Thursday, November 18, 2010

Tips for Creating a Beautiful Holiday Spread

Your guests eat with their eyes so it is important to make the food look beautiful. Here are a few tips and tricks from Bibby Gignilliat, founder of San Francisco-based “Parties That Cook” to create show-stopping dishes for your holiday gathering:

1. Garnish the dish using contrasting color, texture and shape - For example, on our Sweet Potato Galettes (pancakes), we garnish with a dollop of sour cream, a small square of crispy bacon and a baby sage leaf. Or pipe a star of goat cheese onto a grilled polenta toast with roasted red bell pepper pesto. Garnish with a sprig of thyme.

2. Be creative in your presentation –For our Roasted Red Bell Pepper and Walnut Puree, nestle the triangular pita chips around the dip to create the look of a sun flower.

3. Serve the dish on white platters to highlight the food. A plate with a busy platter does not showcase the food. And vary the heights of the platters on your table to give depth and make it eye-catching.

4. Garnish with a light touch – Fresh herbs add a wonderful color to a finished dish but don’t hide the food. Be sure to garnish with ingredients that are in the dish.

5. Vary the base for presentation - For example, serve a chopped Ahi tuna tartar in wonton cups. The cups are made by toasting wonton wrappers in mini muffin tins until golden. Then once cooled, scoop the tartar into the cups. Other fun vessels are: hollowed fruits or vegetables, crostini (small toasted bread), endive leaves, circles of brioche or tortillas etc.

6. Use fresh, seasonal ingredients – creating a delicious dish is often the result of using the best ingredients. Use ingredients that are in season because they are grown locally vs. grown far away or flown in from another country.

7. Use ingredients that are festive and colorful. Garnish a Roasted Red Bell Pepper and Pomegranate Molasses dip using pomegranate seeds. For a colorful drink idea, serve a few cranberries in a glass of champagne.

Keeping the Stress (and Costs) in Check You Can Enjoy the Party!

1. Involve your guests in the cooking! The more involved your guests are at the party, the more memories created.

2. Celebrate with a festive cocktail and appetizer party instead of a sit-down dinner - then go a step farther and place appetizers on a buffet instead of paying for caterers/servers to pass the appetizers

3. Hire your kids to do the serving and clean up. Or hire a student at a local culinary school to cater the party

4. Serve a few high-end dishes like crab but offset the cost with a few less costly but still delicious dishes like a dip.

5. Buy your ingredients at a local farmer’s market where costs are often less and the ingredients are very fresh and plentiful.

6. When buying spices, nuts, dried fruit, dried mushrooms etc. purchase in the bulk section of your local market -- you can by exactly what you need and you also often find fresher ingredients because they have a shorter shelf life.

7. Purchase your protein at Costco (or your local warehouse retailer). They have wonderful fresh meats and seafood at very reasonable prices. Or buy a whole roast like a filet and cut it into steaks (it is cheaper that way).

8. Serve beer, wine, sodas and then just one festive holiday specialty drink vs. a full bar.

9. Caterers often offer discounts for daytime events - so consider a seasonal luncheon or a brunch instead of an evening event.

10. Invite guests to bring their favorite holiday cookie to serve on a buffet instead of purchasing desserts.

11. Bake a home-made dessert a day in advance to compliment savory bites brought in by a caterer the day of the event.

12. Co-host the event with neighbors - not only does help limit your expenses - this is a great way to share the holiday spirit with friends.

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