SIX THINGS TO CONSIDER WHEN PLANNING A MENU AT HOME
1. It is important to match the menu to the time of day. If you want to serve only light hors d'oeuvres or teas sandwiches, then invite your guests from 2-5 for tea or 3-5 for a light cocktail menu. If you plan your menu for a meal time, 11:30 -1:30, or 5-8, it is important to provide enough food to make a meal. Just because you say it is a reception or a tea or cocktails that doesn't change what people expect to eat at that time of day.
2. Do your best to have a general idea of food preferences and allergies of your guests. Because so many people are now acutely attune to their food sensitivities, it is important to try and offer some menu items that are edible for everyone. Preparing the menu for a seated dinner has become quite complex. You may find yourself preparing and serving two menus simultaneously unless you plan very carefully.
3. Include special items on your menu which are grown or raised in your area. For an example, if you are in Hawaii it is hard to plan a meal without including one of our amazing local fish. However, you may decide to prepare it grilled with garlic, olive oil and fresh rosemary which is not a traditional Hawaiian approach. Or you might make a pineapple salsa to go with a spring roll filled with fresh local avocado, basil and cilantro and duck. Hawaiian grown duck is not readily available but the other primary ingredients are examples of the wonderful produce that is available here year round.
4. Speaking of in season, in 2016 we are accustomed to having ALL fruits and vegetables ALL the time in our local grocery. When you start focusing on using fresh, locally available food it requires a little more menu discipline and planning because all locally grown fruits and vegetables are not available all the time. In many areas lists are available of what you can expect to find at the farmer's market each month. Farm Fresh has a comprehensive list of fruits and vegetable and when you can generally expect to find them fresh at the farmer market.
This list can help when thinking through your menu before going to the market. If you are lucky enough to live in a tropical climate, this is less of an issue. However, even in Hawaii some tropical fruits, like mangoes, are not harvested year round.
5. Try not to be redundant unless you turn it into a theme. If you are serving Chilled Tomato Basil Soup, you may not want to serve a tomato cucumber salad and a stuffed tomato with the entree. On the other hand if you are excited about the great tomatoes you are harvesting from your garden then go ahead and make it a theme and have it cleverly included in each course.
6. Avoid too many starchy items. If every hors d' oeuvres you are serving is on toast or in pastry you may not want to serve your soup in a bread bowl and have pasta for the main course.