Derby Day is just around the corner and I obviously don’t care about horse races, but I do care about booze and accessorizing, which means I am throwing a Derby party. I’ve got a hat picked out and my bar is stocked with bourbon, so I’m halfway there to planning the perfect party. The only thing I have left to do is plan a menu. Menu planning is one of my favorite parts of throwing a party. Keeping a few of my menu planning tips in mind, you are sure to plan a seamless soiree, where you might actually be able to (gasp!) enjoy yourself!
- Factor In The Clock
What type of party are you trying to throw? If you’re planning on an evening event and want your friends to come over at 7:00, then you better plan for them to be hungry for dinner. Not sure you want to serve them a full meal? Plan an 8:30 start time instead. My upcoming party starts at 2:00, so I’m past the lunch hour and can plan for smaller snacks rather than hearty, filling treats. The fact of the matter is, if there is food laid out, people will eat. However, you can control the time you spend prepping, and the amount of money that you spend on food by booking your party outside of regular meal time hours. At the risk of sounding cheap, I often plan parties outside of typical hours. If you’re buying some pre-cut cheese and sandwiches, then by all means, throw a noon-time party. But if you’re like me, and you’re cooking and prepping every single item, starting outside the lunchtime box means you can cut yourself some cooking slack.
- Variety is the Spice of…well, your party
Make sure you make a broad range of snacks to suit all tastes and dietary restrictions. My guest list consists of more than a few vegetarians, so I want to make sure I have snacks that are enjoyable and satisfying. You can’t go wrong with a cheese board, but also, how many parties have you been to with a cheese board? How about a smoked salmon board or a roasted veggie platter instead? I like to switch it up once in awhile, keeping seasonality in mind. Asparagus is popping up all over, so how about a chilled orzo pasta salad with grape tomatoes, asparagus and ricotta salata? Your favorite fruit is in season? Toast some baguette, spread mascarpone cheese across it, throw on those berries, a wisp of honey and a slice of prosciutto. Get your assembly line going, it’s easy and different…and different is good for you.
- End On a Sweet Note
No matter what time of the day you host your party, you should have something sweet to end the meal. As Julia Child once said “A party without cake is just a meeting.” I’m not suggesting you HAVE to make a cake (although, I’ve been working on mastering one, recipe to come later!) but it’s nice to have something sweet for your guests. If you’re not a baker, don’t stress about it. You could honestly throw some peanut M&M’s in a bowl and call it a day. Just make sure you keep that bowl filled! In my opinion there are two ways to celebrate, with chocolate or with champagne, so don’t let your party go without either. This is another great way to work with the seasons. In winter think peppermint, in fall deep dark chocolatey flavors, but in spring and summer, I like to go with citrus. I rarely come across a person in life who doesn’t like lemon bars, and my favorite recipe is from the New York Times made with olive oil and sea salt. It has the delightful bite of lemon curd, and doesn’t cover it up with confectioners sugar. Instead, the salt enhances and balances the tart lemon. It’s a sophisticated twist on a classic, and the perfect last bite at a party.
Obviously, there is more that comes with planning a menu, but these are a few simple tips to get you started. Then you get to make your shopping and prep lists (which the ODC part of my lives for!) The more you plan, the easier each party gets and the more time you get to enjoy the company of your friends. Cheers and Ciao!