January 11, 2011 - 10:50 am
Is it just me, or did this recent transition from one year to the next come with a larger-than-usual dose of year-end lists? Both of the looking-back-on-what-happened this past year and the ever popular crystal-ball-gaze toward what the coming year may hold. And food trends certainly stand out as one of the most popular themes that get scrutinized at year’s end. I maxed out pretty quickly, but was thrilled when a friend posted a link to this year-end list to beat all year-end lists. Absolute brilliance.
Early on in this parade of year-end musings, I came across one trend note from 2010 that I could actually get behind. Among the “hot food fads for 2010″ that Parade Magazinecited back in November was this one at #2: “the incredible shrinking dinner party.” They referenced that the small-plates movement has moved from restaurant menus to home dinner tables, evidenced in large part by the increasing availability of serving pieces and dishes that are tailored for mini-portioned foods. They mention the individual Le Creuset pots (like this one I’ve got, about 1 cup capacity), Staub bakeware, an array of mini porcelain dishes (such as these oval dishes) and “shot glasses for soups or deep spoons for slurping up a single dumpling.” Hmmmm, that sounds familiar. Part of my mantra in Gourmet Game Night is that it’s not just the recipes that make food game-friendly, but also the serving pieces. Soup served in a shot glass or espresso cup takes up a ton less dinner-table real estate than does a traditional soup bowl. And serving salads or small portions of meat on an Asian porcelain soup spoon eliminates the need for a fork and lets your guests eat very well, very easily.
So I’m fully behind the incredible shrinking dinner party. Not only does the array of small dishes like those above (not to mention the fun and diverse selection of picks and skewers that also make small portions super game-friendly to enjoy, check out the offerings here at Pick On Us) allow guests to enjoy a smaller sampling of a greater variety of items tapas-style. It also is a healthy, sensible way to eat. Instead of sitting down to a big dinner plate full of food that you eat in quick order, this game-night setting of smaller portions is enjoyed over the course of a couple of hours. The game play naturally helps folks pace themselves–a few meatballs and a mini salad one moment, a small dose of soup and baby sandwich half an hour later–and are far less likely to get over-stuffed.
Here’s to taking that 2010 trend and blazing forward into 2011 with lots of fun and delicious game nights that celebrate how delicious small can be.
March 29, 2010 - 10:15 am
At one point during the evening Saturday I got up to close the sliding glass door alongside the dining room table. Not necessarily because it was getting too cool (a glorious warm spring evening it was, matter of fact). But out of worry that our raucous laughter might be disturbing the neighbors. One unexpected side effect of finally breaking into that Apples to Apples game I bought a few months ago but hadn’t cracked open yet. Man, did we have fun.
I broke one of the cardinal rules that I set down in Gourmet Game Night when telling readers how to plan a successful game night. One was not to bring out a brand new, never-been-opened game with guests sitting around the table ready to play. There’s cellophane wrapping to deal with, cards to unpack, playing pieces to figure out (and sometimes assemble), rules to read and stumble through together. But I did have a couple elements in my favor: (1) Apples to Apples takes really just a few minutes to warm up to and (2) one of my friends at the table has played it a bunch and helped talk us through it. If you don’t have either or both of those conditions with a new game, it’s ALWAYS best to break into it and familiarize yourself with the rules before having friends over to join you.
But before long, we were old pros. It’s easy to understand why this game won Games Magazine‘s “Party Game of the Year” award in 2000. Trying to defend the word card you chose from your hand that best matches the adjective card drawn by the dealer….it can get pretty hilarious. In one case the adjective was something like “discouraging” and one player tossed “rainbows” into the mix. Rainbows?! Huh?! When pressed to explain, he quickly replied “hey, you ever tried walking to the end of one?” Well, now that you mention it…. But he still lost out. I, on the other hand, managed to convince a friend that my Georgia O’Keefe card best represented the idea of “fresh” thanks to her unique, creative–sometimes suggestive–artistic representation of the world around her.
Another new game we indoctrinated that evening was also a Games “best party game” winner, if a bit sillier. I think it may have gone over better if either we had a couple eight year olds at the table or we’d all had a bit more to drink. Snortabasically is about making farm animal noises — more specifically making the “right” farm animal noise (based on what cards are played and what animals your opponents have hidden behind their little farmhouses) and doing so faster than the others. Not a lot of strategy or creativity called for here. And you could definitely read the player’s enthusiasm with the game by the way they articulated the respective animal’s sounds, a dynamic “OINK OINK OINK” from one player, a mere whisper of a “moo” from another. Not as universally enjoyed on Saturday night as was Apples to Apples, but always nice to have a variety of games on hand to choose from. I can imagine Snorta will be great with kids in the mix, and for those who are kids at heart. Or just have the attention span of one at that moment in time.
The menu was pretty tasty. I fell back on a favorite from my book, Celery Radish and Parsley Salad with Lemon Dressing, served in one-bite portions on porcelain soup spoons. I was recipe testing for another project that day, had some seafood chowder and gnocchi with bacon and corn on hand. The soup went into ramekins and the gnocchi into individual gratin dishes, like you might use for crème brûlée, with spoons alongside for eating. I also cooked up half a dozen Uli’s sausages, cut them into thick slices, skewered each onto a small pick and set them out on a plate, with Dijon mustard alongside for dipping. And my sister cooked the Polenta Squares with Sausage and Spinach from the book too. We ate pretty well, all of it game-friendly and none of it risked smudging up those brand-new Apples to Apples cards on their first game night outing.
If laughter is, in fact, the best medicine, the eight of us got a good dose of medicine on Saturday night! I think a relaxed fun game night sitting around the table together is–no matter what you’re playing–good for what ails us all.
January 29, 2010 - 7:24 pm
It’s great to have friends in the food business. My pal Lisa Dupar, the doyenne behind Lisa Dupar Catering, clued me in to this web site, Pick On Us, which is a crazy candy store of game night goods. The site has a seemingly endless array of picks, skewers, and various types of containers that have—ostensibly—caterers in mind. But so many of the choices are ideal for game night parties. After all, both are all about entertaining in a creative, efficient, mess-free fashion.
Since the site has caterers in mind, you won’t find a little bag with 25 picks in it for next weekend’s party. Most products come in 100-count or more volume. But at prices in the roughly $5.00 to $15.00-per-100 range, it’s an affordable investment to make. Plus, they’re small, non-perishable and will happily sit tucked in the back of a cupboard or on a closet shelf until the next time you need to dig into the stash.
I wish I’d come across these bamboo “boats” earlier, I would have loved to play around with them while testing the book’s recipes! They’d be great for the sage popcorn recipe I have in the book, or maybe those addictive olive-cheese crackers! But I’ll be placing an order soon, since there’s a never-ending string of game night parties in our future. That’s something we can count on!