When hosting a crowd, look beyond the holiday staples for a meal that’s both farm-fresh and festive.
By Cathy Martin • Photos by Tim Robison
If you’re turkey-tired (read: tired of turkey) — there are plenty of other options for hosting a festive gathering at home this holiday season. For a few party-planning tips and menu ideas beyond the tried-and-true, SouthPark turned to the team at Roots Catering, which provides catering services for weddings, corporate and social events from 10 to 3,000.
“We really specialize and thrive on creating nontraditional menus for people, things we haven’t tried before, and that [customers] have never seen before,” says Craig Barbour, a former food-truck entrepreneur who launched the business in 2015 after catering orders began outpacing his truck business. Barbour, a Johnson & Wales University grad whose resume includes stints at Carmel Country Club and Barrington’s, also owns Roots Café, a counter-service lunch and breakfast spot in South End that emphasizes locally sourced ingredients.
“When creating a menu for a large group of people, I always have two pieces of advice,” Barbour says. “The first one is to make sure you want to do it yourself,” he says. If you’re busy keeping up with everything in the kitchen, you could miss the most memorable parts of the party, such as playing games till midnight and catching up with friends and family.
If you do decide you want to tackle the meal prep yourself, Barbour offers this guidance: “Make sure the majority of the menu can be done the day before: Crock-Pot and one-pot dishes and casseroles, and cold things that can be made and put on a platter and put in the fridge.”
Carolina bison cocktail meatballs with bourbon-cherry glaze
“These you can prepare ahead of time,” Barbour says. “You could very easily make the meatballs, put in a slow cooker and put the sauce over it,” freeing up time to socialize or tend to other menu items.
Pumpkin toast with local goat cheese and sunflower seeds
“For the pumpkin toast, you can make the crostinis [in advance] and have them toasted and ready to go. The same with the pumpkin puree.” The result is a quick, attractive appetizer.
A balanced bar is important, according to Kellyn Stamey, Roots Catering’s vice president of sales and development. “Keep the bar stocked with a sweeter, lighter cocktail and a warmer, dryer option. Avoid cocktails that are too spirit forward — most of your guests will be driving and should still be able to indulge in a drink or two,” she says. “Stick with flavor profiles that match the season, and add a fun garnish to round out the perfect holiday bar menu.”
Warm Spice Old Fashioned
2 tsp. spiced simple syrup
2 dashes orange bitters
2 oz. rye whiskey
2-inch orange peel
For the spiced simple syrup:
In a small sauce pot, combine 1 cup sugar and ¾ cup water, ¼ tsp. Saigon cinnamon (found at your local spice shop), 2 whole cloves and 1/8 tsp. nutmeg. Stirring frequently, dissolve the sugar and bring the mixture to a simmer. Once it reaches a simmer and the sugar has all dissolved, remove from the heat, place a lid on it and let it steep for 10 minutes. Strain through a coffee filter while the mixture is still hot.
Place in an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for up to one month.
For the cocktail:
Add the simple syrup, bitters and whiskey to the glass. Stir to combine. Add in ice cubes: It is important to try and use the largest ice cubes possible so the drink does not water down too quickly. Stir for at least 15 seconds. Add the cherry and cinnamon stick. Twist the orange peel over the glass and place into the cocktail.
Roasted carved pork tenderloin
with lemongrass and local honey
“The key to get flavor out of lemongrass is to crack the back of it … it will start to leech a little bit of liquid, then lay it on the pan and place the pork tenderloin on top.” Barbour prefers his pork tenderloin on the medium side, or until the inside temperature reaches about 145 degrees. “As soon as it comes out of the oven, brush with honey, and the meat will continue to carmelize. Then pour a little stock in the bottom of pan to make a sauce.”
Cornish game hens with Provencal herbs and garlic fingerling potatoes
“This is a one-pot family dish … It’s better to prepare this in the morning, and you can pop it in the oven as soon as guests start to arrive,” Barbour says, adding that Cornish hens take less time to bake than whole roaster chickens — about 45 minutes to an hour.
