Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Collective creativity

I can't believe that this is my third Christmas blogging--and my third time to host the end-of-year breakfast for my husband's colleagues and staff. Some of you have been with me since the shaky beginnings of both!

(If you're new here, this is our family's gift to the workplace. Previously, I served home-baked muffins with coffee, spice tea, and fruit. I have to plan for a maximum of 100 people. )

After last year's oven failure, I don't think I have it in me again.

We found a local panaderia, or Mexican bakery, which sells huge, fabulous pastries for about 50 cents apiece.

Wouldn't that be a novel change, especially since it's a neighborhood place? Could I cut each pastry into half and turn my old muffin standby into a fun tasting event?

I have to cap our expenses at $100. Buying 100 assorted pastries will leave me about $40 for fruit and beverages.

I can stretch the budget by serving a huge platter of sliced navel oranges and bananas cut in half. I think it's safe to say that most people haven't wanted whole apples and oranges, because that's where I've tracked my greatest waste.

Drinks: I like to offer an alternative to coffee. We had trouble keeping two urns hot last year. What would you think about a bowl of pineapple-based tea punch? Too much sweet?

If you suspect people will be turned off by Mexican pastries, let me know. I also considered fresh cinnamon rolls from prefrozen homemade dough, but they're not as delicious when they're not hot out of the oven.

Experienced hostesses--or guests--all your suggestions are appreciated. Later today we'll talk about the decorating scheme.


Anonymous said...

I am in Texas so the Mexican pastries are not 'new' to me. There is a wonderful bakery on the corner from me that sells them too. Very nice for Sunday brunch.
I would go with them, the fruit, and coffee and the punch. My idea is to give it a Mexcian Christmas theme. If you serve Mexican pastries serve Mexican style coffee and punch???

Unknown said...

I would ask the bakery if they would cut me a deal since I would buying 50 pastries. You could even take some business cards to hand out when people mention how good they are. Everything else sounds wonderful. I would provide some water to those want a choice of beverage. Good Luck! You amaze me.

Ed said...

I don't see anything at all wrong with Mexican pastries. Why not make the whole theme Mexican and serve more exotic fruits? Star fruit, plantains, etc. Although I'd certainly take katie's suggestion to heart. If they are a local mom and pop place the owner would probably be more than happy to help you out.

Anonymous said...

I love the idea of the Mexican pastries. And the cut-up fruit will save you waste (as you'd mentioned). Perhaps if you're worried about the fruit punch you could offer just water as an alternative to the coffee. My husband's office just had their open house last week & I feel we offered a nice selection of goodies. There was a good contrast of sweet & savory items, & people did comment on this, & how much they enjoyed it! Good luck.


Shannon said...

I love the Mexican pastries. And cutting the fruit in half is an excellent idea - people rarely eat a whole piece. Maybe something like sparkling cider to drink. It was on sale last year about this time. I'm just not a fan of plain water or coffee, but that's me. The punch sounds fabulous - I think sweet is good!
I like the hospitality category, by the way. That's really helping me out:)

Anonymous said...

I would be concerned that you wouldn't have enough pastries. To supplement the pastries, please consider this recipe that I have used several times for parties. It is rich enough to feed 25 people without any additional food. Look on allrecipes.com for "Mexican Chocolate Cake." It is a very frugal recipe, and it is delicious. It also fits with your Mexican theme! Recipe calls for a 12x18 inch pan, but I use a typical brownie pan (9x13) without problems.

Anonymous said...

How about some hot mulled cider also? I serve this often during the holidays, and it is appreciated. Buy generic apple cider to cut costs. The cinnamon sticks that are added enhance the Mexican theme. You can keep it hot in a big pot on the stove. Do you have funds in the budget for poinsettias for the table? Can you get your hands on some colorful Mexican type table linens?

Anonymous said...

