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Food & Wine

Hints for slimmer parties: Advance food preparation frees host and hostess

For those looking to host a party at home, food is always a top consideration.

What type of food should you serve? How much should you buy? How far ahead should you prepare the dishes?

Carole Orlando, a personal chef and owner of Carole in Your Kitchen Inc., and Paul Alexander, owner of Continental Caterers, have a few suggestions to help a struggling host plan a great meal for guests.

To re-

main attentive to your guests, Alexander and Orlando suggest buying the food two days ahead of time and preparing it the day before the party. According to them, waiting until the last minute is one of the most common mistakes people make when hosting a party.

"The biggest thing, I would say, is they wait until the last minute (to prepare food). ... Most of the preparation must be done before guests arrive," Alexander said. "Most things you can make the day before a party."

Another way to avoid the last-minute rush is to order ingredients in advance. Orlando suggests ordering meat and produce ahead of time from your local grocery store.

"Talk to the produce manager and tell him what you'll need ... about a week ahead of time," she said.

In addition, she suggests barbecuing as a way to be attentive to the food and your guests at the same time, since summer parties are typically held outdoors.

"You want your preparation done ahead of time so you can entertain your guests," Orlando said. "You don't want to be inside, stuck in the kitchen."

Alexander added that barbecuing is a fun way to host a party. "I think doing a barbecue is a fun, interactive thing," he said. "It also emphasizes the freshness of the food."

As for the menu, Orlando suggests starting the party with a simple appetizer, such as bruschetta, because it's easy to make.

"Usually people are more health-conscious (today), and they like lighter foods," she said.

For the main course, Orlando said, grilling meat such as pork tenderloin or chicken on the barbecue is a popular choice. Unlike meats such as steak and ahi tuna, pork and chicken are more affordable, as well as lean and flavorful.

Orlando said a simple marinade can be brushed onto the meat before grilling, like her pork tenderloin with a sweet and minty orange soy sauce.

Grilling vegetables alongside the meat gets two things done at once. She said portabello mushrooms coupled with any variety of bell pepper are great for grilling.

Orlando added that a great way to get guests to interact during the meal is to have them get up and serve themselves.

"Buffet-style is always very nice ... and a wide variety is always nice too, because not everyone eats the same thing," she said.

As for dessert, keeping it simple is the best way to go, according to Orlando. For the summer, she suggests fresh fruit such as strawberries combined with a scoop of ice cream as a flavorful and simple dessert. Orlando sometimes drizzles a simple ginger syrup over the fruit and ice cream.

Another common mistake made by hosts is the amount of food they buy - it's either too much or too little. Orlando recommends about 6 ounces of meat per guest as a good way to estimate portions. Although there is no magic formula to calculate the amount of vegetables required, Orlando typically buys about 15 portabello mushrooms and 10 bell peppers for parties with 20 guests.

Alexander added that one of the most important aspects of a party is familiarity with the type of food that is served.

"You need to be comfortable with the food you're serving," Alexander said. "You don't want to take the opportunity to try new recipes (for guests)."

Carole Orlando is a personal chef and manufactures her own "dinner-in-a-basket" food packages. For more information on Carole in Your Kitchen Inc., call (408) 978-2986 or logon to www.caroleinyourkitchen.com.

Paul Alexander is the owner of Continental Caterer, located at 441 El Camino Real in Menlo Park. For more information, call 322-4189 or logon to www.continentalcaterer.com.

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