Although students in Sheri Castle’s holiday hors d’oeuvres class at Southern Season this weekend will learn how to assemble a range of impressive items, not every dish on the demonstration menu is highly elaborate: The first appetizer on the syllabus is a roast beef, asparagus and Boursin wrap.
Castle, a cookbook author and cooking instructor from Chapel Hill, N.C., is a proponent of keeping kitchen projects manageable during the holidays – especially when expecting lots of hungry guests.
“Don’t tackle more than you and your schedule can handle,” Castle advises. “Make sure your menu includes plenty of make-ahead and low-maintenance items; It’s fine to fill in with a few thoughtfully purchased items.”
According to Castle, it’s critical for party hosts to honestly assess their skills and available resources before drafting a menu. While an Italian professor on holiday break may not have any trouble whipping up a plateful of smoked wild boar ravioli for a crowd, an overworked physician who usually makes mac-and-cheese for dinner is probably better off filling premade cannoli shells.
Hosts should focus on their strengths, Castle adds: “For example, if you love baking, let a great homemade dessert be the centerpiece of your party.”
She points out that too-ambitious menus are frequently at odds with a party’s purpose, which is (ostensibly) to cultivate a relaxed, enjoyable atmosphere.
“Your guests want you to have fun, too,” Castle says. “No one enjoys a party where the host looks like she needs to lie in the floor and breathe into a bag.”
Of course, a little learning never hurt anyone’s confidence. Castle’s hors d’oeuvres class — which features warm crab bites with remoulade; smoked salmon on savory lemon-thyme shortbread, and phyllo-wrapped brie with apricot and rosemary chutney – starts at 1 p.m. on Sunday. The fee is $50.
Castle is also teaching an Italian Christmas class at 1 p.m. on Saturday. The $50 course includes roasted turkey breast stuffed with mushrooms and chestnut, prune and pancetta dressing.
Registration for both classes is available online.