How to set up a buffet spread

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Ashlyn Ickes

Hosting parties is always a delight, yet even the most organized hostess faces the ever-present conundrum of balancing the tasks of serving her guests and enjoying the party. This is where the age-old concept of the buffet becomes the hostess’s most valuable tool. Buffets are an excellent way to lighten the load of the hostess so that she can enjoy her guests rather than being trapped in the kitchen all night. Guests may refill their plates throughout the night and eat as they mingle, allowing the hostess to float amongst her friends without having to fret about next course or glasses that need topping up. 

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The key to a successful buffet is to keep your menu balanced. Choose a number of items that can be prepared in advance and then save your last few hours to work on the one or two items that will steal the show. Also, consider the desired serving temperatures of dishes when planning your menu. Guests will likely return to the buffet line several times throughout the night, so choose dishes that are just as appetizing at room temperature as they are when fresh from the oven.

For my buffet menu, I made one of my favorites—roast chicken. I roasted my chicken with rosemary and orange slices, and lots of butter.

HOW TO MAKE ORANGE AND ROSEMARY ROASTED CHICKEN

While the chicken was roasting, I tossed some tiny potatoes in olive oil and roasted them on the bottom rack of the oven. I combined some of my favorite herbs with a bit of salt and pulsed them together with some extra virgin olive oil, then drizzled the fresh herb oil over my roasted potatoes.

HOW TO MAKE ROASTED POTATOES WITH HERB OIL AND PINE NUTS

I topped them with pine nuts and a bit of grated parmesan and they were ready to serve. The toasts for my sautéed mushroom and thyme crostini can be toasted in advance, then topped with the mushrooms just before serving.

HOW TO MAKE MUSHROOM AND THYME CROSTINI

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The pound cake and black current sauce (recipe below!) can be made the day before the party, to cut down on your prep work on the big day. This recipe makes a lovely, buttery cake and Duerr’s Black Current Preserves pair deliciously with a bit of sugar, orange zest, and red wine.

The ginger-rosemary syrup for my Rosemary & Ginger Blood Orange Punch can also be made one or two days in advance. This step not only saves time, but it also allows the flavors in the syrup to really develop.

HOW TO MAKE ROSEMARY & GINGER BLOOD ORANGE PUNCH + ICE RING RECIPE

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No one appreciates a watery punch, but room temperature soda is not incredibly appetizing either. So, we must be creative when it comes to keeping our beverages cool throughout the night of the party. On the morning of your party, fill a bundt pan with orange slices, cranberries and rosemary and then top with water and freeze until several minutes before party time. Allow the bundt pan to sit in warm water for several minutes, and then place in your punch bowl and top with your rosemary-ginger syrup, cherry juice, and World Market Blood Orange Soda. Oh, and if you can’t seem to find that punch bowl your aunt gave you as a wedding gift, just use a large glass bowl placed on top of a cake stand. Just before the guests arrive, set out several of your favorite cheeses. This slate cheese board is a great way to display them!

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I kept my table decorations simple and used pieces that would highlight the food—the true centerpiece of any buffet table. I love the old world feel that these antique-style globes provided, and the Edison string lights draped over the table were a whimsical way to add ambiance. I like to place all plates, napkins, and utensils at the beginning of the buffet line so that guests can grab everything they need. This flatware caddy is a simple yet attractive way to separate all the forks, spoons, and knives so that guests do not have to go digging for what they need.

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With a few simple tricks, and a bit of well-planned prep work, you can enjoy your next party as much as your guests.

5 Helpful Tips for Hosting a Buffet
1. Use serving pieces that can easily be picked up and refilled. No heavy platters or bulky
bowls. Choose lighter pieces that have handles for easy maneuvering.
2. Select dishes that do not have to be eaten piping hot. Dishes that can be made ahead and
assembled as the evening goes on are your secret weapons.
3. Keep the plates warm for your guests and use ice rings rather than small ice cubes to keep
drinks cold. The small cubes melt too quickly and tend to water down your beverages.
4. Allow the food to be the decoration. A buffet table is often crowded enough with just the food
and people, so choose a few simple pieces to add flair, then focus the rest of your attention on
pretty serving pieces and food arrangement.
5. Select dishes that can easily be eaten while standing up. It is best to not make your guests
juggle a bowl of soup on their lap.

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