Madame Saisons: Post-Pandemic Party Preppers
by Sarah Ugazio
As we emerge from the cold we’re certainly ready for more get togethers. However, while we can all be grateful for Mother Nature hitting the ‘Defrost’ button, we may not have the same spring in our step coming out of our caves this year. Lockdown in late summer through autumn, followed by winter’s frosty hiatus, may have left our social skills rather scant.
Quick catch-ups are indeed a good warm up. Inviting friends and family to drop in for a coffee or late afternoon drinks seems like a stellar plan. Until the day, or guests, arrive and it suddenly strikes us that the progression of hibernation to hosting feels a tad more challenging – we’re out of practice and unprepared.
Fear not. Getting your casual catering confidence back is far easier when you consider the two distinct types of guests you may welcome to your humble abode:
The Expected Guest
When an invitation has actually been extended, and accepted, at least a day in advance, we have the obvious benefit of time to think, shop and make ahead. As you ponder the potential culinary creations you can serve up, follow the golden rule: once guests arrive, stay out of the kitchen! It’s essential to ensure food is either placed out prior, or simply pulled out from the fridge or oven. Bought pastries are perfect for afternoon tea, whether they be savoury, sweet or both. Antipasto and cheese platters are the quintessential and eternal classics for afternoon drinks. For the latter, platter ahead – decant dips, cut crudités, and portion cheese (three types is ideal). Add some nuts and colourful fruit to gussy up your grazing board. Start with simple before you up your game to fancier fare.
The Unexpected Guest
This type is typically made up of three sub categories: the Random Surprise – “we were just passing by”; the On The Spot – “fancy running into you, come over” invite usually extended without warning by your partner; and the Stayer Oner – the sudden acceptance to stay after arriving for a specific purpose such as delivering or collecting something, such as their child. Albeit welcome, these guests can potentially send us into a spin as we ponder our pantry snack offerings.
The secret to being the Host with the Most for the Unexpected Guest is to have a few go-to snacks you can whip up from ingredients that have a long shelf life (frozen, canned or dry), or keeping those on hand we can easily put to other use so they don’t go to waste. Think along the lines of:
- Mini pastries, such as quiche or stuffed filo triangles, can be baked straight from your freezer. Sausage rolls and party pies are always a winner for kids.
- Make your own roasted spiced or candied nuts particularly around Christmas. Have fun playing with different flavours until you find your signature blend. Cook up a big batch as they store well for a couple of months in an airtight container.
- Instant dip can be served by quickly whipping together pesto paste, or dry French onion soup mix, with some cream cheese or sour cream. With a little more effort, canned beans can be instantly blended with a couple of ingredients in a food processor for a gourmet option such as homemade hummus from chickpeas. Have a go making these first without hungry guests in front of you!
- Serve a Ploughman’s Platter by simply having some good quality cheddar, ham, and bread and butter pickles on hand with some gourmet crackers.
Sarah’s Top Tips For Keeping Calm
Being a fabulous host is not about reinventing the wheel. Have a simple repertoire of snacks on hand and have made before. A full cellar always helps. The objective is to spend time with your guests, not staring in your pantry. Friendly faces on our doorstep should always be a welcome sight, even when unexpected.
Follow Sarah on Instagram @madamesaisons