How about Mexican Hot Chocolate? I think it is similar to traditional with the addition of cinnamon. Might be fun. I like the theme idea and the pastries sound great. What about tortilla chips and salsa or something savory too? Maybe a mexican cheese ball with crackers? Just to mix it up a bit and cut the sweetness. Sounds fun!

Chas said...

I was thinking about Hot Mulled Cider or Hot Chocolate in a Crockpot, this would be a Hot alternative and it would be a bit like a punch, just hot! ;)
Have a great time!

Sharon said...

You have so many wonderful suggestions that I am afraid that I just will agree with them.

The more "exotic" fruit would probably be a little expensive

You probably could cut a deal with the bakery.

Definately offer a drink besides coffee and water.

A hot chocolate, punch, or wassail is a good choice and you can make it in a crock pot to keep warm.

Bananas and oranges are good, cut the bananas in half, but leave them in the peel to reduce browning.

Good luck.

Jenn @ Frugal Upstate said...

I also vote in on the hot mulled cider, except you can just do it with apple juice (ie the frozen in a can kind you reconstitue).

Another idea I've been wanting to try is this egg free eggnog-it's made with vanilla pudding mix. I'm going to try making a batch with powdered milk and see if the vanilla et al in it hiddes the "powdered milk" flavor. I can't vouch for this as I haven't tried it yet:


AnnMarie said...

One of the places I miss from Lansing (lived in E Lansing for grad school) is a Mexican bakery. It had such good and interesting pastries and they were so cheap. I'd vote for doing it, especially if you highlight the bakery! (Be sure to have some business cards or at least a sign saying where they came from. Say, and maybe he'd give you a discount then?)

I'd also vote for water in a pitcher. Who needs bottled water these days of hearing it comes from taps and folks trying to avoid plastic? And be sure to have some hot water with tea and hot chocolate for non-coffee drinkers. (It's so rare to find :( )

Anonymous said...

My son had a "Mexican Fiesta" in his 5th grade class last year. We cut oranges in slices and sprinkled them lightly with cinnamon and nutmeg. I like the simple idea of coffee and pitchers of water - perhaps you could garnish the water with orange, lemon or lime slices. With the $$ you save on purchasing other more expensive drinks, perhaps you could buy an inexpensive southwestern-style pitcher or two to serve the beverages in. I definitely like the "Mexican Christmas Theme" idea!

Good Luck,
Kate in NY

Anonymous said...

-love the pastry idea, im sure you can get a deal

-i dont know about the bananas in half, as i wouldnt eat them, i hate when the ends turns colours, but that could be me, oranges cut is awesome, maybe cut grapefruit with a sugar bowl...grapes are so darn expensive right now...

-but you know simple is usually best, pastries oranges it'll be a hit regardless and at a hundred a huge success

-im hosting 20 people here this weekend and ends up i dont have a dime to spare, luckily my pantry is stocked with ingredients

-water in pitchers with lots of ICE..

-hot chocolat in crock pot would be a huge hit i think

but you know simple is usually best, pastries oranges it'll be a hit regardless and at a hundred a huge success

-im hosting 20 people here this weekend and ends up i dont have a dime to spare, luckily my pantry is stocked with ingredients

celina in canada-

Anne Marie@Married to the Empire said...

I love Mexican pastries, so I think that would be a nice thing to serve.

The tea punch sounds nice, but make sure you have water or some other alternative drink. Some people (like me) are allergic to pineapple. It's a common ingredient in punch, which is fine, but I get really frustrated when hostesses have no other drinks available. Just some iced water would be fine.

Fruit is a great thing to serve, as long as it's cut up. People don't like to grab whole pieces of fruit at things like this. Peeling an orange is messy, and biting into a whole apple feels unrefined, and it can get caught in the teeth. Maybe some cut-up seasonal fruits with a fruit dip on the side?

Oh, and maybe some cheese. A little protein is a nice thing, and cheese helps cut some of the sweet.

Jenny's Vegcafe said...

