Saturday, October 30, 2010

That's Entertaining: Checklist for Happy, Healthy and Sane Hosting, Part II

by Barbara Burtoff

Some hosts and hostesses look forward to December parties as a time to cook and share their favorite recipes with friends. Others call a caterer. Whatever is your preference, make sure that nothing on the menu will cause guests to go home with a case of food poisoning.

Two hours sitting out at a party is the limit for many foods. If the crowd is of great size and the temperature of the room is warm and getting warmer, one hour could be the limit. Foods of concern: creamy dips made with dairy products or mayonnaise, foods with cooked as well as uncooked eggs, such as deviled eggs, egg salad, potato salad, custards, meringue-topped pies; also the cooked beef, pork, poultry, fish, processed meats, bread stuffing, gravy, vegetable or macaroni products combined with beef, pork, poultry, fish; creamed pies, cakes with creamy or buttery frostings. When bacteria multiples, it can’t be seen, smelled or tasted. It can give guests intense flu-like symptoms (diarrhea, vomiting), a long and painful night and, perhaps, even a trip to the hospital. Have you ever been to a catered event held elsewhere than the host’s residence? You might have heard the host complain that the caterer took the leftovers when he returned for the platters and would not let the host take them home. Smart move. The caterer wants to avoid being dragged into a liability suit should someone fall ill if the host let the food stay out too long.

So here’s the plan. Put leftovers away at the end of each course. Hors d’ouevres should go into the fridge as you start the meal’s first course. Leftovers from that first course as you start the salad or main course, and so forth and so on. If you used a caterer, he/she can supply someone to take care of this while you enjoy your guests, or call a local university for their list of students seeking this sort of job, or get your housekeeper or good friend to help. (The Cleveland-Park Listserv has also proved to be a good source of party helpers.)

Open house parties are popular during the holidays. They can go on for four or five hours; guests know it is okay to arrive any time, visit and be on their way. Some come earlier, some later. For the party host and hostess, it’s a chance to invite more friends without feeling crowded and there’s more time for individual talks. However, food is put out early at an open house and you can’t safely have it sitting out for four or five hours. Instead of one large casserole, make two that are put out one at a time in medium-size containers. Instead of large platters of poached salmon, have two that are smaller. Don't buy the largest turkey or roast. Two medium-sized would be better. For the dessert table, small tarts, pick-up pastries, bars and brownies will all be appreciated, especially if homemade or from a really good bakery; a few cakes, 8-inches or 9-inches in size, are better than a huge sheet cake. Don't forget small candies of the season and cupcakes, which lend themselves to being frosted in colors. Have a lot. People love them.

In my column last week, I shared twelve suggestions for making you the host or hostess with the mostest (success). Here is more of what I’ve learned along life’s way.

13. About two to three hours before the party, if you’ve been cooking, take a quick look around the kitchen. Did you return all appliances to their proper places or are they still pushed to the front of counters with their cords dangling every which way? Are there sharp knives that need to be put away? Now take a look around your living room, dining room and any other area where guests may grab a seat. As a result of your moving chairs, lamps, end tables, have any area rugs loosened? They need to be secured or removed. Were toys left on a staircase by a child? Put them away. If it is raining and you have an entry foyer with a marble floor, put down a mat.

14. You don’t expect guests to go exploring through your home or apartment, but some will do it anyway. So please don’t forget to put away wallets, checkbooks, credit cards, bank and brokerage statements that might be sitting out on a desk in your bedroom or den as well as jewelry in an open box in your dressing area. Even if you don’t invite guests to use the bathroom in or near your bedroom, have out some fresh towels and remove prescription medicines that might be stored in a cabinet above the sink.

Now let’s move on toward the end of your party.

15. As conversations and the music wind down and the last bites of dessert have been enjoyed, make the rounds and share a few parting words with friends. If you speak to anyone who seems wobbly, is slurring words, has had too much to drink or is just too tired to be alert, please get that individual a ride with another guest or tell him/her that you’d like to call a cab for the ride home.

16. After the party, extinguish all candles. Unplug all electric food warmers if you didn’t do that after the main course.

17. Walk through your house or apartment and make sure all doors are locked, all windows are, too. Guests sometimes wander through and then go explore your garden or enjoy the fresh air on the balcony and leave a door ajar.

18. If Fido, the four-legged member of your family, has spent the last few hours with your children and a babysitter upstairs or alone elsewhere out of sight, give him some personal attention and a short walk, too, unless someone else has done it.

19. Check to see whether any flowers you received need additional water. If you are having two parties back-to-back, put a centerpiece in your fridge or ask a neighbor if she/he might have room in the fridge to store one of your arrangements.

20. Now for that dirty little secret about garbage. If it’s a great party, your guests are busy eating, drinking, talking and laughing. They want to show their appreciation for all you’ve done and, if they don’t see professional helpers, they take their dishes, glasses and silver or stainless to the kitchen. The dishes and glassware are placed on an available counter but, oops, some of the silver gets tossed into the garbage barrel. I asked you to count forks, knives and spoons before setting up. Do it again now. If the numbers don’t match, do as many an experienced host and hostess has done. Don rubber gloves and go through the garbage before it is dumped. If you are having more than 24 guests, consider plastic plates, glasses, and knives, forks and spoons.

21. You may not wish to open the hospitality gifts until the next day, but check that the name of the giver is attached. Some guests just slip a card under the ribbon. Before it falls out, tape it in place.

22. Did you know that salt corrodes silver? If you used salt shakers with silver caps, remove, rinse and dry the caps. Empty, wash and dry the salt shakers.

23. Check for stains on tablecloths, fabric napkins, upholstered furniture and carpeting. Get to them as soon as you can. Keep a booklet in a kitchen drawer that contains information on how to treat the various stains.

24. Vacuum the rugs the day after the party before the food crumbs have time to dig in deep.


Barbara Burtoff spent 10 years as a food writer and editor for the Boston Herald daily newspaper. She visited farms and markets, attended culinary schools and cooking contests, and covered parties of all sizes from large, gala fundraisers to small gatherings at home. She then left to finish an M.S. Education degree, expanded from one paper to national syndication focusing on consumer/shopping issues, nutrition and psychology of eating topics.

That's Entertaining! is published by the Cleveland Park Listserv. (c) 2010 Barbara Burtoff.  Have a question? You can reach Barbara Burtoff at: Entertainingways (at) fastmail (dot) net. Your comments about this column are welcome below.

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