Posted On November 11, 2014 by John Cohen
You may recall our post two weeks ago about catering requests you may encounter this fall. One of the bigger catering trends you may be noticing this season from weddings and corporate events is the request for small plates. No longer do brides and grooms or event coordinators want simple snacks to tide their guests over during cocktail hour. Oh, no. They are looking for more unique mini dishes. Some are even replacing dinners with multiple small plates. You might be asking yourself, “why would people want to offer small plates over entire meals?” There are two good reasons: money and mobility.
First, money. You can expect that couples (or even companies) skipping out on serving a full meal are a little tighter on cash. Couples may be paying for the wedding themselves and may have decided that their money will be put to good use in a down payment on a house. Companies may be thinking their employees would prefer a little holiday bonus over an extravagant dinner. Either way, people are still looking for delicious food, as hors d’oeuvres or as a meal, to serve to their guests. That doesn’t mean that your options are limited as a caterer, though. You just get to show off your style and specialties in bite sized portions. Everything can be pared down to a bite size sampling; even soup. Take a look these soup serving spoons from Loverly. All the goodness of a bowl in one bite!
Photo Credit: Steve Steinhardt on Inspired By This via Loverly
As you can see from our soup example people not only want small plates, they want them to be beautiful and enticing. This means you might have to get a little creative with your serving dishes, or lack thereof. The best kind of small plates are actually the ones that require no plates at all. This allows guests to have more mobility and keep their hands free for cocktails and greeting one another. In the end, serving foods that require little to no dishware will save you some clean up as well. Anything on a skewer (shrimp, meatballs, chicken) makes a great no-dish dish. One of the best no-dish foods we’ve seen are these bacon cups from Bon Appétit. Because who doesn’t love a bacon cup?!
Photo copyright (C) 2011 by Con Poulos via Bon Appétit
Creating multiple small plates, especially if they are serving as the main meal, means you will have a few more bits and pieces to coordinate. If you aren’t used to planning in such precious detail, catering a small plate focused event may be more difficult than you are used to. The key is to stay organized. We suggest using Total Party Planner catering software, of course. But, there are other ways to keep your small plate events in order. Just be sure to have enough ingredients to make your multiple bite-sized dishes.
What small plates are you whipping up for your Fall and Holiday events?
Posted In Industry Information
Posted On November 4, 2014 by Susan Pupa
Do you know what month it is? Yes, it is November and yes, Thanksgiving is this month. More importantly (to some) it’s National Peanut Butter Lovers Month! In honor of this special month, we’ve put together a list of a few of our favorite peanut butter treats.
PBP – Peanut Butter Pretzels
Peanut butter is great by itself but it’s better when it’s being scooped up by a lightly salted pretzel. We have two favorite ways to pair this duo:
For pretzels heavy on the PB:
● One jar of your favorite peanut butter
● One bag of pretzel bows
● Line a cookie sheet with wax paper
● Lay pretzels on cookie sheet
● Using a butter knife spread peanut butter evenly over the pretzels filling in the holes
● Make it special: Top with a few chocolate chips or M&Ms.
● Put the entire cookie sheet in the fridge for an hour to let the peanut butter harden
For pretzels light on the PB:
● One jar of your favorite peanut butter
● One bag of pretzel bows or pretzel rods
● Line a cookie sheet with wax paper
● Spread pretzels (bows or rods) on cookie sheet
● Add peanut butter to a piping bag (you can also use a Ziplock baggie)
● Heat piping bag (or baggie) in 20 second increments until contents is slightly smooth but not too liquidy
● Using a piping bag: Squeeze the bag while dispensing the peanut butter in a zigzag motion back and forth across the the pretzels
● Using a baggie: Cut the tip off the corner of the baggie to create a small hole. Follow above step for piping bag.
● Put in freezer to harden the peanut butter.
