Monday, April 11, 2011

Tips for a Big Gathering

My Dad turned 75 just a week after my mom’s birthday, so it was time for another family gathering – this time for 40 people!  We convened at my sister Janet’s house this time (God bless her for cleaning till her entire house sparkled!).  My Dad was surprised and delighted to see so many family members and friends come to celebrate with him.  We wanted to make this milestone special, and with a crowd that size, good organization and paying attention to the details made all the difference in the world! 
We picked the color scheme from some napkins my sister already had – burnt orange, olive green, gold and chocolate brown.  We took one napkin to the cake shop so they could match the colors on the birthday cake. 
For the flowers, we used groupings of glass vials.  You can get them for a couple bucks each at places like Target and Michael’s.  With flowers purchased at our local Sam’s Club and some ribbon, we were able to create a florist-worthy bouquet for probably a third of the cost.

 We served things buffet-style, but dressed it up with some simple tricks.  We used boxes, storage containers, and pedestal cake plates to place serving dishes at different heights (see video), and covered it all with coordinating fabric purchased at the local fabric store.  We arranged everything the day before, placing post-it notes on each serving dish noting what food would be placed in each – no scrambling for a dish once the party started.

With the exception of our meats, all other dishes were prepped the day before.  We brought everything out of the fridge just before the party started so it would be room temperature for serving.  Even the items for the fruit salad were cut the day before – but we kept each one bagged separately and mixed just before serving.  A few things – like the asparagus, cheese bread and green beans – needed to go into the oven, but we made sure they all could be at the same temperature. 

Tortellini Salad
1 cup white balsamic vinegar
1 ½ cups vegetable oil
4 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 teaspoons oregano
Salt and pepper
Place vinegar, garlic, cloves, tomato paste and oregano in blender.  Turn on and off to chop up the garlic.  With blender running, slowly add the vegetable oil.  Season to taste. 
2 packages (about 20 oz. each) frozen cheese tortellini, cooked.
2 cans (14 oz. each) quartered artichoke hearts, drained.
4 ounces sun-dried tomatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces. 
1 small red onion , cut in half length-wise and thinly sliced.
1 package (4 oz.) crumbled feta, divided in half.
Fresh baby spinach (about half of one 6 oz. package)
Grape tomatoes.
Combine cooked tortellini, artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes, onion slices and half of the feta cheese.  Pour half of the dressing over salad.  Chill.  Can be left overnight in the refrigerator.  When ready to serve, add additional dressing if the tortellini has absorbed all of the dressing.  Add the fresh spinach, toss and sprinkle with the remaining feta, grape tomatoes and additional spinach leaves for garnish.   Makes a lot and keeps for several days – our family fights over the left-overs.

To keep the party a surprise until the last minute, our older nephews served as valets, parking everyone’s cards around the block.  My oldest daughter labeled envelopes with the name, model, and color of each car for easy retrieval at the end of the party.  The result:  we surprised our Dad, probably for the first time in our lives!

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