Canapes & Logistics
August 27, 2012 5:24 AM   Subscribe

Canapes & Logistics: how to create a great, professional party in limited space

I need to organise a book launch for about 100 guests. The bookshop where it's being held can hold 100 people standing, but it will be a bit of a squeeze. Getting professional caterers is too expensive, and shop bought pre-made canapes aren't great. Want to create something a bit fabulous, professional and doesn't shout 'budget'!

Few challenges: We won't have access to the small bookshop kitchen until half an hour before the party. There is nowhere to store pre-made canapes, and no oven in the kitchen. The kitchen is downstairs from the bookshop.
What are good cold canapes which could be easily assembled on site (no bacon/ham), and then served on big trays?
Any logistical tips for canape assembly or serving?

We're thinking of serving drinks (wine/juice) off of a table at the back of the shop, and having one server standing behind the table to help but people being able to pour their own drinks. Good idea?
We're going to hire some outside help to serve the food & drink. How many people do we need?
All tips/advice on any aspect of this gratefully received
posted by Marzipan to Food & Drink (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
If you put a table anywhere, people will get what they want from it and then just aimlessly mill around it, blocking everyone else's access. Especially if the space is tight to begin with. People have a knack of blocking access. If you can spare an extra person or two, send pre poured drinks out on trays.
posted by Trivia Newton John at 6:04 AM on August 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Don't overlook potential volunteer labor. Lots of high schools (private ones especially) have a community service requirement for their students. Any kid with good manners, basic motor functions, black pants, and a clean, white shirt can be a server for anything except the booze. Putting the word out to a nearby high school might gain you some free manpower.
posted by phunniemee at 6:34 AM on August 27, 2012

I'd keep things simple, given your constraints.

1) Thinly sliced smoked salmon on rye crackers with a tiny dollop of sour cream or tatziki.
2) Hot pepper jelly and cream cheese on triscuits.
3) Tiny sandwiches - make sandwich as per normal, then use a cookie cutter to cut out small bite-sized shapes, or cut the crusts off and make little triangles. Or slice the bread lengthwise and make roll-up sandwiches.
4) Vodka cherry tomatoes! - wash and prick cherry tomatoes all over with a sharp knife. Submerge in vodka for a couple of days. serve on a toothpick.

Things that can be pre-made but survive in a cooler until time to plate:
Yasai no nikumaki (get your butcher to pre-slice the beef for you)
posted by LN at 7:09 AM on August 27, 2012

Also, if the event is in the bookshop, I'd be favouring things that get eaten entirely. Things that need skewers, toothpicks etc or have a bone or a non-eat part will mean the bookshop is finding magical surprises in stupid-ass spots for some time.

Buying sushi handrolls and slicing them up into discs and plattering them yourself shouldn't be prohibitively expensive. The cracker ideas in the shothotbot's link will be manageable if you have the toppings pre sliced and/or premixed. The cucumber and caviar idea is similarly doable. Can you pre prepare some things and transport them in a cooler to the venue? Buy dips and cut crudites on site.

Finger sandwiches are often really well received by the 'I've come straight from work and OH MY GOD I AM SO HUNGRY. GIVE ME PROPER FOOD NOT A TASTY POSTAGE STAMP' crowd. Be a little upscale in your fillings and no one will turn up their nose, I guarantee.

Put a cheeseboard at the opposite end of the room to the bar table to lure the punters away from the drinks table.

How long does the event run for? You don't necessarily need to have everything ready to go at the start.

Make sure the serving trays are light. It makes it easier to manoeuvre amongst the throng.
posted by Trivia Newton John at 7:12 AM on August 27, 2012

One of the challenges in canapes is the storage: you want them to look nice on a tray, which almost inevitably means you can't pile or stack them, and it's hard to store them compactly. The issue with a small kitchen is not having space for one tray, it's having space for 5 trays full of the same thing, waiting to go out. So you want an easy way to tray things as you go, but you want all your prep to be done elsewhere, and very easy assembly on-site.

Finger sandwiches have been mentioned. Use thin bread (example), a thin spread of butter on both slices to keep fillings from making the bread soggy, a classy filling (cucumber, ham salad, curry chicken salad, pimento cheese are the old classics, or you can go foodie, depending on budget). Take your sandwiches, cut the crusts off, and wrap a stack of three sandwiches in waxed paper. Wrap each sandwich packet in a damp paper towel, re-stack the sandwiches into the bags the bread came in, and put in the fridge for a day or two, or the freezer for a week or more, transport to the venue in sacks. For serving, you need a bread knife and a cutting board: open a packet, cut the stack of three sandwiches into triangles (one flavor) or squares (another flavor) then arrange the two flavors on a tray. One normal serving tray can fit about two or three packets (24-36 mini-sandwiches).

Another on-the-spot tip is to do any kind of fillings with a big piping bag (or a ziplock with the corner cut off. Consider the fancy tupperware containers for carrying a dozen deviled eggs: useless for large-scale work. Make 4 dozen boiled eggs, cut them all in half and put the whites in a giant tupperware, make the yolk mixture and spoon it into a couple of quart ziplocks. At the venue, pull out a tray, arrange a trayfull of egg whites, and pipe the yolk mixture in, then send the tray out to the table. Similar process for any cracker+spread, hollowed-out cherry tomatoes that you pipe full of spreads, etc.

Otherwise, you want things that store in a big tub, and you can just pull them out and set on a tray. Cold skewers are great for that: melon balls wrapped in prociutto, cherry tomato+mozzarella ball marinated, fruit salad kabobs.
posted by aimedwander at 9:06 AM on August 27, 2012

A surprisingly easy/tasty/not expensive canape that can be made in advance: Buy long baguettes. Slice in half, so you have two long halves. Cover each half in some kind of filling. (ie. mustard/thinly sliced deli roast beef/caramelized onions; goat cheese/tomato/basil; goat cheese/roasted veggies; thinly sliced cheddar cheese/thinly sliced apple/crunchy mustard; etc.), and then cut each long open faced sandwich into 1-inch slices. Pretty sturdy, easy to eat, easy to prepare, doesn't need cooking.

Endive spears with a bit of goat cheese, a piece of a fig, a walnut piece, and a drizzle of honey.

Tortelini (buy them frozen), cooked then tossed in tomato sauce, sprinkled with parmesan cheese, then cooled and served on toothpicks.
posted by Kololo at 3:12 PM on August 27, 2012

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