Peanut Butter Banana Sandwiches
Peanut Butter Banana Sandwiches are one of our classic favorites from childhood. If you were one of those kids worried about a soggy sandwich you probably had a PBB. The bananas balanced the dryness of the peanut butter without making your bread soggy.You may be thinking you’re a little too old to enjoy a good ol’ Peanut Butter Banana Sandwich now, but there’s an adult version we highly recommend – two banana slices, one scoop peanut butter, drizzled with honey and a sprinkled with cinnamon.
Peanut Butter Chocolate Cookies
You can never go wrong with peanut butter and chocolate. There are so many good combinations – milkshakes, Reese’s Peanut Butter cups, and of course, cookies. One of our favorite peanut butter chocolate chip cookie recipes comes from MyRecipes.com. They aren’t bad for being flourless! That’s right, this delicious chocolate chip and peanut butter combo is flourless.
Enjoy National Peanut Butter Lovers Month! What peanut butter recipes are you incorporating into your catering?
Photo by Beth Dreiling & Styling by Buffy Hargett via My Recipes
Posted In Industry Information
Posted On October 30, 2014 by John Cohen
Now that we are starting to see an uptick in the economy, together with the ever increasing rise in popularity of social media sites, couples are starting to do a little less DIY, but they are still looking for those customized, personal details for their weddings. With that, caterers are seeing more demands from clients to help make an event unique and personal. With the rising desire for a custom wedding, here are a few requests you may see this fall:
If you’ve been on Pinterest lately you’ve probably noticed the explosion of apple and pumpkin flavored cocktails. A popular craft cocktail this season is the Apple-achian, – bourbon, apple cider, and ginger ale. There are many variations of this cocktail, some with a cinnamon sugar rim, others with a cinnamon stick stirrer, but all equally delicious looking. Bourbon and apple cider are a big hit for a fall craft cocktail this year.
Another custom cocktail we are seeing a lot of this season is the signature sangria. Sparkling Apple Cider Sangria is quickly becoming a fall favorite, especially because it is easy to make a batch of and can be placed in large “serve yourself” ramekin. If you need a good apple cider sangria recipe we particularly like the one cooked up by The Kitchn.
Most custom cocktails are old classics with a new twist. If your bride and groom are looking for a craft cocktail we suggest some oldies but goodies with some new flare – Cran-Vodka with a splash of champagne, a bourbon ginger with a cinnamon sugar rim, or champagne mimosa with pear juice instead of orange juice. And don’t forget, they have to come with a wedding themed name. Blushing Bride or Grinning Groom, anyone?
Image by Todd Pellowe via Style Me Pretty
Recently brides and grooms are forgoing the standard three tiered, yellow cake in favor of a treat that better suits them and their guests. A popular choice this year is the s’more. Some serve their s’mores piping hot from the flame straight to guests while others provide s’mores kits so guests can create their own. If you’re looking for a little s’more love without all the mess we also love the S’more Cheesecake featured on BizBash.
A fall favorite that is making an appearance on the wedding scene this year is the caramel apple. But no one wants to try to eat an entire fair-sized caramel apple in the middle of a wedding, right? Couples are taking care of that by requesting mini caramel apple bites. These bite-sized morsels (produced with a melon baller, some lollipop sticks, and a little melted caramel) are the perfect addition to the fall cocktails we mentioned before.
Another cake trending cake replacement is the pie. Big pies, mini pies, apple pies, pumpkin pies – people are all about the pie this year. Maybe it’s the warmth of pies, or maybe the memory of Grandma’s pies coming out of the oven. Or perhaps people just aren’t cake people. Either way, give the people what they want. For your pie lineup this season we suggest a mix of traditional and new pies – bourbon pecan, pumpkin with a chocolate crust, s’mores pie (that’s right, we found another way to incorporate s’mores this fall), and the classic apple pie. Providing a variety of pies allows couples to satisfy multiple guests and give their wedding its own unique spin.
