8 Easy Tips to Style Food Like a Professional

Have you ever wondered how caterers and chefs manage to make food look so delicious? Have you tried at home to replicate their same recipes, yet found yours somehow lacking? A huge contributing factor in what makes the food they prepare so special is the presentation. Caterers know exactly how best to present food, garnish it, pair it, and plate it. With these tips you will be able to present your food in style:

  1. Incorporate color: Don’t make the mistake of presenting four items on a place that are all in the same color range, like chicken paired with mashed potatoes and white beans. That screams “bland” to the diner! Instead, make sure to incorporate as much color as possible – this will keep your meals healthier while improving the aesthetics of the plate!

  2. Odd numbers: Odd numbers of food items on a plate look better than even – this is a tip any home decorator also knows!

  3. Garnish, garnish, garnish: What takes a plain meal from blah to wow? Garnishing, of course.  You can garnish any dish; just make sure that the flavor and colors go along with the scheme. Try garnishing with shaved cucumber, spices, herbs, carrots, chopped nuts or fruit.

  4. Play with shape: A salad gets a leg up when the vegetables are curled using a mandoline or even vegetable peeler. If you’re preparing a rice or grain side dish, shape the portion using a measuring cup to get a nice mound. Altering shapes like this adds creativity to a plate.

  5. Sauce like a pro: The perfect drizzle of a sauce over a meat dish, or around the rim of a plate can make your entrée look much more professional. Take an old squeeze ketchup bottle and fill it with your sauce for easy application. The same method can be used to dab or drizzle chocolate or raspberry sauce on a dessert.

  6. Practice portion control: Normal meals get normal, larger portions. For a special meal, keep the portions slightly smaller. Placing too much on the plate overpowers the presentation.

  7. Stack it up: For meals at home, we usually place sides in clusters around a plate. To impress, try layering your meat dish on top of a bed of vegetables. The layering effect is different from what guests are used to, and gives the plate a professional touch.

  8. Keep it clean: Always wipe the outer rim or edge of the plate with a clean moist cloth or sponge to ensure that no food is on it. Think of the edge of the piece as the frame for your masterpiece.

Research it: If these tips intrigue you and you want to improve anymore, consider buying a book that will include inspiring pictures and tips on food presentation.

Top 10 Tips for Hosting an Epic New Year’s Eve Party

As 2014 comes to a close, there’s still one last mother-of-all parties to throw—a New Year’s Eve bash!

We’ve compiled a list of our top New Years eve party catering tips to help make your party a stress free and fun time.  Whether you plan to host the soiree of the century or a simple night at home, these pro tips will help you make sure 2014 is a year people will remember.

Count down to the new year with these NYE party tips:

10. For any party—but particularly for a New Year’s Eve party—you want to have some fun, too, as the host. So make sure most of your food is taken care of before the first guest ever arrives. (Or better still, have it catered!)

9. The good news is, New Year’s Eve is perfect for finger foods—think gourmet popcorn or spiced nuts, quick pickles and charcuterie, cheese straws, olives, bruschetta—and maybe a fun chocolate fondue for dessert.

8. Think about entertainment: if the party starts at 7 and the ball drops at 12, that’s a long time for small talk. Will there be dancing or live music? For smaller affairs, I love this idea from Real Simple of turning resolutions into a party game: have guests write down resolutions and then try to guess who said what.

7. There’s no way around it: New Year’s Eve is a holiday for imbibing! So be sure to remind guests to designate a driver ahead of time, or think ahead by ordering taxis or a car service guests can avail themselves of after midnight.

6. Speaking of imbibing, Champagne cocktails or punch can be a fun addition to your party without having a full bar. If you do go with a full bar, you might consider hiring a bartender or assigning a friend the job so you’re not stuck mixing drinks all night long.

5. New Year’s Eve parties lend themselves to a theme, and guests love it. Coordinate the food, music, dress code for maximum impact. Think: black and white or masquerade for a more elegant affair, or go for laughs with a “come as your favorite resolution” or “wear your least favorite trend” challenge for your guests. Share your theme with your caterer for clever food choices.

4. Party favors make great decor. Inexpensive champagne flutes can be customized for the party or guests. Put brightly colored (glitter?) lipsticks and costume bling out for guests to go glitz and glam. Cookies and other desserts decorated with the year look great before going home with guests.

3. Hire a photographer or designate a shutterbug friend to snap candid photos throughout the night. If your guests are techy, create a hashtag for your party and encourage everyone to post and tag so you can all share photos.

