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Serving a buffet-style dinner this Super Bowl Sunday?  What seems like an easy dinner party idea can be quite an excercise in logic and organization! Buffet–style serving, especially to a large crowd, can put you at risk of buffet gridlock or other food-serving chaos. So here’s a compilation of the best tips I could find to keep the buffet line moving… and guests coming back for more next year!

1. For a buffet party over eight people, lay food out on both sides of the table, rather than along a one-sided sideboard. For a buffet party over 18 people, repeat the same food dishes on both sides of the table. Remove the chairs around the buffet table so traffic flows easily.

2. Serve drinks in a separate area – a cart, separate table or sideboard will keep drink traffic out of the food lanes. Group bottles of soda or cocktails together with glasses, an ice bucket, small napkins and a bowl of lemons or limes.

3. Better yet, allocate or hire someone to serve drinks. It could be a child or a neighborhood friend. People will have to get up less often and it’s really rather hospitable! Your party will be talked about for weeks!

4. Serve drinks, or make them available, right when guests arrive. It’ll put less pressure on guests to balance plates and glasses in the buffet line.

5. Use large plates and oversized napkins. Avoid flimsy paper plates unless they’re hefty, hearty and able to withstand weight and moisture, at the same time. A large napkin that completely covers the lap (when open) will be appreciated.

6. Avoid serving food that requires a knife; buffet food should really be spoon-friendly or fork-friendly only. Even if you’re not weak at the knees, It can be precarious to balance a plate on them while performing food feats with a dangerous weapon.

7. Place clean plates and cold items at the beginning of the line, hot entries last. Place silverware and napkins at the end of the buffet, rather than at the beginning.

8. Roll a napkin around a fork and spoon, so they’re one item to carry.

9. Use a hot plate or warming tray to keep hot things hot. Buffet-warmers have become a hot item, meaning they’re also more affordable than ever. They also have a polished, restaurant quality!

10. Avoid food that requires time or talent to get from serving dish to plate. A block of cheese can be a thing of beauty, but cutting off a piece with one hand is quite a feat. If using cheese blocks, pre-cut part of the block. And pre-cutting smaller branches of grapes will avoid guests walking off with half of them, without wanting to!

11. Poke a toothpick into items that are tough to pick up, or to pick up without touching everything around them. Or invest in a few small tongs for biscuits or hand-picked items. In an age of killer flus, everyone will thank you.  

13. Label food or ingredients that aren’t easily recognizable, including food with nuts or a choice of sauces or dressings. Better yet, label everything with a folding card or a flag. It’s restaurant-like and helpful. Plus, there’s nothing worse then when people have to smell something to see if they want to eat it. Except, maybe, a guest being rushed to the hospital at halftime on account of a food allergy you didn’t know about.

14. Serve desert, tea and coffee on a tray or rolling cart you can bring to your guests. Once guests are settled in place, sometimes it’s an effort for them to get up again (… and risk losing their prime seat location!).

15. Create an abundant-looking table.  Avoid unforutnate gaps by taking the leaf out of the table, grouping food at one end, drinks at the other, or placing a large floral or food display arrangement at the center or end of the table. Also, vary the height of items on the table. Add a large centerpiece, or place some serving plates higher than others. (An easy way to do this is to pile books under select plates, then cover the entire table with a tablecloth).

A few final ideas…

Lay out out the serving table plan ahead of time, even the night before. Place post-it notes where things will go; it’ll be one less thing to think about on the day of the party… and help out those who want to help you in the mad rush right before dinner is served.

If, or when, you’re in the market for new dining room furniture, consider a buffet or sideboard rather than a china cabinet. They’re versatile if you like buffet-style eating and make a great place to serve drinks. Also, look for one with a marble top; they’re plentiful these days and perfect for buffet parties – they can handle heat and are easy  to clean!

Big games = big appetites!

Excelling at spectator sports is hard work! Armchair athletes can work up a hearty appetite cheering on their team. Chili, sub sandwiches, pizza, wings and nachos are fan favourites for noshing while coaching from the sidelines, analyzing plays and critiquing the refs’ calls.

Bring your A game and score a touchdown this Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 7th) by serving Pulled Pork on a Bun. Pork roast bathed in a rich barbecue-style sauce cooks lazily in the slow cooker freeing you up to catch all the antics on the big screen, from the singing of the National Anthem through to the final whistle.

Once the pork has cooked, the tender meat is easily shredded by pulling it apart with two forks (hence the name!). Serve it and the flavourful sauce piled high in warmed buns.

You’ll want to put the recipe for Pulled Pork in your play book.  It’s a crowd pleaser no matter which Bowl or Cup your armchair quarterbacks are watching!

Sports Speak! Want to sound like a sports commentator, coach, player or just a die-hard fan? Learn all the lingo by checking out this great list of sports cliches!

Pulled Pork on a Bun
Makes 6 to 8 servings

1 tbsp (15 mL) vegetable oil
2 medium onions, finely chopped
1 tbsp (15 mL) chili powder
1/2 tsp (2 mL) black pepper
1 cup (250 mL) chili sauce (e.g. Heinz)
1/4 cup (60 mL) packed brown sugar
1/4 cup (60 mL) cider vinegar
1 tbsp (15 mL) Worcestershire sauce
1 boneless pork shoulder, trimmed of fat (about 3 lb/1.5 kg)
6 to 8 Kaiser, onion or cheese buns, halved and warmed

In a skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add onions; cook, stirring frequently, until softened. Add chili powder and pepper; cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add chili sauce, brown sugar, vinegar and Worcestershire sauce. Stir to combine, and bring to a boil. Remove from heat.

Place trimmed pork in slow cooker insert and pour sauce over. Cover and cook on Low for 10 to 12 hours or on High for 6 hours, until pork comes apart readily.

Lift out pork and place on a cutting board; using two forks, pull the meat apart in shreds. Return meat to the sauce and keep warm until ready to serve.

To serve, spoon shredded pork and sauce into buns.

Recipe Source: Adapted from The 150 Best Slow Cooker Recipes by Judith Finlayson, Robert Rose Inc., 2001

Tips:
* Add 3 to 6 minced cloves garlic, if desired. Cook along with onions.
* For a smoky flavour, add 1 tsp (5 mL) liquid smoke when you add the Worcestershire sauce.
* Accompany the Pulled Pork with any of the following: veggies and dip, pickles, potato chips, coleslaw, sweet potato fries, or potato fries.

buffet-serverIn a late 2008 survey by Gfk Roper, 83% of us said the first place we’ll cut costs in 2009 is ‘eating out’.

Thus, the growing popularity of buffet servers… a relative newcomer to a roster of new products aimed to aid entertaining at home. More than keeping food hot and supporting the trend to casual buffet-style eating, one of the nice things about these stainless steel servers is their industrial-feel; one we associate with restaurants. So if we can’t eat out, we can at least feel like we are… or make believe that a fancy caterer came over to serve us dinner!

Buffet servers are ideal for heavy entertaining seasons. They were  especially popular this past Thanksgiving when Target, for one, priced entry level versions between $49 and $69. But they’re also ideal for summer  barbeques and entertaining on the patio. 

Look for a trend to cordless buffet servers as well. Most of us use our dining room table to serve buffets and cords are both unattractive and a safety hazard. Also, look for some furniture manufacturers to install built-in buffet warming surfaces into the top of the buffet.