|The birthday girl|
In retrospect, Kelli and I joke that it was actually a party themed around the number 3, rather than 1. We had three proteins (shrimp, chicken, and beef, grilled on skewers) prepared in three different marinades (ancho agave, cilantro lime, and satay, respectively). There were three snack foods (crudites, crackers, and chips) alongside three dips (spiced lentil, cucumber, and tomato-cilantro salsa). We made a three-layer cupcake (the Red, White and Blue, with raspberry, vanilla, and blueberry), and had 30 guests. See what I mean?
We also had a tossed green salad, a fruit salad, and seasoned roasted potatoes, plus red sangria, a non-alcoholic punch, and a few other food and drink items that escape my memory at the moment.
Feeding that many people in and of itself can be a challenge, especially if you're not accustomed to entertaining large groups. Feeding that many people with a range of food prepared in so many different ways added a layer of complexity to our party preparation. Could we have simplified the menu? Gone with something easier? Sure.
But we were excited about the menu. Plus, armed with a few of the following handy tips, we were able to do much of the prep ahead of time on Saturday, so that when it came time to party on Sunday, we weren't scrambling to make it all happen.
Here's how we did it, and how you can, too:
Marinades: Let 'em soak vs. Keep 'em separate
For most sweet and savory marinades, especially when you're dealing with "hearty" proteins such as beef, pork, and even chicken, it's fine to combine your meat and marinade, and let them soak together overnight in the fridge. That's what we did, so that the morning of the party, all we had to do was thread them on skewers and toss them on the grill. But when you're dealing with "tender" proteins such as shrimp, and with highly acidic marinades (such as ones that have a lot of vinegar or lemon or lime juice), it's better to keep them separate. The acids in the marinade will "pre-cook" the shrimp. In our case, I marinated the shrimp the morning of, skewered them, and grilled them, all within a matter of a few hours.
For the roasted potatoes - and there were pounds and pounds of them - the question was how to do as much prep ahead of time as possible, without allowing for oxidation of the cut, cubed 'taters. Usually, you'd soak the potatoes in a bowl of water, to prevent exposure to the air. That's fine when you're cubing potatoes to make mashed potatoes, which are going to be boiled anyway. But when you're making roasted potatoes, as we were, we didn't want to soak the potatoes overnight, so they'd get waterlogged and not roast properly. Solution: we tossed them in a generous coating of olive oil, so that any exposed potato surface had a thin sheen of olive oil that protected it from the air. (We toss them in a bit of olive oil anyway to roast them, so we would have done this anyway.) Then we seasoned them, covered with plastic wrap, and popped them in the fridge until 1.5 hours before the party, when we put them into a preheated oven.
Keeping Veggies Fresh
Crudites (cut fresh vegetables, such as celery, carrots, and bell peppers) always seems to be a popular appetizer at parties, and for good reason. It's tasty, naturally gluten-free, and most people like it. There's just one problem. Cutting the veggies ahead of time can lead to dry carrots, and brown, dry celery. Fortunately, there's an easy fix. Place all your cut veggies into a reusable, resealable container. Add water until all of the veggies are fully submerged. Pop the top on your container, and throw it in the fridge. Drain the water immediately before you plan to plate the crudites. They'll be crisp and fresh and good as new, even though you sliced them the day before.
Dippin' Don'ts (and Dos)
Dips can almost always be made ahead of time. In fact, many benefit from the extra time, which allows the flavors to meld. Such was the case with our spiced lentil and cucumber dips. If texture of the dip is an issue, as it was for us with the lentil dip, allow it to come to room temperature - or even gently warm it - and stir before serving.