Whether it’s a signature cocktail or a different type of dessert bar couples are looking for ways to make their weddings special. We hope you find these fall trends helpful as you plan your upcoming fall events.
Image by Fondly Forever Photography via Wedding Chicks
Posted In Industry Information
Posted On October 22, 2014 by Susan Pupa
Picky eaters—frustrating mothers and caterers since the dawn of time. (“If you’re not hungry enough to eat that wooly mammoth meat I just gave you, then you must not really be that hungry.”) There’s one in every crowd—a picky eater, that is. Or, more likely, several picky eaters. But is it picky eaters’ faults that they’re so picky about their food? Why are some foods loved and hated with equal passion?
And, more importantly, how can you as a caterer find a way to cater to picky eaters and food lovers at the same time? Can you please the picky eaters without denying the rest of us the food we love?
Science actually has an answer. Turns out our food likes and dislikes are influenced by both nature and nurture. Our genes influence how we taste certain foods and whether or not we’re going to like certain textures. Culture, experience, and nostalgia influence what we like, too, which is why mom’s spaghetti or grandma’s apple pie will always be the best!
And remember—it’s not always the taste that bothers people. Smell and mouth feel play very strong roles in whether or not we like a food. Texture is a big one. How many times have you served someone a food they hate, perhaps well disguised, only to have them declare they love what they’re eating?
These are some of the top foods that people either love or hate—and some ways to serve each to even the pickiest of eaters.
Best to get this one out of the way early. Turns out, some people are more sensitive to a compound in cilantro, called aldehyde. People with a certain gene think that foods with this compound taste like soap or metal. Try bruising cilantro first or adding it to food while it’s cooking to help lessen its potency. Both of these actions release some of the offending compounds, which could make it more tolerable to folks who are sensitive to aldehydes. Or, if you’re serving it fresh as a garnish, because you like the full strength of it, serve it on the side and let people add their own.
It’s not just the strong taste and odor of onions that people don’t like—it’s the texture of biting down on a small crunchy thing in the middle of your sauce or soup that turns off people from onions. But the taste of onions can make or break a recipe for onion lovers. Please both parties by sautéing your onions before you add them to a recipe, perhaps with a bit of brown sugar to really bring out the sweet tones of the onions, and then puree them before adding them to your food.
Mushrooms fall heavily under the “hated texture” category. And how can you blame people? How many times have you eaten over-cooked, rubbery mushrooms? It’s enough to make the most ardent supporter hate mushrooms. On the other hand, mushrooms add such a wonderful, distinctive flavor to whatever they’re added to. They can make or break certain recipes—especially in vegetarian and vegan dishes. Consider processing mushrooms in a food processor to make mushroom crumbles, which when cooked could be mistaken for a tender ground beef. Or, take it one step further and puree them. If you make the mushroom crumble and then sauté the whole batch, you’ll release a lot of liquid. Once the mushrooms are very watery, pour the mushrooms and the liquid into a blender and puree. You can also add a little liquid, such as some broth. Or, try adding unsweetened coconut milk to make a thick mushroom cream that’s also vegan. (We recommend Trader Joe’s refrigerated unsweetened coconut milk, because it adds no coconut flavor.)
Ketchup seems to be the dividing line between food snobs and common food folk—and toddlers, who will eat ketchup like it’s a main dish. (And let’s be honest—is there anyone among us who hasn’t in a moment of desperation covered a child’s food in ketchup just to get them to eat it?) However, toddlers may be on to something. Ketchup is salty and acidic—and both flavors enhance other food flavors. If you’re thinking of offering ketchup as a condiment, try making homemade ketchup in a variety of flavors. Try adding dill or garlic—get creative! Because even the snobbiest food snob won’t be able to resist a well-flavored handmade artisanal ketchup.
