I’m a sucker, I really, really am. It’s the busiest time of the year, I have a mountain of essays to mark, a festive celebration to plan and a child to entertain, but oops, I’ve done it again…and not in a cool Britney kind of way. My sin? I offered to cater the work Christmas party…for the third time.
Now, I understand the phrase “will she never learn” may spring to mind, but in my defence, how can I not be swept up in the praise and the adulation of my colleagues, the begging, the pleading, the handwringing as they flail about chanting “ONLY YOU, Champagne Tara, ONLY YOU can save Christmas!”
I may or may not have been exaggerating about the flailing.
My tale of woe began three years ago. I happened to walk into the main office when the upcoming Christmas party was being discussed. The receptionist was just putting a call in to catering and I listened, aghast, at the sorry line-up of fried, frozen, reheated muck that she was ordering, made even more depressing by the fact that I, as a pescetarian, would not be able to enjoy the goujons, sausage rolls, party pies and so on. So, in an uncharacteristic moment of generosity, I announced to the assembled masses (the two receptionists) “ALL RIGHT. I’LL DO IT” with a grand sweep of my arm. I like to imagine that I collapsed on my sword at that point as well.
“Do what?” the confused receptionist enquired.
“Cater!” I replied. “I shall cater the work party”.
“Can you cook?” came the slightly irritating reply.
“Well, yes. Would I be stupid enough to offer my services if I couldn’t cook? I can. And it shall be magnificent. What’s the budget?”
And this, folks, is where we hit our first hurdle. I had a meagre one hundred of the local currency with which to create my grand feast for thirty. It took a bit of fancy footwork, but needless to say, it was a triumph with delicacies such as crab salad wontons, homemade dips, handcrafted sushi, Thai chicken bites, Christmas pudding truffles. Combined with the cheapest alcohol known to humankind, it was quite an event, and the reviews were excellent. They loved me. They really loved me.
So here I am, three Christmases later, planning the latest extravaganza, cutting costs where possible, making a little go a long way in these harsh financial times, and loving every moment of it.
If you are ever in the unfortunate position of having to cater for your work Christmas party on a tight budget, here are some useful tips (and a few recipe ideas):
- Try to create a menu with some hot, some cold and some sweet finger foods. For our office party, reheating is difficult, so the only hot options I have are those that can be reheated in a microwave, which means no pastry.
- Vary the foods and flavours so there is always something for everyone. I tend to make mostly vegetarian options (to keep the costs down) with a few seafood items (for that touch of luxury) and only one meat (mostly because I’ve never really cooked meat and there is something a tad tragic about bringing down an entire Faculty of Public Health with food poisoning).
- Keep a record of what you serve and make a note afterwards of the items that are popular and those that languish a little too long on the plate. It helps you decide what to make next time.
- Economise by “matching” recipes to make the maximum use of ingredients. For example, I make hot smoked salmon with hollandaise in filo pastry cups which will use 3 egg yolks. I’ll then find a meringue or mousse that will use up the three egg whites. Or if you’re using lime zest in one recipe, fine a matching recipe that will use lime juice.
- Look at all the recipes you’ve selected and work out which steps can be prepared a day or two in advance. It might be just a matter of chopping or grating and then storing, but these small steps are a massive time-saver when you’re rushing to bring it all together on the day.
- Finally, enjoy a glass or two of bubbles at the event, but not too many too quickly without eating – trust me, you can lose an entire evening that way!
Tune in Monday for part 2: quick, easy finger food for all your parties!