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Forget beige buffets, grazing is the way to go, says CASA’s Maria Broadbent and she’ll be showing you how at this bank holiday’s Bury St Edmunds Food & Drink Festival

The latest trend in entertaining is ‘The Grazing Table’. What is a grazing table? I hear you ask!

It’s a buffet table without any gaps – a true spread. The visual impact of a carefully constructed grazing table is stunning and, as we are all aware, we eat with our eyes first.

As a bit of a Pinterest addict – I first discovered this trend, that originated in Australia, a while ago. I finally got the opportunity to create my own ‘masterpiece’ for a buffet lunch for 100 people. There was a fairly tight budget and the request was for 90 per cent vegetarian with just 10 per cent fish dishes. I love a challenge!

Gorgeous grazing table (14965984)
Gorgeous grazing table (14965984)

Bye bye beige buffet

I have always had a strong resistance to the ubiquitous beige buffet. Lots of bland carbs, cold greasy deep-fried offerings and crisps. Many buffets still are carb heavy – much pre-packaged party food is pastry based. However, with a little effort you can create a simple version of the elaborate professional grazing table. If you are pushed for time, you can buy a great selection of pre-made party treats and with a little creative flair give your buffet the wow factor.

If you want to come and see some simple ideas, creative tips and a grazing table in the flesh, so to speak, come and watch my cookery demonstration! I will be at the Bury St Edmunds Food and Drink Festival this bank holiday weekend. The grazing demo is on at noon on the Monday with lots of yummy food to taste afterwards. Part of the demonstration will be how to make the perfect pavlova – pretty, tasty and simple.

Pointers on how to create your own masterpiece:

Look at some pictures online (search ‘grazing tables’).

Find flat and neutral plates or you can for non-runny foods use paper plates – or place directly onto the baking parchment.

What are you going to use to create height? Upturned bowls, baskets, cake stands – let your imagination run riot!

Check for guests dietary needs.

Calculate your budget.

Use a paper tablecloth, and if you are working on a ‘precious’ table, I would also cover it in a layer of clingfilm first.

Determine how much food you are going to need – remember simple multiplication as it is very easy to over cater.

Cover the area that the food is going to be served on with baking parchment. This can just be a runner down the middle if you are feeding a small number of people.

Use some branches off bay trees, rosemary bushes or buy some eucalyptus branches from a local florist.

Plan your layout – I am happy to work free hand – but it may be worth drawing in pencil approximately where each food is going to be placed. Try to mix the colours up.

Use ingredients that are easy to display and avoid anything that will spoil for being out – such as rice.

Choose vibrant fruit such as watermelon, pineapple and strawberries.

Coulourful vegetable sticks like carrots, sugar snaps and peppers.

Be creative with how you serve dips – use half a pepper for your red pepper hummus!

Mix sweet and savoury – cheese and pineapple is an obvious flavour combination.

Grazing table (14965982)
Grazing table (14965982)

Suggested foods:

Cheeses (especially hard cheese) cut into triangles, circles, rectangles or squares – remember variation is what we are after.

Cooked and cured meats and fish – Parma ham mixed with melon, salami, salt beef and smoked salmon.

If you are confident and adventurous you could poach a whole salmon as a centerpiece (dress with thinly sliced cucumber.

Crudités (veg sticks to you and me) of red, yellow and green peppers, celery, sugar snaps, carrots – I use purple, orange and yellow carrots.

Dips – again go for colour such as pink taramasalata, roasted beetroot hummus, guacamole, etc.

Olives, sun-blush tomatoes, stuffed baby peppers, pickled onions and gherkins.

Biscuits for cheese.

Chocolate brownies, flapjacks and mini cakes.

Fresh and dried fruits.

Nuts – be careful of allergies with these.

Pre-packs of falafel, spring rolls, samosas, etc.

Mixed leaves to ‘plug the gaps’.

Fresh bread – get an assortment for both taste and visual.

Colourful salads such as:

Beetroot with horseradish crème fraiche.

Carrot, sugar snap, cabbage, pepper and black onion seed slaw.

Tomato and red onion salad with either fresh coriander, cumin and lime or pesto.

Griddled courgetti with chilli, garlic, mint and lemon.

I usually put a homemade coronation chicken/quorn on mine, taboulleh, homemade sausage rolls and cheese straws – especially if doing a vegan table.

To decorate use fresh herbs, edible flowers, carved or exotic fruit, non-food accessories too, such as a punch bowl – this is a creative collage. Other ideas for adding drinks on to the table would be a mason jar with a tap full of homemade lemonade or a cocktail.

Pavlova (14965986)
Pavlova (14965986)

Maria’s Pavlova Recipe

3 egg whites

170g/6ozcaster sugar

½ tsp vanilla or coffee essence

½ tsp cornflour

½ tsp vinegar

Beat egg whites until stiff.

Have the whisk is on low and slowly add the sugar

Fold in the remaining ingredients

Spread on to a sheet of dampened greaseproof paper, in a circle approx. 15-20cm / 6-8”

Place in the oven on Gas mark 2 (1500C ) for 1 hour to 1¼ hours

Remove from the oven and turn upside down and remove greaseproof paper

When cool decorate with cream and fruit

Maria Broadbent is owner of Mediterranean restaurant CASA in Risbygate Street, Bury St Edmunds.

Tel 01284 701313.


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