Thursday, December 31, 2009

Honors Program Holiday Social (Hospitality EVENTuality)

I'm inaugurating a new direction for this blog.  The new concept is customizing different types of events and relaying the organization, menu selections, and recipes.  What I have in mind is to share the level of organization that it takes to to afford the guests the most hospitable experience and allow the hosts the freedom and confidence to enjoy their own parties.
For this particular blog, I'm relaying entertaining business guests.  In this case, the organization involves the planning and execution of an event that follows attending a nearby theater production.  My university students and I viewed a delightful regional production of A Christmas Carol  at The Gilbert Theater.  Thereafter, most students drove the short distance to our house for music, conversation, hospitality, and lots of food.  As I had recently visited New Orleans and attending 2 cooking classes as The New Orleans School of Cooking, I decided on a New Orleans theme.  In addition, I privileged menu selections that could be frozen.  Finally, I wanted to strike a balance of adventurous and comfort food, of formal and informal moments, and of personal choice and communal experience.  Here's how it went...

occasion: attend 2 PM play close by and thereafter, dinner at our house
guest list: 29 adult RSVPs   budget: $8.25/person
set-up and menu:
1. The Welcome: Two student guests agreed to welcome guests and dispense name tags at the door.  The intention was that the RSVPs would feel acknowledged, expected, and welcomed.  These greeters invited guests to get their drinks in a small room where another student had selected the music and was ready to dispense the drinks. 
2. The Appetizers:  When most had arrived and had drinks, two students began transporting the appetizers into the living room, which was set up with a table in the middle and two 4-person seating arrangements around the edges.  This allowed the guests to have access to the food and either sit down in the room (a safe choice) or venture into the living room and beyond. Two framed menus were displayed on the table so that guests could distinguish among the appetizers and could preview the remaining food courses. Food and conversation began to mix...  brie cheese torte with salmon and dill layers and crackers...chicken liver terrine and crackers (warming in oven)...crab cakes with chili sauce (warming in oven)...shrimp with cocktail sauce...crudités and rémoulade...pretzels and chips...crescent roll ups w/ heart of palm, pimento, and cream cheese (warming in oven)...crescent roll ups w/ roasted red peppers and cream cheese (warming in oven) olives and green olives...
3. The Soup: Guests were asked to clear the dining room where two students and my husband (a professor) assembled 3 tables and chairs.  This overflowed into the hallway, but at least we could all see each other.  With the seating in place, everyone was invited to sit.  My appetizer servers now became soup servers.  When everyone was served (but not eating), the hosts formally welcomed everyone and invited anyone to speak. This was a time for guests to give a blessing or offer remarks. Often gratitude was expressed. This wasn't as serious as it sounds! We then enjoyed our soups...  artichoke, shrimp, and oyster soup (warming on stove)  Thereafter, my servers cleared the tables, and everyone was invited to the kitchen for the main course.
4. The Main Course: There were choices of jambalaya and gumbo, plus an abundance of sides.  Students need a selection and a plentiful supply!  Eventually, everyone had returned to the dining room with plates full of food.  Conversation became lively and an informal tone prevailed... chicken Marsala (warming in oven) beans and rice (warming on stove)...jambalaya with rice—chicken (warming on stove) with file...gumbo with rice—sausage (warming on stove) with file...maque choux (warming in oven)...French bread (warmign in oven)... I turned the oven down to 200 and put in the bread pudding in when the main dishes had come out.
5. The Desserts.  My servers cleared the tables and began bringing in desserts. No pressure to indulge though!  As the social winded down and guests began to get up to leave, we gave them individually wrapped pralines (shipped from New Orleans). 

(This depends on someone being home while everyone else is at the play.)

12:00 Make 2 batches rice and put in OVEN (preheated to 200).

1:15 Warm rice, chicken Marsala, Maque Choux, and crab cakes into oven on lowest setting. Warm red beans, jambalayas, soup on stove on lowest setting.

3:10 Microwave pin wheels. Put ice in bucket. Put out liters of soda and water pitcher.  Light candles.

3:15 Welcome with name tags.  Play music dispense drinks.  Heat oven to 350 for rice, maque choux, chicken Marsala. Turn up stove to medium low. Add chopped parsley and green onions to red beans. Stir.

3:30 Put out appetizers, accompanied by small plates and small napkins on table in center of room.  Guests sit in 4-person groups in dining room and in living room. The host invites guests to appetizer table.  Leisurely continue with the soup, main, and dessert courses.

brie wheel:  Cut a brie wheel in thirds, crosswise with a waxed dental floss or a sharp knife.  Between each layer, place smoked salmon and dill.  Put back together.  Stab with toothpicks and cut in 1" pieces. well liked

chicken liver pate:,%20Easy,%20Elegant.htm.  Freezes well. not well liked (except for me and my husband)

chicken Marsala: Emeril Lagasse's 2003 recipe.  Freezes well. students loved!

remoulade with vegetable crudites (Creole appetizers):

Maque-Choux (3 ways):  Freezes well.

red beans and rice: from Emeril Lagasse's Red Beans and Rice; Louisiana Real and Rustic; Emeril Lagasse with Marcelle Bienvenu, 1996, William Morrow and Co. 

artichoke and shrimp soup:  I added crab meat.  Freezes well. students loved!

gumbo: Freezes well. well-liked

bread pudding: Freezes well.  well-liked

jambalaya:  Freezes well.  well-liked

The Great Books Connection...I placed tent cards around the tables with quotes from Great Books regarding food, dining, and hospitality. We've hosted this type of play and then house event thereafter for several years.  This year, I asked, in advance for guests (who are university students) to help with music, greeting, serving, and set up.  This created a sense of appreciation and graciousness that we (my professor husband and I) had not experienced in the past.  Other students offered to clear, clean up, and breakdown tables.  Mrs. Ramsey (To The Lighthouse) should have invited some of her guests to help out.  Then, instead of feeling annoyed during much of the dinner, she might have felt a sense of community.

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"One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well." - from A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf