Menu planning can be a daunting task, and, at times, I’ve even let my concerns postpone planning get-togethers with family or friends.
I enjoy cooking, but since we’ve had kids, have found that preparing for company by cleaning/tidying the house, making the kids presentable and preparing food can be the perfect storm (especially since I often start out with an idealistic image in my head).
For instance, for my daughter’s third birthday party, in August, I invited 50 people. I had everything planned out. Ten minutes before everyone arrived, my daughter had an accident. As guests were arriving, I was in the bathroom with my daughter. My husband took over the frontlines, but I still felt hurried and unsettled.
My husband and I enjoy company, so here are three things I am trying to keep in mind, as I get ready for entertaining this fall. My calendar items include my daughter’s first birthday in November, as well as hosting some birthday get-togethers for extended family members.
1. Delegate (This One’s the Hardest)
Some people find it easy to get assistance, but I come from a long line of do-it-yourselfers and find it so difficult. But, generally, I like the idea of purchasing from local businesses and I also think guests enjoy gourmet items, so these two concepts make me feel less guilty.
I think a local bakery is a great alternative to cooking yourself. To find out what’s fresh for fall, I contacted Gourmet Touch Bakery, which is located at 21 Church St. in Liberty Corner to find out what seasonal items they offer for entertaining. I spoke with Owner, Robert Desiderio, who offered these suggestions:
Breakfast: Homemade muffins and danishes, with seasonal flavorings like pumpkin are available and can make for easy entertaining paired with a fresh pot of coffee.
Lunch or Dinner: The most popular items at his bakery in the fall are quiches. They transport well and are easy and provide a filling, elegant meal that requires minimal prep work (just turn on your oven to heat up). Offerings include broccoli with swiss cheese, broccoli with cheddar cheese, as well as portobello mushroom. For informal get-togethers, the bakery's stuffed breads present another option, available in flavors including sausage and peppers, as well as spinach with mozzarella.
Desserts: Seasonal offerings include apple cranberry pies and tarts, along with pumpkin bread. Desiderio noted that their key lime pies are very popular. He noted that they are happy to create special orders, but recommended a two-day lead time.
Since the nature of bakeries is carry-out food that is fresh, it seems like the ideal alternative to cooking at home.
Area supermarkets, including the at Dewy Meadow Village off King George Road and grocery store off Lyons Road, both in Basking Ridge, offer deli counters, baked good, prepared foods and other specialty items that can be both tasty and look good when placed on a party table.
And if you're looking for cakes, Shop-Rite in Bernardsville and the selection of baked goods at Kings Supermarket, in Bernardsville and off Hills Drive at the bottom of The Hills in Bedminster, both have many local fans.
Do you have tips for easy entertaining? What local restaurants do you turn to, in order to give yourself a break from cooking?
2. Don’t Let an Imperfect House Stop You from Entertaining
I figured I wasn’t the only one who didn’t have the time to re-create my house into a theme everytime I wanted to have dinner with friends.
This blog post, How Martha Stewart Ruined Entertaining: Bring on the Dirty House Dinner Party, on cafemom.com summed it up perfectly, “Somewhere along the line, my husband and I started to believe a house should appear to guests as if no one really lives or cooks or owns a quadrillion small-part toys in it.”
Rather than make myself crazy organizing the insides of my kitchen cabinets, I try to follow the path visitors will take, focus on readying the areas in plain view and try not to feel my kids’ bedrooms need to look like the Pottery Barn catalogue.
3. Set Yourself Up To Feel Accomplished
I enjoy cooking, but if you have little kids (I have a toddler and a baby), elaborate meal plans sound good, but are difficult to achieve, unless you have someone watching your kids (even so, kids often insist on having mommy). It’s hard to get through longer recipes, and even more difficult, is monitoring faster cooking foods, since there are always distractions and it’s easy to overcook or burn items.
I personally like the idea of baking one item that I know I do well, and cooking when the kids are in bed. I particularly like these chocolate chip cookies that I’ve found both children and adults enjoy.