OK. Even for vegetarians, it’s easy to understand why many folks hate tofu. But if it’s so bad, why do some people absolutely swear by it? What magic have they discovered? Two things—how to flavor it and how to manipulate the texture. Tofu, especially when being used as a meat substitute or as the main ingredient in a dish, needs to have a chewy texture. Try these tricks. First, freeze it. Freezing firm or extra firm tofu makes it tougher and a bit chewier. Once it defrosts, you can squeeze the liquid out of it like a sponge. And that’s the second thing. Get the liquid out of it. You can either let it sit out on paper towels and press it between plates, constantly turning it and checking it. Or, you can cut up the tofu and bake it. You can do a slow bake at 250 degrees Fahrenheit for an hour or more (or until it’s the consistency you want), or you can bake it at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for around 30-45 minutes, give or take. (This isn’t an exact science, so experiment with what works best for you in your ovens.) Once the tofu is nice and dry, you can marinade it however you like. Then, you can stir fry it, add it to soups and sauces, or bake or fry it to make delicious nugget treats.*
This list could go on and on…green peppers…oysters…black licorice…olives…What are some of the most polarizing foods you have served, and what’s your go-to method for preparing and serving them? Send us your recommendations at Total Party Planner and we’ll use the best suggestions in a future blog!
Happy cooking! And good luck with those picky eaters at your next event!
*Bonus suggestion. One of our favorite things to do is to take extra firm tofu, squeeze out the liquid, and cut the tofu into squares (which we call nuggets, because kids will eat almost anything if you call it a nugget). Spray a cookie sheet with canola oil. Then, lay the nuggets on the cookie sheet and spray them with the oil, too. Sprinkle sea salt, nutritional yeast, and garlic powder on the nuggets. Then, bake them at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about 30-45 minutes, checking them to see if they’re crisp on the outside. If you cook them too long and they turn into croutons, that’s OK, too. Add them to salads or put them in soup—they’ll absorb the broth and become soft again but with a delightfully chewy, meaty texture. Kids love these! And yes, they often dip them in ketchup.
Posted In Industry Information
Posted On October 14, 2014 by Susan Pupa
I recently had the pleasure of attending a technology conference specifically for women here in Richmond, VA. There were so many inspiring speakers, including top executives from IBM, Cisco, Capital One, and many non-profit and local tech companies as well. The Governor of Virginia even made an appearance. With so many great educational sessions and opportunities for networking, it was a hugely worthwhile event to attend.
From my experience at the conference, I was inspired on so many levels with ideas and attitudes to bring back to Total Party Planner. Here are some of my biggest takeaways that I feel can be applied to all businesses, not just technology companies:
- Invest in people and relationships: Team = Product. The quality of your product is a reflection on the relationships of your team.
- Build and invest in strong foundations: Invest in systems and infrastructure to help support your company and keep it running smoothly. We do this at Total Party Planner with having the right staff in place, along with different software programs to help manage our projects and departments. We also help provide caterers with a strong business foundation through our catering software.
- Fail Fast: It can be hard to accept that something you have been passionately invested in isn’t going as planned, but if a project or idea you have been working on doesn’t seem to be succeeding, know when to pivot and when to call it quits.
- Be Inspiring: Inspiration begins with passion and commitment, and it can grow and change. Inspire individuals, organizations, and industries through dedication, innovation, work ethic, and resilience.
After experiencing first hand how myself, and other key staff members at Total Party Planner were inspired by attending the conference, I would definitely recommend finding similar events in your area. In the words of Rebecca Jacoby, CIO and Senior Vice President of Cisco at the technology conference, “people are your only sustainable competitive advantage in business”.
Posted In Industry Information
Posted On September 9, 2014 by John Cohen
Why Caterers Are Keeping up with the Kardashians: Celebrity Catering Trends YOU Should Be Using, Too
Why should you care about what Kim and Kanye did at their wedding—or what Jessica Simpson and fiancé Eric ate at their four-day nuptials (the food for which apparently cost over $300,000, not including alcohol)?
