Inviting Ideas Method in holiday madness makes entertaining easy

December 06, 1992|By Marlene Sorosky | Marlene Sorosky,Contributing Writer

If you think the holidays are a time to eat, drink and be merry, but preferably not in your own house, your concept of entertaining may be rooted in the '70s, along with quiches and martinis. In the '90s, anything goes. Stuffy rules of etiquette are outdated, and exhausting yourself to impress your friends is passe.

Here are some sensible tips and recipes to help you plan a contemporary holiday cocktail party that won't wreak havoc upon your family, sanity or pocketbook. But keep in mind, organization and planning are key ingredients to happy hostessing. One of the best new sources I have found for everything from how to make out a guest list to juggling food at a cocktail party is Craig Claiborne's "Elements of Etiquette: A Guide to Table Manners in an Imperfect World" (Morrow, 1993).

1. Send invitations. This assures you won't change your mind. You can simply telephone your friends or mail store-bought cards. Or, purchase small Christmas stockings from a drugstore or hobby shop, tuck a note inside, and drop them into holly-berry red envelopes from a party shop. Gail Kaplan, co-owner of the Classic Catering People, a highly successful Baltimore establishment, reminds us that a well-written invitation should include everything guests need to know -- what to wear as well as how to get there. For a cocktail and hors d'oeuvre party that doesn't include dinner, give a beginning and ending time, so guests can plan the remainder of their evening accordingly.

2. Plan the menu. Now let's be practical. You don't need to impress your friends with your entire repertoire of appetizers, nor do you need to feed them so much they won't need to eat again for the next three days. Instead, choose a few easy recipes that can be made ahead, use a variety of ingredients, require a minimum of last-minute preparation and can sit out with little attention. Serve buffet style and forget about those hot hors d'oeuvres that need heating and passing. Tostada cups with sausage and black beans, yam slices with smoked turkey and cranberry relish, tortellini with pimento pepper dip and Italian salsa with Tuscany toasts are perfect party recipes. They offer a variety of color and nutrition, hold up at room temperature and can be made entirely or partially ahead. As an added bonus, they require no plates or forks. Supplement them with cooked sliced turkey or ham and sandwich breads or rolls for a more substantial menu.

No matter how many people you're having, Ms. Kaplan recommends serving a variety of four to six different hors d'oeuvres -- less is boring and more is unnecessary.

3. Make a working time plan. List each recipe and the date you plan to prepare it. It is much more sensible to cook in stages than to leave everything to the last day or two. For example, make the tamale tartlets up to three weeks ahead and freeze them.

4. Make a grocery list. Once you've established how far in advance the recipes can be made, make a list of ingredients by time frames. When you cook in stages, you won't need all the ingredients at the same time. You may prefer to purchase all the staples at once and the perishables as needed. Making lists early helps you determine what needs to be ordered or purchased from a specialty store.

5. Select serving utensils, dishes and table decorations. Put out serving pieces early; if they need polishing, get it out of the way. Keep things simple by buying paper and plastic dishes and glasses, but if possible, use real silverware. Luncheon-size napkins are more practical than cocktail ones, but don't assume guests will use only one -- plan on four to five per person. If you like the look of your dining room table, don't cover it with a tablecloth -- a pretty punch bowl and platters laden with food may be all the embellishment it needs. A selection of paired or unmatched candlesticks with different sized candles glittering across the table adds a beautiful glow to the room and costs a lot less than flowers.

6. Hire help. Even when serving room-temperature food on paper plates, consider getting someone to help clean up. Think of it as a night out and hire a baby-sitter. Or, envision the money you'll save on all those nights when your guests reciprocate and you won't have to cook.

H

7. Enjoy yourself. Remember, this is supposed to be fun.

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Tostada cups with sausage and black beans

Makes 48 tostadas.

Preparation time: 30 minutes

Bake time: 5 minutes

Advance preparation: May be refrigerated overnight or frozen.

TOSTADA CUPS:

8 (10-inch) flour tortillas

TAMALE FILLING:

8 ounces low-fat spicy bulk sausage

1 cup water

3/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/3 cup yellow cornmeal

1 medium tomato, seeded and chopped (about 3/4 cup)

1/2 cup frozen corn, thawed

1/2 cup black beans, drained

1 tablespoon chopped pickled or fresh jalapenos

1 can (4 ounces) chopped Ortega chilies, drained

1 cup finely shredded regular or low-fat Cheddar cheese

GARNISH (optional):

small red and green chili peppers

parsley or other greens

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