Make new memories with a family reunion. It’s a good idea, especially if the gathering is held around a patriotic holiday, to honor any family member who has served our country. If there aren’t any veterans or active members in the family you can always invite a friend or neighbor as a figure of honor.
Creating a Winning Outdoor Buffet
Serving your outdoor gathering buffet-style takes the pressure off the hosts by serving courses without worrying about precise timing, creating more time to enjoy your guests. Buffets can be a fun way to entertain and also span the levels of formality from casual to a very upscale celebration. The best parties I have hosted, no matter what the occasion, the most memorable outcomes have resulted from a more casual entertaining atmosphere making buffet style entertaining my favorite way to organize a get-together.
In the catering world it’s referred to as set-ups; including tables and chairs, plates, napery, flatware, glassware and the all important garbage pail. Whether using disposables or traditional glassware, as a rule of thumb, have plenty of glasses, at least 3 times guest count without any being washed.
Roll-Ups: Set up forks, spoons and knives rolled up into napkins. Make extra.
Plate-Up according to your menu: Always provide one plate for hot prepared foods and another for cold dishes.
Got umbrellas, canopies, or a cabana? Provide shade for the bar & buffet food serving table, and shade for guests; especially youngsters & the elderly. It’s also a good idea to have plan B solutions; should you experience an unexpected rain shower.
Have some form of insect control for flies and mosquitos. All natural methods preferred such as smoke from a chimney, fire pit, or citronella candles. A simple fan will also work very well at keeping mosquitos away.
An ice bath (ice mixed with water) chills wine, beer, and all container beverages faster than just ice.
The ice maker is your friend: You’ll need about 1 pound or more of ice per person for drinks and chilling soft drinks, wine and beer.
Make sure you have enough coolers on hand to store cold foods and ice for items that won’t fit in the refrigerator.
Have serving thermos containers for cold and hot beverages.
Include in your party plan the option of preparing some foods from home and buying some prepared foods from a local restaurant or specialty food market, which can alleviate party menu pressure for the busy home cook.
The menu should include a complementary mix of meat, poultry, seafood, vegetable and salads for wide audience appeal.
Themed menus are straightforward to get inspired by—simple done well, is my motto:
My Patriotic, Star Spangled BBQ would include Texas brisket, sticky ribs, cane charred shrimp, smoked sausage, corn on the cob, cowboy beans, savory slaw, and ice cold watermelon. Easy set-ups include: casual checkered tablecloths, iced-buckets filled with tall necks, rosé wine, urns of iced tea and/or lemonade. For dessert, serve fresh berry cobbler, strawberry shortcake and chocolate chip cookies.
Create the party shopping list a week before the party and be prepared to do your shopping three to four days in advance, except for breads.- Get a visual of how the food will be displayed on a buffet; get a sense of the flow of plate-up traffic.
Keep the food hot for a period of time by serving in chafing dishes, slow cookers or warming drawers.
Prepare hot foods a day ahead and keep in the refrigerator for easy heating on party day. Grill as much in advance of the party, so the grill chef gets to have some fun and enjoy the guests.
Grilling Is Happiness tip: Find a grill with built-in lighting to make it easy to grill your feast the night before.
Set up the bar one hour before guests arrive and close a couple hours before guests leave. Time to close the bar is the perfect cue to put out desserts and coffee.
Serve cookies and brownies. Make extra batches to send home with guests as a sweet token of your party.
What favorite foods would you like to see at a party buffet?
Skillet Cornbread Shortcake
Recipe by George Hirsch | Makes 6 servings
This Southern version of strawberry shortcake is baked in a black iron skillet, which gives it a crunchy crust, the perfect foil for berries and sweetened whipped cream. Using cake flour will give the shortcake a lighter, more tender texture.
- 1 cup cornmeal
- 1 cup cake flour or all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup milk
- 2 eggs. lightly beaten
- 1/4 cup sweet butter, melted
- 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
For the whipped cream:
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 2 Tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
- 1 pint fresh strawberries
- 1/2 pint fresh blueberries
- Granulated sugar, if necessary
Preheat the grill to medium temperature or 375 degrees F.
In a medium bowl combine the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. In a small bowl combine the milk, eggs, butter, vanilla and cinnamon and mix well. Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until no particles of the dry ingredients remain. Do not overmix.
Spoon the mixture into a well-greased, 8-inch, black iron skillet or cake pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool the bread 5 minutes in the pan; remove and cool completely on a rack.
Beat the heavy cream until soft peaks form. Add the confectioners’ sugar and continue beating until peaks are stiff.
Wash the strawberries and pat dry gently with a paper towel. Cut half of the strawberries into slices and leave the rest whole. If the berries are not sweet, toss with 2 tablespoons of sugar.
Slice the cornbread in half horizontally and spread the lower half with half the whipped cream and sliced strawberries. Replace the top half and cover with remaining whipped cream and berries.
George Hirsch is a Grilling is Happiness sponsored writer.