how do you plan a menu when you entertain
I am cooking for some staff at work and because I don't know them very well, I'm not sure how to plan the menu.
It's casual, for lunch in the board room. I'll survey for dietary restrictions but other than that, I would love to hear some guidance about how you plan an event.
How many people? I like to plate for 10 or less. The other night I fixed dinner for people I mostly didn't really know: two Germans, two Dutch, two Colombians, and two one-legged Kenyans who had come to qualify for the para-olympics in bicycle road racing.
Started with individually constructed salads with different greens, sliced olives, sauteed sliced mushrooms, carrot, red onion, green onion, finely sliced Pec Rom, and the like--dressed with a slightly honey-sweet vinaigrette. No risk and enjoyed by all.
The main was cachama (an Amazon fish) fillets in teriyaki w/ lots of grated ginger: again no risk. Served a chopped (hot) chili, soy, lime juice, and toasted sesame oil sauce on the side for those wanting spicier. One of the Dutch guys said it was the best fish he'd ever eaten. The Kenyans said it was food just like from home (They ate a lot and their race was the next day). Plain rice for the side.
Dessert was fresh chilled pineapple that had been sprinkled with sugar, chopped mint, a bit of chili powder--all first ground in a mortar.
The planning: low risk foods with alternatives (in this case the spicy sauce for the fish for those who wanted it). Attention to presentation and good, simple ingredients rather than more razzmatazz seemed to work for the mixed group.
I start with the kind of event (like lunch in the board room--will you have a kitchen available?).
Light meal, I usually think of a composed salad of some sort with some breads (biscuits? I like to do a plain and maybe one with some kind of meat/cheese in it--I made lunch for some friends recently and had biscuits with pancetta and provolone mixed into the dough).
Cookies and fruit for dessert, since it's casual.
Plenty of sparkling water, iced tea, coffee.
No matter what the meal is, I keep in mind the season. And if I'm serving something involved for the main course, I keep everything else simpler. (Though that's not always true when it comes to dessert.)
This may seem sort of obvious but I suggest you plan your menu around seasonal items. There is all kinds of nice squash, lettuce and greens available this time of year. Down here, in Louisiana, the citrus is coming in and looks great. Maybe a hearty, squash soup, salad with citrus vinaigrette and satsuma slices, that sort of thing. The shrimp and crab are looking wonderful as well; i would probably use some of them.
As the other posters said, I usually think about the guests, the season and the type of event. Then, I start looking online for inspiring recipies. I cut and paste these into a word file and play around with them until I have a menu I am happy with. Then, I write the list of courses on the top of the document in bold and then the shopping list underneath. I print this out and use it in all my prep. Having it on pages I don't care about and can easily fold up and take to the store is a great help.
I agree that for this you should think seasonal, but you should also think about what's easily transported. I suggest some kind of salad (pasta?). I also made an amazing butternut squash and spinach gratin the other day (off epicurious) that got rave reviews from my dinner guests and is light enough for lunch.
Good luck, and mostly, have FUN!