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Dinner parties on the fly
By Kathleen Ostrander

That big dinner party is coming up, but a caterer has been hired, so no worries.

The house is clean, family members have been sternly admonished to keep it that way and then catastrophe strikes - the caterer has been called out of town.

Too late to cancel, too frazzled to plan and too busy to cook anyway - still no worries.

Head on over to Gordon Food Service Marketplace, the store where the caterers shop and where the wizard uses real-life magic to solve the dinner dilemma.

GFS Marketplace does everything except eat the food. Let's say 15 people are invited over. The menu includes mini quiche appetizers; spring greens with baby orange segments; pecans and raspberry vinaigrette; prime rib; mashed red potatoes; a vegetable medley; rolls; and tiramisu.

Here's how to make this a truly hassle-free dinner party in spite of the catering cancellation:

GFS has something called a Menu Wizard.

It's a hand-held scanner that scans the bar code of the products and then prices the dinner out AND tells how much of the product to buy. It is, according to GFS Marketplace Manager Tim Byrd, the way to take the sweat out of planning everything from dinner parties to bridal showers.

So with the number 15 set for dinner, it's off to the store.

Punch the number of guests into the computer and tell the Menu Wizard that they will be eating average portions and you're off.

It's going to tell you to buy 60 of the mini quiches, 2 pounds of the California Vegetable Blend, a bag of the mashed red-skin potatoes which reconstitute nicely into a tasty side dish, petit pain French rolls which are just tossed in the oven to brown, a bag of spring green mix, a bag of pecan pieces, a can of orange segments, a bottle of raspberry vinaigrette dressing, prime rib which is pre-cooked to rare and will be sliced free to order and a pan of tiramisu.

Pick up a container of au jus base or, if you want to get fancy, a package of demi-glace sauce.

It should take about an hour of prep time, Byrd said, to get the dinner party ready.

That means throwing the greens into bowls with pecans and oranges, warming up the veggies and reconstituting the potatoes, which turn into nicely chunked real potatoes and not plastic buds. If you want to make the guests think you seriously slaved in the kitchen all day, fire up the grill and slap some grill marks on the prime rib.

Buy a can of chocolate sauce and put it in a squeeze bottle - put a nice pattern on the dessert plates; sift cocoa powder lightly on top and put a wedge of tiramisu on top.

Here's a hint - use a sharp knife and cut the tiramisu with one commanding slice.

Otherwise it will look like the ladyfingers were chewed off.

But wait! We can make it still easier. GFS stocks "plastic" dinnerware that looks like silverware and can really cut meat, and they have hard plastic plates that look like china as well as smaller salad plates that look like glass.

Smile sweetly at the guests, herd them into the living room for an after-dinner drink, wrap up the tablecloth and throw everything in the trash.

Seriously, the Menu Wizard has saved many a distraught homemaker, Byrd said. There are menu options in the computer, or hostesses can bring their own menus and the wizard will tell them how much to buy - it will even calculate how many plastic spoons are needed.

If you are shopping on a budget - say for a church event, or maybe it's your turn to feed the scout troop - it will calculate a per-portion price.

You can tailor the portions for appetites; you can go average or add extra if it's the offensive line of the Bears you are feeding.

There are even extras on the shelves you can throw in - like a mega bag of bacon pieces or a pouch full of nicely seasoned sliced and toasted tortilla strips.

The food is restaurant quality, with cooking instructions as well as serving ideas.

And for the hostess who is crazy-pressed for time - you can call up the store, give the menu and the number of people and staff will shop it for you, ring it through, bag it and you can run in with a credit card and be gone.

It's so easy, you can't help but want to entertain this holiday season.

 


Buying in bulk

GFS Marketplace sells items in cases as well as by the can - mostly No. 10, which would be a gallon. The store carries name brands as well as the GFS brand.

"We are the main supplier for many of the area restaurants," said manager Tim Byrd. "Our client base is regular retail as well as caterers and restaurants."

The store carries larger single portion packages of items such as single serve cereals or snack foods, which are used by facilities that offer children's breakfast programs or an afternoon snack.

They are perfect, he said, for moms and dads who are supposed to supply snacks for a children's event.

GFS Marketplace also carries items to stock a home or restaurant kitchen as well as cleaning supplies. They carry all different sizes and shapes of disposable dinnerware as well as a variety of napkins. During the holidays, they carry butter shaped like turkeys or lambs as well as many other popular novelty items.

Shoppers can find break-downs in the store to help determine how many servings are in a bulk item. For example, if a hostess is expecting 35 for a holiday dinner, she needs to buy a 12-pound ham. If she buys a 3 lb. canister of coffee, that will yield 300 servings.

The Menu Wizard has a portion guide, and there are also guides available in the store. For an average appetite, plan on 4 ounces of meat per person except in the case of a sit-down meal, then plan for 6. Four ounces of potato or salad, 4 ounces of a vegetable and 4 ounces of a dessert round out the rest of the meal.

Anyone can use the Menu Wizard and caterers find it particularly convenient, Byrd said, because it will calculate a per-plate cost. It has ethnic menus that range from a taco bar to an Italian buffet. With 3,000 items in the store, from cases to cans, the Menu Wizard can help with any type of event - it will even break down a purchase to cases plus cans.

Story published Friday, December 4, 2009 ( Volume 4, Number 7 )

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