Barbecue and grilling expert Elizabeth Karmel is famous for her restaurants in New York and Washington, D.C., but she’s a southerner at heart. Karmel grew up in North Carolina, in a family of enthusiastic scratch cooks, an experienced that shaped her approach to food and entertaining.
“One thing is for sure,” she says. “In the southern home — no matter where it is located geographically — you will never want for food and drink, and even the smallest occasion will become a rousing celebration.”
We tapped Karmel for some of her best entertaining tips, from planning a party to executing the menu. Get started with her guide below.
Advance planning and a little creativity make a great party. Do everything in advance — it’s like packing for a trip!
Who, What, Why, When & How
Fill out the who, what, when, why and how of throwing a party by deciding on the following aspects:
- Lights and candles
- Unusual touches, such as great fabrics, shawls, beads, souvenirs, quirky finds from a dollar store
- Goodie Bag
Follow this organizational checklist to make sure the scene is set:
- Must be organized—plan in advance!
- Fresh flowers—a must
- Food—that people love to eat, i.e., Junior League Artichoke Dip
- Karmel’s three dessert rule–because one is never enough and two is too few…
- Drinks—open bar or themed for the party
- Festive environment—decorate, make name cards, identifiers for the food if it is a buffet—add an ethic scarf or rug to the table, a basket of eggs for a brunch, stuffed animals for a shower etc. (a little corner with a still life that reflects the party)
- Candles and luminaries are nice touch. Try tea lights in mason jars for a casual get-together
- Plan Activities—party games from the simple (write down something that no one knows about you and the party guesses) to croquet, volley ball, badminton, movies, etc. One of the best parties I went to was a woman’s dinner where we decorated plain canvas throw pillows.
- Goodie Bag—we are all about the little “somethin’…som’thin…” Always give a goodie bag and bring a hostess gift if you are going to a party.
- Dress to fit the party—casual for yard games, more formal for tea, bathing suits for a pool party etc. The host/hostess should always plan his/her outfit in advance.
Creating the menu:
- Remember that the first taste is with the eyes. Use colorful vegetables, fruits and herbs to entice the palate.
- Balance the meal with lean and rich foods to insure everyone is satisfied but not stuffed.
- Likewise, combine simple and complex flavors and techniques. Try a complex main course like Grilled Butterflied Duck with Spicy Watermelon Glazefollowed by fragrant baked fruit such as peach or apricots with simple vanilla ice cream.
Executing the menu:
- Make a grocery list, detailing what can be bought in advance versus the day of the event.
- Create a day-by-day cooking list, starting with foods that will hold or can be frozen.
- Delegate other tasks, such as cleaning, setting up the bar, filling the propane tanks, etc.
- Make it easy on yourself by taking baby steps. A task a day makes the party seem effortless, and you won’t be lying when you say, “Oh, it was nothing!”