Chef’s Table is an occasional feature in which local culinary professionals and home chefs weigh in with tips and techniques that can be put to use in the home kitchen on topics including, but not limited to, ingredients, dishes and cooking equipment.
With the holidays fast approaching, parties are on the menu for many home cooks. While gatherings of family, friends and co-workers vary in theme and tone, favorite dishes are always a welcome addition to buffet spreads. With this in mind, we connected to our network of local chefs for inspiration. The assignment was to share buffet table offerings to impress guests without stressing out hosts.
But a funny thing happened along the way to this feature: we discovered that, not surprisingly, many in the professional food trade are a bit too busy creating and preparing to share at this time.
Two exceptions were Danielle Weybright, executive chef at Sazzy B for Grease & Honey Family of Restaurants, and Tom Morelli, co-owner of Morelli’s Deli, 7506 Seventh Ave.
Weybright offered Celery Root Mash, what she calls a good “dinner setting side dish.” Basically, this is a flavorful but starchless alternative to mashed potatoes. To serve, Weybright says, it can be put on a hot plate or enjoyed family style right away.
When talking about party hosting, organization and preparation are the order of the day, Weybright said.
“Make as many things as possible ahead of time and assemble day of,” she said. “This is the biggest thing for me in the (professional) kitchen as well.”
Asked what faux pas are most often made by non-professional party hosts, she said, “A lot of people over-complicate things.”
A common piece of advice for hosts is to never make a dish you haven’t made before for company. While it makes sense to not want a “fail” on your holiday table, the intention to create something new and interesting for a party is a good one.
Weybright agrees that new recipes can and should be made. Her tip: “Read a recipe like a book; read it through before you even start it,” Weybright suggests. “Digest it and then dive in.”
She also suggests doing a trial run with a new recipe first. “Cut it in half and test it out on family and friends.”
Knowing your end goal is the biggest thing, Weybright said.
Because she is hard at it in the kitchen at Sazzy B, 5623 Sixth Ave., Weybright says that at home she tries to keep things simple. “At home I get to try different things in a more relaxed atmosphere. When I have parties I do minimal cooking.”
Offering ways for party hosts to keep things tasty and simple is what caterer and deli owner Tom Morelli does on a daily basis. His motto: “Set it and forget it. Keep it warm and let it go.”
Morelli suggested several frequently requested holiday table items, including mini cannelloni or mini meatballs in marinara sauce; Italian beef or pulled pork; and a medley of red, yellow and green peppers sautéed and steamed with Italian sausages cut into 1 1/2-to-2-inch pieces.
“Mini cannelloni or meatballs in marinara sauce are very popular and very easy for a hostess,” Morelli said.
His deli offers half-ounce meatballs from Primo Gusto, a brand offered through Gordon Foods. These are heated with a marinara sauce of the same brand.
Morelli is picky about the brands he sells. “It took a lot of trying and failing to find the right taste; many have too much sugar,” he said.
Another easy party favorite, suggests Morelli, are cocktail wieners or pulled pork in homemade BBQ sauce. The pork, along with Italian beef, are made from scratch at the deli.
The beef is a popular holiday choice, says Morelli. “We sell 600 to 700 pounds of Italian beef over Christmas Eve and Day.”