2. Pass out mints, minty desserts or cocktails, or breath spray to elicit a giggle before guests pucker up at midnight.

1. Happy New Year! You know you’ll have bubbly to toast the new year, but how else will you celebrate? Balloons and confetti? Party horns and silly hats? Will you watch the ball drop on TV or be your own MC? It’s the highlight of the party, so make it memorable!

Got big plans for New Year’s Eve? Staying home to cuddle up and watch Ryan Seacrest? Let us know about it in the comments below!

Ancient Grains for Modern Menus

Kale, goji berries, chia seeds, wheatgrass—the last few years have been all about the superfoods, which have popped up not just in health food stores and juice bars, but on trendy menus all over New York and all over the country.

But the latest craze is for what are being called ancient grains. Spurred on somewhat by diet trends that eschew refined carbs and also by the rise in gluten allergies, these grains are fast becoming popular menu staples at high-end restaurants. Chefs actually tend to love them, in my experience, because they provide subtle new flavor and texture palettes to play with on the plate.
What are ancient grains?

These grains are called ancient grains—or sometimes heritage grains—because they’ve been around, more or less unchanged, for thousands (yup, thousands) of years. Ancient societies cultivated many of them, but they then fell out of favor with the huge popularity of staples like wheat and corn.

Whatever the reason, they’re absolutely back in favor now, and easy to add to your next menu for a dose of good health and great flavor.

Quinoa — The most popular so far is quinoa. This little grain that looks a bit like a comma when cooked, is light and fluffy, a little like couscous, but is a complete protein and contains lots of fiber. It’s also gluten-free and easy to digest, and it’s popping up everywhere, being turned into pasta and flour now as well. On its own, it’s great in salads hot or cold. Innovative chefs are tossing it into pastas and using it the way one might use breadcrumbs as toppings for dishes.

Millet — Yes, this is the same grain you might see in your bag of bird seed, but it’s not just for the birds. Cooked up, it makes a creamy, slightly sweet dish that pairs well with just about any kind of flavors, but especially well in salads and risotto-like dishes.

Freekeh — Native to Middle Eastern, Egyptian, and Palestinian cuisines, freekeh is actually wheat that is harvested green, then roasted. It has three times as much fiber as barley, and twice as much as quinoa. Of course, you’ll see this paired with lots of Middle Eastern flavors with excellent results.

Teff — The smallest grain in the world, teff is a staple in Ethiopian cuisine where it makes the traditional spongy bread, Injera. But I’ve also seen it pop up in salads and as a topping or crust on meats.

Amaranth — Native to Mexico and the southern U.S., amaranth was an important food for native cultures here before colonization. The seeds can be popped like popcorn and are part of a traditional Mexican dessert, and can also used in pilafs, or even as a breakfast cereal. It’s also ground into flour that has a nutty, malty taste and is great for adding to gluten-free foods.

Kale is getting to be a little “last year,” but adding ancient grains to your event’s menu—or even your home menu!—will keep you right on the cutting edge with the healthy foodie set.

Do you have a favorite recipe for one of these more unusual grains? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!

What Your Valentine’s Day Drink Says About You—And Your Date

Whether you’re out with your long-time sweetheart or a relatively new love, what your date orders to drink can say a lot. We thought it would be fun—and educational—to decode some of the signals.

After years of attending parties professionally, we’ve begun to be able to deduce the way the night will go based on the drinks orders. Use this (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) guide to decode your date or to pre-program a night of fun when planning your own Valentine’s Day soiree.

Red Wine — A traditional, seductive choice. If you order for your date, make sure you know what you’re doing. And don’t try the swirl and sniff unless you really know what you’re doing, because if you don’t, you can look like a dork.

White Wine — Usually a lady’s choice, but a classic choice. If you’re ordering for the two of you, why not ask the waiter or sommelier to recommend a rosé to mix things up; the pink is romantic.

Sangria — Your date’s expecting a crowd, so don’t get too cozy.

Champagne — Trying really hard to be romantic, or a serious foodie. But who are we kidding? Bubbles are romantic. Pink bubbles even more so.

Straight Liquor, Neat or On the Rocks — A serious drinker; whether or not that is a serious problem depends on how many. (Unless it’s vodka, and then they might just be watching their calories. Skip dessert.)

Fruity Cocktails — An inexperienced drinker. Or, possibly, someone who just knows what they like and are very comfortable being themselves. Or maybe a Parrothead.

Beer — If they order a domestic beer, they might be driving. Craft beer, they might be a hop-head. But really, who orders beer on Valentine’s Day?? Unless you’re dining on heart-shaped pizza, I would be suspicious that their heart isn’t in it.

Old Fashioned — Probably very fashionable, in-the-know, and a foodie, because retro cocktails are all the rage right now. Take this date to a speakeasy to woo them.

