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Holiday feasts can be easy or exotic, catered or home-cooked

By Phyllis Hanes / November 20, 1985



These are very good times to entertain. It has probably never been easier to plan a party than right now. The best ingredients are available everywhere -- the delectable sweets, the nostalgic fruits, sophisticated luxuries such as caviar, oysters, and truffles; simple homey family things such as tangerines and raisins and ribbon candy.

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Some are imported from faraway lands, others from nearby, but specialty foods are available in abundance this time of year in shopping centers, country markets, and from hundreds of mail-order catalogs.

Live lobsters, smoked salmon, exotic fruits, vegetables, and nuts can be ordered fresh from many companies. There is no limit to canned and specially packaged meats, sweets, candies, condiments, and delicacies of all kinds at all prices, often with attractive and clever tips for cooking and presenting the foods.

Presentation is important in fancy restaurants. The food must look attractive if not fabulous. The same applies when company's coming at home.

But having the best ingredients for the food you'll serve is not enough. An overall party plan must have a sense of harmony. It should be easygoing and comfortable.

It should be a time for visiting with friends, for quiet camaraderie, not just an occasion to impress. And it should be practical.

Practical today means easy and definitely not time consuming. Entertaining has to be planned so the food is either made ahead of time, ordered from a take-out shop, or catered.

Few of us can entertain easily without some kind of assistance.

``Knowing a caterer is the best security blanket there is for entertaining,'' says entertainer and author Letitia Baldridge. ``Your menu is planned with you and your party in mind.'' That's fine for large parties and a budget to cover expenses.

June Gosule, a Boston caterer and cooking teacher, approves of catering, but she says it is also possible to entertain well by making special dishes ahead and freezing them.

The point to remember is to cook in advance food that won't change in appearance and leave the salad and fruits to the last minute so they'll be completely fresh.

She suggests a buffet menu including a Mixed Antipasto Salad, Stuffed Spinach Pasta With Tomato Sauce, Herbed Bread, and a rich, delectable chocolate torte or an elegant chocolate mousse cake purchased at a local shop.

``A mild, spicy filling is made for the spinach pasta, it's rolled up, then it goes into the freezer. Sauce and a topping of shredded cheese are added when heating just before serving,'' she explains.

``The French bread loaf has been sliced all the way through and buttered with herb butter, wrapped in foil, then put into the freezer. It goes in the oven to be heated with the spinach rollups before the party.

``The salad may be a catch-all of what's left in the refrigerator,'' Ms. Gosule continues. ``Cubes of the end pieces of cheese, slices or chunks of any kind of ham or cold cuts, plus olives, pickles, perhaps some sun-dried tomatoes -- all are mixed together with a vinaigrette dressing and allowed to marinate two or three hours. This kind of buffet is very easy especially if you find a really scrumptious dessert from a favorite local bakery.''

When you need a caterer for a large party, the best way to find one is by word of mouth -- from friends who've had good parties, suggests Gosule, who has her own catering business called The Invisible Chef.

``Then when you find the caterer, communicate with her,'' she advises. ``Have the caterer give you a list of dishes and menus. Figure out a budget. If possible, try to work out how many hours the party will take. A tea party or a dinner or reception can usually be planned for a definite length of time, and this is helpful information for the caterer.''