Most dinner parties are large gatherings, some of great proportion. However, the same effort applies to a casual dinner for a few friends as it does to a grand extravaganza.
Since there never seems to be enough seats for everyone at the dinner table, a casual alternative would be a buffet. In addition to providing a practical way to serve a large group, a beautiful, abundant buffet adds a celebratory focal point to virtually any event.
By remembering the following basics, entertaining at home can become an absolute pleasure.
SELECTING THE MENU
This is the key to creating a visually exciting and enticing culinary repast. When selecting recipes for a buffet dinner, your primary consideration should be ease of preparation. What recipes can be prepared ahead of time? A good lasagna casserole or a hearty stew can be prepared early in the day. Salads and desserts are also great make-ahead dishes. If most of the cooking is done in the morning, things will be a lot easier by the time the guests arrive.
MAKING A CHECKLIST
Because organization is another key ingredient to a great buffet, always prepare a menu checklist. That way you’ll be familiar with all the last-minute details before setting out the dishes on the dinner table.
ARRANGING THE BUFFET
While arranging a buffet table may seem as simple as tossing a variety of key ingredients together, there are a few things you can do to enhance that picture perfect image.
1. To achieve a strong visual impact, make use of a variety of platters and bowls arranged in different heights or levels. Use cake stands and fluted bowls to complement various platters. Create height by stacking crates or books covered with elegant linen on which you can place serving dishes.
2. Set out food in the same order as in a sit-down dinner: appetizer, salad, main course, dessert, and drinks. Do not forget to lay the appropriate serving spoons and forks beside every platter.
3. Place the stack of dinner plates at the start of the buffet table. Fill your large serving dishes to the brim to create the impression you have more than enough food for everyone, including seconds. Food warmers are a great addition to the buffet table. When serving roasts, you may want to put an electric grill beside the roast so that guests can heat up their servings. Salt, pepper, and other condiments are placed at the end of the spread followed by cutlery and napkins.
CONSIDER FOOD STATIONS
Another buffet alternative is to create separate food stations instead of loading up a single long table. You may opt to serve appetizers in the living room and drinks in the foyer. Space permitting, you may also set up a special table for dessert, coffee, and tea. Otherwise clear the main table once guests have finished eating. This arrangement will make the table look more visually appealing.
Creating a beautiful and unforgettable buffet table is a piece of cake. Have fun and be creative. Make use of decorative items available at home including things you may not normally use, like potted herbs or flowers from your garden, a decorated box, or an interesting figurine. And don’t forget: If what you have done makes you happy, chances are your guests will be happy too.
Once a professional head buyer for the home department of a luxury store, Frieda Colet Lim now holds intimate cooking, entertaining, and decorating classes and seminars.
(First published in Good Housekeeping, November 2008; photo source: sxc.hu)