Planning a luncheon for a crowd can be a daunting task, particularly if you are hosting in a kitchen or space that is not your own home. For a friend's recent baby shower, I tried my hand at casual catering for the first time. After stocking up on industrial-sized Tupperware at TJ Maxx and decorative chalkboard labels, I began to plan a menu of easy-to-prepare cold dishes that could be assembled the day of the event.
Everybody loves a good scone on a weekend morning, so I decided to make a batch of lemon poppy seed scones the night before; the scones can be stored in an air-tight container overnight and still taste fresh upon serving.
Second, I planned for a large cheese and meat platter. At your local cheese counter, you can pick from a variety of cheese types that can be pre-cut into bite-sized pieces the night before. I would recommend serving the cheeses alongside sliced salami and prosciutto, olives, grapes or dried fruit (apricots are my favorite), and some spiced nuts. I have a recipe for cinnamon-spiced almonds, but you can easily swap the almonds for pecans, cashews or a blend of your favorites.
For the "main dishes" of the buffet, I decided to do a combination of finger sandwiches and a cold quinoa salad. You can buy fresh ciabatta bread or baguette at your local market, and pre-slice it into smaller two-inch pieces. I would recommend cutting the bread the day of the event to preserve freshness. You can assemble a variety of sandwich types; I decided to serve two vegetarian sandwiches, including tomato, mozzarella and homemade pesto as well as brie, apple, honey, and caramelized onion. For the quinoa salad, I combined roasted butternut squash, microgreens, dried cranberries and goat cheese for a hearty and colorful dish to round out the buffet.
I find at showers that guests become preoccupied with gift opening or talking with friends, so for dessert I focused on packaging decorative favors that people could grab on their way out and enjoy later. I used my recipe of toffee caramel popcorn.
I truly enjoyed this first opportunity to cater a larger event for friends. With a big cooler, a well-planned menu, and some detailed time management, I was able to pull off the transport of the food to the site of the shower and the assembly the day-of without any major challenges. I look forward to the next one!