Relaxed lifestyles and busy schedules mean hosts are looking for easy-to-manage dinner parties. Sharing is the trend in many restaurants and this works at home as well. Letting guests help themselves from heaping platters allows people to sample modestly or to really indulge in their favourites. Casual, eclectic and appetizing, this is the modern way to serve family and friends.
At one time in fashionable households, silver was used to serve everything. Silver is now out of style, probably due to it being perceived as formal (not to mention the chore of having to polish it). Silver platters are worth little today, but make for a wonderful presentation at holiday time when the dinner is more formal.
For casual entertaining, my preference is to use wooden boards. Since they’re informal, keep the accessories simple: dish towel napkins, stemless wine glasses and even mismatched china create a more spontaneous atmosphere. Studies show bacteria multiply less slowly on wooden boards, making them a hygienic choice, and they do not scratch in the same way plastic does. Wood is also a good insulator, so it helps keep food warm. They don’t break if you drop them and they’re easy to clean.
I like to put one board at each end of the table, with the whole main course split between them, so everyone has easy access. Serve condiments in small dishes, either on the board or around the table.
Here are some fun suggestions for casual meals:
- Fried chicken board: Fried chicken, smashed potatoes, coleslaw, homemade ketchup
- Steak board: Sliced steak with oven-baked sweet potato fries, sautéed mushrooms and onion rings
- Fish board: Grilled or roasted salmon with quinoa and a spicy salsa to give the fish a kick
- Vegetable board: Roasted cauliflower with salsa verde, a Belgian endive tart, or a vegetable quiche or pizza, and roasted carrots with a balsamic honey glaze.
I always serve a simple green salad in a bowl to pass around the table. My preference is for mixed greens, with radicchio for colour and bite, dressed simply with oil and vinegar or lemon juice.
But if serving on boards isn’t your style for the main dish, you can still try it with the salad course. Pile the greens in the centre and place add-ins, such as chopped onions, radishes, cheeses and sliced fruit, around them. Put the dressing in a carafe on the side and let your guests create their own salads. This is especially successful on buffet tables.
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