WHETHER HOSTING A PARTY IN THE SWELTERING HEAT OF SUMMER or at more temperate times, good spirits and a good menu are crucial ingredients to a successful soiree. Small dishes and finger foods are on-trend right now, and it’s not just a seasonal fad. Particularly when it comes to more casual affairs, some hosts are opting out of heavier entrees, or at least making sure to offer them accompanied by lighter — yet still indulgent — fare. Our appetites might wane during the hotter part of year, but that doesn’t mean you have to skimp on substance or flavor when it comes to menu planning.
Barrie Schwartz, founder of My House Social event planning (www.myhousesocial.com), curates custom menus for private events and works with a range of local chefs. She says finger foods and other culinary items that one can load onto a small plate allow guests to sample a variety of foods without becoming uncomfortably full.
She also has observed that partygoers are much more adventurous these days when it comes to testing out new foods. “We want to try as much as we can,” she says.
For hosts, “putting a lot of little things on the table can be more economical, depending on the service style you want,” Schwartz says. It also helps to have a variety of options to accommodate guests with food allergies, dietary restrictions and other sensitivities.
Anne B. Churchill, a chef, consultant and caterer (504-236-3680; www.annebchurchill.com), agrees that serving food in petite portions is more convenient. It’s also more inviting: “It’s more social [and] you get to try more flavors and textures,” she says.
Yields about 12 miniature “shots” of dip
Leah Berhanu, director of sales and marketing for Pigeon Catering and Events (535 S. Clark St., 504-262-0412; www.pigeoncaterers.com) has worked in the hospitality industry for 14 years and says smaller, manageable dishes are a lasting trend.
She says New Orleans’ generally relaxed environment is a key factor in this. “We tend to be a little less formal and like to eat while we are doing everything,” she says. “Having quick, pick-up, bite-sized dishes helps with keeping the party going.”
This can include charcuterie, cheese and antipasti selections to munch on throughout the event. Think about it: It’s easier to dance with a caprese skewer in hand (as long as you don’t accidentally stab someone) and a drink in the other, than it is to try to juggle a po-boy or other food coma-inducing dish.
Many of the requests Churchill gets are for traditional South Louisiana food in bite-sized pieces.
Boudin balls, meat pies and local seafood dishes are among the most popular requests, she says. She also makes mini versions of chicken and waffles. Another crowd-pleaser is smoked catfish dip, which she often serves with a spread of crudites and other dips, such as pimiento cheese and pates.
“Anything that is toast-based is good throughout the year,” Schwartz says, adding that shrimp also works year-round.
Churchill likes to adapt certain mainstays in accordance with the season. Using lamb as an example, she says, in the spring and summer, “I would do mini shawarma sandwiches and make little pita breads from scratch or pasilla chili lamb meatballs with cucumber and yogurt.” During winter, she’d make something heartier, like a braised lamb curry that can be served in a small dish. Something like a lamb BLT could be served any time of year.
While some elements can be incorporated year-round, it’s important to pay attention to what’s in season, as it not only feels and tastes right for the time of year, but it also can support farmers markets and other local food purveyors.
During warmer months, Schwartz says she receives lots of requests for produce like local strawberries and heirloom tomatoes. These months typically yield a “more veggie-forward” menu. Churchill often creates chilled soups that are gazpacho-inspired during spring and summer, which work during the any warm weather (even the unseasonable kind).
“It’s at the host’s discretion and comfort level,” Churchill says. “Some folks want to hammer out a menu the day they reserve the date. I like to get a general idea of what is going to be served and then see what’s beautiful at the farmer’s market the week of.”
Don’t overlook dessert. In sticking with the “smaller is bigger” concept, dainty bites of ice cream or gelato, macarons and other artisanal sweets always are a welcome finale to the end of any culinary adventure.