Because celebrity-news-hungry clients are going to come to you with ideas for their own weddings and parties based on what they read in tabloids and online. And you want to be prepared. You’ll come across as the caterer in the know!
And even though many of these ideas come from weddings, they should translate well for all sorts of events, including corporate shindigs.
Here are emerging trends from 2014 celebrity weddings.
Pre-wedding eve dinners
Think rehearsal dinner, but bigger! People are starting to have bigger rehearsal dinners and are including out-of-town guests as a courtesy. We like this trend, because the evening-before meal gives hosts and guests alike a chance to catch up or get to know each other before the pressure of “the big day” hits. This strategy could be great for any large event—not just weddings. Kate Walsh of Grey’s Anatomy did a large pre-wedding dinner for her guests, as did Al Gore when his daughter got married.
Wolfgang Puck has all the best ideas—and his motto for hors d’oeuvres is if you can’t eat it in one bite, it’s too big. Think a mini-caprese on a stick, with one small cherry or grape tomato, one small piece of fresh mozzarella, and a piece of fresh basil on a stick. A potsticker with a little sauce in an elegant Asian-styled spoon that guests can eat in one slurp. Even miniature s’mores! What do you have in your catering software database that can be shrunk down and served in one small, fun bite-size portion?
Personalizing the party
You don’t have to carve your guests’ names in a marble table, the way Kimye did at their wedding, to tailor an event to your clients and their guests. Something as simple as renaming dishes from your menu after guests of honor (think things like Annie’s Alfredo and Pasta or Aunt Jenny’s Juleps) can really make guests feel special and make the event memorable. Consider getting a favorite family recipe from the hosts and making a large batch of Mama Mary’s Meatballs or Uncle Bobby’s Brown Cobbler.
For late-night events, serve a satisfying mix of savory and sweet snacks after the dinner and cake to keep guests energized as they dance and socialize through the evening. Jessica Simpson served sliders, French fries, pizza, cookies, and s’mores. Think things that are easy to eat and crowd pleasers.
We’re definitely liking the DIY trend in catering. Not only do some of these self-service ideas take minimal or no staff on your part—guests can experiment with flavors and get exactly what they want. Another great Wolfgang Puck idea is to have a well-timed barista bar, so people can get espressos, iced lattes, and other caffeinated treats just in time to prep them for the main events. Instead of a champagne toast, consider a cocktail bar—offer Champagne and Prosecco, a variety of liquors (such as Chambord, flavored brandies, Framboise, etc.), juices, and fresh fruit, and let guests come up with their own unique combinations. And finally, one trend we really like is DESSERT BARS! Mindy Weiss, wedding consultant to the stars, is seeing dessert bars that include tried-and-true favorites, such as brownies and apple pie, as well as gluten-free, vegan, low-sugar, and other inclusive options—so EVERYONE can indulge!
What’s new about themes
OK, so themed weddings aren’t new, but the themes that people choose can be very timely. For example, Sin City: A Dame to Kill is inspiring vintage film noir, black-and-white themed weddings. What are some themes you could have ready to suggest—but that you can customize to your clients’ personal interests and tastes? ‘60s “Rat Pack” theme with vintage cocktails and American cuisine…Travel and countries, like a French cuisine menu paired with a Versailles theme, à la Kimye this year…A bohemian/hippie/gypsy rhapsody, like Ashlee Simpson’s wedding…Or maybe something a little more rock ‘n’ roll, like Linda Perry and Sara Gilbert’s nuptials (although good luck getting actual ‘80s rock stars to come up and sing their own songs with the band).
And don’t forget…
Other trends we’re seeing are tall cakes (like Mariska Hargitay’s seven-feet-tall cake), lots of color (brides’ dresses are getting more colorful, and the food should match), pairings (mini fish tacos with margarita shooters, for example, or maybe barbecue sliders with a mini stout ice cream float), and a move towards organic and sustainable foods. The idea of using organic, sustainable, locally sourced food isn’t just for crunchy celebs like Alicia Silverstone. It’s a trend that’s here to stay, because it makes sense. Not only will you end up with better quality ingredients—you can often times save money by sourcing fresh ingredients locally. And it’s a bonus that it’s usually better for the environment and the community, too.