The Valentine’s Day Special — If they order whatever the restaurant or bar is serving up as a special, it’s a good possibility that Valentine’s Day is extremely important and special to them. Text the nearest flower shop immediately and have roses delivered to the table.

Need something to wow your sweetie this Valentine’s Day? May we suggest the Mata Hari, a cognac-based cocktail with chai-infused vermouth. Or the Amore Vietato, from the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas, with gin and blood oranges. Either way, you’ll be saying that you care enough to mix up something special.

Do you have a favorite romantic beverage? Keep the ideas flowing in the comments below.

Photo Credit: Mulia

Cauliflower: The New Kale? 7 Recipes to Convince You

Believe it or not, the unassuming cruciferous has been showing up on many experts’ 2014 food reports, including the Huffington Post. Expert foodies are predicting the shy veggie may wind up a superstar this year, much like kale’s stratospheric rise to popularity in the last few years.

 It’s already popping up on trendy restaurant menus all over the place. Vegetarian restaurant Dirt Candy in New York City’s East Village offered a popular meatless “chicken” and waffles plate that featured cauliflower, and Salvation Taco in Midtown offers a roasted cauliflower taco with curried crema.

Gone are the days of bland, white mush or being relegated to the crudité platter.  Cauliflower certainly seems to be stepping into the spotlight.  And with gorgeous purple, green, and orange varieties, it can really make a statement.

So we rounded up some of our favorite ways to serve this versatile veggie—no boring boiling allowed. Roasting brings out the cauliflower’s natural sweetness, and it goes equally well with creamy, cheesy treatments as it does in Asian and Indian dishes.  Incorporate one of these dishes into your next event’s menu and you’re sure to be serving up a trendy and tasty treat.

Cauliflower is a great option when you have guests’ health concerns to take into account as well. People come up with ingenious ways to use cauliflower in place of mashed potatoes, tater tots, and even pizza crust to comply with low-carb, paleo, and gluten-free needs.

 If these or any other cauliflower dishes inspire you for your next menu, let us know! We’d love to brainstorm a food-trend extravaganza with you for your next event.

Photo Credit: Admanchester via Compfight

How to Host a Chic & Easy Thanksgiving Like a Pro

Do you love hosting a big Thanksgiving dinner, or does it stress you out?

Some people host huge gatherings of family and friends because they love to do it. They love the chaos and the warmth and the togetherness.  And some people host out of a sense of duty, or “you hosted last year, so I’ll do it this time,” or because they’re the only one with enough chairs.

Either situation can result in a fantastic gathering, with a little planning like a pro.

Identify your stressors and get rid of them.

As a caterer, I know lots of little shortcuts to make an event go more smoothly, but the truth of the matter is that if the host or hostess is stressed out, it will be a stressful event!

So first and foremost, do everything you can to eliminate the stress from your event—whether that means shutting everyone out of the kitchen and doing it all yourself, or turning the cooking over to a professional.

Identify the parts of the day that stress you out the most and think of ways to delegate. Love making sides, but stress about the turkey? Why not order a smoked bird that just needs reheating. Or maybe you’re a turkey pro, but pie crust sends you reeling? Order a pie from your favorite local bakery (just get your order in early).

Plan like a pro.

The next big thing is to plan, plan, plan. Just like a good caterer or event planner, you’ll want to consider all the details before you start.  Keep these tips in mind as you go:

1. Read through all your recipes carefully. Decide what to cook and in what order; some things might be able to share the oven while others might not.Do as much as you can before the big day. Many desserts, sauces, and appetizers can be made ahead of time. Chop up vegetables and herbs, cut bread for stuffing, grate cheese, and even pre-measure spices ahead of time to make cooking go more smoothly. Don’t forget to thaw the turkey!

2. Delegate! When people offer to bring something, take them up on it. Be specific about what they can bring or how they can help.

3. Have drinks and nibbles ready to go when guests arrive—to keep them out of the kitchen and out of your hair. Mix up a pitcher of cocktails or punch, or assign someone to be the bartender to keep you free.  If your family aren’t big drinkers, even a festive drink like warm apple cider will be welcome.

4. Set the table the night before. Keep centerpieces low and simple so people can see around them, and use unscented candles.

5. Set dishes out buffet-style near the table and allow guests to help themselves. You can make simple handwritten signs to identify dishes or even print menu cards listing ingredients if any of your guests has food intolerances.

6. Don’t try to carve the turkey at the table. Do it in the privacy of your kitchen with fewer prying eyes and less pressure!

7. Keep extra rolls, gravy, or other dishes warm in the kitchen in case you need to bring out extras.

8. Put pitchers of water and other beverages with the food to make refilling drinks easy.

9. Have containers on hand for sending guests home with leftovers. Chinese take-out containers can be a fun alternative to tupperware!

10. And, most of all, do whatever you need to do to ensure that you have time to enjoy the day as much as your guests.

What are your best tips for a calm and easy Thanksgiving dinner? Share your wisdom in the comments below.

Top 10 Tips for a Happy Holiday Party

I hate to be like those department stores that start playing Christmas carols the morning after Halloween, but it’s true: the time to start planning your holiday parties is now.

It seems like a great idea at first: a warm holiday gathering to celebrate the season and the end of another year together… But whether you’re in charge of putting together your office party or want to host a gathering for friends, holiday parties can be stressful!

Having been in the catering business for ten years, I’ve seen just about everything you can imagine from perfect parties that went off without a hitch to total hot mess disasters—and everything in between.

I can tell you, if you want something closer to the perfect end of the spectrum, planning—and planning early—is key.

10 Tips for Planning Your Holiday Party

  1. Start planning NOW. Seriously. I can’t stress this one enough! If you need a caterer, a venue, or any other vendors, they book up early. “Premium” times in December (like Friday and Saturday nights) go first!

  2. Pretty invitations make a party feel more special—whether they’re hand-lettered or just a nicely designed evite. EmilyPost.com suggests sending out holiday party invitations a month in advance—see? Emily’s with me on planning early!—and studies show that Tuesday at 10am is the perfect time to send an evite. (Try Paperless Post for some beautiful digital options.)

  3. Make your invitations very specific; spell out whether or not spouses and kids are invited, what the dress code is, and whether guests can expect light hors d’oeuvres or a full meal. Cute and coy leave guests with lots of questions.

  4. Count those RSVPs carefully. An accurate head count is incredibly important whether you’re hiring a caterer or doing it all yourself.

  5. It’s all in the details. If you’re holding your party somewhere other than your home or office, be sure to get—and share—all the little details ahead of time: where can guests park, do they need detailed directions, is it close to public transportation, are there loading areas for vendors, is there electricity, etc.

  6. Consider families. Will spouses and children be invited to an office affair? Are kids welcome at your sit-down holiday dinner party? Consider your guests’ needs ahead of time, and if kids will be included, make plans for them, too: crayons and paper or other small toys at tables, kid-friendly food and drink items, games, etc.

  7. How will you serve the food? A buffet can often seem budget-friendly, but people tend to fill their plates and then not eat everything they take. Passed hors d’oeuvres increase the elegance of an event and cut down on waste. Talk to your caterer about all your options.

  8. Dream in themes. Having a theme helps make choosing food, decor, entertainment, and other elements simpler. Themes can be fun and silly (Hollywood, 1950’s, Hawaiian lu’au) or elegant (snow and ice, silver bells, red and gold).

  9. Rethink your drinks. Creating one or two signature cocktails for your event can drastically cut down on alcohol costs, even if you’re tending the bar yourself.

  10. Think of ways to give back. Leftover food can sometimes be donated to local soup kitchens and flower arrangements or centerpieces are often appreciated at hospitals and nursing homes. Consider combining your event with a canned-food or toy drive with a donation being the “cost” of admission.

If you’re interested in booking Sweet Basil Catering for a holiday party, now is the time to start!  Click here to contact us and start the process.

Have an amazing month!

Amy Aversa

Executive Chef & Creative Director, Sweet Basil Catering & Events

Photo Credit: visualpanic via Compfight CC

What’s Hot for Fall

Some people may want to hang on the last days of summer as long as possible, but I look forward to the flavors of fall almost as much. Maybe it’s all the holidays they might be associated with, but there’s just something about the quintessential foods of the season that really connect us to memories of family and community.

(Hey, the pumpkin spice latte at Starbucks is a huge hit for a reason, after all!)
The Flavors of Fall
Pumpkin pie, apple cider, butternut squash soup, candied sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce… If I had to guess, I’d bet at least one of these foods conjures up memories of a table filled with family or friends, a meal full of laughter, a funny story, or a poignant moment in your past.

That’s no coincidence! Somehow, autumn flavors seem connected to a specific time and place, a particular memory or family member more than any other seasonal foods of the year. And whether you choose to serve a particular food based on your own associations with it or on the positive associations you hope your guests will make, you can’t go wrong with a menu featuring fall favorites.

Bring Autumn Eats to Your Next Event
Here are some of my favorite fall foods—both traditional and a little out-of-the-box—to set a toasty autumn tone for your next fête:
Pumpkin is maybe the quintessential fall food. Mix it up by serving it in savory dishes like pumpkin ravioli or a rich pumpkin stew.

