If you ask me, there are two types of people in the world. Those that give parties and those that don’t. I’m in the first camp. I have thrown literally hundreds of bashes over the years. For me, it’s the same as public speaking: the more you do it, the easier it becomes. I look at it this way: most folks don’t really care how good the food or drink is. They’re just happy to be invited. The key is that you have enough of both; I believe heartily in abundance. Years ago, I used to prepare elaborate menus and cook for days. Nowadays, I go for tried and true, big-batch recipes, simple salads, and I always buy dessert. And I’m just as likely to get a bunch of take-out. We thought it would be fun to put together an Instant Party to give readers some ideas going into the holidaze. I’ve got some personal go-tos and I reached out to some friends for theirs. Everything we served was available with 24 hours notice or less, was fork or finger-friendly (No knives! No spoons!) and pleased the crowd. Here are our 10 tips for throwing a party:
Mindy K.’s Summer Rolls
Mindy K.’s in Old Saybrook has been our go-to for a bring along app for years and is a staple at most of my friend’s parties. We NEVER tire of their fresh (and very low calorie) summer rolls that come shrimp, chicken or veggie. The peanutty dipping sauce is key, and the only thing I do is switch out the plastic container with a ramekin to make the platter more table-friendly. These are ALWAYS crowd pleasers, but you MUST order at least one day ahead and they only take cash. While you’re there, pick up some Pho to-go for dinner. Price: $40 small platter, $80 large. mindyks.com
Mystic Market (Old Saybrook and Mystic) has a whole list of dishes, from hors d’oeuvres to entrees, that are available with 48 hours notice, but we only gave them twenty-four hours for two Torta Espanola. This Spanish take on quiche makes a perfect gluten-free hors d’oeuvres, it’s just eggs, potatoes and onions (and butter, of course). I used to cook one up occasionally because they are delish and filling, but they’re also what we call TMT (too much trouble). I ordered two from Mystic Market. We cut one up into bite size chunks for hors d’oeuvres, and saved the other for breakfast and lunch during the week. A steal. Feeds a crowd. Price: $20. Find the Torta under Quiche on the catering menu: mysticmarket.com/south/catering-menu
Salmon Two Ways
If you’re on the hunt for a healthy main that will feed a crowd, head straight to Atlantic Seafood. Their side of poached salmon encrusted in cucumber is the best-kept secret on the Shoreline. You don’t even need to heat it up! Bring your own platter if you’d like, and make pretend you made it yourself. Serve room temperature or chilled, and choose dill cucumber or remoulade sauce. $89.
I often order their smoked salmon platter, too. It’s one of the few spots around to get really thinly sliced salmon, plus they dress it up with all the appropriate fixings: chopped onion, capers, creme fraiche and triangles of pumpernickel. Done! $55. atlanticseafoodmarket.com
Haylon’s is a relative newcomer to the party platter options on the Shoreline, but a welcome one. I had them fix me a pile of fried chicken this summer which was a welcome change from manning a grill all day. This time, we chose a couple dozen deviled eggs, because, well, EVERYONE likes deviled eggs. Sort of like pigs ’n blankets, you just can’t resist them. Haylon’s version comes in a bunch of flavors (like avocado, roasted red pepper and bacon pictured here) and is sweetly presented in the original egg cartons. We’ll be back for more for every holiday party. Price: $18/dozen (24 pieces). www.haylonsmarket.com
The BEST Mac and Cheese
Guilford Marketplace’s chefs are ready to roll with tons of party ideas. Ava (my yoga teacher) raves about their Mac and Cheese. I love the fact that she eats Mac and Cheese (who would have thought), so, of course, we ordered a pan. While this was the only thing that needed heating (30 minutes at 350), it was a big winner. Our tasters loved the smokey, cheesy sauce. I make a damn good Mac and Cheese too, but it takes forever (requiring a roux) so next time I’ll be sticking with this one. We decided we needed SOMETHING green on the table, and ordered a huge bowl of Brussels Sprout Salad, studded with slivered almonds and dried cranberries (also fork-friendly), and this side added some healthy crunch to our other offerings. I just might order this for the Thanksgiving crowd.
Szechuan Won Tons
E-list Events Calendar Coordinator, Carolyn, showed up with Szechuan Won Tons from First Garden in Guilford, and while I can’t say they were the most beautiful thing on the table, they were likely the most popular. These aren’t your typical fried dough bombs, but a spicy, flavorful rendition that went fast (we got four orders).
381 Boston Post Road, Guilford. (203) 458-2145
Cheese and Charcuterie
We all have our go-to favorite cheeses and I’m a high-brow, low-brow sort of girl. I cannot resist the truffled Italian sheep’s milk, Moliterno al Tartufo, and neither could our snackers. I always offer a double-creme like D’Affinois which just gets better and gooier the longer it stays out. And those of us who grew up with the port wine spread that came in the crockery jar, well, don’t leave Fromage without a 1/2 pound. It’s just yummy (and nostalgic).
Charcuterie, for me, is (weirdly) all about the butter. Vermont Creamery’s cultured butter is the best I’ve ever had, and I imagine it’s as close to what churn-your-own would taste like. Super creamy with a hint of crunchy sea salt, I serve it room temperature in its charming little basket with a bunch of Howard’s baguette slices and a pile of proscuitto. It takes a bit of explanation (yes, butter that bread, then drape a slice of ham on it), but once you do, there will be a crowd of butter-lovers busily slathering away. www.fromagefinefoods.com
We served The Long Hello for a perfect go-to signature cocktail. Click here to see the video.