SERGEANT BLUFF | At the end of every holiday season, The Venue at Aggie's owner Cathy Bishop said she is sick at the sight of salmon, pooped out over prime rib, and don't even get her started about rumaki.
"After too many 16 hour days, I do feel like I've have it up to here with making party appetizers," she said her professional kitchen a few weeks before Thanksgiving. "But then I realize I actually love what I do."
This has been Bishop's lifestyle for 23 years.
After graduating from Texas A&M, the Sergeant Bluff native worked as a bank examiner for more than a decade.
Still, Bishop remembered the good times she had when cooking with her mom and grandfather.
"I had never worked in a restaurant before opening the original Aggie's (a popular barbecue restaurant) in 1994," she said. "It turned out I had an affinity for it."
Since repositioning Aggie's from a restaurant to The Venue at Aggie's (a full service, special events caterer), Bishop said she has never been busier.
"We make food for everyone from corporate parties to lunches at area preschools," she admitted. "With that much variety, you've got to stay a step ahead."
Which is why Bishop is the perfect expert when it comes to tips for throwing a seasonal soiree.
"Holiday parties can be fun when it revolves around food that you love to make and food that your guests will love," she said.
GO GLOBAL WITH YOUR GOODIES
When Bishop started catering events, there were a handful of dishes that appealed to everyone plus a few appetizers that turned up time after time.
Because of thus predictability, things got old fast.
That's why Bishop decided to change things by incorporating more international meals.
"I love making specialty pot stickers and egg rolls because they work so well at party finger foods," she said. "So do nachos, taco dips and anything that comes from South of the Border."
Can we mix and match foods by having a few Asian items and a few Mexican things?
Bishop doesn't have a problem with that. In fact, she does it all the time.
"There's no wrong way when you're making things that you like," she said.
HEATING THINGS UP WITH THE SCRUMPTIOUS SATAY
One of the things that Bishop really likes is a skewered chicken satay that comes with a spicy peanut sauce.
"I've made this appetizer so many times that I don't even go with a recipe," she said. "I just know it take a tablespoon, a punch of that and, still, it comes out perfect every time."
SQUEAL OVER THE ULTIMATE MEAT CANDY
Another can't miss item on any buffet is an hors d'oeuvre of Polynesian origin.
"My rumaki is brown sugar-sprinkled bacon wrapped water chestnuts that's been marinated in a rich soy sauce," Bishop said. "People say my rumaki is so good, they're addictive. I agree."
RESEARCH RECIPES WHILE SWITCHING THINGS UP
Bishop said she finds inspiration everywhere from the TV Food Network to social media sites like Pinterest.
"Pinterest is a great place to pick up creative ideas," she said. "Even when I'm not looking for a specific recipes I'll discover something that I'd like to try myself."
Indeed, Bishop will play around with an idea, add a few personal steps of her own and create something original.
"There's so much information about food around," she suggested. "Take advantage of that."
UP THE ANTE WITH EYE APPEAL
Remember the old axiom "we eat with with our eyes as well as with our stomachs"?
Bishop is a big believer in playing with your food.
"I like adding splashes of color onto holiday plates," she said.
For instance, a simple-but-eye-catching way to make your food pop on a buffet table is to include red grapes that have been dredged in egg wash and drizzles in sugar.
"Not only are they pretty but they're also delicious," Bishop said.
Another trick of the trade includes taking a sharp knife, turning the skin of a tomato and sculpting it into a festive, rose-shaped garnish.
"It's easy once you learn how to do it," Bishop suggested. "It adds a nice elegance to any holiday buffet."
This is exactly what everybody wants for a holiday get-together.
"Even the simplest things will add panache to your party," she said.