You are at a reception. In one hand you have a glass, and in the other a plate of hors d’oeuvres. The boss’s husband approaches you with his arm extended, expecting a handshake. What do you do?
Most of us know the basic ABCs of table manners. Don’t eat with your mouth open, don’t speak with your mouth full, and don’t spear food from somebody else’s plate. However, social occasions — especially at this time of the year — that require mingling and food have their own customs and etiquette. And the trickiest of all to master are receptions.
At a reception, a good host or caterer will provide everything guests need to enjoy the event without embarrassment. There will be servers constantly walking about to refresh drinks and take away glasses and plates. If there is only one food station, it will be arranged so that guests can approach from either end of the table to prevent long line-ups. If space permits, several tables will be placed around the room. One for hors d’oeuvres, another for sweets and the third for coffee and tea. This arrangement also encourages folks to mingle throughout the room, which is the whole point behind a reception. Clearing stations, which are side tables for discarding plates and glasses will be obvious and kept clean throughout the event. A smart caterer will not serve messy foods like sauces and dips that can drip onto your clothes or wraps and stuffed vegetables that spill out the sides when you bite into them.
The first duty of the guest at a reception is to check their coat at the door. Standing around with your fur parka unzipped gives the impression that you are only there for a few moments or that you don’t want to be there in the first place. Even if that is the case, it is rude. The second duty of the guest is to greet and thank the host for the invitation.
A good server will notice you entering the crowd and approach with a tray of drinks. Don’t hoard. Only take one drink from the tray and remember the napkin. Drink trays are not the same as an open bar. The host determines how many rounds the servers provide to guests during the evening. Nor should you place an empty glass on a fresh tray of drinks. Wait until another server comes along to ask you if he can take your empty glass. The same rule applies to trays of food circulated by servers. Never place your empty plate on a tray with fresh food.
Many people confuse banquets with receptions. The main difference is that at a banquet you usually sit down to eat. At a reception, most people stand, and although the food might be delicious, it is not the focus. If you are served from a tray of hors d’oeuvres start by taking a napkin. A good rule of thumb is never to take more hors d’oeuvres than can comfortably sit in the palm of your hand, placed on top of the napkin. And even if you have hands the size of coal shovels, three is the max. If there is a choice of goodies on the tray take one of each. If there is only one choice on the tray, take one. When the server returns with a second round, you follow the same procedure. If food is served from a station, the same rules apply. When you fill your plate move well away from the serving area so that you don’t block anybody else waiting to be served.
If there is a speech or welcome from the host, don’t rush to the food tables. Instead, give your full attention to the person speaking.
If you are like most people you have just entered the most awkward and dreaded part of the evening. You have a drink in one hand and a napkin or plate of hors d’oeuvres in the other. How do you get the food to your mouth? Or, to return to the question at the beginning of the column, how do you shake hands? Unless you are at a reception that supplies fancy plates with a built-in cup holder that allows you to keep one hand free, you might want to try one of these tips. Don’t even bother trying to balance a drink in one hand and food in the other. Choose one or the other. Try to keep your right hand free at all times and never eat finger food with your right hand. You use the right hand for handshakes so it should be free to offer, and free of grease. If you are sampling hors d’oeuvres from a tray, pass your drink to the right hand and use your left hand to take the hors d’oeuvres, preferably one with a toothpick in it. Pop it in your mouth and return the glass to your left hand. If all else fails and you must eat and drink at the same time, make sure you are standing close to a counter or ledge where you can quickly put down the plate and shake hands.
Green Asparagus Spears in Endive
8 oz. Green asparagus spears
3 heads of endive salad
light cream cheese for spread
4 slices prosciuto ham
1 lime, zest and juice
1 garlic clove, minced
a quarter tsp. salt and pepper
half a tsp. Dijon mustard
2 tsp. honey
2 tbs. olive oil
2 tsp. freshly chopped tarragon
Boil asparagus spears for one minute in salty water, drain and rinse with cold water. Let dry on paper towel. Mix all ingredients for the marinade and pour over the asparagus and chill for one hour. Separate the endive leaves and trim the ends. Spread a little light cream cheese on each leaf. Place a green asparagus spear on each endive leaf and wrap with a thin slice of prosciuto ham. Arrange on a serving dish and garnish with fresh dill and wedges of clementine. Makes 30-40 servings.
Chicken liver in Phyllo Pouches
4 sheets of phyllo pastry
1 tsp. poppy seeds
Rosemary twigs for garnish
1 tbs. butter
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 oz. chicken livers, chopped
1 tbs. freshly chopped oregano
one quarter tsp. salt and pepper
2 tsp. all purpose flour
1 tbs. cognac
2 tbs. whipping cream
Preheat the oven to 400F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Melt butter in a skillet, add the chicken liver and garlic and fry on medium heat for one minute. Add the oregano, salt and pepper. Drizzle the flour on top and mix well. Add the cognac and the cream and let it boil to create a creamy sauce. Put aside and cool. Brush the phyllo pastry sheets with butter and then cut lengthwise in four section. Then cut across to make even squares, about six to eight, pending on how big you want to make the parcels. Place the filling in the centre and close the phyllo pastry around the filling by pinching the dough together firmly. Place on the baking sheets and brush with butter. Bake in the oven until golden brown. Arrange on a warm serving dish and garnish with rosemary twigs.
Makes 24 parcels.