Concord grapes are best known through Welch’s grape jelly, but that’s a shame because they have such amazing flavor. Try them as sorbet, in a couscous salad, or baked into a not-too-sweet focaccia.
Brussels sprouts are a much-maligned veggie with a bad rap. Roasted or pan-seared, maybe with a little bacon and a balsamic vinaigrette, these green gems will be the surprise hit of the evening.
Blood oranges add a dramatic flare to everything from salads to desserts.
And fennel adds incredible depth to dishes, whether served fresh in a salad, or roasted and caramelized alongside a gorgeous cut of meat.

Summer may get all the attention for being a season of bounty, but don’t count out fall! Contact us to find out how you can incorporate some of these fantastic flavors into your next menu or event.
Photo Credit: stijn via Compfight cc

[Photo caption: Brussels sprouts with fried bread crumbs and walnuts.]

5 Tips to Pulling Off a Flawless Dinner Party

photo by telegraph.co.uk

There’s nothing more uncomfortable for dinner party guests than a stressed out hostess. And we all know if the hostess isn’t having fun then no one will. Don’t let yourself make easily avoidable mistakes when throwing your next dinner party. Here are some tips to organizing and executing a wonderful, relaxing and fun dinner party.

1. Plan your menu out in advance. Make sure you think through all the dishes you’re planning on serving. Don’t wing it. Organize a menu that’s balanced. For example, if you plan on serving a “heavyish” meal, like steak or lamb, try balancing it with notes of brightness and light flavors, like a citrus salad.

2. Be realistic about what you can do in the time you have. Try to prepare as much as possible earlier in the day, so that you only have to finish off a few things in order to serve the meal. This will let you spend more time with your guests and less time bustling about the kitchen.

3. Serve appetizers. This might seem obvious, but give your guests something to eat upon their arrival! Serving appetizers on a tray will make it easy to move things around and replenish in the kitchen. It will also allow you to be a mobile host, working through the room and talking to all of your guests.

4. Know your guests. This is important. If you don’t know what all of your guests like to eat, play it safe. If they’re adventurous eaters you’ll learn that during a safe meal and keep it in mind for the future.  As a host you don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable by giving them something they don’t want to eat.

5. Set the mood for dinner, and be a guide. Create the atmosphere you have in mind with lights, decoration, and music, so that the guests will ease into a fun and relaxed mood as soon as they walk in the door. Don’t be afraid to ask your guests to move to the table when dinner is ready, or to return to the living room after dinner for a drink. It’s your party and your place. Finally, have fun! That’s the whole idea, so don’t lose sight of it.<

6 Cheese Picks for a Tongue Tingling Cheese Platter

Who doesn’t like cheese? One of the simplest and most impressive ways to entertain your friends is to put together a well thought out cheese platter. Skip the usual ho-hum brie and cheddar and put together a cheese plate that combines a variety of textures and  flavors.

Here are six  of our pics delicious cheeses that will make get your guests talking.

1. Reblochon: this French cheese is fruity, funky, and dynamically flavorful. There are several varieties, the most common being Reblochon Fermier (Farmer’s         Reblochon). This is a cheese that packs flavor, and may not be for the faint of heart.

2. Toscano: This is a milder cheese. It’s for those who know what they like and don’t want to experiment. This Italian hard cheese is salty, dry, and perfectly compliments white wine, or a dry martini.

3. Tomme de Savoie: another French cheese, this is also soft, but firmer than Reblochon or Brie. It’s creamy, savory, buttery, and will slowly melt in your mouth.

4. Artisan Cheddars: Go  local. There are scads of great, small producers of cheddar in the United States, particularly in Wisconsin and the surrounding states, that make cheddars with varying levels of saltiness, rich caramels, and dryness. These artisan cheddars will redefine what your guests think of cheddar cheese.

5. Chevre: Try a less conventional goat cheese, either from France or the United States. Humboldt Fog from California is very popular. It’s covered in an ash rind, giving it a slightly smoky and smooth finish.

6. Sheep’s Milk: Manchego is a favorite, particularly when paired with quince paste or rich Marcona almonds. But try experimenting with other sheep’s milk cheese from the Iberian Peninsula and the Pyrenees Mountains. Or, try Podda Classico from Sardinia, which is sweet, nutty, and sharp.

Get your guests even more excited about your grown up cheese platter by choosing one or two wines to pair with the cheese, or if you’re feeling casual, craft beers can be fun and complex. Enjoy!

Photo Credit: becauseimaddicted.net