What trends are you seeing in your area? We’d love to hear about them!
Posted In Industry Information
Posted On August 19, 2014 by John Cohen
We recently had the privilege of sponsoring the Art of Catering Food Conference hosted by the International Caterers Association (ICA) and Catersource. If you are unfamiliar with the conference, it is mostly dedicated to culinary training and industry trends. There were over 500 chefs in attendance eager for a jolt of innovation from world-class caterers.
Even though Total Party Planner was there as a catering software sponsor, I was completely caught up in all the excitement of the impressive demonstrations and tastings. To say my palate was pleased is an understatement.
Just a sample of the many highlights that the conference offered were:
- Using the science of combining chemical elements to create robust flavors
- Unique and trendy appetizers
- Blending sweet and savory elements in all aspects menu creation
- Tours of 3 of the largest catering facilities in Atlanta
- Inventory control systems
- A look into the crystal ball of where culinary trends are heading
- BOH costing vs FOH selling
- Charcuterie trending appetizers
- Scallops: The OTHER shellfish
- A wickedly delicious evening extravaganza combining food stations of various artistic themes
- Pairing craft beers (a hot new trend) with foods
If that wasn’t enough, the featured presenter was Kevin Gillespie – contender on Top Chef season 6 and owner of The Gun Show in Atlanta. Kevin’s story of creating a restaurant around family stories and values literally inspired people to a standing ovation at the end. If you want to read more about Kevin, check out his website. We could (and just may!) dedicate an entire blog to Kevin.
For me, the ultimate highlight was introducing Executive Chef Adam Gooch of Purple Onion Catering before he presented his topic Sweet Meet Savory, Savory Meet Sweet. Being a long time user of Total Party Planner catering software, I was honored to introduce him and summarize his tremendous achievements in the culinary realm.
To learn more about the Art of Catering Food, you can visit the Catersource website.
If you attended The Art of Catering Food and have a personal favorite or story, please share it with us!
Posted On July 1, 2014 by Susan Pupa
When client’s give you free reign to plan every aspect of their event, you probably have some go-to tools to get the creative juices flowing. If you aren’t already using it for this aspect of your business, Pinterest is a great platform, to not only help you generate ideas, but to organize and bring everything together into a visual package.
I’ve recently had my party planner hat on, as I have been preparing to celebrate my daughter’s first birthday. All you parents out there can probably sympathize with me on how the first birthday is a pretty big deal. Not only is it a time for many of your relatives and friends to gather and spend time with your child (and perhaps watch them devour their first piece of cake), but it’s also a time for the parents to celebrate surviving that first year of parenthood!
To help me plan all the details of the party, I turned to Pinterest for inspiration. And there certainly was not a shortage of it available. Pinterest allows you to “pin” ideas or anything you find on the web that you want save. You organize them by pinning to a virtual “board”. Think of it as your cork board collecting ideas for a project. You can pin from anywhere on the web, or you can search Pinterest to see things that have already been pinned. You can search other users’ boards to find ideas and see what others are pinning.
In my planning, I created a board dedicated to the party. I then started searching using terms like “first birthday party” and “kid’s birthday party” to get some general inspiration. Later, I got a little more specific searching for types of food, dessert, and décor. I browsed other users “first birthday party” boards as well, along the way pinning whatever caught my attention. Once I had a vision of what I liked for the party, I refined my board and shaped it into what I was hoping to include. You can see an excerpt of my board here:
Using Pinterest for your internal planning is only one of the ways Pinterest can be used for your business. Pinterest is also a great social platform where clients and prospects can interact with you and everything that you have to offer. To learn more about Pinterest, visit http://about.pinterest.com/.
Posted In Industry Information