How to Create a Meal to Remember

Our food editor reveals the keys to planning and serving the perfect spread.

BY October 14, 2016

Know I’m biased, but I bet most people would agree: The heart of any party is breaking bread—be it crostini at a cocktail soiree or a crusty loaf passed around the dinner table.

From my years writing about food, drinks and entertaining along the Gulfshore and beyond, I’ve come up with a small arsenal of tricks for crafting a memorable menu.


Before letting your creative juices flow, you’ll need to settle just when you’re inviting people over and how long you want to spend eating.

If you are hosting a luncheon, your guests will expect to eat light. Would you want gorgonzola-crusted chateaubriand? Don’t think so. Therefore, protein-rich salads, grilled fish or finger foods are your bread and butter.

No matter the time of day, you also need to factor how the event will flow: Do you want people to graze all evening? Do you want light hors d’oeuvres followed by a hefty spread? For any more than six guests, especially if you are throwing a multicourse seated dinner, consider hiring a caterer—it will make you sleep easier many nights before and after, which is hard to put a price tag on.

DIY devotees, give yourself enough of what we never, ever seem to have enough of (time), and tackle as much prep work in advance as possible. Write a to-do list and then count backward from the hour you’d like the food to be served. Be realistic, and then add on a grace period. Don’t fear using tried-and-true recipes, and if braving new ones, do a test run in advance—if it says you need 30 minutes, unless you’re Rachael Ray or Wonder Woman, it could take much longer.



You always hope the party gods will be kind to you, but there are certain decisions you can make to help the stars align in your favor.

Ever notice that more often than not ceviche is served at large events?

It’s because that dish, like revenge (godly or otherwise), is best served cold.

If you study our local caterers, they often plan menus thinking about what’s beyond their control. When feeding 50 guests, it’s undoubtedly easier to keep individual portions cool or room temperature (nothing’s worse than lukewarm soup or soggy quiches).

The logic also goes for how your location plays into what you offer. An afternoon beachside reception begs for a chilled orzo salad with champagne vinaigrette and vibrant herbs—not so much a sizzling slab of meat slathered in mustard.



There’s no better way to capture attention than to have a signature cocktail for an event, be it a dinner party at home or a gigantic gala. As intrigue with Brazil has reached a fever pitch (from the Olympics on TV to Havaianas on our feet), this spicy tropical libation is perfect for our cooler nights or a February carnival fête. Adjust proportions accordingly—the simple syrup is written to cover more than 100 cocktails (if serving fewer, halve the ingredients)—and cachaça, a Brazilian spirit distilled from sugarcane juice and the toast of mixologists, can be substituted with light rum.



There’s a reason peas and carrots have had a long-running relationship—they work really well together. Green offsets orange, smooth balances toothsome al dente. The same can be said when writing a menu.

Even though it’s easy to run to Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s and buy a package of cocktail hot dogs or mini-pizzas, do they really go with hummus and tabouleh? Or, likewise, would you eat tzatziki alongside chips and guacamole at dinner?

Whether you’ve got set courses or platters for picking, opt for a theme and stick to it. Cuisines from around the Mediterranean were practically invented for this: Spanish tapas, Italian antipasto, Greek meze (each region has enough cheese, bread, olive and salad types to fill several tables). But apply this rule to any fiesta, and you’ll be golden, be it a Labor Day barbecue (chips with blue cheese, chopped watermelon salad, cheeseburgers with cocottes of sharp cheddar mac and cheese) or a Christmas cocktail party (rosemary-cranberry mule, gougères, mushroom-thyme tarts). 



Thai chili simple syrup

2 quarts simple syrup (see note)

1/2 pound fresh Thai chili peppers


1 1/2 parts freshly squeezed lime juice

1/2 parts Thai chili simple syrup

2 parts cachaça

Lime wedges, for garnish

Fresh Thai chili peppers, for garnish

To make Thai chili simple syrup: Bring simple syrup to a boil and add peppers. Simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool in the refrigerator overnight. Strain, discarding peppers. Keep syrup chilled until serving.

To make cocktail: For 1 cocktail, mix ingredients measured in ounces in a cocktail shaker. Pour in a lowball glass with ice garnished with a lime wedge and chili. For a large batch, adjust amounts accordingly and mix ingredients together. Prepare glasses as needed with ice, lime wedges and chilies; divide mixture among them.

Note: Simple syrup is available for purchase at liquor stores but much better if made at home using a 1:1 ratio of white sugar and water, bringing water to a boil while whisking to dissolve sugar. Syrup may be stored in the refrigerator for up to five days. Demerara sugar can also be used for a richer syrup. Recipe courtesy of Lurcat Catering



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