By Sue Murphy
Tis the season. Every year, when the “-ber” months roll around, the entertaining sap rises and you get this overwhelming urge to invite people to your home for food and frolic.
It’s extremely contagious, I suspect, because all of the TV food network hosts are trotting out their glittery best. Personally, I would love to wheedle my way onto the Barefoot Contessa’s guest list. She’s always making some wonderful dish that I would have bailed on at Step 2 (something unreasonable like “separate five eggs”), and when her close-knit little group of guests arrive, they are invariably cultured and calm. I know I’d have to ramp up (dial back?) my game to fit in, but for a chocolate bread pudding, I’d be willing to try.
I like Giada’s menus, too, but when she sets everything out on her beautifully decorated table (complete with take-home favors), there never seems to be enough food. Perhaps Giada doesn’t want her friends to look piggish on television so she sends them home with a doggie bag on the sly, but to me, the first rule of entertaining is that you should always have food left over at the end of the night. No one should be standing there dividing the number of chicken skewers by the guests in attendance before filling their plate. When it comes to food, the more is always the merrier.
Those of us without cookbook credits will be pouring through purloined recipes looking for just the right combination to wow our non-televised crowd. You can go stand-up or sit-down food, traditional or trendy. As a child growing up in Texas, I remember bean dip being all the rage. During my Midwest high school years, avocados were considered exotic. My young married crowds were wowed by “magic quiche.” Today, you could serve anything as long as it had sriracha on it and you’d be pulling in kudos with both hands.
Setting a menu is tricky, however. Out of your 12 invitees, one will be keto, two gluten-averse and one so vegan that she refuses to eat nutmeats. Since plating a dinner for that crowd would mean many, many plates, you might do better with do-it-yourself finger food.
There are basically four types of finger-edibles:
1. Things on a stick – Small stick, long stick, pretzel stick – there are many variations. You could do a skew-your-own buffet with meatballs and cheese cubes and artichoke hearts and cute little tomatoes. Add a couple bowls of sauces and you’re all set.
2. Things on a cracker – Well, right away you’ve lost the paleo people and anyone who is on their high horse pretending to watch their carbs over the holidays, although you could reclaim some of them with spreadable squares of turkey jerky and rice cakes, but I wouldn’t count on those being popular, so set them alongside stackable meat and cheese slices (not touching) and, again, cute little tomatoes.
3. Things you dip – Dip is a party staple but difficult to individualize. I suppose you could put out sour cream (regular, low fat and dairy-free) and bits of spinach and onions and bacon and let everyone concoct their own little vat of deliciousness. A bonus there is that you wouldn’t have to worry about people double dipping.
4. Dessert – This is for the honest, celebratory crowd of people who realize that life is short and chocolate is good for what ails you.
OK, let’s review: stand up, make your own, lots of little cherry tomatoes. Oh, and a big vat of sriracha. You’ll be the hostess with the mostest.