I definitely think hot water with packets of cider, hot cocoa and tea would be good. You can even buy instant coffee bags for indivdual cups (I think Pampa is the brand and I think it's Mexican.) Bring a bottle (or a small cup with a serving spoon) of spices and a recipe card for making Mexican Hot Chocolate.

Cut the fruit in half for sure. The oranges can be cut in slices with the skin still on like at Chinese buffets.

Maybe it's too much but for a non-sweet thing you could just have some boiled eggs on a platter. They're cheap, protein filled, and good for diabetics and low carbers.

Anonymous said...

I would also vote for the hot chocolate. It is a Mexican favorite. I know the Swiss Miss instant is not expensive at Sam's Club and very good...that with coffee, and water would be wonderful with the Mexican pasties. Good luck. I know it will be wonderful no matter what you do. Roxie

bonnie: said...

A Christmas party I just attended had cucumber slices in the water! It was so delicious!

Tamara said...


I think the halved Mexican pastries are a good idea. I agree with the other commenters, that you might consider making it a Mexican-themed breakfast. I'm in South Texas, and grew up on the Mexican border. Here are some "fusion" recipes you might consider.

Instead of quartered fruit, you might consider a chopped fruit salad. Mexican fruit stands use melons, grapes, apples, mangos, papayas, jicama, and coconut flakes (using whatever is cheapest and most readily available). They season the fruit salad with salt, lime, and a dash of chili powder. Sounds strange, but it is quite delicious. Here's a desciption and picture from a chain paletera: http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/features/food/topstories2/051405ccdrfoodpaletera.a14e6e01.html

Your bakery may also do bunuelos (fried flatbreads or tortillas, coated in cinnamon sugar), but if not, they're easy to make. There are several fried recipes on the internet, but you can also do them in your oven. Lightly brush melted butter over a flour tortilla. Turn over and brush the other side. Slice into 8 wedges. Bake in oven until crips, then drop hot chips into a ziploc with 1 c sugar and 1 T cinnamon. Shake to coat. Keep in an airtight bag or container. You can serve these with a fruit salsa. There are several recipes for fruit salsas on the internet as well. Pineapple is great, and can be done with canned pineapple to make it cheaper, but here's a festive cranberry salsa: http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/Cranberry-Salsa-2/Detail.aspx

I agree with the suggestion of Mexican Hot Chocolate (with cinnamon) in a crockpot. Your discount grocer probably also carries Mexican chocolate...very yummy, and usually cheaper. Ask the lady at the bakery for a source! You might also include cinnamon in your coffee.

For decorations, poinsettias are great, but consider papel picado. They can be made with tissue paper or construction paper, and can be strung like a banner garland, or can be placed flat on your table. The kids can help you cut them out, as they are essentially colorful snowflakes. Traditional ones are rectangle shaped. Very colorful and cute!

Hope that helps, and Feliz Navidad!

Anonymous said...

Meredith Just read your blog and it brought to mind two recipes that I have prepared for years.
If interested you can email me.
Hot cranberry tea. I serve in my coffee pot or with so many you are serving maybe a large crockpot or kettle that can be put into cups. It smells so good with the spices. Also I love a recipe for bran muffins that I have. Make in the small tins and one baking provides about 40. They have shredded carrots, shredded apple and a handful of nuts. These freeze wonderful. Everyone I know has commented on them.
These recipes are 40 years old.
I bake every week because I like something with my daily green tea.
I make zuchinni bread with pineapple, banana bread and pumpkin bread. The pumpkin is so economical and freezes. I almost think I would make the pumpkin bread and the bran muffins and serve with a side dish of soft cream cheese. Is pineapple out of the question. Sometimes they are inexpensive at Aldi's and a whole one cut in pieces yields a lot.

Anonymous said...

I think you've got some wonderful suggestions here, Meredith! It all sounds very festive and fun. Can you have a little soft Mexican music playing in the background, up by your table? That would be fun, too. I think it gets hard to do too much when you have a 1 year old, so I think the idea of buying the pastries sounds wonderful. And I would also second the idea that you have something that is not sweet, such as a cheese, salsa and chips, or even a breakfast burrito similar to the one that McDonald's serves that you could keep in a warming dish, so that those with diabetes and/or hypoglycemia and bloodsugar issues, have something to choose as well. This sounds so fun, and is something a little different at this time of the year as well!

