Author Sheri Castle Helps Prepare Party Hosts For the Holidays


Stewart Waller

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.

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