5 tips on stress-free catering

DIY Catering

by Leanne Ely, CNC


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A few weeks back, I threw a bash for my husband's birthday and had nearly 50 people in our house. The food was enjoyable, fun, and beautifully presented. I had people falling over themselves thinking I had cooked it all from scratch. Well, hardly! I could have done it, but why when I can cheat and have a party with that kind of delicious food?

I am going to give you five points on DIY catering without the stress, frustration, and hitting your head against the wall. Consider it your cheat sheet.

  1. Veg Out: Instead of buying and spending an hour chopping up vegetables for a simple veggie platter, buy an already prepared veggie tray! It's cheaper, there's no prep, and all you have to do is transfer all the veggies to your own serving tray and arrange beautifully, removing all hints of "pre-done."

  2. Say Cheese: A simple little cheese platter looks classy and who doesn't love cheese? Just buy a small wheel of cheese (brie is my preference) and cut out a portion and place on your platter. Add an assortment of crackers, some olives, artichoke hearts, and cornichon pickles. Keep in mind that you ought to place anything with juices (olives, artichoke hearts, pickles) in ramekins or little bowls so it doesn't make the crackers soggy. Add cheese knives and little appetizer forks for picking up the condiments and you have a great looking platter without a lot of fuss.

  3. Order Out: You do not have to make the main entree! It would take hours to prepare if you're hosting for more than 20 people, so why do it? For my aforementioned bash, I ordered a few burritos from Chipotle Mexican Grille. They're affordable and use organic and local produce and meat without added hormones or antibiotics, so I'm all about supporting Chipotle. To cut down on how many I'd need, I bought half of what I needed and cut the burritos in half. How smart was that?

  4. Double Dip: Dips are one thing I'll typically make myself. They're easy, fresh, and taste better. The good news is you can make them a few days in advance. Just get your dips made up early, store them in the fridge a few days before, and plop them into your pretty serving bowls when you're ready.

  5. Beauty Is in the Eye of the Beholder: Presentation counts! It doesn't take much to make something pretty. Stay organized. When setting up your tables of food, consider having more than one table if you have a substantial party on the horizon. Keep your serving platters labeled, so you can keep track of what goes where and which foods go together. (I use 3 x 5 cards labeled so friends can help me out when it's time to put everything out; just get rid of the card after the tray or platter is filled.) Flowers and candles are two classic ways to keep up appearances. You can place them almost anywhere and they'll brighten up your display. Use runners, polished stones, acorns, whatever you have on hand! Go with what's seasonal and available. Get a little creative and see what you come up with!

See, wasn't that easy?


Leanne Ely is a New York Times best selling author of Body Clutter and the popular Saving Dinner cookbook series. According to Woman's Day Magazine, she is the expert on family cooking.

Leanne's syndicated newspaper column, The Dinner Diva can be found in 250 newspapers nationwide and in Canada. Her vast broadcast experience includes media satellite tours, QVC several times as well as guesting on several national television shows, including HGTV's Simple Solutions, ABC Family's Living the Life, Ivanhoe's Smart Woman, Small Talk for Parents and Talk of the Town. She has guest chef-ed on the cooking show, Carolina Cooks and has taught cooking classes all over the country for Bloomingdale's.

In addition, she is a seasoned radio personality. Leanne's own radio show, Heart of A Woman aired during drive time in two major California markets, Los Angeles and San Diego. Her current show, The Dinner Diva is one of the top Blog Talk Radio shows on the Internet.

On the Internet, she pens the Food for Thought column for the immensely popular, FlyLady.net, with over half a million readers weekly. She has been featured in Woman's Day magazine, the Chicago Tribune, St. Petersburg Times, Orange County Register - to name a few. Additionally, she is a sought after speaker and has spoken all over the country, with keynote addresses to corporate and non-profit entities. SavingDinner.com. Visit Leanne Ely on Google+.

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