Unknown said...

I LOVE the hot chocolate in the crockpot idea! Maybe you could borrow a couple of extra CP from relatives or neighbors!

Mirissa said...

I think it sounds wonderful! I'd definitely serve Mexican hot chocolate in a crock pot and cut the pan dulce. We eat it regularly and alway cut it up so we can sample all the different varieties. If you have a few different types people will want to try them and halves will just be too big.

Meredith said...

Thanks, everyone!

I'm just not capable of doing a hot breakfast in this conference room, with no kitchen access (not even a sink).

I would love to do something like a breakfast burrito, but on this scale, I just don't know how I'd have them cooked, hot, and transported there at 6:30 in the morning--much less keep them at a food safe temperature for two hours.

This was originally designed to be a grab-and-go buffet so that colleagues could drop in and take something back to their rooms.

I'll take everyone's suggestion on the bananas and hope I can come up with a few cheaper tropical fruits for garnish, at least.

I've explored a couple of Mexican groceries and actually bought a $1 platter of mexican melon, papya and orange that was sprinkled with chile powder and lime. Surprisingly delicious! Maybe five trays of that and two bags of navel oranges would be enough.

Since I have fruit, I'll ditch the punch. I just bought a $4 coffee urn at a yard sale, so thanks to your suggestions, I'll earmark that for hot water and add a selection of tea bags and hot chocolate instead.

We can use the giant workplace urn for coffee.

TJ said...

I posted on the decoration post about bollios. I think you would do well to do some pastries and some bollios. They typically are less expensive (anywhere from 15 to 33 cents a piece) and are perfect for those of us that don't care for sweets in the morning. (ok so I'm wierd, but I can't do sugar in the morning).

Jennifer @ Fruit of My Hands said...

I haven't read all the replies, but if you want to serve a wassail or warm punch you could just put it in a crock pot to stay warm, and serve it from there. You could borrow crock pots from friends maybe to hold enough? Try grape or cranberry juice with cut limes, or apple & orange juice mixed together with cinnamon sticks & cloves.

I don't see why you couldn't cut the pastries in half (I've never had them so I'm not really familiar with them.)

I'd nix the bananas though, in my experience hosting breakfasts they are often wasted. Go with sliced apples & oranges instead.

Jennifer @ Fruit of My Hands said...

PS-now that I have read the comment thread completely, it reminded me that pomegranates have been on sale around here lately.

mama k said...

I second a "mexican christmas" theme! What fun!
Maybe you can accent the fruit trays with some star fruit or kiwi slices to make it a little more tropical. Not sure the price of grapes near you, but they always seem to be popular at buffets.
And how about Mexican hot chocolate? Basically hot cocoa with cinnamon in it. I'm sure you could find a recipe and make it pretty inexpensively.

nancyr said...

Our Wal-Mart has poinsettias half price today. They were $2.50 each.

Mrs. Darling said...

A wassail punch might be good.

Anonymous said...

I think the idea of a Mexican breakfast brunch is great ! Pinapple and mango salsas with cinnamon spiced hot chocholate'sounds delicious. The tissue paper cut out decorations are colorful and festive. In Texas Mexican resturants use them as decor. Ask your librarian for music to go with festivities there may some mexican christmas music available. Have Fun 1

Rebecca Mecomber said...

I'll be there at 5.


Anonymous said...

Mexican hot chocolate would be the drink. Buy the Abuelita brand, in my opinion the best and most authentic. I am sure it is not just chocolate with cinnamon. It is also cheaper. Champurado would also be good, but more of an aquired taste and probably harder to find. Calientitos also is another alternative that would combine well with the pastries and any fruit.

Anonymous said...

Here's the good stuff and it's less than $2.