Party Experts Share Tips, Recipes For Simple, Successful Open House


November 19, 1995|By Kathryn Higham

It's that time again. The air turns crisp and suddenly every friend you have wants to get together to celebrate the holidays.

"It's such a beautiful time of year that you just want to share it with everyone," says Meadow Lark Washington, a Lutherville psychotherapist who entertains a dozen times during the holiday season.

While Ms. Washington prefers intimate gatherings over big parties, an open house is the most popular way to entertain this time of year. But is it possible to prepare the food for such a large party and still manage to spend time with your guests?

Our experts say it is. We asked area caterers and people who love to entertain for tips on having an open house. They were generous with their advice and provided recipes for a holiday buffet that has all the markings of a winner: Everything can be made ahead, nothing requires last-minute heating, and (you've heard it before, but this time it's true) it's easy.

Plan Well

"The most important thing is to keep the three P's in mind. Prior proper planning," says Ami Taubenfeld, owner of Great Occasions, a catering firm in East Baltimore.

Practically everyone we spoke to echoed her thoughts. If you're thinking about having an open house, start early and plan thoroughly.

One of the first steps is to decide what type of party you want to hold. Is this going to be a Sunday-afternoon open house or a Saturday-evening party? Is it a cocktail party or a full buffet?

A tea is another possibility. Ansela Dopkin, a principal with the Classic Catering People in Owings Mills, says a tea is a wonderful theme for a late Sunday afternoon during the holidays. Hold the tea from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., and have an assortment of sweets and savories, a selection of teas and coffees, and perhaps sherry or port.

Once you've established the type of party you want to hold, then consider the timing. Alexander Baer, who lives in Guilford and owns an interior design firm, says, "I try not to make the time span too great." No one likes to be the first at a party, and you may end up with just one or two people for the first two hours. "Keep it to three to four hours at the most," he adds.

David Fleischmann, an owner of Innovative Gourmet, however, prefers a longer time span. He says party-givers should plan a longer time period, from 7 p.m. until midnight for instance, so that their guests can accept more than one invitation. "You really need to respect the fact that people have a lot of prior commitments," he says. That's especially so if you're planning a party on a Saturday night in December.

Once you set the date, make up the guest list and get out those


Select the Menu

Make a lot of a few good things, Ms. Dopkin suggests. "Sometimes keeping it simple works," she says. Another tip: Use smaller platters. That way you can put out a fresh one for each new wave of guests. And she admonishes the practice of "dumping" -- adding food to an old tray. "I've fired people for less," she says.

"You want to promote a mingling type of atmosphere so you want foods that are easier to eat," says Julie Shirley, owner of Absolutely Perfect Catering in Columbia. That means finger foods -- nothing that drips or requires a knife. For our holiday buffet, Ms. Shirley provided the recipe for a molded salmon mousse that can be spread on pumpernickel or rye party bread.

The most elegant hors d'oeuvres at a holiday party come hot from the oven, passed on silver trays. But unless you're having the party catered or have help, forget these. "They're very labor-intensive," says Mr. Fleischmann. "Do everything stationary; that way you can enjoy your guests."

Ken Upton, owner of Ken's Creative Kitchen in Annapolis, suggests letting others do the work for you. Pick up some good pate or go to the local cheese monger for a 2-pound wedge of aged English Cheddar, a wheel of brie and perhaps a hunk of Stilton. Arrange the cheeses on a platter with whole apples, clusters of grapes, and figs if you can find them, and you've created a "Dutch still life" with very little effort.

The biggest timesaver in our holiday buffet is a purchased honey-basted ham. Put out a platter of carved meat, cut small enough for sandwiches on petite rolls or miniature biscuits. Serve an assortment of mustards and an interesting chutney on the side. Ms. Dopkin recommends cookbook author Allen Susser's recipe for papaya chutney, which she says is terrific with ham or turkey.

Include a pasta dish, but make sure it's user-friendly. Linguine and spaghetti are out, shorter noodles like fusilli, penne and tortellini are in. Pasta can be tossed in a vinaigrette with vegetables and feta, or with homemade pesto, as Mr. Upton suggests.

Round out your buffet with a vegetable dish. You can serve a salad or a platter of steamed and chilled asparagus with lemon-garlic mayonnaise, a dish Mr. Upton calls elegant.

We loved Great Occasions' recipe for bite-sized roasted vegetables that can be served hot or are cooked ahead and served at room temperature.

Dessert and Drinks

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