I've been working on a couple of holiday parties. One for a small group of 10 and another for a group of 50 or more. I love planning these parties and especially setting up the dining room table for buffet service.
My favorite layout involves stacking large books (think phone directories) in varying heights down the table then covering it all with a holiday tablecloth. I've also used a few yards of holday patterned fabric..no sewing required, just press a 1/4 inch hem. If you have your table against a wall, or like my daughter-in-law, have an outlet under the table, plug in a string of mini lights and wind them through the stacks down the length of the table.
Because I like to experiment with my menu, I also like to let my guests know what is being offered. When there is time, I make little placecards for each dish to identify the food. In the interest of saving time (and also in the interest of controlling table clutter) I usually print out a menu that fits in a 5 x 7 frame. I set the frame out by the plates so guests can know what goodies lie ahead.
This year we seem to be having small dinner parties instead of large gatherings. Tonight we are serving Osso Bucco, using lamb rather than veal, in a red pepper sauce I try to reproduce from a great osso bucco served at a local restaurant that won't share the recipe :-( Wednesday we're having Sicilian Calamari, again reproduced from a dish served at a different restaurant. Is there a pattern here? When I move beyond my "little bit of this, little bit of that" method of cooking and can give some measurements, I'll share. So far the food has been great, but, of course, it's a little different each time!
I should dig up my menus from large parties from years past. Until then, this is the menu I suggested for a casual holiday party.
Warm savory tarts with a choice of brie and cranberry filling or chili and cheddar. Just use mini fillo tarts straight from the freezer, fill and heat.
Guacamole with tortilla chips
Ham and biscuits with mustard or
Roast beef on cocktail rye with horseradish sauce
Smoked salmon with cream cheese, red onion, capers, lemon, fresh dill and black pepper. Compose it all on pita rounds and slice into wedges, like pizza.
A cheese platter (avoid those cheese cubes..that's what you serve your kids) and include fresh fruit, a baguette and some honey for drizzling
A selection of pates from your deli can also be a quick solution. Set out with some cocktail bread and pickles.
Bowls of nuts and olives are always a good idea.
Dessert is as simple as Christmas cookies or chocolate truffles. My favorite is bite sized baclava. No need to stress out here..buy them at your favorite bakery. Even Sam's Club has them! Have you tried chocolate covered popcorn? It's available at candy shops or you can easily make a batch yourself by drizzling melted chocolate over freshly popped, unsalted unbuttered popcorn.
But tonight it's nuts and olives to start, greens with blue cheese and pears with a balsamic vinaigrette, ossu bucco with red pepper sauce and gingerbread with vanilla ice cream and caramelized apples. A fun, relaxing evening with family. That's what counts.