sizes:  Food

Determining how much food to buy is probably the single biggest concern when entertaining a crowd.  You want to have enough, but you don’t want to have so much that you are eating leftovers for weeks.

For appetizers and finger foods, figure on about two or three pieces of each item per person.

Bloody mary shrimp shooters are kept cold on a tray of ice.

Bloody mary shrimp shooters are kept cold on a tray of ice.

For veggie and dip platters I plan not per person but by the size of the bag that items are sold in at the warehouse club.  One bag of carrots is usually enough for any size crowd, as is one container of celery, one package of cucumbers, etc.  If you are buying pre-made trays that really will depend on the size of the tray you are buying–most grocery stores that sell these will tell you approximately how many people each tray will serve.  Unless you’re entertaining a bunch of vegans no one is going to complain or be upset if the vegetables and dip run low so don’t stress about this one too much.

The most expensive option on your menu will be meat and protein.  If you are serving an actual meal, figure on about one pound of meat feeding three people. If you are entertaining 30 people, then you need about 10 pounds of steak or chicken.  If your crowd will be all or mostly male, a safer rule of thumb is one pound of meat for every two people, in which case you would want closer to 15 pounds of meat for a crowd of 30.  When in doubt, err on the side of having a little too much.  If your event is a mid-afternoon event or a cocktail party that does not involve a full meal, I would figure on five people per pound of meat.

Here’s a tip about meat–I marinate meats two days in advance to make sure they get maximum flavor.  Gallon ziplock bags are my best friends when I’m entertaining and I make sure I have plenty on hand.  I put about three pounds of meat in each bag and add marinade.  I keep those bags in a cooler with ice.  I don’t like to put them in my refrigerator in case a bag leaks.  Just before the party I grill up what I think I will need and transfer the prepared cooked meat to the chafing dishes.  If we start to run low I grill a little more.  Any leftover bags of meat are saved to cook a fresh family meal with the next day.

Portion Sizes:  Beverages

If your event is alcohol-free, figure on two cans/bottles of soda per person.  If you’re using 2 liter beverages figure on 16 ounces of soda per person.

Since most people like to bring something to a party, I usually make all my parties “BYOB” and that way each person gets the beverage they want and I don’t have the worry or expense of providing alcohol.  But, if I’m going to provide alcohol I have to take into consideration the crowd I’m entertaining.  Typically a worst-case scenario is four beers or glasses of wine per person.  Most people won’t drink that much, though.  And, some people will drink no alcohol, so it kind of balances out.  The best tip I can give you for stocking alcohol for a party is this:  only buy things that YOU like and will drink later.  This way if you buy too much it doesn’t go to waste!

Dishes and Serving

I have a wide selection of lovely party plates and platters.  I have mexican-themed terra cotta dishes for serving salsa, and I even have tropical-themed serving platters in the shape of–yes–Hawaiian shirts.  They are all so much fun and I am glad I have them.  I also never ever use them.  After I entertain 30, 40 or 50 people, there is one thing I can tell you for sure:  I am tired.  The last thing I feel like doing is hand washing all those dishes!   My experience has been that disposable plates, cups, etc., are a lifesaver in this regard because all I need to do is grab a couple of large trash bags for clean up and I’m done in short order.

If I were hosting something really fancy, like a wedding reception, I would probably not go the disposable route.  I would rent plates, cups, etc., and let the rental company worry about washing those dishes after they have been used!  But, to date I have never hosted anything that fancy and I probably never will.  Even if I do, there are still some really nice disposable options out there.

I planned to cater my own wedding reception back in 2013,  and in the process I found some neat disposable options.  First, I discovered the Webstaurant store online.  They have so many lovely disposable plate, cup and silverware options that look really nice!  The other place I found was the local Dollar Tree store, which typically has a wealth of disposable serving options that look lovely and won’t break your budget.  Finally, my local warehouse club has some pretty nice looking disposable plates and silverware that are also viable choices.  I literally had the entire wedding reception planned out and ready to go using all disposable items!  It was a really cool plan if I do say so myself–too bad I picked the wrong person to marry.  hahah

By the way, I mentioned before that you can buy the disposable chafing dish pans.  These are outstanding options to use for baking up hot appetizers and foods! Instead of using your cookie sheets or other pans, use the disposable ones.  You’ll be so glad you did when you have fewer dishes to wash after the event!  If you don’t have those disposable pans, at least line all your cookie sheets and other pans with aluminum foil to make cleaning up after the event just a tad bit easier.

Please see my post on how to host an event that entirely “throwaway” in terms of plates, cups, etc. for more specific.

Now Back to Planning

I know I’ve already said this, but planning is really critical to making your event a success.

You need a firm menu on paper that you’re committed to serving.  I’ve written about this subject before.  From that menu, create a shopping list.  Make sure at least two weeks in advance you have ordered any supplies you need to order from online.

Choose a day to do your event shopping, and prepare a careful shopping list before you go.  Plan out every dish and make a list of all the ingredients you’ll need.  Do NOT go shopping without that list or you’ll come home with a bunch of stuff you don’t need and you’ll have to make at least one more trip to the store to get all the stuff you forgot about!

Do as much food prep as you can before the day of the event.  That is the single most important tip I can give you!  It will keep you from being completely stressed out and exhausted for your shindig.

Recently I hosted a fajita night at my home on a Friday evening.  I did all the food prep I possibly could on the Wednesday before the event.  I chopped, diced, mixed, etc., and got everything done that could possibly be done that day.  All the salsas and dips were made.  All the meat was put in marinade.  All the vegetables were prepared.  It literally took about six hours to do all that, and everything was stored away in those gallon ziplock bags for easy access on Friday.

Why Wednesday?  I didn’t want to have to spend six hours the day of the event doing all that work, and, I wanted time to get the house clean after I made all that mess in the kitchen.  I had my house keeper scheduled to come in Wednesday evening!  So, all the messy prep work was done when she got there and I was left with a sparkling kitchen and all the labor-intensive work out of the way.  Friday, I spent most of my time simply assembling things and putting them on platters rather than doing all the mundane chopping.

Have helpers the day of the event!  You’ll have lots of running around to do–last minute trips to the store, tables and chairs to set up, etc.  Extra pairs of hands are good things to have.  Don’t be a hero and try to do it all by yourself!  The same goes for clean-up that night or the day after–schedule some helpers to be there for you.

One Final Note

I hate to be the one to tell you this, but something probably is going to go wrong with your event.  You’ll run out of something, something won’t turn out as you planned, etc.  Just relax and roll with it, and don’t look back!  Your guests will take their cues from you on how to deal with the various circumstances surrounding the party.  If you get upset?  They’ll be uncomfortable.  If you handle the bumps in the road with grace and poise, they will be at ease and have a much better time.

When I was in graduate school I was hired to bartend a private party at the home of the dean.  I will never forget watching the dean’s wife walk down the staircase with a plate of food in each of her hands when her skirt just fell off her body.  Apparently the zipper on it was loose and had worked itself free.  She was rather barrel-shaped so instead of it getting caught on her hips, the skirt instead just hit the floor.  There she was with her hands full, she couldn’t grab the skirt, and on the staircase there was nowhere to put the plates of food.  I was thinking how mortified I would have been when she died laughing.  She got someone to take the plates of food out of her hand and and she gracefully put her skirt back on and came on down the stairs.  She did not let that incident ruin her party nor did she dwell on it.  Classy and graceful!

Good luck to you with your party and event planning and if you learn any valuable lessons along the way, please drop me a line and share them?