Thursday, April 5, 2012

Party Menu Planning

I grew up seeing my mother and grand mother cook for 15 people on a daily basis. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks were always homemade. It was cheaper to make it at home than buy then. It is the same even now if you don't count the hours of effort. My mother and grand mother could do it because they never worked outside the house. Their main work was to run the house, raise kids, cook, clean and be housewives. Can we do the same now? Yes and No. 'Yes' if you are a great planner and if you don't mind few days of hard work. 'No' if you are one of those last minute people and you cannot survive without 8 hours of sleep every night.

This post is like a guide to those who are busy, but still want to entertain guests with homemade food. Remember, this post is if and only if you fall into the first category where you are alright working few extra hours.

You might wonder why this post? As I have said before, I have nothing against getting food from the restaurants or a caterer. At the end of the day, they have to make a living too. I just don't prefer to feed my guests that kind of food. That's all. It could be a simple food, but homemade will always be better. If you are an alright cook that is. Recently, I went to a party at a friend's place. Food was delivered from a pretty well known restaurant in town. All the trays of food were in the hot box that the restaurant sends food in. Since we took out the trays of food after few hours, the food settled and fat started floating. While arranging the trays on the table, we were shocked to see so much oil and started to skim out the fat/oil. Believe it or not we skimmed about 3 cups of fat/oil from 4 trays of food. After seeing this and throwing the oil out, I lost all my appetite. In another place when the food was catered by a caterer, food had already gone bad. I understand that it was summer and the dish had coconut in it. But if you are eating it at 12 noon, if it was made in the morning, it wouldn't go bad that easily. Another instance was when we ate Curd Rice which had no curd in it. Only sour cream. Sour cream is good for many things, but is a definite no-no when it comes to making curd rice.

So, here is my take on making simple party menu with not too many hours of cooking. I have written about the party planning tips that has guidelines of menu planning. But this is an entirely different approach. Or call it semi-homemade. No, I am not trying to promote Sandra Lee here. In fact I don't even like her.

As we all know, party food has the following courses. Appetizer, Main course which includes side dishes, Dessert. This is mainly for Indian food/parties. I don't know much about other cuisines to write about party planning.

Appetizer Options:
Usually number of appetizers served is typically two, but even three will be fine.

Chips and Salsa. Buy the chips and make this easy Salsa.
Pita chips and dips. You can buy the pita bread and  toast or buy the ready pita chips and make any of these dips the previous day. Green Peas and Ricotta dip/spread, Roasted Red Pepper and Cheese dip, Hummus or any other easy dip/spread. (Check out the recipe section) Most of these dips involve throwing either frozen veggies or the jar/can contents into a food processor with few additions. It takes less than 5 minutes to make these if you use canned beans or veggies.

Want to feed healthy salads? Buy a bag of spring mix, baby spinach, arugula, chop few romaine hearts, cucumbers. Add some grape/cherry tomatoes and toss them. Buy a bottle of italian dressing and ranch dressing (go for low fat if that is your thing) and keep it on the table. You can buy pre washed, pre cut salad mixes so that it is a breeze for you to put them in a big bowl and be done with it. Have more time, make them yourself. I have the recipes in the salads/soups section.

Main Course:
Usually the main course is rotis/chapathis with two side dishes, one or two kinds of rice dishes.

Get rotis/chapathis made by someone. You will save a lot of time there. For the side dishes, make one that is legume/bean based. Example: Tadka dal, Chana Masala, Dal Makhani etc.
For the other side dish, use most of the cut vegetables and a simple masala base like Vegetable kurma or saagu. Or make the stir fry using a vegetable that is easy to cut. Or, hire someone to cut the vegetables.

Or skip the rotis and go for a dish like Paav Bhaji with store bought rolls/buns.You just have to make bhaji in that case.

Or make two side dishes and get pocket-less whole wheat pita bread. Heat them up in the oven before serving. Easy as a piece of cake.

Or make a big pot of veggies with broken wheat or quinoa or whole wheat pasta.

Rice dishes are the easier ones to tackle. You can make any kind of rice as long as the flavors are good and are not repetitive. Don't make pulav and fried rice for the same party. Check out the various rice dishes if you are interested.

This one is the easiest to tackle since most desserts stay fine for at least a week when refrigerated. Go for the easy ones that you know how to make. Or get them from the store. You could buy a fruit platter as one of the desserts. Good quality chocolate makes a good and easy choice. Ice cream with some fruits is a good one too. Possibilities are endless.

This is just a guideline to show that it is indeed not very hard to feed homemade food in parties. Remember one thing - barter system works very well here. You help someone, you can ask them to help you. But, if you take help and not do anything, you cannot count on receiving help again. All relations are two way path. I have few friends who help with stuff and some who do not. I reciprocate the same way.

Good luck cooking up a storm!!

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  1. Good one as always, Champa.. This is one thing i am good at - preparing and executing a party menu... just love every bit of it...

  2. Lovely post Champa. I m one if those who prefers to serve homemade food when i call ppl over even if it means extra work when i get back from work. I never serve roti though. Its always rice dishes and curries.

  3. Thanks for these lovely tips to have a super hit party.

    Hamaree Rasoi

  4. Very good post Champa.. I feel the same when I see trays of food got from restaurant, totally lose apetite.. Esp if there is those thick naan's!! I have a lady whom i cater the rotis for my parties., which works out great.

  5. I cant eat most restaurant stuff anyway.. and even i could i ate very little coz god knows when they made it. these are some nice tips!

  6. Excellent post CHampa, even i dont like foods got from restaurants for partys, they never works out for me..Lovely planning..

  7. Nice post - same here! I always think it will be easy just ordering out - but "chicken out" few days before the party. Love deciding the menu and planning out the activities..a little pre-planning goes a long way in ensuring you, the host, also enjoys the party! :) Thanks for the idea - one of these days, I will post my tips and tricks as well :)

  8. home cooked is always the way for me....other then oil & fat don't forget the amount of color they use, at last b'day party we attended, most of the food was home made but naan & paneer dish....& looking at paneer could tell u how much color has gone in it...

  9. Champa..I will have to close down by restaurant!!..but jokes apart some planning and we are done and agreed nothing like home food...light on the stomach ..and low with calories!!

  10. Very helpful post. I too like serving only homemade food to my guests, the only exception being rotis for which I use frozen naans.


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