For the potatoes, mix the herbs de Provence a in bowl with some garlic and salt and pepper, and stream in oil until it starts to become a paste. Cut the larger fingerlings in half. Toss the potatoes in the oil and garlic mixture, place on a pan with the game hens on top, and bake at 375 degrees.
“You want game hens to cook, the potatoes to roast, and the fat from the game hens to drip down over the potatoes,” Barbour says.
Cauliflower au gratin with salted cream and clove
This “super-easy” side is similar to au gratin potatoes, Barbour says, and can be partially pre-baked. “One tip to make it easier is you can make it in individual ramekins,” he says. Fill the ramekins three-fourths of the way with cream, top with sea salt, cheese and perhaps a little garlic, and bake on low. “The result is crispy cheese on top with a creamy base.”
Roasted rainbow beets with yuzu and Thai chili
“This recipe is great because you can roast everything the day before, place it on an oven-safe dish or platter, and then just heat it gently uncovered the following day,” Barbour says. The addition of carrots and radish increases the dish’s appeal to guests “who still have not turned the corner on beets,” he says. “You can also cool [the vegetables] down after roasting and serve them over greens for a hearty salad and pair with a vinaigrette that is creamy or heavy on the lemon or black pepper.”
Clementine cheesecake with dark chocolate glass
“Winter is citrus season, that’s when you start seeing clementines, blood oranges in stores,” Barbour says. For this classic New York cheesecake recipe, Roots’ pastry chef Courtney Satterfield makes a curd with clementine juice and whips it into the cake batter.
After baking, it’s important to allow the cheesecakes to cool completely and chill before adding the chocolate glass (similar to a ganache), Barbour says. “The key is making sure the cheesecake is ice cold, and the chocolate is not boiling hot before pouring over the top.”
For a garnish, Satterfield adds easy-to-make candied clementine slices. For these little gems, slice a few unpeeled clementines, place on a roasting rack with a little cooking spray, sprinkle sugar on top and bake at 300 degrees for 30 minutes. Cool completely for a crispy, crunchy garnish.
MORE TIPS & TRICKS
from Roots Catering’s Kellyn Stamey
Let them graze
“We’ve seen it a dozen times — no one wants to be the first person to hit the food table. It sits untouched for the first 45 minutes of the party. But once the first person bellies up and makes a plate, it gets hit HARD until the end of the party! We recommend staging a grazing table that guests can pick over all night long.
Avoid dishes that need to be served fresh right out of the oven (read: cold and mushy by the time they’re eaten) and opt for room-temperature small bites; cheese and charcuterie; warm dips that can be kept hot in a chafing dish or Crock-Pot; chilled seafood; and mid-rare beef tenderloin.
Choose items that are easy to pick up and eat in one or two bites — your guests will likely have a drink in hand and not want to find a place to sit and eat with a fork and knife.”
Hearty vs. healthy
“While recognizing the importance of eating healthy, keep in mind that in colder months your guests will lean towards heartier options. Make sure to have a couple of vegetarian and gluten-free options, and feel free to substitute veggies in wherever you can, but plan for your guests to eat less of the crudites and more of the stick-to-your ribs fare. The holidays are often a time when people indulge, but that doesn’t mean indulgence can’t come with a dose of farm fresh produce.”
Quick and easy
“If you are planning to entertain several times over the holidays, or are attending a variety of put-luck style parties, cheese-and-charcuterie is your best quick-and-easy friend. Cured meats and gourmet cheeses can be purchased in bulk and used in small portions over the course of the holidays, so if you’re staring down the barrel of five or six functions, rest easy knowing that your spread is already prepped in the fridge.
No matter what else is served, everyone loves to indulge on a cheese board, so you won’t be stuck trying to pawn off leftovers to the host or your guests at the end of the party. For an appetizer, we recommend 2 ounces of cheese per person and 1 ounce of meat. Don’t skimp on the crackers and bread — you’ll need at least four pieces per person. Dress up the board with some fresh rosemary sprigs for a festive touch!” SP