Budget Entertaining: How To Present Food On Homemade Trays

Do it yourself guide for catering-style entertaining. How to create trays of food on a budget. Arrangement presentation and preparation guide.

Who says you need to have a million bucks to entertain like you do? Presentation can make the most ordinary, everyday item look as if it came from an exclusive gourmet shop. After all, what is a gourmet shop but everyday items all wrapped up and spread out of trays to entice not only the palate, but the eye. And you can do this in your very own home. Here are some simple ideas for your next get-together.

First, the tray. Trays can be made from a variety of sources, some right under your nose. A simple piece of cardboard may be covered with a piece of aluminum foil. Cover it with the dull side, not the shiny side, for a pewter look. Cover your aluminum foil tray with a paper doily, and you have a tray to rival any caterer!

Be sure and arrange your food so that the edges of the lace doily are facing your guests. Remember, presentation is an appetizer for the eye. A dusting of powdered sugar on top of your homemade chocolate chip cookies, artfully arranged on your homemade tray will have them asking where you bought them.

Sandwich boards are also very easy to make, as well as an impressive way to serve sandwiches. A piece of scrap lumber, preferably a 1X4 inch piece, as long as you plan to make your sandwiches, anywhere between three to six feet, should be sufficient. Make sure the wood is clean, especially if it has been stored in a garage or basement. Cleaning the board with a mild dish detergent and allowing it to dry thoroughly outdoors ought to do the trick. Wrap your board in pieces of waxed paper by taping one end of the roll of paper to the board, and winding the roll of waxed paper around the board until it is completely covered. Cut the end, taping it securely. Look for any loose parts and tape them also. You may use some paper doilies for lace, folding them in half, and cutting them on the crease to create half-moon shaped pieces. Arrange these on the board, using tape to secure them, and arrange your tray so that the lace is facing your guests. You may then arrange your sandwiches on the tray.

I suggest making sandwiches on long loaves of Italian or French bread, using plenty of lettuce and tomato with your cold cuts. Using toothpicks to hold the sandwich slices together, slice into one-inch pieces and arrange on the board lengthwise. Turkey and Swiss cheese are favorites, but you may use whatever you like. For the more budget conscious, remember that lettuce and tomato may also be accompanied by thin slices of cucumber and raw red onion to enlarge your sandwich. It is not necessary to overload the sandwich with meats and cheeses. A simple homemade dressing of oil and vinegar is usually all that a gourmet shop will top a sandwich with, so why be different? One part balsamic vinegar to three parts olive oil, a little salt and pepper. Mix together, sprinkle on your sandwich, and stand back to collect the compliments!

Bread baskets may be arranged using any combination of bakery item you have on hand.

I keep my eyes open for dollar discount stores, which usually have a good variety of baskets handy. That same store may sell spare pieces of cloth, which may be draped over the bottom of the basket. Pick dark, muted colors. Brick reds and deep purples are comfort colors which add to the presentation of your food.

Add to the basket your homemade (or otherwise) muffins, biscuits, bagels, Danish and rolls.

Serve butter, cream cheese and jam on small saucers after removing them from their packages. I prefer to serve these at room temperature, as it is easier to spread for your guests.

Put this out with a pot of tea or coffee and you'll have a breakfast spread which will have them talking all the way home.

Toast points are a nice alternative to crackers, as well as being more budget-friendly. Simply toast up some bread, cut diagonally, and then diagonally again to create points.

Spread with peanut butter, garnish with diced apple and cinnamon to create a lovely finger food. Use your imagination! Cream cheese and olives. Cream cheese and raspberries. Salsa and shredded cheese. Arrange on one of your aluminum foil trays, serve with iced tea or soft drinks, and you have a quick nosh that looks as if it took all day to make!

Remember, experiment! You don't have to spend a fortune to create catering-style dishes. Keep the conversation lively and the food attractive, and you may be known as the "˜host with the most'!

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